By Stephanie Kepke Kaplan, Boys, Dogs And Chaos
“Have you gotten a dress?” This question started several months ago and filled me with anxiety. I wanted to get something amazing, but not spend hundreds of dollars so I put off shopping. When I finally went, I actually loved the first dress I tried on (a simple navy column dress with rhinestone spaghetti straps and a rhinestone accent on the bodice), but it was at a small boutique and cost over $300. Now, I know that is actually pretty reasonable from what I’ve heard, but I set a limit for myself of $150 and preferably $100 – maybe a tad unrealistic, but I believed that I could meet it. I know many Mitzvah Moms whose limits are hovering around the $500 (or higher) range, so I knew finding something for a fraction of that would certainly be a daunting task.
My first stop in my quest for a bargain dress was the mall. I tried on some beautiful gowns at Saks 5th Avenue, but none under $150. I tried on a whole pile of dresses at Lord & Taylor, none of which even looked remotely good, though the price was right for all of them. I was about to leave the store, when my mother pulled out a slinky black, one-shouldered dress with a simple sequin applique at the waist and a sequined shoulder strap – it was my size and the price tag read $102. Jackpot. Only it wasn’t very comfortable and honestly I didn’t love it. I bought it anyway, because it was the only one left and I like knowing that I had something to wear, even though I didn’t adore it. To my great surprise the dress rang up at $40. When I tried it on for my husband, he loved it. When I told him the price, he simply said, “Stop shopping.”
And I did stop shopping – for a while. But, every time I thought about wearing the dress, I just felt more disappointed than anything else. I wasn’t excited to slip it on. It looked so pretty on the hanger, but just didn’t make me say, “Wow!” when I looked at myself in it. It didn’t transform me. So, I kept shopping and I actually found another dress for only $59 that I liked. I called my mother to meet me, because it was final sale and that made me nervous. She took one look and told me to keep the first dress. She didn’t like the fabric or the cut and said it was too big. I put it back on the rack.
Eventually, I just gave up on finding something better and brought the first dress to the seamstress for alterations. But, standing in front of the mirror at my second fitting, I just felt deflated – the dress did nothing for me, even if everyone else liked it. It was ok – to be sure no one would whisper about it being ugly or inappropriate. In fact, I was pretty sure no one would whisper about it at all – good or bad – it was just there. And while I certainly don’t need to be the center of attention – that honor falls on D – I do want a dress that makes me feel special. That slinky black dress, pretty as it was, didn’t fit the bill.
So, right after that second fitting – a mere two and a half weeks before the Bar Mitzvah – I ran back to the mall in desperation. By the time I got there I had forty five minutes before I had to head back to get my kids off of the bus and I needed to move quickly. My mom and my sister met me there and I sifted through the racks at more than a few stores in record time, before I ended up back at Lord & Taylor. I was about to give up, when I saw it on the clearance rack – the dress I had been waiting for. To be honest, it didn’t look like much on the hanger, but something about it called to me. I didn’t even bother trying it on – I just grabbed it, paid and bolted out the door to rush home and meet the bus. I couldn’t try it on until that night, but when I did, I knew right away that it was “the dress” – the one that would make me feel special.
I brought it to the seamstress the next morning for some alterations and as I stood in front of that mirror, I finally didn’t feel disappointed. A woman waiting for a fitting exclaimed, “Beautiful dress! I love the color!” While the first dress was black and pretty much guaranteed I would blend into the crowd, this dress is a blue ombre – flowing from azure to pale blue at the bottom. The sequins and rhinestones adorning the v neck and strap add glitz, but not too much. My mom and sister met me again and questioned why I liked this dress better than the first. “I just do,” I answered, finally sure of my decision.
When I stepped into the dressing room to change back into my sweats, I heard the seamstress explain to them, “She just stands up a little straighter in this dress.” That was the exact essence of why I love it – I do stand up a little straighter. I feel more confident and that’s something that I just didn’t experience with the first dress. Would I recommend ditching your dress two weeks before your Mitzvah and buying a new one? Probably not, if it’s at all avoidable. Am I glad I did? Absolutely. And, the best part – the dress was an amazing bargain, over 85% off the ticketed price and well below my self-imposed limit.
It might strike many of you as odd and perhaps a bit tacky that I would admit that I bought my dress for a pittance, but this blog is about planning by the seat of your pants while sticking to a budget. I can’t think of a more fitting example than my last minute dress.
So, if you’d like to buy a bargain dress of your own, here’s my advice: Broaden your horizons – boutiques are wonderful for the princess shopping experience (and I mean that in only the best way), but you might not find rock bottom prices. Department stores almost always have a clearance rack and you just might find an amazing gem hidden among the aging stock.
Know the number of a top notch tailor who works quickly (I used Nedeida Turcios of Neddy Alterations in Hicksville 516-359-9600) this will allow you to pounce on a bargain, even it’s not quite the perfect fit.
And, most importantly, listen to your gut. Even if everyone tells you that you look great in a dress, if you don’t feel great in it, keep searching – there’s an amazing dress out there with your name on it. You just need a little perseverance (and perhaps a dose of desperation) to find it.
About Stephanie Kepke Kaplan
Stephanie Kepke Kaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. Before kids she was an arts reporter, covering the Boston music and cultural scene (even though she is a born and bred Long Islander, she lived in Boston for nine years and her first son was born there). Now, she blogs at Boys, Dogs and Chaos (about life with – you guessed it – three boys and two dogs) and Mitzvah Mom. She is also working on a novel about a PTA mom. She has also written for Long Island Parent magazine.