Red polka dot dress

I remember the first day I saw it. It was a sunny day, a little windy, but it was Wellington so to be expected really. I was walking home and something called me into a little store on Cuba Street filled with colourful unique New Zealand designer clothing. There were two dresses that caught my eye; one red with white polka dots and one black with white polka dots. I was torn but decided that I needed a pop of colour in my wardrobe and tried on the red and white. It was a sweetheart crossover halter style with a nipped waist and full skirt by Wellington label Devol (they make wonderful vintage inspired clothing). It made me happy. So I put it on laybuy. For the four weeks that it took me to pay it off, I used to go in and ‘visit’ the dress; I was obsessed with it. It made me think of a new kind of life; made me want to be a new kind of girl. I was 25. I decided that my dress needed a party so I threw a 1950s costume cocktail party. Everyone came dressed up. Our apartment was a New York style open loft space with exposed brick walls, polished wooden floors and a skylight and was down a dark alleyway which gave it just the right amount of edgy cool. We played records and danced and drank fancy drinks and in my polka dot dress, red peeptoe heels and red lipstick I felt like I had discovered something new in myself. I will call the next year of my life ‘year of the dress’. It was also a year of dream chasing and disappointments. I was trying on different versions of myself and nothing seemed to fit. I applied to Journalism school. I wanted to be a writer. I researched an article on the lack of career opportunities for Bachelor of Arts graduates and it got published in my old university newspaper. I did work experience at a Wellington fashion and art magazine. I wrote book reviews. I put together a portfolio of work. And then I had my interview. The panel consisted of three men about my Dad’s age. At the end, one of them told me I was ‘too nice’ to be a journalist, that he wasn’t sure I was ‘tough enough’. It was a real Rory Gilmore moment. But even then I still had hope that I would get in. When the rejection letter came I cried and felt lost. But I picked myself up and decided maybe I wanted to travel. And so I started saving. And dreaming of Paris and Italy and Croatia and Morocco and Spain and London. But travelling would also mean leaving Rowan as he was trying to realise his own dreams and wouldn’t be able to go with me. So I tried applying for new jobs; the New Zealand Film Commission, Playmarket. I lost out on two great jobs, always close but always second best, never ‘the one’. So I continued working on Reception for an online technology company, playing foreign music and whiling away the time on travel research by day. By night I took a second job, working at an art house cinema across the street from my apartment and on Saturdays a third job working at Capital E, a children’s center that runs creative programming for children. I saved and I saved. I rarely went out. I booked plane tickets. And finally it was time to go. My farewell party was at a Greek restaurant. I wore my red polka dot dress. The night started badly – the restaurant said they didn’t have my booking. I had an argument with the owner in the kitchen. I was persuasive. They made room for us and gave us free mussels and ouzo shots and after dinner we all went to a party. And then I was saying goodbye for six months. And I was on a plane. And anything and everything seemed possible. And Europe it seemed would be where my love of vintage clothing would ignite. The red polka dot dress you see was to be my gateway drug. What better way to explore identity than through the clothes of the past?