In what feels like another lifetime, I used to purchase cocktail party dresses with no specific occasion in mind. I remember dropping by Neiman’s in Chevy Chase Pavilion (RIP) and Intermix in Georgetown and raiding the sale sections on a regular basis in search of cute little numbers from Milly, Shoshanna, and Amanda Uprichard in particular. It was not uncommon for me to buy something too big because it was on sale but not available in my size, and then take it to the excellent tailor on Wisconsin Avenue, just next to Vicky’s Nail Salon. She would often tsk at my decisions — “this is way too big!” — but then work her magic. A good tailor can absolutely transform your wardrobe and you with it. Clothes that used to feel iffy on the attractiveness meter catapult into “this is epic on me” territory. Anyhow, such was my level of commitment to arranging a striking lineup of cocktail party attire options, because — at the time — my social calendar was dominated by semi-formal occasions: date functions while in college and then, in that footloose period in my early 20s, engagement parties, receptions of various kinds, weddings, bachelorettes, birthday parties, and holiday cocktail parties. Opportunities to get dolled up and turned out abounded.
Nowadays, I can hardly remember the last time I needed a new cocktail party dress. I’m not sure whether this is a function of life stage, COVID, or what I perceive to be a slow but steady erosion in formality in general in our generation. (Like, people wear jeans and t-shirts to the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center, for evening performances!) To be sure, my loved ones and I create our own semi-formal occasions. I will be head to toe in sequins on Christmas Eve, and I have a sequined Saloni waiting for NYE at home with my man, too. Mr. Magpie is accustomed to my plying him to get dressed up, and one of my sisters loves to call me the night before we have dinner plans and say: “OK, but let’s go all out.” And then she will show up at my doorstep — even if we are just eating at home! — wearing head-to-toe Jacquemus or some other designer cooler than I, right down to the four inch heels. We all agree: it feels good to get dressed up. It tells a story. It is a small, semi-frivolous way I respect myself (though there are many modalities for such expressions, to be sure). It elevates the average. It makes me feel as though I am participating in a social history with a long tail, as though somehow my wearing a gold lame cocktail party dress in 2021 is connected to Marilyn Monroe wearing hers in 1953. It is all reference and allusion, and it can evoke something powerful on a given night. I don’t feel I am exaggerating when I say that an unexpected velvet heel can transform the trajectory of an evening.
And can we all agree that there is nothing more attractive than a man in a tuxedo? Ay carumba! I cherish a montage of happy moments Mr. Magpie and I shared while dressed, or getting dressed, to the nines in our 20s. I loved the way his dress clothes smelled and felt, freshly pressed and vaguely of the cedar he keeps in his garment bags, and the way he stood in front of the mirror while tying his bow tie, his hair still a little wet from the shower, his hips always squared off. It was as if just putting on the dress clothes made him stand a little taller, which is saying a lot for him, because he has a distinctive, shoulders-thrown-back stance to begin with, possibly hangover from his years as an athlete or his time in a marching band or his father’s insistence on such markings of the gentleman. I liked flitting around the bathroom readying myself while he’d wait on me, usually drinking a beer. I can still see him, glancing around the room idly, suppressing the desire to remind me “we have two minutes until we need to leave and you’re still in your underwear.” He would be leaning against the bathroom wall, balancing on his shoulder blades, while I’d road runner around in a cloud of perfume and pearls. I swear he spent half of his twenties waiting for me to get ready, draining Heinekens. And then, even though he’d watched me dress and blow-dry my hair and put on my jewelry and apply lipstick and perfume over the course of an excruciating hour, and even if we were running late, he’d stand back and take me in and say: “My beauty wife!” As though seeing me for the first time. He still says this, God bless him, and it takes me right back to those long hours getting ready in our first apartment, his hands around a Heineken, and my feet still bare, and us both giddy with the anticipation of a long night with friends and cocktails and oh my gosh, I can’t remember any of the specifics of those evenings, and it’s all just a blur of satin and girlfriends complaining about their heels and one-too-many G&Ts and our fiances hailing taxi cabs and “should we go to Town Hall for one more drink?” and the way Mr. Magpie would idly rearrange his pocket square — he does this still, but when and how did he learn to care about the countenance of a pocket square? — and me wearing Mr. Magpie’s tuxedo jacket when I was too cold, and I am nearly always too cold, and the swoosh of my shimmery dress against the lean figure he cut in all black, and him unbuttoning his suit jacket before sitting at the dining table (do all men do this? I’ve never cared to notice, but have always found it peculiarly gentlemanly), and — oh my gosh, the details overlap and smear, but it feels right to say: “We were together — I forget the rest.”
And it feels right, too, on re-reading this, to see how I started by thinking about how much I love to get dressed up and ended by thinking about how much I love my husband. Because I am learning that the more I think back on my younger years, the less anything else matters but him. Writing about this time is like melting a glacier: at first construct, there is ice, and danger, and hard and slippery surfaces, and the sense of the substantial. But under pressure and over time, those forms dissolve and give way to just him and me, alone and in love. And often dressed to the nines.
+Writing this post reminded me of this adjacent sensation.
+You can read even more about our relationship here.
+If you’re feeling inspired by the sentiment, lots of festive wear here, here, and here.
+May I specifically call out this $69 stunner?! Saucy magic!
+If you are thinking ahead for a spring occasion, Self-Portrait just released a bevy of beauties, and I am particularly obsessed with this lavender scalloped lovely. Otherwise, Caroline Constas FTW!!!
