We're all aware of the "TV magic," i.e. creative editing, that reality TV shows love to employ. From strategically remixing scenes to make a character appear as a villain to setting up situations and plying people with alcohol to purposely cause friction, editors and producers know exactly what they're doing to stir up drama. One reality TV series that is still holding strong is The Bachelorette . You know, the show where a beautiful woman in an over-the-top formal gown slowly eliminates a pool of sometimes-douchey suitors.
There's a level of unrealistic glamour on The Bachelorette — the opulent mansion they all live in, the luxurious fantasy dates in tropical locations, the beautiful dresses that the women wear as they traipse around said mansion and meet their suitors. Although it's obvious that it's nothing like real life, it's hard not to wonder how things would actually be if one lived at that level of fanciness.
So when my editor approached me with the idea of wearing formal dresses every day like the women on The Bachelorette, I jumped at the chance. Not because I'm a fan of the show — in fact, full disclosure, I'd only seen clips on The Soup, and had never watched a full episode in my life before this project — but because I've always dreamed of a more glamorous existence than what my writer salary can allow for.
Obviously, to approach this with full journalistic integrity, I sat down to binge-watch the current season of the The Bachelorette, which controversially began with two women competing to be chosen for the titular role, which to me seems like an indication that the show might be jumping the shark. Any time a long-running series makes a big change to their format to "shake things up," it's typically to entice more viewers after a dip in ratings, which is exactly what happened with last season's Bachelorette.
While Kaitlyn, this season's chosen Bachelorette, met her potential life-mates, she wore a stunning navy blue sparkly gown. When she went on her first one-on-one date, she donned a sheer, crystal-encrusted strapless dress while she and her guy did an underwater photo shoot (ah, TV magic). On her first cocktail date, she wore another sequin-covered gown (this time with cutouts!). It seemed pretty clear to me that, while finding love was important for her, so was looking like a Magpie's dream. Blame it on my Jersey roots, blame it on my Grandmother plying me with costume jewelry at a very young age, blame it on anything you want, but I too am a lover of glitz and glam. The bar had been set: sparkly was key, and I was more than up for the challenge. I reached out to a few contacts, and before I knew it, boxes of fancy-schmancy gowns began arriving at my apartment. I made my rules and decided that, with the exception of showers, sleeping, and Barre class, I would wear a different formal gown every single day for an entire week. Would I feel like I was living in a fantasy world just because I was dressed to the nines? Would I be treated differently everywhere I went? Inquiring minds wanted to know.
I woke up to a grey, drizzly, blah Sunday, and all I wanted to do was stay in my PJs all day. Shrugging off my initial trepidation, I slipped on a crystal-embellished strapless gown from PromGirl. After a few feeble attempts by my husband John to lace up the back (like a shoe, come on!), I was finally situated, and headed out into the mist to take my dog for a walk.
Not used to wearing clothing with a train, I managed to catch myself in our front door, and instead of freeing me, John felt this was the perfect time to start snapping shots. As people wandered past our apartment, stopping to stare and doing double takes, I realized that this experiment might get me more attention than I was expecting.
As we continued down the almost-empty streets, John snapping away, a man came running up to me. "Miss! Miss!" he exclaimed, "You've got to use my umbrella for a picture." He handed over his Keith Haring print 'brella while my dog, Flynn, wrapped his leash around me.
I felt like I was filming a rom-com; it all seemed too set up, too perfect in the moment. But then I handed back his umbrella, untangled my dog, and continued down the road.
As I continued to walk through Jersey City, I wandered over to the new pedestrian area, which quickly became filled with people as I posed and twirled. People stopped and stared, some smiling, some shooting dirty looks (which I felt might have more to do with my breasts than the gown itself). I was digging the attention, the wide-eyed smiles from little girls in princess costumes walking to the bookstore, and the confused double-takes from a few grouchy faces.
I capped off day one with a visit with my mom. She has Parkinson's and had a very bad fall about a month ago, so she's staying in a nursing home while she rehabs her broken shoulder. I entered the nursing home with a zip-up hoodie on over the dress, as I didn't want my cleavage to give anyone a stroke, but once we were alone outside, I was able to show my mom the entire look.
She gushed about how I looked like a princess, but made sure to throw in a few boob comments for good measure (#blessed, thanks for the genes, mom!). When I wheeled her back inside (with said hoodie back on, of course), the nurses kept stopping me to ask what event I was going to and shower me in compliments.
The response had been mostly positive, and by the end of the first day, I felt elated. By forcing myself to get all dressed up and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I wound up feeling more confident than I had expected to feel during this week.
After a well-received first day, I was considerably more pumped for day two, especially since Monday's dress was my absolute favorite of the bunch. I felt very Mother of Dragons in this light blue number from PromGirl (sold out on its site); powerful, commanding, badass, yet totally elegant.
