a year in well-worn dresses

outfits of 2018 (1 of 3)

pastel dream dress (1 of 2)

Though all blogs, diaries, and long-lost firsthand personal narratives remain selective in the facets of an individual’s life that they present, I assure you that my love for dresses as expressed through my social media holds a very strong basis in reality. I wear dresses (and occasionally skirts) nearly every day – I can remember with perfect clarity each of the few instances in which I’ve chosen a pair of leggings or pants instead over the past year.

Given that I have become what can be fairly described as a “dress collector,” of course, I now prioritize different qualities in garments than I did in the past. I love dresses that seem to last forever, and can be worn countless times in various situations. Some of this past year’s acquisitions, fortunately, appear able to withstand any challenge – and will ideally remain part of my wardrobe well into 2020 and beyond!


The “Anne of Green Gables”

During my summer trip to the UK, I wore my puff-sleeved dress everywhere: spotting ducks at the aqueduct, seeing the Hereford mappa mundi, and to celebrate my birthday, to name a few. Our trip lasted just over two weeks, and I maintain that I washed the dress at least three times. Neither of these photos do justice to the soft blue-lavender color of its fabric: which comprises the only example of polka dots in my closet.


The “Pastel Dream”

I bought this dress as a self-present as I recovered from a very harrowing bout with the flu in February. I remember gazing deliriously at my laptop screen and wondering if I would ever be bold enough to wear a dress that looks like a chimerical combination of a Sky Dancer, a North Shore sunrise, and the color schemes of various little ponies.

Somehow, I managed to find such boldness within myself – and I’ve subsequently worn this dress under a number of mundane circumstances in which such extravagant elegance seems unnecessary (including a rainforest hike).


The “Moderately Professional”

At the moment, I tend to taxonomize my dresses into three vague (and often overlapping) categories: “school,” “tours,” and “self-indulgent days off.” Since I bought it last January, my lovely pseudo-tweed Lindy Bop jumper has remained paramount in the first category. I sported it on my first day of teaching in the spring and fall semesters, and layered it over a cardigan while meeting archivists during my research trip. It’s infinitely adaptable, timelessly charming, and perhaps my best clothing investment yet.


The “Retro Mailbox Mermaid”

Those of you who may have been following my blog for years might remember the Novelty Print Glory Days of 2016, when I wore nothing but wildly bold patterns: sharks, maps, universes, dogs in space…

After the Novelty Print Drought of 2017 (in which an unexpected anxiety about dressing “weirdly” consumed me), I have slowly begun to reintegrate unusual dresses into my wardrobe. It started with an “intellectual cats reading stacks of books” frock (not pictured) that I purchased at a small boutique in Salem during our honeymoon, and expanded to include two new favorites that respectively feature an entire nineteenth-century library and a veritable aquarium. My tastes have not quite reverted fully, however: I still prefer much longer lengths than I did in 2016, and I’ve worked to find dressmakers whose products can accommodate tall folks like me!

The Future?

Ever since I started online shopping for vintage reproductions and quirky prints (in 2014, good grief!), I’ve gone through periods of intense patronage for particular stores. In 2018, I dabbled in a number of new favorites, mostly smaller boutiques.

After half a decade of rampant dress-buying, I have posed myself a challenge for 2019: this year, I aspire to only purchase pieces that are either:

  • true vintage or secondhand reproductions
  • made by contemporary brands that are transparent about the ethics of their productions process

Wearing genuine vintage clothes is a little new to me (other than the two 80s dresses I have that I adore!), and I’m excited for this new adventure! If anyone has tips for vintage-inclined Etsy sellers of choice, I’m all ears.


5 thoughts on “a year in well-worn dresses

  1. IdleEmma January 16, 2019 / 1:19 pm

    I do love seeing your dresses, especially all those fun prints – so opposite to my style and what I wear (black and grey leggings with black and grey tops, usually chunky knitwear :D).

    • Mailbox Mermaid January 17, 2019 / 2:35 pm

      Chunky knitwear sounds very appealing in this miserably cold weather I’ve returned to! 😀 I’ve sadly yet to master the art of adapting novelty-print dresses for the winter months (and literally had to go out and buy fleece-lined leggings today because I was just too cold!)

      • IdleEmma January 17, 2019 / 5:20 pm

        Have you tried looking for some novelty print fabrics you could turn into scarves? There must be a way of incorporating novelty prints into winter wear so seaside scapes and dinosaurs can be worn all year round (or sloths…now that’s a print I’d wear!)

  2. Elena January 17, 2019 / 8:01 am

    Kudos to you for preferring durable, ethically produced clothes.
    I, too, am becoming more attentive to how my clothes are made. Alas, in the shops here it is not easy to find good ones (natural fibers and dyes, sustainable resources and energy, fair wages to workers… and I am too coward to buy on-line: I am afraid the clothes won’t fit, they won’t become me, the colour won’t be identical to the picture… as if buying a wrong shirt were a tragedy.
    Anyway, in the course of 2018 I only bought two summer shirts, so I suppose I stayed rather sustainable 😀

    In other news, I like your style! At the mature age of 45 I am still defining mine 😉

    • Mailbox Mermaid January 17, 2019 / 4:33 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Elena! I believe I could certainly benefit from a little more of your caution when it comes to buying clothes online! 🙂 In the past, I’ve done it fearlessly and frequently, and the consequence is that I sometimes end up with garments that I don’t really like (for any of the reasons you’ve mentioned) – but since I’ve already spent money on them, I end up attempting to wear them anyway and feeling frustrated. I hope challenging myself to think about where my clothes comes from will temper my temptations to overbuy online!

      Oh, and I hope those two summer shirts you bought last year were absolutely perfect! 😀

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