There it was, featured in the Boden USA catalogue, the Riviera shirt dress. Despite the fact that the model was five inches taller, twenty-five years younger and twenty-five pounds lighter than me, I was completely seduced by the suggestion that by donning that dress, I, too, could have a life inspired by the French Riviera, sipping Lillet cocktails in a sunflower-filled garden.
Still, I waited.
Whenever a new Boden catalogue comes out, I make note of the outfits that catch my fancy (as the British-based company would say) for future reference. Future reference means clearance sale. Boden has fantastic clearance sales and I am the happy owner of of three Boden dresses, one cardigan, a few shirts and several skirts — all colorful and striking — that I scored during clearance sales.
When the dress arrived, it became clear that on the shorter, squatter me, it was not quite as sleek, stylish and, well, French as it had looked on the model. But embellished with a black patent leather belt and cute black sandals (someone once told me that accessories are what separate us from animals), I was able to pull together a look that would be eye-catching in Seattle, the fleece capital of the U.S.
I wore it for the first time on a gray, chilly summer morning for a work-related meeting. As a writer who works from home, it’s rare that I have to dress up, and fifteen years removed from the daily tyranny of heels and pantyhose, I still get a shiver of excitement whenever I do. As many Boden dresses are, this one was extremely comfortable. And as I waited for my morning latte, the barista said approvingly, “Hey, nice dress.”
We were going to a party later that evening, the kind of party suggested by the photo of the dress in the catalogue, sipping drinks on the deck of a house with a view of the sunset over Puget Sound.
I wanted to wear the dress to the party but feared it was too dressy. Seattle party attire usually consists of fleece, cargo pants and Tevas, though lately I’ve seen a lot of high-end yoga wear.
Plus, there was the problem of the intervening seven hours between the end of my meeting and the party. Should I take the dress off and put it on again later? Or should I revel in the “daytime to dusk” qualities of the dress and keep it on all day?
Have you ever read the Sunday New York Times Style Section feature What I Wore?
Here’s an excerpt from the May 17, 2012 profile of the painter Anh Duong:
May 9: Still recovering from the Met Ball marathon, where I, in my beautiful Giambattista Valli dress the color of a cloud, climbed all night from the bottom of the Met stairs to the Top of the Standard hotel for the after-party.
But all I have left from the ball is a cold. I started with a new healthy smoothie recipe that I read on Goop. Rejuvenated, I slipped into my gray Stella McCartney exercise costume. I don’t know if I would have committed to my exercise regimen without her designing for Adidas. Whatever it takes.
Before heading uptown to see my shrink (I like to dress comfortably so I can relax on the couch and let my inner child free), I put on a beige Phillip Lim sleeveless wool dress with a black Uniqlo T-shirt and Christian Louboutin black biker boots. Added a DVF cashmere leopard-print scarf for my sick throat.
It’s very clear to me that the people profiled in What I Wore, all of whom change their outfits at least three times a day, don’t do their own laundry.
Were the New York Times to profile me in their What I Wore feature, it might go something like this:
July 30: Donned a ripped T-shirt and black exercise pants from Target to walk the dog. The worn patches in the hindquarters remind me of ominous gray storm clouds.
Put on a striking blue and white Riviera shirt dress from Boden and went off to work. Came home to find kids bickering and, feeling French, toyed with the idea of yelling “Ca suffit!” The full skirt of the dress makes a statement when you flounce away in frustration. I drove to a neighborhood park and checked my email and discovered some good news I had been waiting for.
Still wearing the shirt dress, I took the kids and the dog to the doctor for check-ups and shots and then waited in the car while they bought donuts. When we got home, as a post-shot treat, we curled up on the couch together and I agreed to watch Pretty Little Liars, their favorite show, with them. Miraculously, though I repeatedly wrinkled my nose during the television program, the dress remained wrinkle-free.
Did you know it’s easy to cook in the Riviera dress? Feeling tres Nicoise, yet trying to avoid splattering oil, I whipped up a batch of socca to bring to a party and then loaded the dishwasher.
My husband and I strolled to the party, where we sipped drinks in the company of writers, while watching the sun set over Puget Sound. I felt a few pangs of regret when I admitted that I’ve barely made time for any writing this summer because mostly all I’ve been doing is driving kids places and doing endless amounts of laundry and dishes. Then I remembered that French women don’t have regrets.
“Hey, nice dress,” someone said.
Socca is the perfect snack to prepare for any occasion, but especially when you are feeling worn down from doing laundry and dishes and need a little of the French Riviera to bring romance back into your life. I used Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from Plenty but have also used Dorie Greenspan’s socca recipe from Around My French Table and have faith that David Lebovitz’s socca recipe is as great as all of his recipes are. Thanks to Dorie Greenspan, I now keep a jar of homemade creme fraiche in my refrigerator, right next to the preserved lemons.
Finally, my go-to summer cocktail this year has been a Lillet spritzer, which is Lillet on the rocks with sparkling water and a squeeze of fresh lime.
It reminds me of my younger days, when I subsisted on white wine spritzers and air-popped popcorn and a pretty dress could lead to all sorts of possibilities.
I loved this, but should mention that my hometown in suburban Boston is the fleece capital of the world! Also love the Boden catalog and the “What I Wore” feature. (who ARE these people?) Working at home has made great swaths of my wardrobe irrelevant, but I hang onto the clothes anyway. Great post.
Thanks and right back at you. Though I don’t always comment, I’m a big fan of yours.
You are SO funny and nasty. “Seattle party attire usually consists of fleece, cargo pants and Tevas, though lately I’ve seen a lot of high-end yoga wear.” I’m still laughing. “Socca is the perfect snack to prepare for any occasion, but especially when you are feeling worn down from doing laundry and dishes and need a little of the French Riviera to bring romance back into your life.” I hope your husband appreciates you. Ken
Actually, there was a guy in a kilt at the party. Kilts are very big in Seattle too. I am about to embark on a two-week windsurfing trip with my husband to celebrate his birthday. If the wind cooperates, he’ll appreciate me even more than usual and I won’t need to resort to socca :).
Great post Alison. Yet again you motivate me to read and to cook. Luckily, I have several of these cookbooks!