Here we are at the last installment of my Journey of a Thousand Dresses. I want to thank you all for joining me every step of the way.
Going into this journey I thought it would be easy. Just throw on a dress each day, add some shoes, and be done. But this little adventure dug deep into old notions about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be safe, and what it means to express my personal style as a woman in her forties.
This last part of the series was perhaps the greatest challenge of all.
Backless and Vulnerable
For the first time in my life I wore a backless casual dress–without a jacket or scarf to drape around my shoulders and cover up my body. The voices in my head, so used to keeping me in line, warned me that running around town with my back exposed was suggestive and dangerous. These voices from my past are powerful. They don’t pull any punches:
- Who do you think you are? You think you have perfect enough skin to walk around like that?
- Do you know what happens to women who dress like that?
- You want people to think you’re a slut?
- Don’t you know how old you are? A woman your age shouldn’t wear that.
I Did It Anyway
The first day I wore this casual halter dress out in public was one of the first really sunny Saturdays in Seattle. Hubby wanted to get some plants to put in the containers on our balcony.
The dress isn’t fancy at all. It’s blue-gray and made of a stretchy knit, like a t-shirt. The embellishment is pretty. Bunches of flowers are painted and embroidered in different places on the top and skirt.
The dress was purchased on Thredup. Similar thrifted styles can be found here.
Days before we set out to the nursery, I told myself I was going to wear this outfit. As the day grew near, though, so did my anxiety.
On the day of, I nearly chickened out.
I stood in front of my closet and felt the pressure from my past washing over me. I was this close to wearing something else. And then I heard another voice. It was the voice of adulthood, the one that is more rational and in line with who I am at my core. It has the capacity to empathize and encourage rather than belittle or shame.
The voice asked, “If not now, when?”
I listened to that voice and was reminded that lots of ladies wear halter dresses in the summer and I don’t assume horrible things about who they are, what they might be in for, or grump about the appropriateness based on their age. Instead, I see women I admire. Women who look comfortable in a cute dress. Nothing more dramatic than that.
So it was with a tight chest and thumping heart I pulled the dress from my closet. I took a deep breath and put the dress on. And then I went to the nursery.
Comfort and Ease Becomes Her
At first, I felt on display, in full view. I felt so vulnerable. I was afraid someone might come along and confirm all my fears.
But they didn’t. No one blinked an eye. No one chastised me or even seemed to notice the middle-aged woman walking around in a halter dress. It was normal. I was normal.
In addition, I was so comfortable. My exposed back felt the mix of warm sun and cool breezes. It was refreshing and delightful! The longer I stood in that public space, the stronger I felt. At some point I relaxed, forgot I was supposed to be afraid, and enjoyed myself.
A Journey and a Celebration
In celebration of this newfound freedom and joy I bought another backless dress from my good friend and favorite vintage reseller, Suzanne Carillo!
To see what other dresses Suzanne has in stock, click here!
This dress is fancier than the halter dress above, but we are celebrating so it needs to be a little fancier. I paired it with some metallic sandals and an obi belt to dress it up even more. If I change out the footwear I can make it more casual for walking around Seattle.
The straps are just a little bit long so, for now, they’re pinned in the back. But soon I will use my newfound confidence in sewing to stitch them down permanently.
See more about my sewing adventures on my Instagram feed!
And So It Continues
Although I have won this battle, my war against these messages isn’t over. Well-meaning people continue to warn me about what can happen if I show too much of my body.
Most recently I was advised by a woman to tuck my shirt in at yoga class so it didn’t ride up and show my belly when I bent over. Her concern was about what I might be revealing to the men in the class.
She is a nice lady and I know she was just trying to protect me but her words shamed me instead. Her advice suggested that, even in an athletic-type setting I am not respected as a human being. My body is but an object to be desired and potentially stolen or damaged, no matter what I do.
The worst of it, though, is that she chose to give advice to me but not to my fellow male students. Her words, directed to me, do not teach them to respect me as a fellow athlete and human. Her ideas suggest that I if I keep my shirt untucked, whatever they do isn’t their fault. It’s mine.
The Journey Ahead
In spite of the challenges from my past and present, I continue to wear dresses with and without backs. I suppose this journey will never completely end as I continue to challenge my preconceived notions, my fears, and the well-meaning but misdirected advice from others.
I’m grateful for your presence and readership along the way.
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