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Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty

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I Wore a $20 H&M Dress to the Grammys

I was no Taylor Swift, but what did I care? I was the star of my Facebook feed

On the ride over to the Staples Center, I noticed the hem of my dress was jagged. Too late and no matter. I got off the party bus and looked around. This is it! I thought. I felt slightly underdressed when I saw some women, but noticed others, like Vanessa Lachey, in a sexy but short cocktail dress. I took a photo with her (and hubby Nick) and we talked about how we already couldn't wait to take off our heels. After my iPhone snapped the photo, I shifted my eyes down toward my dress. Red, long, breezy. Not bad. I'd pulled it off.


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When I was invited to attend the 58th Grammys as a guest, I did a little dance. I've always been more excited for the red-carpet fashion than the show itself. Now I could finally see what the hoopla was all about, up close.

I tried on a simple, red dress of my friend's. It was from H&M, cost about $20, and could go in the wash.

But I had nothing to wear. A recent apartment fire that destroyed most my clothes meant I was still in the process of restoring my belongings. Friends reminded me that it was okay to grieve the items I lost, but we also remarked on how much stuff we don't need but accumulate anyway. I put myself on a tight budget and took the opportunity to reinvent myself. An on-camera reporter turned yoga teacher, I started to accept any donations that brought joy, Marie Kondo-style, including a pink loofah from my college friend Elaine, underwear and long johns from a network of entrepreneurs called Dreamers // Doers, and sneakers from my fellow yogi Angela. I set up a crowdfunding account. I also went the old-fashioned route, going "shopping" in my friend Blake's closet and borrowing a few items that had mostly been collecting dust.

For the Clive Davis pre-Grammys gala, I borrowed a sequined dress from the site StyleLend, where I had stored my never-worn, too-small Marshall's-bought Zac Posen dress pre-fire. After someone borrowed it over the holidays and ended up on the Wall Street Journal's society page, I earned enough credit for a gold, floor-length Adriana Pappell. I was nervous about feeling underdressed in the intimate, black-tie setting, which ended up feeling like a more beautiful version of the White House Correspondent's Dinner. But compliments about my sparkly dress flowed. I think I was glowing from the inside already, because I felt a bit like Cinderella in my (also borrowed) gold, peep-toe Marchesa heels.

Ko Im Grammys

Photo: Ko Im

For the Grammys, I wanted something a little less va-va-voom, so I went back into Blake's closet. When I tried on a simple, red dress of hers, I felt like Jennifer Lawrencecirca the 2011 Oscars: understated but glamorous. The dress was from H&M, cost about $20, and could go in the wash. A recovered label shopaholic, I used to steer clear of fast-fashion brands. But ever since the fire, I've been embracing new things. So I took Blake's mom's vintage Whiting & Davis bracelets and decided to rock the H&M.

The first thing I did upon arriving was to walk through security and behind the red-carpet "step and repeat." It felt like a panoramic prom on display, with the artists guided through a flashing zoo. I've been on the other side of the cameras and would like to think I'd own a red carpet. As they say, confidence is the best accessory.

Style-wise, I was no Taylor Swift, who was the leader of the fashionable pack in a two-toned crop-top-and-skirt combo. It's not like I fell flat, though I definitely got a silent once over from a couple of girls near the elevator before we left for the after parties.

But I also saw lots of regular, non-Grammy-nominated women in all sorts of apparel —€” in separates, suit jackets, low-cut jumpsuits —€” buying beer and burgers from the concession stands with their plus-ones. I admired the non-stars who nonetheless were trying to be bold, perhaps taking inspiration from Lady Gaga's David Bowie look. I met a few other girls who said they pulled their look together last-minute, as I did.

I saw lots of regular, non-Grammy-nominated women, in all sorts of apparel.

And in the end, what did I care? I'm only the star of my Facebook feed, which blew up after I posted a photo with JC Chasez —€” and the middle-schooler in me exploded.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, I felt as though I lost some of the ability to dress as fully as I wanted because of logistical limitations: I wore the same thing a lot. But the last few nights have restored my love for dressing. I've always been a red-carpet fan, but now I'm even more firmly convinced that anyone who shows up in their finest deserves to be applauded, not torn down. The reason we love the red carpet is because we're able to see how the choices we make in getting up and out there translate into fabric. (Remember that when Amy Schumer wore the same thing as as her friend Jennifer Lawrence, a few seasons later, she said, "I want women to lift each [other] up. Get more and more powerful and understand their worth.")

Clothes are replaceable; they're just stuff. The fire taught me that. But they do carry memories. What we're really crafting is a feeling. Last night, had I been on the red carpet, I'd have smiled proudly in my borrowed clothes and if anyone had asked, "Who are you wearing?" could have replied: my heart on my sleeves. Instead, I took an elevator selfie with Ed Sheeran and called it a night before, yes, midnight —€” exhausted but exhilarated.


Ko Im is a writer and wellness guide based in New York City who has reported for CBS News. She is the author of Broke, Not Broken.

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