Home Essays The Dress That I Won’t Wear

The Dress That I Won’t Wear

What a color means can change.


Months ago, I saw a dress I loved. I thought about it for a few months before I bought it. Sometimes I put things in my online shopping cart and if I forget about them, I don’t really want them. But I never forgot about this one. I ordered it last week. On a Wednesday. November 2nd. I received it by UPS the following Thursday, November 10th.

That morning, I heard the familiar screech of the UPS truck outside, the steps on my porch, and the knock on my door. I opened the door to an aggressively warm sun, a little embarrassed because I had been crying. A black man with a mustache handed the package to me and asked me how I was. I said ok and thanked him.

I placed the box on the bed and ran one blade of my dull scissors along the seam of the brown box. It was taped clumsily and looked like it had been knocked around a bit in the back of the truck.

I took the dress out of the black garment bag. I slid it off the hanger and stretched it over my body, careful to avoid the deodorant I just applied. It’s a form-fitting dress, so I scrunched it down over my hips and bottom, smoothing the fabric around my waist. I walked into my bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. It was a perfect silhouette and fabric. It fit me beautifully. I bought it to perform in.

But it’s red. Bright red.

And I can’t look at myself in it.

Last week it was just a red dress. That morning when I looked at it, I saw the same color of the campaign hats that support bigotry. Red looks different to me now.

I tell myself it’s just a dress. No one owns a color. Detach. But, when I look at the dress, I see a map of the electorate. I tell myself it’s just a map: a visual representation of the way our country voted. That map tells us how afraid and angry people are. Fear and Anger have been represented by red. The communist flag is red. I used to have one hanging in my bedroom. I bought the flag at an army surplus store on Martha’s Vineyard when I was a teenager — when I thought it was cool to be a contrarian about things I didn’t understand. I hung it on my wall because my grandfather was from the Ukraine. But I didn’t know what it stood for.

I was looking for connection. To anything. To the past. To my family. I was looking for something that would reflect me back to me – something that would help me decide who to be.

When I put on the dress, it didn’t make me feel powerful like red usually does. It made me sad. I felt embarrassed. I don’t want anyone to think about Trump and what he represents while I am holding a microphone.

I tell myself that other people won’t react to the color of a dress the way I do. But I’m a reasonable person and I reacted to it. That color conjures.

Trump is a practitioner of and a representative for hate speech. The violence that has been unleashed at women and people of color is tragic. Kids were bullied on the bus just one day after the election. Swastikas were spray painted on walls. People have been injured, beaten, and pushed. A woman I know was verbally abused in her office when she asked a colleague to take his conversation out of the hallway and into another room. The man said, “Bitch, you can’t tell me what to do.”

This election result has given some people permission to be their worst selves. It’s not just Trump. It’s the hate groups that endorsed him and all the white men quietly chuckling to themselves with the mantra “you’ll never be equal to us.”

Sometimes they say it out loud. Like my father did two years ago. He came to see a performance at the Comedy Store and the host introduced me as “sexy” instead of “funny” like he did with all the male comedians. He introduced me based on how I looked instead of what I’d accomplished, something I am accustomed to but always bothered by. We went to a Greenblat’s Deli after the show and when I mentioned that what the host said bothered me, my father said “We’re never gonna be equal. I can’t even get upset by this anymore.”

I shrunk inside myself. Like I did right before I went on stage that night. The stage — where I’m supposed to be big, take up space, command authority.

He said like it was fact. But we are equal, I thought.

My father shoved more kuegel in his mouth. He didn’t notice how he dismissed me. If I had told my father that this comment hurt me, he might have apologized. But I didn’t say anything. I absorbed that dismissal like most women I know: quietly. It happens so often, there are so many pin pricks, I’ve grown accustomed to them. I’m like a pin cushion, full of tiny stabs you can’t see. Some are more visible than others, but I feel them all. He, nor this comedy host, know that it only takes a few words to chip away at me. They don’t know the work it takes to grow back the part they chipped away.

Words can matter a lot. Or a little. Trump’s words matter a lot. So do my father’s. So do Hillary’s. Words matter little when they aren’t sincere. Like half-assed apologies. Like the one Trump gave us about his “locker room” talk. Like the ones we give each other when we say sorry for things we’re not sorry for, and the sorries we say when we haven’t done anything wrong at all. Like the one I got last night when I sat in a room of comedians and one of them joked about being glad Hillary lost and I sat stone faced. Comedians work with what’s in front of them. It doesn’t bother me that he was trying. I could tell he was uncomfortable saying it and looking at me while he said it. He said he didn’t mean to upset me. To be fair, I was upset before I got there.

I’m sending the dress back. I can’t wear red tonight. Or tomorrow night. I wish it were blue. Or purple, even. Or green, or burgundy.

It’s not that we didn’t know these people existed. We know how racist and sexist our fellow Americans are. But I truly thought we’d beat them. Because I live in an urban city where many people think like I do. I forgot about how many people don’t. I’ve chosen not to live near them and to turn away from the people who don’t help me get where I’m going. But these people are important. The ones who voted for Trump and the ones who didn’t vote at all. They live in the collective blind spot of liberalism. Now they’re in our sight line.

It’s a beautiful red dress.

But I can’t wear it.


First published on Wifey.tv

Writers statement

I wrote this reflection essay two days after the US election when I was stewing in sadness and confusion over the vision I had for this world. I received a package I ordered the week prior. The package contained a dress I planned to wear to express myself while I do something that is empowering for me – live performance is my profession. But instead of expanding into the power that comes from dressing myself with dignity and elegance, I contracted in the presence of the bright red fabric, which took on new meaning. A dress, a feminizing piece of clothing on an entertainer with a feminist point of view. Suddenly, something that was supposed to make me feel big, made me feel small.



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