I had a press preview for Fab.com that morning, and my husband had taken the day off, so that afternoon we headed into New York City. I hadn't warned any of my industry friends that I was doing this experiment, as I wanted all reactions to be genuine, but I was secretly slightly nervous about what the response would be once I got there. As I was mulling over my concerns, a woman stepped out of a bodega to yell, "I don't know what's happening, but you look amazing!" The compliment was enough to dissuade my fears, and a smile crept across my face. I knew it was going to be a fun day.
I was totally in the zone as I walked to the PATH station — shoulders back, head held high, an obvious strut in my step — so I didn't even notice anyone's reactions. John was trailing behind me, snapping away, and he said that people were constantly turning to look as I walked past. I'd love to say it was my confident vibe catching their attention, but truthfully, I imagine my vibrant red hair and the formal blue gown were the real eye catchers.
As I waited for the PATH train, I surveyed the people on the platform. Unlike when I was walking around outside, no one appeared to notice the woman in the fancy blue gown, and I felt myself beginning to relax a bit. Since this dress was very light and airy, it was easy to gather the skirt as I commuted in, and having my husband to hold things for me allowed me to focus solely on not tripping or getting my frock caught between the doors.
When I arrived at the press preview, the look of shock was clear. My friends had a few chuckles as I explained what I was doing, and they peppered me with questions as we walked around the apartment. As I talked shop, I noticed the other attendees' confused looks, and I couldn't help but smirk while I wandered from room to room. One woman asked to take my photo and tagged me in it on Twitter later that day.
After we left the preview, we sauntered down the street, trying to decide where to head next, when I realized I was near one of my old haunts, Pieces. It's a gay bar around 9th street and right by the PATH train, so it seemed like the perfect place to grab a quick drink and hopefully snap a few shots. I was not disappointed.
It was pretty calm in there at 4 p.m., nothing like the hundreds of rowdy nights I've had there with my friends over the years, and the most lively thing happening was a discussion about Inception. After slugging down one happy hour special, I inquired about taking a few photos in there (always good to be polite), and with their permission, I jumped onto the stage where I'd sung too many karaoke songs.
As I posed, throwing my skirt in the air and twirling, I imagined I was a captivating drag queen, lip-syncing for her life, and definitely not effing it up.
(Hopefully I made Ru proud, because I certainly was loving myself in that moment.)
We capped off our day with drinks and tapas at Raval, a brand new place in Jersey City. I loved its mosaic-covered booths, and I felt like I was holding court while I sipped my sangria. As the night wound down, I realized I was really loving this whole experiment.
I had an early meeting that morning with the PR company for the lingerie brand Curvy Couture, which forced me to have to deal with commuting into the city during rush hour. I picked this PromGirl dress especially for this day because I could wear a bra with it, as the last thing I wanted to deal with on my commute was flashing the entire PATH train, but what I didn't realize was just how voluminous the skirt was. The struggle was real that morning; I had to gather the skirt up with both hands, and maneuver it in a way so as to not expose anything, not leave anything too loose (otherwise, a passing train could cause my skirt to blow everywhere), and not keep it too tight and end up tripping myself.
As I browsed bras and chatted about the brand, I noticed that people in the office kept poking their heads into the conference room. One woman came in to introduce herself to me because she saw the dress when walking past the door, and when I went to leave, more people wandered out from their desks like the munchkins after Dorothy's house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. Timidly they approached me, and after I assured them I was a good witch — I mean, not losing my mind — smiles quickly spread across all of their faces.
Although my trip back to New Jersey wasn't quite as challenging as my route in — as things tend to wind down a little by 9 a.m. — I did notice a few more raised eyebrows on my ride home than I did going in. Perhaps it was my lack of caffeine on the way in that caused me not to notice any looks, or maybe it was everyone else's sleepy states that caused them to gloss over my formalwear at 8 a.m.
I assumed that Wednesday would be easy, as I didn't have any meetings or events lined up, and my biggest plans of the day involved working from home and doing a little cleaning. Because I couldn't take photos when I was alone, I recreated my day once my photographer — ahem, husband — was home from work.
I decided to add some borrowed jewelry from Nina Shoes to this flashy number from PromGirl for my fourth day to add an extra-lavish touch to my look. I was excited to wear the dress, but due to the strapless style and my experience earlier during the week, I knew it would be better to wear it in a more relaxed environment. Sitting on the couch writing articles for the majority of the day doesn't require a ton of movement, so there was no struggle to keep the dress up, nor pressure to frequently bra check myself.
As I'm clearly a very busy lady with lots of important things to do, I have mastered the art of multi-tasking — writing articles, responding to emails regarding future articles, finding photos for my articles — the day in the life of a freelance writer is just like a Sex and the City episode, except in no way at all.
Once I wrapped up my work for the day, I decided to play a little with my fur bear, Flynn. Trying to interact with my dog in a 3D crystal-encrusted gown proved to be extremely challenging, as I had to carefully lower myself to the floor, keep him and his fur away from the dress, and somehow play without accidentally ripping it.
