Fifty Cent Dress

When I was a little girl, about 8, I had a friend who had been taught the rudiments of pattern-making and sewing by her mother. She was precocious, intense, and creative — and sent a fan letter to Priscilla of Boston, which at the time was among the country’s premier couture bridal boutiques. The directrice of Priscilla was so tickled by this letter, she directed her workroom to collect scraps and send them periodically to my friend. And thus magical boxes began to appear . . .

As you might imagine, these boxes were filled with beautiful fabrics and when one arrived Holly would set to making a collection of skirts, blouses, and dresses sized for dolls, priced at 5, 10 or 25 cents each.[1] But the centerpiece of each collection was the 50 Cent Dress: the most elaborate garment, made of the choicest fabric in the box and finished with her best workmanship.[2]

To this day, I think of fancy dresses as 50 Cent Dresses. By this, I mean a dress that is a little too fancy for work. I think other people may call them party dresses or cocktail dresses.

Unfortunately, I don’t need many party dresses. The entertaining my friends and I do is casual, and when I go to a concert or event, the dress is generally business attire. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to have a dress on hand that can take you to a cocktail party, fancy fundraiser, or wedding, because when you really need such a dress, the right one can be maddeningly elusive. Therefore, I suggest that when you see a 50 Cent Dress that truly speaks to you, you snap it up . . . preferably on sale. I always have one eye on the lookout and spied these recently on YOOX.

Rick Owens; I love how this sort of looks like the most skillfully draped trash bag; the back is fantastic, too
Rick Owens: I love how this dress looks like the most skillfully draped trash bag; the back is fantastic, too
Ter et Bantine; this one could be worn to work, as well as after
Ter et Bantine: this one could be worn to work and then dressed up with a sparkly brooch or necklace
Marni: this, too, could go from work (with a little sweater) to a more formal event (sans sweater)

Jil Sander, with sleeves
Jil Sander: sleeves!
Jil Sander Navy; I bet this would be knee length on a woman of average height and it probably has a deep hem.
Jil Sander Navy: I bet this would be around knee-length on a woman of average height and it probably has a deep hem.
Dsquared2, cotton cady for warm weather
Dsquared2: cotton cady for warm weather, pockets for a slew of contingiencies

And as a special bonus, the most impractical of 50 Cent Dresses, virtually guaranteed to hang in the closet, unworn, year after year, but capable of bestowing great pleasure nevertheless because it is so beautiful. I give you extraordinary architecture from Jil Sander:
Jil Sander; my poor mother is probably looking at this and saying, "Oh no, darling. No."
My poor mother is probably looking at this and saying, “Oh no, darling. No.”
Plunging back only suitable for dress occasions
Yes! Yes! Dress mimics flexible tubing; plunging back only suitable for very dressy occasions

4 thoughts on “Fifty Cent Dress”

  1. Those are beautiful dresses! I would wear each one of them. Dressy dress occasions are few and far between these days for me! My mother used to make doll clothes for me, and also for sale at church bazaars. My dolls had many fifty cent dresses! My wedding gown was from Priscilla of Boston!(1977) , when I got engaged I didn’t think of looking anywhere else. ( I live near Boston.)

    • Hi Julia — Thank you for sharing your memories! As a native of southern New Hampshire, Boston was “the city” of my youth and it remains to me the Most Glamorous City in the World. I was there just a few weeks ago, taking in a Red Sox game with my father and then having dinner outdoors on Boylston Street — such a treat.

  2. Ode to ladies who hailed from Boston . . . When I wed at the Boston Opera House in 2011, of course I hoped to purchase my dress from Priscilla’s. Oh, how the elegant and beautiful had fallen. Priscilla’s died a slow death (purchased by David’s Bridal, and then, ultimately, it closed forever). Thus, may I recommend Modern Trousseau as a little-known but highly customized designer? Perfect for the petite or curvaceous bride who wants a dress customized on a dozen measuring points instead of just a few.

    ps – Agree completely about the Jil Sander dress, Directrice. I would spend years looking for an opportunity to wear a dress like this, without achieving that goal. In fact, I have a whole section of my closet devoted to such architectural items (the latest of which is a unique but fussy, architectural Nanette Lepore blouse). Thus, I suggest the idea of a theme party wherein ladies are invited to wear “your favorite dress that you’ve never found the right occasion to wear.” I think such a party would be delightful and entertaining. Perhaps cocktail hour could include presenting the dress to the group and describing its quirks and attributes 🙂

    • Betsy — I love it! As soon as Directrice Global Industries LLC gets its venture capital, I shall host an All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go Party at some quasi-chic D.C. spot.


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