Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Story Behind the Dress

I was excited when I found out that the ELFs had once again been invited to the Marine Ball in Jakarta and even more excited when I realized that this year I could actually go. Jackie, Noreen, Michaela and Megan were all planning on attending too, so it promised to be a fun night out. We might even get to see our boss tear it up on the dance floor! Jackie was organizing our tickets and offering up her apartment as a place for all of us to crash, so the only thing I had to worry about was finding a fancy dress. What should have been a fun task turned into one of the most challenging of my fellowship so far - it ain't easy finding a floor-length ball gown in Indonesia!

About a month before the big event I went looking for a dress in Yogya. First I went to Galleria Mall where I found a small collection of dresses at the Matahari Department Store. It was an odd assortment and grew even odder when the saleswoman told me that the dresses were one-size-fits-all. How is that even possible? Without bothering to try anything on, I headed over to Amplatz Mall and also left empty handed. It occurred to me that searching for a dress in my size in a country where the women tend to be significantly smaller than me was going to be a bit more challenging than I had thought. I briefly considered getting a dress made but once I found out I was flying to Jakarta for a doctor's appointment, I figured I would be able to find something easily in one of the dozens of malls in the capital city.

In between doctor's visits I spent practically the entire week I was in Jakarta hunting for a dress. I tried on dresses at Pondok Indah Mall, Senayan City Mall, Mangga Dua Square, Artha Gading Mall, and Grand Indonesia. Mostly I went by myself but sometimes I went with Jackie and her friends and colleagues who seemed eager to help. (Jackie and Megan, by the way, had smartly decided to get dresses made as soon as they found out about the ball and thus avoided the several weeks of fruitless searching that Michaela, Noreen and I endured). The dresses I found generally fell into three categories of undesirableness: dresses that seemed like costumes for little girls wanting to dress up as princesses (including two-piece dresses with puffy sleeves and corsets), dresses that were cute but that I couldn't even zip up, and dresses that were outrageously priced. Once while checking out Senayan Plaza Mall I made the mistake of wandering into a Roberto Cavalli store thinking I might find something on the 70% off rack. Ha! 70% off of 56 million Rp ($6,222) was still WAY more than I would ever dream of spending on a dress. 

An example of a dress I really liked but couldn't zip up
A nice Seibu dress...

...but more than I could afford
I left Jakarta empty handed but returned about a week later and hit the malls again with renewed determination with Michaela and Noreen. Starting to feel the time crunch, we decided that our best bet was to go back to Grand Indonesia where we had seen nice but expensive dresses in the $200 and up range at Seibu. Although this was more than any of us wanted to spend for dresses we would wear once at an event where we weren't even bringing dates, we were starting to worry that we wouldn't be able to attend the ball at all if we didn't have dresses - just like Cinderella! However, we were still confident that if we just forked up the money at Seibu we would at least have something to wear and could stop spending all our free time roaming Jakarta's many malls. Once we arrived at Seibu we formulated an action plan and got to work. We scoured the racks, plucking anything that was labeled size 12 or higher, regardless of style, color or price and disappeared into the dressing rooms. Noreen got lucky and found a very cute white cocktail dress. So what if it wasn't floor length. It looked stunning on her and, to borrow Henry's expression, the price was merely rude rather than outright offensive. 

Michaela and I weren't as lucky. We tried on dress after dress and continually ran into the same problem - these dresses just weren't made for our body types. We struggled with zippers and puzzled over molded bra cups that just didn't sit in the right place. The number of dresses to try on grew smaller and smaller. Our definition of 'fit' didn't including flattering or stylish. It got to the point where we were just looking for something that would zip up. At the end of the day, it came down to just one option - two orange dresses that hung on our bodies like shapeless potato sacks. These were the only dresses in all of Jakarta that fit us. We stared at our reflections in the mirror and decided that we weren't quite ready to take that step. We held out hope that we would find something in Bandung - a known shopping mecca.

Unfortunately, Bandung had nothing to offer and after the TEFLIN conference we found ourselves back in Jakarta with one day to go before the ball and still no dresses. We had one hope left. Jackie and Megan claimed to have seen a small dress shop in Ambassador Mall that appeared to have dresses in Western (a.k.a big) sizes. We headed over there, joking that if this didn't work out at least we could still go back and buy the matching potato sack dresses. At The Fairly Bridal Boutique, the saleswoman pulled out a suitcase of extra large dresses and got to work outfitting us. The first couple of dresses we tried on were kinda ridiculous - I tried on a light pink number that made me look like I was wearing a Greek Goddess Halloween costume and Michaela's wasn't much better. However, someone somewhere must have been looking out for us because both of us FINALLY managed to find dresses that fit us reasonably well and weren't half bad to look at. My dress is actually part batik, a traditional Javanese material. Someday I hope I can wear this dress again and have it serve as a conversation piece at a cocktail party. 'Oh this? Why yes, I bought this in Indonesia,' I'll say casually.

My dress - I love the way it twirls!
We were all able to attend the ball after all!


  1. What a great story to tell, Jules! My, oh my...

  2. It was an epic adventure, that's for sure. :)