Lesson #72: The Tale of the Too-Tight Dress

by Rachel on March 16, 2011

There were several reasons I didn’t buy the dress I wore to the SXSW party until Sunday night.

Actually, on Sunday, I already had an outfit. I had gone back to Anthropologie a week prior and bought a totally different skirt — not one of the three original looks. It was cute, fun, nearly perfect in every way.

I wanted to just wear that to the party with the Beckinfield T-shirt, but to do that, I definitely needed a good belt. But…I never got around to going shopping for a belt. So at that point, I decided I’d just scrap the whole thing and wear the Beckinfield T-shirt with jeans, heels, and a cute blazer.

Then, last Thursday, one of my bosses invited me to a dinner after the party. The dinner had been planned for a while, but it was a private, exclusive dinner for a lot of internet VIPs, so I didn’t think much of it. Until I was suddenly going. And once I was suddenly going, I started thinking a lot of it — and thinking that maybe I should wear something a bit fancier than jeans and my Beckinfield T-shirt.

So I headed back to Anthropologie on Sunday night and tried on a bunch more outfits, along with Dress #2, which was my favorite of those three looks. And I liked everything, including the dress, but I just wasn’t sure.

I needed something good for the party and the dinner…that I had shoes and accessories to match…that didn’t need to be tailored…that would work rain or shine (but really in the rain, as that is what they were predicting).

I ended up staying until they closed because I couldn’t make a decision. Eventually, though, I had to make a decision, and so I chose Dress #2. Of all my options at that point, it was just the most special.

(Caitlin — our party photographer! — and me at the party.)

The only minor hiccup was that because I had procrastinated for so long, they no longer had Dress #2 in a size six. This could have made my decision even easier, but when I tried on the size four…it fit! So when I decided to buy the dress, I bought the four. I didn’t really think much of it.

On Monday, the day of the party, I got dressed in my hotel room and headed to the car for our drive into Austin. And it was there I realized that the size difference between the four and the six? Was in the belt. That area was a little bit smaller in the four. This slightly-smaller belt went around my ribs and lungs. And it was crushing them.

I tried to inhale. I couldn’t.

And this was an event where, given my increasing stress level, I really needed to be able to take deep breaths.

My boss told me he thought the dress was perfect and ladylike. And, you know, I felt like a lady. A Victorian lady who was about to get “the vapors” from her too-tight corset and faint.

This actually wasn’t the first time I’d worn a great dress that was secretly a lung crusher. The same thing happened to me senior year of college at Greek Gala, when I gained a few pounds in the two months after I bought the fabulous red dress and before I wore it to the event. Apparently, those two pounds went right to my ribs and I sat there sucking down vodka, alternating between hoping I won an award and hoping I didn’t have to try to move in the dress. I was afraid my big moment would be the exact moment when my lungs said, “Fuck it.”

Now, more than three years later, things felt pretty similar to that night. I was going to be hot. I was going to have cocktails. I was going to be nervous. And now I’d just pretty much turned over the rights to my lungs all because my vanity and indecisiveness kept me from buying a dress until the last minute.

I started to panic. Was I going to pass out at the party? Did I need to go home and change into my jeans/T-shirt/heels/blazer? It wouldn’t look as good, but at least then I wouldn’t have to worry about an embarrassing fainting incident. But there was no time to go back to the hotel. I imagined telling my bosses that I had to leave during the crucial party setup time to go back and change out of my too-small dress. But even if I could have braved that conversation, the plan wouldn’t work anyway — there wasn’t time, nor was there going to be parking when I got back to the Copa, where our party was.

I slouched low in the car, trying to move the belt up off my ribs in the process. But how was this going to work during dinner? Slouching was not ladylike.

I looked at the clock and realized I had about eight hours to go in this dress before I’d be able to take it off and use my lungs again. Eight hours is a long time to go without breathing. And I really like breathing during big events. It just helps, you know?

I continued to let my anxiety build, which, of course, was the worst thing I could do. Now I didn’t just feel lightheaded; I also had a sick feeling in my stomach, like I wanted to throw up. Great. So my options were pass out or throw up. Both options would ruin my night, my chance at going to the dinner, and, really, my career. And Option #2 had the potential to ruin my dress as well. Not that I was really sure I’d be wearing it again anyway, given the way it had turned on me.

We were at the venue early, giving me an extra 40 minutes to pace and stress. But then I had an idea. I had brought my blazer in case it got cold during the dinner. So I put it on…and then unzipped my dress as far as I possibly could, about five inches. I figured I could stay like that until the guests started arriving at the party, and I could pull this trick again at the dinner if necessary. I couldn’t go without breathing for eight hours, but I could handle it for three hours.

It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it definitely helped. Once the event coordinators and the caterer and the manager of the Copa showed up, they had lots of questions for me, so I was distracted from my dress problems. And before I knew it, it was time to ditch my flats for my heels, shed the blazer, and zip up my dress.

And, oddly, my dress was no longer a problem. Maybe it was because from there on out, everything felt really surreal and I was so focused on my job — network, find VIPs, introduce, circulate, sparkle — that I wasn’t even trying to breathe. Maybe it was because I was standing the whole time, or perhaps putting on my heels and standing a little taller made the dress fit better. I don’t really know. But it wasn’t a problem during the party or even during the dinner when I was sitting down.

And when one of the CEOs at the dinner walked past me and genuinely and just out of the blue told me he liked my dress, it wasn’t a problem at all. Actually, even if I had been gasping for air and turning blue at that point, that would have justified it.

