Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Coming up empty in dress quest

March 7, 2013

Assuming most of us have survived this long, there are about 2 million women my age living in the United States right now. I know because I looked up the Census birthrate chart for 1959: the blue line is shaped like a mountain, and I was born at the rocky summit, at the height of the baby boom. It says 4.3 million babies were born that year, and at least half of them were girls.

Which means about 2 million of us are shopping for a spring dress this month. And all but the 100 of our sisters who are both leggy and rich are finding the task impossible.

What is wrong with these stores and their designers (who must be lazy and 20 years old)? Have they not read the papers? The ones that talk about the buying power of the baby boomers? The business pages talking about the CEO of Yahoo, who last week put the kibosh on letting employees work from home in their jammies?

We need dresses, people!

Not that I don’t own a few; one side of my closet is stuffed with the frocks of seasons gone by – dresses that fit but are tired; dresses bought a size too small in a moment of insane and futile optimism; dresses a bit too big that I keep as trophies; and dresses from catalogs that won’t let me return them without the receipt I lost.

I have three speaking engagements this spring. I could wear a dress I already have, but sometimes a girl just wants to look extra pretty. And so I’ve set off on a trek to find a dress. Just one dress – something that will work for all three events. During one long shopping day at the mall, I visited no fewer than eight stores, department and small chain and boutique, and exited four hours later with nothing but an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and blisters on my feet.

And it’s not like I went in there confused or unfocused. I know what I want: a dress with a fit-and-flare shape, which means something to show the contours of my top part but not my bottom part. And since we’re on the topic of what the sadistic fashion magazines like to call “problem areas,” I would like the skirt to cover both my thighs and both my knees in their entirety. My arms are OK, so I don’t have to have sleeves, but there is no way I am getting up in front of all those people in strapless. Oh, and no pink.

Here’s what I found instead. Frocks in jelly bean colors with flippy skirts that will never touch a knee unless the wearer is three-foot-two; “sheath” dresses both short and tight that don’t look right on anybody not airbrushed; and bedazzled bits of strapless frippery favored by the casts of reality shows.

And then there’s the other category, for “mature” women. There are whole stores (with names starting with C) with dresses so soft and long and flowy I could wear them without any undergarments and get away with it. The fabrics are spongy and have big prints and are what the magazines call “forgiving.”

Well, forgive me, but in those dresses I look like I’m standing in a bucket wearing a shower curtain. Define the waist, ladies. Isn’t that what Stacy and Clinton are always telling people on “What Not to Wear”?

Having struck out at the mall, I’ve turned to the Internet. I haven’t found anything yet (not that my sister isn’t trying; she sends me links every day), but I still have eternal the hope of spring.

And if I order something, I’m holding onto the receipt.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



blog comments powered by Disqus