I became a woman wearing 100% polyester Limited Too and what appears to be yellow nail polish.
Sure, the ’90s are back—overalls, velvet scrunchies, the whole thing. But my bat mitzvah dress was so bad that it didn’t make the comeback.
Still, when I found the dress recently, in a clear storage tub under a Guster tour t-shirt, I knew I had to wear it, but I couldn’t quite explain why.
Maybe it’s because the first time I wore the dress, to read from the Torah for the first time, I had the self confidence of an earthworm (which everyone knows are the least confident species) and a social network of zero. The week before my bat mitzvah I sheepishly asked my Girl Scout troop to invite their boy friends because aside from my poster of *NSYNC, I didn’t know any boys.
I guess I just needed to show this dress exactly who I became: a woman confident enough to wear an ugly dress in public, but not confident enough to sing karaoke sober.
And so, I set out to wear the dress for a week (I was not a small tween, so it still fits). Here’s what happened.
WEARING THE DRESS TO WORK
For five years, I’ve been a writer at a Jewish nonprofit. That means I’ve spent five years getting paid time off for Shemini Atzeret and accidentally spelling aliyah, “Aaliyah.”
So it feels right to stroll into my office wearing my bat mitzvah dress.
My 12-year-old self—remember: confidence of an earthworm—probably knew she was a writer but was too embarrassed to admit it.
But adult me just does not give a fuck. My blog, my Moleskine, and my red pen are my chicest accessories. I wield them with pride.
As I sit down to work on a new assignment, I briefly wonder how things would be different had I allowed myself to fully embrace being a writer earlier in life. Would I be a magazine editor (or a former magazine editor—RIP print media)? On the best-seller list? Writing the internet’s preeminent One Direction fan fiction?
It doesn’t matter. I’m in a suburban office, wearing my bat mitzvah dress and a vintage blazer, and I’ve gotten two compliments—which means that two people in my office are either willing to lie to my face or love a classic Limited Too print.
WEARING THE DRESS TO VOLUNTEER
Later that week, I volunteer at a Creative Mornings event—a breakfast lecture series aimed for creative communities. Each Creative Mornings has a theme, and this month’s is Pioneer. The Oregon Trail is available on a bank of computers, so my dress feels very appropriate: from the same era, and originally worn to ford the river of adulthood. (I tried, you guys. I tried.)
We’re asked to fill out a name tag with the question Who is your favorite pioneer? I write Hillary Clinton, stick the name tag onto my dress, and feel sad for every 12-year-old girl who is desperate for confidence and unsure of her worth.
I meet two people with mohawks. In a room full of creative types, my dress is the least noteworthy piece of clothing.
WEARING THE DRESS TO DRINK
On Saturday night, I have a pumpkin spice toddy (what a time to be alive!) before attending a live taping of a favorite podcast, Call Your Girlfriend. There is a lot of vintage fashion in the room, and I feel right at home in my dress. I’m shocked no one has stopped me to compare vintage sources.
The podcast’s tagline is “a podcast for long distance besties everywhere.” Appropriately, my bestie, who is long distance, and I became best friends at my bat mitzvah.
My bat mitzvah party was held at the pinnacle of 90s hospitality, the Embassy Suites. My friend’s mom dropped her off an hour early, giving us ample time to wander the lush atrium. While wandering, we ran into our PE teacher, which became an unfunny inside joke that ushered in a decades-long friendship.
Since that night we’ve endured questionable fashion choices, awkward AIM conversations, a sleazy high school golf coach, a terror attack in London, the death of a parent, and Hurricane Katrina. You know—things you should experience with your bestie.
As the live podcast ends, I make a mental note to call her. I wonder what she’s wearing.
Here’s the thing—since my bat mitzvah, nothing has changed and everything has changed. Being Jewish was an inconvenience at best then; now I’m a tad prouder. I was a writer then (quietly) and I’m a writer now (loudly). I may not have had any friends at my bat mitzvah (people sucked the helium out of the balloon decorations and I…I told on them) but somehow, the universe handed me a best friend for life.
Getting reacquainted with my bat mitzvah dress (which, let’s be honest, is more like a bat mitzvah tunic at this point) did what any good soul-searching exercise should—it reminded me how lucky I am, it reminded me not to care what other people think of me, and it made me so, so, so happy that I am no longer 12.