The lesson: Don’t procrastinate on buying a dress for a big event. Seriously.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Megan (The Runner's Kitchen) March 16, 2011 at 10:29 am

Whenever I gain weight, it immediately goes to my ribs/stomach/mid-section. Why, why, why? I would much prefer if the lbs would migrate to my boobs…


2 Dori March 16, 2011 at 10:30 am

I had no idea there was so much stress involved with the dress decision. Next time, you will listen to me when I say Dress #2 is perfect! I’m sorry you went through so much, I have been there many times — when you have a bloating GI disorder, you often find yourself unable to breathe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around my office concealing wide open skirts, pants & dresses, or how many times I’ve had to leave work during the day to BUY a different outfit.


3 Lauren at Keep It Sweet March 16, 2011 at 10:43 am

LOL I have BEEN there! One of my least favorite things is wearing too-tight clothes which tends to be a problem when you gain some weight! Even worse is then sticking spanx underneath a tight dress and really not being able to breathe!

Once I was at a wedding and my dress zipper broke. It actually wasn’t because the dress was too tight, but ever since then I have that fear when my clothes are tight…


4 Eunice March 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

Oh, I definitely know about lung-crushing clothes. The rib area has always been a problem for me, and dresses that fit perfectly everywhere else sometimes crush my lungs. After a few drinks I can’t feel anything though. You look fab in that dress!


5 Diane March 16, 2011 at 10:48 am

You look great! At least the dress doesn’t appear tight in the photo. When I was an intern, I wore a too-tight/SRO dress to my first big political fundraiser. I found out that I’d be serving food all night … and that I wasn’t able to do more than the “bend and snap.” I got my high heel caught in an A/C vent and spilled salsa all over the host’s floor. (I’ve told this story before in comments, I think. Humiliating!) Anyway, I’m glad you were able to pull through LIKE A BOSS.


6 Savannah March 16, 2011 at 10:52 am

You look wonderful Rachel! Glad that the dress worked out and like Diane said you pulled through like a BOSS.


7 Megan@Dirty Dishes Daily March 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

I can’t even count how many times I have waited till the last minute to buy an outfit…which leaves me anxiety ridden. *Very Dramatic.*


8 Ashley Breton March 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

You look amazing! Same thing happened to me.. I got fitted for a dress in April for my best friends wedding as the maid of honor, and when the dress came in 2 weeks before the wedding in October, I had gained an additional 2 inches or so around my ribs and upper back and it wouldn’t zip!!! Apparently bridal sizes run small :( Getting it let out almost cost as much as the dress too! Sigh.


9 Diane March 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

Oh girl, bridal sizes are THE WORST. I had to go up four sizes thanks to my tits, meaning I had to pay the “plus size fee.” I was not amused.


10 Teri [a foodie stays fit] March 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

hahaha! what a nightmare! But you look absolutely beautiful in it! But you look beautiful in anything…even if you can’t breathe.


11 Bethany @Bridezilla Bakes March 16, 2011 at 11:32 am

You have just described my experience…. with my wedding dress!! Argh, that thing was SO tight around my ribcage — particularly bad when I was sitting down, which I of course hadn’t done at any of the fittings. And, you think you felt like a Victorian lady… wedding dresses DO have fairly legit corsets — there was NO flexibility around the ribs at all. Oy.

So, I feel your pain quite literally! You looked great, and best of all, it sounds like you pulled off a successful night and event. Way to go :)


12 Sable March 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

You look wonderful!!! :)

I have SOOOOO been there though. For real. There is nothing worse than politely smiling and nodding when someone says “Your dress is beautiful!” because said beautiful dress is slowly strangling you. Ugh.


13 Paul McConaughy (@minutrition) March 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I don’t know why it all stressed you so much… just look what a problem solver you are…just loosen the zipper under the jacket. Wouldn’t work for my zipper but sounds like it worked great for you. You’re so sharp!

Hug, Paul


14 Heather March 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm

you are gorgeous.

i want to say more, because i’m ALWAYS all “don’t comment for the sake of commenting, only comment when you have something valuable to say and add to the conversation,” you know – but really, that’s all I can say…

you are gorgeous.

that’s valuable. and true. and enough.


15 Kendra March 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I’ve ended up with bruises on my torso and ribs twice from dresses because I waited until the last minute. The first time was for my mother’s wedding. I was maid of honor but it was a total last minute thing and my dress wasn’t the first thing on our minds. When I finally got it, it was absolutely beautiful but I knew I wouldn’t be breathing much… despite having to sing for the wedding. How I managed that, I don’t even remember. I ended up with bruises from the ribbing in the dress but I looked great!

The second time was for a recent opera event. No real story except for last minute shopping and too much dancing.


16 [SMASH] March 16, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Despite almost dying, you looked fabulous. I thought this dress looked the most “you” out of the three choices before. Pretty!


17 Aaron March 16, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Whatever Rach…this never would have happened if you had picked the right dress from the original choices. #3 allll the way! Regardless, ya’ looked totally gorge…and that red dress. Holy Toledo, Marge, bring that beauty back!


18 Rachel March 17, 2011 at 9:56 am

haha you know, in hindsight, I think that the skirt would have been a little too dressy for this! Not that it would have looked BAD, but I think #2 was the right choice.


19 Christie March 20, 2011 at 6:42 pm

So glad that I bought my bridesmaid’s dress for a wedding in July now… Because I can always have it altered, but how much would it suck if they didn’t have it in my size because I waited too long?

Size 6… I’m totally jealous!


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