As we don't own a dishwasher, we have to wash all the plates by hand, and it was my turn to give them all a good scrub. I found this entire situation absolutely absurd, as if I was shooting an ad for Real Housewives of Jersey City (which I'd so watch, by the way).
As I finished washing my last dish, I thought about what I'd say for my RHOJC catch phrase. I really liked, "I'm always in the black, but baby, I leave them seeing red," but I felt that might not be clear enough to the viewers (Black is my last name, and red, duh, is my hair color). Laughing at myself, I realized just how ridiculous my thinking was, and wondered if the opulence of the gowns was somehow seeping into my body, upping my lavish desires.
On Friday afternoon, John and I drove over to a friend's house for a pre-Fourth of July party and a group trip to a local brewery. When I strode into the backyard wearing a gold sequin dress from David's Bridal, I was expecting puzzled looks, laughter, or squeals, but the reception I received was wonderful and unsettling all at once. Although a few of my girl friends threw some flattering comments my way, the general response from the group was more indifference and acceptance; an attitude of, "Oh yeah, of course Liz is wearing a sequin-covered formal gown to our backyard BBQ. No big deal — that's Liz!"
I felt happy about my friends' obvious acceptance of me, regardless of what I'm wearing, but another part of me wondered if my sense of dress was typically so out-of-the-box that showing up in an elegant gown seemed commonplace to them at this point. I worried about this only for a fraction of a moment, and decided I'd much rather have friends who are happy to see me, regardless of how I dress. However, when we got to the brewery, it reminded me that not everyone is as accepting as my friends. Since the majority of the customers were dressed extremely casual, in shorts and T-shirts (as is warranted for a brewery), I really stood out in the crowd.
As we all sat around on the plastic picnic bench, enjoying our drinks and chatting, I felt myself relax again. Even with the quizzical looks (and the fact that I can't drink beer and was stuck sipping water), I was at ease, knowing that I had the support of my friends.
Back at my friend's house, we waited until dark, then lit a few fireworks. Since I had never lit anything bigger than a sparkler before, my friends pushed me to ignite a Roman candle.
As the sparks exploded into the sky and clouds of gunpowder wafted above my head, I felt like the chicest witch in the world. The glinting sequins, my glowing red coif; everything about the moment felt magical. There were no TV cameras, I knew there was no rose ceremony set before me, but everything about that sliver of time felt too perfect.
I saved this PromGirl dress for Independence Day; what's better than draping yourself in shimmering silver sequins to celebrate the Fourth? Since I had planned to lay out by the pool (and I didn't want weird tan lines), this style was a perfect choice, thanks to its strapless neckline and thigh-high slit.
But oh, it was hot. The sequins reflected every bit of sunlight, making me feel like a disco ball in a sauna.
I really wanted to take a dip and see what would happen with the dress (similar to Kaitlyn's first solo date, where she did an underwater photo shoot while wearing gorgeous gowns), but since I was just borrowing it, I didn't want to do anything that could potentially cause damage.
Before heading back inside (it was too damn hot in that dress), I decided it was safe enough to dip a toe in the pool.
Although I loved how this dress looked, it really clashed with my plans (no big surprise there). I felt frustrated with the limitations in my wardrobe, and all I wanted to do was to change into a swimsuit and plunge into the pool. The bloom was off the rose, and I was missing the freedom to choose what I wanted to wear.
By this point, I was a bit exhausted with having to wear a gown every day, and with a long day of driving, errands, and combating super-humid weather, I opted for a shorter fringed number from Simply Be. I loved the flapper style, and I'm not-so-secretly hoping that I get invited to a 1920s-themed party in the near future so I can break this bad girl out again.
We were back in Jersey City, so John and I decided to go walk over to our favorite Mexican restaurant, Orale, and grab a bite (and a few finale parting shots). Over bites of brussel sprouts, I reflected over my week; had I learned anything more than the fact that seven days of wearing formal dresses becomes taxing?
I had a few suspicions confirmed for me. It clearly takes a lot to surprise New Yorkers (or New Jerseyans, for that matter), as most didn't bat an eye to my formalwear-clad self during rush hour. And forcing yourself to change out of schlubby clothes and put on something fancy, even when you don't want to, really can improve your mood and boost your confidence.
But perhaps the most unexpected aspect was the situation at my friend's party. I know that friends are supposed to accept you in all shapes and forms, but we've all had "friends" in the past that have mocked our choices or insulted the things we've worn. Being able to witness the blatant acceptance of yourself, no matter how much you might look like the odd one out, is one of the most moving moments I've experienced. So I encourage you all to step out of your comfort zone, wear that thing you've been dying to, and stop fearing the "what ifs" that are holding you back. Because sometimes taking a sartorial risk can change more than just your clothes.
Images: Liz Black; Giphy