+A glam robe hook and a perfect robe to hang on it. I have been hearing such good things about these robes and am very intrigued. I just retired a waffle robe from Pottery Barn I had for years and years because it was basically in tatters and think I will test this one!
+I am drooling over this traditional, romantic-looking luggage. I want an entire set!!!
+Have we already talked about how much I love eye palettes? I really hate buying individual shadows — it feels like too much pressure to pick the right ones that will layer/go together nicely, and they are so expensive on their own, especially when I don’t go through an eye shadow palette very quickly. This Tilbury set is right up my alley — neutrals that can be dolled up with eyeliner for evening, or made dramatic along the lash line with the darkest color it includes. My one exception to this palette-only rule: Laura Mercier’s Morning Dew, which I will always and forever buy in individual sizes because it is, for me, the perfect everyday shadow. It is brightening but natural. J’adore.
+Speaking of Laura Mercier, there are a bunch of her cosmetics on sale at Nordstrom Rack, including the oil-free version of her fabulous tinted moisturizer (with SPF), for almost 50% off!!!
+BTW, have shared this 1290848 times, but this $8 eye liner is the absolute best. It is identical to Stila, which I swore by for years.
+WOW — these $120 flats are so incredibly chic. They remind me of Prada!
+I like the idea of these knit pants with a pair of pointed to flats to sort of elevate the look.
+As you probably know, I swear by my day planner. I use it to map out in tremendous detail every single thing I aspire to get done, including making doctor’s appointments, writing thank you notes, organizing my drawers, and, of course, blog-related activities. Last year, I bought one of the Day Designers and initially loved it, especially because it has all these fun goal-setting prompts and fill-ins early on. But over time, I found it annoyingly bulky. And because it is so thick (like 2″ thick), it is kind of hard to write on because as you get to the bottom of the page, your hand is dangling off the edge uncomfortably. I liked the detail and space, but not enough to legitimize the heft/inconvenience, and I also found I usually only used about half of each page to document my to-dos. This year, I went with this inexpensive, no-frills style that still has enough space to write down daily goals but you can see everything at a week’s glance. Will report back!
+A bunch of shops are offering last-minute free expedited shipping — Lake is a forever favorite of mine to gift.
+We have gotten into a rhythm of giving mini a wall calendar each year. We find the wall calendar so helpful for easing transitions (i.e., back to school, weekday/weekend, etc) and preparing her for what’s ahead (doctor’s appointments, play dates, etc), and — I can hardly believe it — Hill starts school in just a few weeks (wahhh!) and I think this will be a helpful instrument for him, too. I am going to give them each one in their stockings this year, but they could just as easily be a little surprise on the first day of the year. I got mini this superhero one (she loves Marvel, though I was torn for almost a full day between Marvel and Disney Princess, as she adores both) and this Disney Junior for micro. Last year, mini had a Snoopy one which was great because it comes with these clever little stickers to put on the pages to mark common events — vacations, first day of school, last day of school, doctor’s visit, party, etc. You can also buy sticker sets for this purpose if yours doesn’t come with them.
+If I could wear a high-end, formal dress from any designer, I would pick Markarian. I love their feminine but structured pieces. This would be the perfect mother of the bride dress, and I want to wear this to a wedding myself. And some lucky size 4 lady will find this ridiculously chic top from Markarian at a fabulous price for her winter getaway this year.
+Also: some epic pieces at The Outnet for formal occasions, including this punchy Johanna Ortiz.
+Also: wide-leg wool Max Mara trousers for 50% off. I’d feel like such a boss in these!
+Chic rehearsal dinner / bridal luncheon dress for a bride-to-be. More bridal finds here!
+These marbled ornaments are so gorgeous, and now on sale, too!
+This green floral tree skirt is spectacular.
+Fun puff-sleeved fair isle situation.
+Cool combo coat.
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6 thoughts on “In Praise of Getting Dressed, Or — I Love My Husband.”
What a lovely treat to read this, Jen! This is up there with my favorite essays of yours. I am still hoping you publish a book of essays/short stories! 😉
Thank you so much, Mia!!! One day…!
My husband also unbuttons his coat when he sits down in a suit as well – swoon! I am a newer reader (less than 6 months) but I just love your writing – especially about your husband. I am equally enthralled with the person I married. In a time of being younger and married when I hear a lot of complaining about husbands around me, it is so lovely to read someone talk about their spouse this way. I often tell my husband “I just love hanging out with you!” like we’re just in the early stages of dating when you don’t want to admit you love someone so you say “I love…spending time with you” even though we’ve been “hanging out” daily for years. I pray I still feel the way you do when we have two children!
Hi Sophia – Thank you so much for the sweet note (and welcome!) I’m so glad you feel this way about your husband, too! Such a gift to find a true companion. I agree, too, that there is a…cultural bent? towards complaining about spouses. I mean, entire TV franchises and even genres of books have been designed around the concept of marital friction, and so I think maybe some of us feel it is the norm or expected? I’m not sure. But happy to hear you row against the grain!
The pandemic has definitely reduced our opportunities for dressing up, that’s for sure. But I think it’s good to do every now and then, without specific occasion, if only to show ourselves that we are worth it. I am in possession of my late grandfather’s wool and cashmere Christian Dior evening coat- he lived a very formal life on the Upper East Side and it’s fun to imagine what he got up to whenever I slip it on.
Oh I love this so much!! So special!