Sunday, December 9, 2007

Black Tie: White Knuckles

When I’ve been asked my scrapbook “style” for various industry publications, I usually answer, “Eclectic.” However, I think I could be more honest and say, “Experimental.” You see, I love to try new things—and I especially enjoy incorporating "magpie" elements in my pages. "Magpie" elements is a British term for found items, stuff you happen upon which normally would not be part of a scrapbook page. (Think about magpies. They are scavengers who pick up and save shiny objects. See?)

Last Sunday night, (Oops, I lost my concentration because there’s an ice storm outside and I spotted a brilliantly bright cardinal sitting on a branch…his vibrant feathers alive against the silver of the frozen rain and the brown of the nude branches) my husband and I went to Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s annual holiday celebration. Because it’s a black-tie event, I am always struck with terror about what to wear. I’m curious: Does dressing up worry you? I would rather be beaten with a baseball bat than have to shop for a formal gown. It’s worse than shopping for a bathing suit, I think. You see, I think a formal gown is a statement about how classy you are, and a bathing suit, well, it’s just about whatever you can find to hide your jiggly bits and emphasize what hasn’t gone South for the Winter. Conversely, a formal gown is supposed to display your jiggly bits, but in a tasteful manner. I mean, am I the only person who gets panicky about this? Hence the title of this post: Black Tie, White Knuckles.

David promised to help me make the decision. He was a half an hour late for our shopping, That upset me…big time. While I waited, I wandered into Saks Fifth Avenue and the skinny young thing at the formal dress department looked at me like I was nuts when I asked if there was still time for them to hem a dress for me. After David arrived, and I had a melt-down (Do you do that? Is it just me?), we went to the formal dress department and God had ANSWERED my prayers. A woman of respectable age was there. She took pity on me and helped me find this dress. Then she and David ran downstairs to buy shoes so the alterations lady could put in a proper hem.

Okay, and here’s the Magpie part. When it was all over, I fell in love with the Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag. It’s black with white snow flakes and inside there’s a classy border of lovely words. So, I used the bag as a portion of my Black Tie: Red Letter page. That part of the experiment worked. What didn’t work is I bought more ink from a refill place. I think the quality of the photo leaves something to be desired. (And this was especially disappointing after I used the clone stamp tool to remove a vase from the side of David's head.)

So, dish! Does buying fancy duds intimidate you? Is there somewhere you go, but it’s a struggle until you get there? If I hadn’t have gone, I’d have never heard Meditations by Thais. (Go to and you can hear it. It’s absolutely divine—and a moment of beauty and spirituality in a hectic, commercial time of year. You NEED this.) But getting gussied up is hard for me. How about you?


Monica Ferris said...

I love to buy fancy dress suits for my signings, but not formal dresses. I am too old to make a display of my jiggly bits ("mutton dressed as lamb" is the phrase that occurs), but I do have a cocktail dress and a formal ice-blue gown and self-jacket, both covered with bugle beads. And a handkerchief hem that I love. I think it was probably originally meant to be a mother of the bride dress. One of the few compensations of becoming a fat old woman is that such melt-downs are rare anymore. I do fuss a whole lot over buying a new hat, however.

Camille Minichino said...

I can NOT do serious dress up. Even for a professional occasion, I wear a funky pin or something to lighten the mood. Coincidentally I created a character in the periodic table series who does the same. She wears a nuclear reactor cooling tower pin to meetings ... and so do I.

One good thing about "these days" is that you see casual dress even on what used to be strictly formal occasions. Or maybe that's just the crowd I hang with!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Yes, Camille, I saw quite a few ladies who did not take "black tie" to heart. I actually went online to look up the definition. Strictly, it is a formal full-length dress, usually black, and black shoes! Some recommended elbow length gloves. (Whoa!) I guess when you are attending such an event and you are representing a business, like Steinway Pianos, which we were, you tend to stick to the guidelines a bit more rigidly. And Monica, I am FIGHTING becoming a "fat old woman," with every cell in my body. (But somedays, I do think I should just give in!)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Oh, and I did learn something interesting from the alterations woman. Very, very expensive dressy gowns have a corset built in, and therefore, two sets of zippers. One zips you into the structure of the gown, and the other zips the gown over the corset. That's why all those Hollywood stars look so good--they are being "shaped" into their dresses.

caryn said...

So you went to the OTSL winter Gala! Good for you! We do many of the OTSL events, but I tend to shy away from "blacktie" and my husband positively runs from such events. He doesn't own a tux and finding the time to go be fitted is a drag.
However, had I gone, I would have been in a calf length black dress-not new. I wear the same one with one of three different shawls or jackets every place I go that's dressy.
Your picture is beautiful and I love the black with white snowflakes.
(so far we've been lucky-mostly rain, not much ice.)

Deb Baker said...

You do look beautiful. The dress is perfect. I dislike dressing up and avoid it at all cost. That said, I'm attending a 'black tie optional' event in January and will have to buy something. Can I wear nice pants? uggggh.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Caryn, wouldn't it have been fun to meet at the OTSL event? What a hoot that would have been. David owns a tuxedo, and he's very comfortable in it, so that's no problem. With his work, he goes to a lot of fancy events. I used to stay home when Michael was small, but now I'm dipping my toes in.

Deb, you could wear pants, but I felt more assured being traditionally dressed. There were ladies with hems of all lengths, and a few wide pants and fancy tops, but I figured I'd be more stressed worrying that I wasn't dressed in the exact standards, so I went for the long gown.

Thank you both for the compliments. It was a great dress for me.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I love buying (and wearing) formal clothes, but seldom get to wear them. We live in California, which takes the notion of "casual" dress to an extreme (except for the Academy Awards, lol). How wonderful that your husband will shop with you! I'd have lasso mine to get him through the doors of Saks.

Anonymous said...

Joanna, you look FABULOUS! And, I love love LOVE the page. What did you use for the white snowflakes? Part of the bag?