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The Girls in Their Summer Dresses

Written by Rebecca Christian

Are you wearing a dress today? Maybe you remember the sing-along-able Burt Bacharach hit, "I Say a Little Prayer for You",  in which Dionne Warwick sings in that warm, rich, bouncy voice of hers,  "While combing my hair now, and wonderin' which dress to wear now, I say a little prayer for you..."

Dionne in a Fab Getup

I've been singing it nearly every one of these late spring mornings lately, because the unseasonably hot weather is a grand excuse to wear frocks, liberating the pasty legs of winter and -- following the example of our fearlessly fashionable First Lady -- exercising the right to bare arms. (Actually it would be a good idea to exercise before exercising the right to bare arms, like Michelle does, but when it's hot, I let my schoolteacher arms wave gloriously in the breeze like the flag on the fourth. Who cares?)

Michelle, Pretty in Pink

I love dresses for their unabashed ease and femininity! (Sorry, but when I'm wearing a dress I can't stop using exclamation points!)  Women feel as pretty in them as Maria did, twirling in her white dress before the fateful dance. Plus they're easy. None of that tiresome worrying about whether your vest looks funny with your blouse or your jacket is too boxy for your pants. Slip a dress over your head and ask your beloved to zip it up (just like Nora in the "Nick and Nora" forties movies, dahling). A necklace, a spritz of Chanel, maybe a cardigan or shrug in case of a summer breeze, and you're done.

Designers and fashion mavens keep predicting the demise of the dress, but women love them, and so do men, unless they're those sackcloth-and-ashes numbers that women find both sophisticated and forgiving of our lumps and bumps (think Eileen Fisher), but that prompt men to ask, "Where's the belt?"  At any rate, we're not about to forsake dresses for pants wide enough for both you and your Aunt Mabel to climb into together, which are predicted to be in for fall. Back in April of 2008, fashion editor Anna Slowey proclaimed, "The eye is looking for something new, and so is the psyche. The dress has been done to death." Boo, hiss!

Dresses have been fashionable for several years now, but the eighties and nineties were the Dark Ages of the dress, a dreary time when we languished in harem pants and blazers with shoulder pads that made us look like Brett Favre. Remember how the others used to make fun of former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker for her matchy-matchy dresses on "Designing Women?" I thought she looked good, but then I've never stopped wearing big hair.


Delta Burke as Suzanne Sugarbaker

As one who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I am especially pleased to see that a quartet of reinterpretations from that era are in this summer: the Jackie O sheath, the colorblock, the seventies-inspired white dress and the floral print maxi. Recently my 83-year-old mother, who terrifies the Home Health Care people who come to her house by tottering to the door in high heels, demanded, "What's wrong with matchy-matchy? Dungarees with high heels look peculiar. I like things to match!"

Goddessy and draped, floaty and Bohemian, retro and ladylike (or not so -- thank you, "Mad Men"), wrap, shift, empire waist, babydoll, or all-out bombshell, long live the dress. Emily Dickinson in flowing white, Audrey Hepburn in narrow black, and Julia Roberts in brown and white polka dots. Julia's stylish version of the matronly polka-dot dress was one of the most wildly popular frocks ever. Retailers couldn't keep the knock-offs on their racks. Twenty-one years and three babies later, Julia was recently quoted as saying she gauges her fitness not by the scale but by trying on That Dress.


Julia Roberts with Richard Gere in That Dress, in "Pretty Woman"

We all have our version of That Dress, or several That Dresses over a lifetime. My girlfriend Karen and I have been sharing custody of my current version of That Dress for several years. By Jones of New York, it's black crepe with cap sleeves, a sweetheart neckline that whispers decollete and a skirt that eddies gracefully around child-bearing hips (between the two of us, Karen and I have six kids). Our LBD has gone to weddings, funerals, speaking gigs, and thrillingly romantic dinners.

In "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," a moody short story by Irwin Shaw, a young couple has a falling out over the husband's ogling of all the gorgeous women on the streets of Manhattan. He admits, "I like the girls on Forty-fourth Street at lunchtime, the actresses, all dressed up on nothing a week, talking to the good-looking boys, wearing themselves out being young and vivacious outside Sardi's, waiting for producers to look at them. I like the salesgirls in Macy's, paying attention to you first because you're a man, leaving lady customers waiting, flirting with you over socks and books and phonograph needles." Along with a couple of other Irwin Shaw shorts, it was televised with a very young Jeff Bridges and Carol Kane as the unhappy couple.



If you love dresses, and fashion in general, you might enjoy the book "Love, Life, and What I Wore," by  Ilene Beckerman, who tells her life story through her Brownie uniform and Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress and other outfits, along with drawings. It's also been made into a popular play.



Also check out this blog:

What do women want? The answer, Dr. Freud, is a dress!



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