“I’m going on vacation and I need something light to wear out at night,” I told the young salesgirl in the dress department. She looked me up and down as though I’d asked for something that didn’t exist. I suspected she thought that at my age, people didn’t really go out at night anymore.
“How about a little frock?” she finally asked me.
I stared at her. I had come in for a dress. I had no idea what a frock was.
“Isn’t that like an apron?” I asked.
“No,” she rolled her eyes. “That’s a smock.”
“Oh. What’s a frock?” I asked her, thinking that maybe I’d slept through some new fashion trend.
“It’s a dress.”
“Then why don’t you just call it a dress?” I wondered.
“Because it’s a special kind of a dress,” she replied. “It’s a fun little flouncy dress.”
“As opposed to…”
“A more serious dress,” she clarified.
I cocked my head and wondered who had come up with this hoo-ha. I was pretty sure it was the same people who came up with rompers for adults.
Thinking about it, I recalled that when I was in fifth grade we’d read Little House on the Prairie and learned that Laura Ingalls wore a frock. Laura lived on a prairie. Laura lived in the 1800s. Laura really had no sense of style (who needs style when you live on a prairie?). Frocks clearly were not hot. So why bring back the frock? And why the frock but not the bonnet? And what about the pinafore? Clearly there were some selective fashion decisions being made by someone and it really made no sense. I needed Tim Gunn to explain all this to me.
Turning my attention back to the salesgirl, I decided to humor her and asked her to show me a frock for my vacation. She came back with a muumuu.
“That’s not a frock,” I said. “That’s a muumuu. I may not know what a frock is but I do know a muumuu when I see one.”
“It’s not a muumuu,” she protested. “It’s a maxi.”
“It may be a maxi but it’s not a frock,” I replied.
“This can be a frock, too,” she insisted.
“But it’s not fun or flouncy,” I said.
“Well, it might not be flouncy but it is fun.”
“What makes it fun?” I asked.
“It’s ombre,” She replied.
“It’s a Spanish man?” I asked.
“What?” She paused and then shook her head. “Oh. Ombre with an O. Not Hombre with an H. See how these colors blend and change? That’s ombre.”
“And that’s fun?” I asked.
I looked at the dress she was holding out at me. It was, according to the salesgirl, a fun ombre maxi. It wasn’t flouncy, it didn’t come with a bonnet or a pinafore, and it wouldn’t last five seconds on a prairie. But apparently, it was a frock and if I had any fashion sense, I would know I should buy it.
I reached out and took the dress and then turned the price tag over in my hands. I gasped. The dress practically cost as much as my first car.
“It’s not a frock,” I finally announced.
“Oh no?” she said. “Then what is it?”
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