[Guestblog] My Year in Dresses: A Tutorial and Reflections

By | August 21, 2009

[This has been cross-posted from The Pretty Year, another fabulous fashion blog. Go check it out!]

About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to see what life would be like without pants.

I was inspired by Lesley’s pantsless life, but I wasn’t so sure that I could pull it off. I had a lot of reservations about whether or not I could do it, and as I saw it, there were several potential obstacles in the way of a life in dresses:

* Did I have enough dresses?
* What about the chub rub factor?
* What about winter?
* Would I get sick of all dresses all the time?
* Would eliminating pants from my wardrobe make me a happier person?

I was initially only going to try this no pants thing for just a couple of weeks, so I don’t remember the exact date of my decision other than that it was sometime in August. And first and foremost, there was the question of quantity.

Did I have enough dresses?

When I began my challenge, I think I probably had 20-25 dresses in my closet. Now, that sounds like a lot of dresses, and theoretically enough for four or five 5-day work rotations, but about 7-10 of them were dressy dresses, so those were out. I also had several unbreathable vintage polyester dresses in my closet that I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear until winter, so those were out too.

Thus began the dress collecting. One, sometimes two at a time, I began buying dresses. Most of them were priced under $25 since I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend. I bought a shitload of dresses via fatshionista’s sales post Fridays, many of which were from Cupcake and Cuddlebunny, a truly fantastic plus size vintage business run by my friend Rachel Cupcake. I also frequented my favorite cheap dress haunts, Rainbow and H&M. I probably got about one dress per paycheck, and slowly began accumulating a collection.

Dress via fatshionista Friday sale.

To help me afford all of this, I also sold a whole lot of nice clothes, shoes, and accessories that I had been meaning to get rid of forever. In the past, I’ve been a bit of a clothes hoarder, but I’ve slowly trained myself to throw things away that don’t fit and/or that I haven’t touched in a year or more. So, I did a big sweep of my collection and sold a whole lot of things online. This netted me a nice chunk of change, and enabled me to get some really exciting pieces to start off with.

As a plus size dress wearer, it’s always been a bit harder for me to find cute and affordable dresses in my size, hence the hoarding tendencies. It’s taken me years, but I’m finally learning the fine balance between snapping cute things up when I find them, and also not just buying things because they fit and/or are on sale.

The other big lesson I learned this past year while accumulating a dress collection is that as a person who hates sewing, I cannot live without my tailor. I was lucky enough to find a very affordable tailor in my neighborhood who will do things like hem a dress for $5 and take it in for $7. And this opened up my dress-buying world exponentially. Whereas before, I was limited to buying stuff that fit me perfectly (or well enough, if I was willing to compromise), I could now buy things that fit in some places and were too big in others. And in fact, buying dresses that were too big enabled me to get every single part of it tailored to my body perfectly, most of the time for less than $15. Now, $15 may seem like a lot to spend when your dress doesn’t cost more than $20, but I have to say that owning a garment made to fit your body is completely worth the investment.

(Tailored) skirt via Old Navy, tank by H&M, cardigan by Target, heels by Old Navy.

What about the chub rub factor?

Other than the quantity issue, the biggest roadblock I could see to my dress challenge was the chub rub factor. For those of you not in the know, when your thighs touch, the rubbing of skin on skin can get extremely painful in a very short amount of time. Things also tend to worsen during summer when you’re hot and sweaty. Chub rub can get so bad that it causes bruising or even bleeding, a sad lesson I first learned at age 16 while wearing scratchy glitter tights and walking around New York City for the first time.

So, chub rub was a major hurdle to cross.

There are a number of chub rub solutions out there, and I’ve tried many of them. There’s the Monistat chafing gel, which is silky smooth going on, but quickly wears off when you’re sweaty, so not as great for hotter weather. There’s also Bodyglide, a balm in deodorant-esque packaging that runners use to prevent chafing. While Body Glide does much better with sweat, it wasn’t always as good at eliminating the friction. But, in my opinion, a better solution for hot weather than the Monistat cream, so I used it a lot. This summer, I discovered through a friend’s recommendation that good old fashioned thick cocoa butter can make a really effective and nice-smelling chub rub solution. Pros: it doesn’t wear off as quick as the Monistat gel and is prevents friction better than Bodyglide. Cons: it can get a little greasy and stain things if you’re not careful with application. My friend also said that pure shea butter is an excellent chub rub solution, but I haven’t yet tried it out.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t found my perfect solution to chub rub, so I currently alternate between the above options and wearing leggings, bike shorts, or silky bloomers under my dresses. I find that I have to take a “break” from chub rub creams and wear bike shorts or leggings at least a few times a week, because otherwise my thighs suffer. And, if I need to walk around the city a whole lot, I really have no option but to wear something underneath the dress. However, getting many of my dresses tailored to hit the knee means that I can generally get away with bike shorts instead of leggings.

Dress via H&M, leggings by Old Navy, flats by Rocket Dog.

What about winter?

