Dream Dress: Just Five Bucks

Donna Britt poses in her five dollar dream dress.
Donna Britt poses in her five dollar dream dress. (Darrell Britt-Gibson)
By Donna Britt
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Like the new president whose inauguration sent me shopping last week, I was all about hope and change.

I went into Loehmann's hoping I hadn't waited too long to find a gown for my first inaugural ball. A woeful economy and end-of-season sales meant that the legendary discounter's dresses would be thoroughly picked over. Yet I was soon busy changing -- in and out of six promising gowns. Nothing worked.

Making one last sweep of the store, I spied a gorgeous fuchsia number that I'd somehow missed. With its beautifully shaped neckline, the Calvin Klein gown seemed almost too perfect. Was it torn? Nope. A size 0? The tag said 8. Heart pounding, I slipped it on. Huge grin.

As the salesclerk subtracted extra discounts and a $25 coupon, I daydreamed about up-dos and strappy sandals. Then the clerk said the words that slapped me awake:

"That'll be four ninety-six."

Blinking, I said, "Excuse me?"

"The dress is $4.96," she repeated, unfazed by my stupefaction. Handing her less money than I'd paid earlier for a sandwich, I slipped away before someone could discover the mistake. Didn't Loehmann's realize that if the gown had been any cheaper, the store would have owed me to take it off its hands?

As the nation's economy free falls, it was inspiring to find an evening gown for less than my grandmother paid for one in the 1950s. And my dress is a welcome antidote to the consumer culture that astounds me each time I peruse a copy of InStyle and see an ironically named "hobo" handbag costing $900. (I once rhetorically asked my college-student son, "Who buys these?" He cited a co-ed who moonlights as a waitress and owns a $700 Dooney & Bourke bag.)

Then the doubt set in: Could a $5 dress really be all that? After my husband's "Wow!" suggested it could, I told friends, relatives and complete strangers about my amazing deal. Yet I refrained from mentioning it to a colleague who had dropped a cool thousand on a spectacular dress for the official inaugural fete she's hosting. Come party time, which of us will be happier? My friend, cosseted in the luxury of a sumptuous ball gown? Or me, zipped into the bliss of a great bargain?

We'll both be thrilled. One reason women yearn to become brides is that weddings give them the unchallengeable opportunity to indulge in one face-flappingly stunning gown. Now my friend will have had that heady experience twice: one marriage, one inauguration.

But what budget-conscious recessionista -- fashionistas are so last administration -- wouldn't love sporting a gown that cost less than she'd pay for a glass of pinot? In fact, the "new" austerity gives women like me more reason to indulge our old inner cheapskate. Spending next to nothing on drop-dead clothes gives us an indescribable rush.

Having scored my killer dress, I felt as if I were high on clearance crack.

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