In a fashion emergency, less is definitely less

We'd zipped the last of the suitcases and snapped the garment bag shut. "Be sure you have everything this time," my husband admonished me, no doubt recalling the many times en route to the airport we'd had to backtrack to retrieve gifts, jewelry, or other items I'd forgotten.

"I'm sure," I said confidently. "I made a complete list this time, and everything is checked off."

My niece's wedding promised to be an elegant affair. A formal dinner at a regal old hotel would follow the ceremony. We'd feast on chocolate from a Viennese dessert table after dinner and dance the night away to the music of a 10-piece band.

I had traipsed through boutiques and department stores for months looking for the perfect dress, something stylish, feminine, and – definitely – black. For this wedding I was determined to muster whatever sophistication and glamour I could. I found the dress on the sale rack of an expensive boutique I rarely frequented.

"This is the only one of its kind," the sales clerk said, "and it's in your size."

I sashayed in front of the three-way mirror, swirling the soft black chiffon folds across my calves. The small rhinestones on the bodice glistened under the fluorescent lights in the dressing room as I tried to glimpse myself from every angle in the mirror.

"This is my dress!" I announced. The clerk draped it over her arm and headed toward the cash register.

Driving home I imagined myself gliding across the polished dance floor in high-heeled silken shoes, the gossamer layers of chiffon rustling from side to side. My husband and I whirled by, à la Fred and Ginger, leaving other dancers in our wake.

The day before the wedding we arrived at the hotel where we'd be staying and were welcomed by friends and family. The lobby had filled with the din of joyful anticipation. "What are you wearing tomorrow?" a cousin asked.

"Oh," I answered playfully, "you'll see. I'll just tell you it's black."

The following evening I stood at the mirror in the hotel room putting on the rhinestone earrings. "Honey, will you get my dress out for me?" I asked. "It's in the garment bag."

"Are you sure?" he asked, poking through the shirts and skirts that would carry us through the rest of the weekend.

"Of course I'm sure," I said, "unless you didn't put it in."

"Me put it in?" He turned, confusion evident in his expression.

"Didn't you put it in?" I asked, panic creeping into my throat.

"Honey, why would I hang up your dress?" he asked.

"Because I hung it on the door by the garment bag."

There was no need to continue the conversation. The dress had not come with us. I sat down on the bed and felt tears well up. The wedding would begin in an hour. On Saturday night at a resort hotel, where could I buy an evening dress?

"Don't you have anything else you can wear?" he asked.

I envisioned the contents of the suitcase: colorful island wear for the brunch the next day; skirts, tops, and shorts for lounging with relatives I hadn't seen in years; and comfortable walking shoes and socks. I, the only sibling of the bride's mother, would disgrace the family.

I suppose I could show up in culottes and a straw hat and pass as a character of sorts – the quaint, eccentric relative. Every family had one.

"I have absolutely nothing," I muttered, and called my mother in her hotel room.

"Oh, my," she said, sympathetically. "You have nothing else with you? Come to my room. I have a couple of dresses. One of them might do."

Mother is six inches shorter and at least two sizes smaller than I am. Now was not the time to have a petite mother. "I'll be right up," I said, hoping she had something that would both fit and match black silk shoes.

"Suck in, and take a deep breath," she said, "and I'll pull up the zipper."

I looked at myself in the mirror and gasped. Too short and too tight, this omelet-colored sheath dress looked wretched.

"It only looks bad in your eyes," Mother said. "I don't hate it at all," I said, and shuddered.

As I entered our room, my husband stared, his mouth slightly open. "Don't say a word," I said. "I'm going to put on a shawl and a necklace."

"It will be fine," he said, eying the zipper stuck halfway up my back. "Will you, um, be able to keep the shawl on all night?"

We waited until an ample crowd had made its way to the site of the ceremony and then edged our way into the family section up front.

Trying to make up in charm what I knew I lacked in attire, I smiled broadly at the cheerful faces that nodded from aisle to aisle.

"I thought you were wearing black," my cousin whispered.

"It's a bit too warm for black this time of year," I said, thrusting my chin high and planning a way to knot the shawl so I could cover the zipper as I danced.

When my niece Debby finally came down the aisle on her father's arm, we all gazed at the bride in her beautiful lacy white gown with the long train trailing behind her. I breathed contentedly. This was her night, after all, and in my tight, partially unzipped omelet-colored dress I would dance it away with abandon.

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