By the time cold weather rolled around, I had decided that I wanted to do this dress thing for keeps (and I’ll get into more of the why below). I had enough dresses to work with by then, but I was worried about the cold. I knew that tights and leggings would be perfect for the fall, but I wasn’t sure how they’d fare in really cold weather.

I made it through the winter via three main tactics: cardigans, layering, and knee-high boots.

Dress via Cupcake & Cuddlebunny, cardigan by Old Navy, tights by Jessica London, heels by Target.

Cardigans were essential because they allowed me to winterize all of my summer dresses. I had a few long-sleeved dresses, but not that many, so cardigans allowed me to wear even sleeveless dresses during the dead of winter. Layering was important too. During the winter, I wore thick leggings instead of tights. And I’d usually wear a tank top or a shirt under my dresses for added warmth. Scarves as accessories were also essential. And, knee-high boots were a godsend. Not only did they warm up my calves, but I could also wear knee-high thick socks when the weather was at its coldest.

I never had to use them, but I also bought a couple of pairs of long johns that I was going to wear under the leggings if it ever got so cold that those things weren’t enough. Hopefully I won’t need them this winter either, but I have them just in case. You can also wear regular pants under dresses, which is a look that some folks (not me) can pull off very well!

Dress thrifted, tights by Jessica London, coat by Lane Bryant.

Would I get sick of all dresses all the time?

This worry dissipated fairly quickly after I began the challenge. I haven’t yet gotten sick of wearing dresses, but what I have learned is this: you have to be really creative when you convert to a dress-only wardrobe. This is especially true if you have lots of distinctive dresses.

After all, when I had 5 pairs of black pants and 2 pairs of jeans, no one noticed if I wore the same style of pants 3 days in a row if I was pairing them with a different top. And, given that you’re working with 2 pieces instead of 1 in a pants/shirt pairing, there are a lot more combinations to work with.

I’m also one of those people who doesn’t like to noticeably be wearing the same thing for at least 2 weeks, so I had to get creative. While I am generally drawn to unique vintage pieces, bright colors, and loud patterns, this dilemma meant that I had to get more plain-colored dresses that I could pair with different colored cardigans, tights, and accessories. That way, a black dress could look completely different with a change of accessories and could be worn 2 weeks in a row instead of twice a month.

I don’t know about you, but I find that when I have less options, I often come up with my best and most exciting fashion ideas. So, making do with what I had was both a curse and also a blessing.

Would eliminating pants from my wardrobe make me a happier person?

This was the central hypothesis that I wanted to test with this challenge.

Before I went pantsless, I knew that wearing dresses always added an extra spring to my step, and I generally felt more confident in them. When I took pictures of my outfits before, I rarely got excited about the pictures of me in pants. And in fact, I almost never liked what pants did for my figure 8 shape.

It was a gender thing too. You see, I identify as a high femme queer girl, and I see my gender as a delightful simulacrum and loving parody of womanhood. Kind of like a drag queen bursting out from a lady body, I suppose. Bigger is better and more is more in my Universe. Tight, short, and low cut? I’ll take all three, please! And given those things, pants never really seemed to fit into my fashion milieu.

Dress via Re/Dress, cardigan by Old Navy, boots from Amazon.com.

Now of course, I also live in the real world with a day job that, although extremely progressive and relaxed around the dress code, isn’t conducive to wearing crinolines and corsets while sitting at my desk. But, I quickly found that wearing even casual dresses became a way for me to feel like I was able to escape the boring and depressing (to me) black-pants-and-colored-top uniform I had been wearing for what seemed like my entire working life.

Dress by Blue Plate, tank via H&M, heels thrifted.

I used to save dresses for special occasions like dates and nights on the town, but that also meant that some of the things in my wardrobe that made me feel the happiest were rarely taken off of their hanger. And this meant that sometimes the dresses would go out of fashion or no longer fit me before I ever got a chance to wear them more than a couple of times, and that was a damn shame.

A year later, I can say without reservations that deciding to go pantsless was the best fashion decision I have ever made. People can see that I feel more confident, and I often get compliments on my wardrobe from strangers who want to know where I bought my clothes. I feel so much better about myself and can even say that my body image has seen a positive shift in the last year.

And not only do I feel more confident, but I finally feel like my wardrobe is an accurate reflection of who I am in terms of style and gender. You know how sometimes people tell you to wear nice underwear all the time just in case? Well, leaving pants aside kind of makes me feel like I’m doing that, only on the outside.

I am not, of course, saying that every person or even every feminine-identified person can or should do this. I’ve certainly gotten myself caught in awkward predicaments due to my wardrobe restrictions (like that time I had to figure out how to go hiking in a dress). And, I still admire a fabulous pair of jeans or shorts on other people. I also don’t think that wearing dresses is the only way to spice up a wardrobe or cure the workday fashion blues. But for me, this experiment-turned-lifestyle has been an enormous success that I feel incredibly happy about.

Dress by Cast Couture, shoes by Lane Bryant.

Since I’ve stepped into a life sans pants, I’ve had plenty of people ask me how I do it. So, if you’ve been thinking about going pantsless or even just adding some dresses to your fashion repetoire, I’m here to tell you that it’s possible!

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