The Beauty Experiment

The dress that started it all

by on Dec.22, 2012, under clothes, happiness, self-image, what is beauty

Everyone knows about hanging wreaths and lighting candles, but there’s another holiday tradition that gets less press: Desperately Shopping for a Perfect Holiday Dress. This is no Millenial female habit either; Virginia Woolf’ wrote a searing short story The New Dress back in 1925, one I wish I’d read before hitting the mall, but I didn’t read, and I did shop, and so here’s a pic of the dress I bought in Hong Kong –the one I write about in the first chapter of the beauty experiment, the one that started the whole thing.


The holiday parties in HK were epic (new car giveaway anyone?), but I also bought this frock because I hoped its fabulousness would make me feel that everything was right with the world–and with me. To my horror and surprise, the dress failed me utterly— for some reason it just couldn’t solve all my problems between cocktails and dessert. Huh.
Sometimes, sparkly holiday lights can illuminate life’s imperfections. But what makes this season special isn’t the festivities as much as the warm fuzzies: you can’t beat a month of culturally-sanctioned kindness, generosity and untempered hope. It’s a feeling that’s probably better amplified by another classic holiday garment: the nutty sweater. When you wear something moth-eaten, weird, cozy and possibly bedazzled, you can’t help but showcase your inner beauty. So if it gets rough in the aisles of Nordstrom’s or TJ Maxx when you’re trying to nab a marked-down gold lamé gown, smile at your fellow shoppers and remember you can always:

– Borrow a friend’s dress
– Add a Santa hat to your LBD
– Wear a turtleneck under a sundress and trust in the universe’s sense of humor
– Learn a few elf jokes and show up in full regalia.

Wear ‘em if you got ‘em!


2 Comments for this entry

  • Michèle Spak

    Hi Phoebe!
    I’ve just finished reading ‘The Beauty Experiment and I loved it. I’m really happy that you posted a picture of ‘the dress’. In the book it sounds uglier than it is. I hope you have an occasion to wear it again. I too had a velvet dress – made for me when I was almost ready to deliver my son, and I had nothing to wear to a Christmas party. It had bell sleeves and an empire waist. And did I mention it was hot pink and mini-skirt length? I was 23, and I thought I looked fabulous. When I looked at the photos after the party, all I could see was a woman dressed like a pink pumpkin. What was I thinking!
    I’m 65 now, and have long since made peace with my appearance. Time teaches us a lot! Thanks for the great book. Sincerely, Michele Spak, Mundare, Alberta, Canada.

  • Phoebe

    Hi Michele, thanks for reading the book and commenting. Your party dress sounds…er…amazing! I hope you were able to repurpose it somehow, and yes, I’ve worn my red dress a few times since. In retrospect the problem wasn’t the dress, it was my own state of mind. Do let me know if you have book group or organization who’d like to Skype chat with me! Best wishes.

Leave a Reply