How to Dress a Boojum


“His intimate friends called him “Candle-ends,” And his enemies “Toasted-cheese.”

I woke up this morning with this phrase in my head. I knew it wasn’t MINE. I knew it was something I’d read somewhere, or heard somewhere, once. Where? What is it?

In the old days, this would have driven me nuts. This is just the kind of thing that makes me insane. I can’t let go until have the answer. This would entail trips to the library, flipping through piles of books, calling reference librarians, repeating it over and over to people until someone told me what it was, then going back to the books to verify.

But the internet – AH! The internet has been good to obsessive freaks like me. I typed in the phrase and VOILA. It’s from The Hunting of the Snark, of course, by Lewis Carroll. Now I can free up valuable mental real estate for other stuff, like where’s-my-glasses and did-I-feed-the-cat?

If I have chicken thawed for dinner, and have spinach and lentils to go with, I just type those three things into the computer and it tells me what I can make, and exactly how to make it. If I need to drive to Kinmount (God forbid it ever happens, but it might, you never know), the internet tells me how to get there.

I get obsessive over details. I remember once, on holiday, I wanted a sandwich. A chicken sandwich. A chicken sandwich on multigrain bread, toasted. A toasted chicken sandwich on multigrain bread with roasted red peppers. A toasted chicken sandwich on multigrain breach with toasted red peppers, smeared with garlic aioli. A modest wish, but a very specific one. No such sandwich could be found; alternatives were offered, tasty-sounding alternatives, but – not the right sandwich. It got pretty frustrating after a while.

I have a Christmas function to go to this year, and none of my swanky dress-up clothes fit me due to my recent weight loss, so I decided it was time for a new dress. I knew exactly what I wanted – a Marilyn Monroe style halter, to show off my shoulders and back (which are pretty buff), cinched at the waist, fuller in the skirt to camouflage my abdominal hernia. In red, preferably with some sheen to it, and thick enough in the top so I can get away without wearing a bra.

There were a few variables. I was willing to be flexible about length, for example – not super short, but anywhere between above-the-knee and tea-length. The exact shade of red wasn’t written in stone – I like most reds, from burgundies to cherries to fire-engine. I wasn’t married to a specific fabric, either.

I went to a high-end boutique on the main street on my way home. Tried on a turquoise number with a frilly neck and a bondage-y brass zipper up the front. Umm…no. Also, a champagne dress made of strips, tightly fitted, with a big weird flower at the neckline. Also, NO. And a very plain red sheath with black panels up the sides, in fitted jersey. The salesclerk said it flattered me. The salesclerk is obviously on commission. Or quaaludes. Also, the prices in there were just a joke. Are you NUTS? They were between $250 and $500. Not. Gonna. Happen. I only paid $90 for my WEDDING dress, although to be fair, I made it myself.

I tried Winners. Not a damn thing. Reitmans, same. Went to Addition-Elle for old times sake, and had more luck there. A few hopefuls, but nothing I was in love with. Five dresses I tried on there, three black, one in a beige-and-black print, and one with a silver top and black skirt. A couple of them looked okay, but not what I wanted. Attention, retailers: non-skinny women do not always want to wear black and beige.

I even went to Value Village, where I found a very weird mother-of-the-bride type shell and skirt with a gauzy jacket, which was miles too big for me, and a LBD that was miles too boring, but would have done in a pinch. I did, however, get a smashing pair of black heels, not-too-high, a black knee-length skirt with a little flippy hem for work, and a yard of heavy dupioni silk in greenish gold which I will turn into something fabulous at some point.

I gave up for the night, went on the internet, and found the perfect dress for $80, which is totally in my price range. Met all my criteria, too.

Went on facebook, asked for recommendations. Someone suggested Sears. Now, I haven’t been to Sears in years. I’ve always found them expensive, and in my mind, they’re linked with the blue-rinse set. Sensible foundations garments and quality shoes, you know. Strangely, I had more luck at Sears than anywhere else. Tried on seven there; one was THIS CLOSE. Halter style – yay. But not backless. Flattering skirt. Nice length, nice fabric. But it was black. Also came in a rather nasty purple.

I tried Ricki’s, too. The staff there was super nice; they reminded me of little girls playing dress-up with dolls. “She needs a shrug.” “What about this necklace?” Tried on four dresses there, two were really nice. Once was super – red, with black lace appliques on the sides and black straps. Sadly, fitted throughout and the skirt was unflattering to my stoopid belly. The other I was VERY tempted to buy – drapey, flattering neckline, ruched skirt, but a rather odd shade of dusky rose. And not backless.

Now, that’s a lot of dresses. All Boojums pretending to be Snarks. Twenty-one, by my count, although I may have missed some. Not one was exactly what I wanted. It’s a classic style. If I say “Marilyn Monroe”, you see a generously proportioned bombshell in a backless white halter dress. You know you do. Well, that, but red. That’s all. Is that so hard?

I’m a strong proponent of shopping locally. I try. I tried on twenty-one dresses, only two of which I was tempted to buy. Neither of them met my criteria. It did, however, give me a chance to try different styles and see what flatters my shape. Turns out I was right in the first place. The Marilyn dress is definitely the style for me – highlights my good bits, camouflages my not-so-great bits.

So, I came home and ordered it online. It should be here in a week and a half.


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