Danielle Bitner

Past Perfect Essay
by Danielle Bitner

Years ago, I was all about patterns and color, but now I’m drawn more to the details then the outfit. I’ll pair a plain t-shirt and jeans with ridiculously bright shoes, colorful earrings and a clashing purse, choosing a few key accessories to elevate an understated look. I love ugly things too- things that aren’t obviously compelling or beautiful upon the first glance. Sometimes I know that I will end up loving something more if it has a certain amount of wrongness to it- like too much fringe or awkward color combinations- and I’ll adopt these as my new favorites.

In short, I love color and texture.  Though I may dream of having a small wardrobe consisting of well-made, perfectly-tailored clothes, I can rarely pass up a bright shirt for classic trousers. My sense of style likely developed in my mid-teens, when we’d spend countless hours digging through the thrift store racks. While thrifiting required more effort, the “discovery” payoff was much more gratifying. The cheaper purchases also helped me feel less precious about the clothes. I would gladly purchase items that required some creative alterations in a way I wouldn’t with a brand-new, full-priced item.

The thrift store mentality has been difficult to shake, so that aesthetic (and price point) is deeply engrained. I carry with me a knee-jerk reflex to designer prices, which keeps me in check and sets a natural parameter on my style. I continue to have overstuffed drawers, bags of forgotten items in the basement, and items I just can’t let go of.   I don’t discriminate between knock-off and name-brand.  And I love to discover clothing finds, even if it’s from a box of mine in storage.

Last spring, I was looking for a vintage-y wedding dress for my upcoming nuptials and I began the search on an online store that carried gorgeous authentic period pieces.  I wanted to a 20′s drop-waist style- something simple and stylee and perfect for a hot summer night. After countless pageviews and fantasies, I got cold feet- concerned that the aged fabric might be too frail, or ill-fitting.  I gave up hope, and came to terms that I’d likely need to buy something more contemporary, and more machine-built.

Then… synchronicity! Jamie let me know about her project and the wheels started spinning. The timing would all work out perfectly (if not cutting it a little close) but I could have the dress of my dreams, tailored precisely to my figure, rather than some rail-thin flapper. And why not take a little gamble with tradition? It seemed like such a perfect opportunity to bring some added creativity to our union.  The next day I sent photos and measurements to Jamie to take with her to Vietnam.

I fell in love with this dress because of its simplicity and also for the poignant color combination and lacy detail. The material appeared to be some kind of cotton – something soft and comfortable and very un-like the American wedding dresses norm.  I loved how the off-white material played against the robins egg blue medallions. It would be perfect for our outdoors wedding – elegant with a casual touch.

The irony comes in here. After all that talk about throwing tradition to the wind and taking risks I got nervous about depending on the dress making gods to come through. I mean, what if the fabric sucked or it didn’t fit? By the time I would get to try it on, I’d be down to about a week or two before my wedding. And then what? Would I scramble to go find some mediocre dress and be all bummed? So, I did the responsible thing and started two-timing. I found this eccentric yet amazing seamstress who a friend recommended I check out.

I went to Blue and met Christine who was very much the character that she’d been described as. Short, wiry, chain smoking, opinionated and very talented. Perfect! Together, we determined what would work for the kind of wedding we were planning- something dressy and beautiful but not too froo-froo or hot since it would be an outdoor event in July. After a few visits back and forth, she came up with a basic shape and character. Each visit, it got more refined and usually something changed – the placement of the sash, the neck line, etc. Finally, the dress was done just in time…3 days before my wedding.

So now I have two dresses that mark the occasion. It’s actually really great because the one I ended up wearing at our ceremony is very weddingy -white lace – and would be hard to wear again  for another occasion. The dress that came back from Vietnam however is much more versatile and timeless and something I can wear again and again. I’m thinking it will be the dress I wear to mark our anniversary with. I love that it will get so much more use and live on in my active wardrobe.


photo by Alix Lambert
drawing by Jamie Hayes

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