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“No bags, miss?” asked the confused valet.
“None at all!” I replied.
I had been halfway down the turnpike — too late to turn back — when I realized I'd left my overnight bag at home on a weekend trip to Atlantic City. All I had with me were the minimum essentials: wallet, phone charger, toothbrush. But since Atlantic City is a cosmopolitan town on a major US coast, I figured finding replacements for my clothes would be easy. What did I need, after all? A T-shirt? Some jeans? A few pairs of underwear? Should be no problem.
And so I’d dropped my car off at the Claridge Hotel, a quiet 1930s gem right smack in the middle of the boardwalk. Photos of the property in its prime, along with images of celebs like Marilyn Monroe who had once stayed there, gave me an extra wiggle in my step as I looked at the map to figure out where to fill my non-existent suitcase. Black skinny jeans would never do this weekend justice; maybe this was a sign to spice up my otherwise modest wardrobe.
From my vantage point in the middle of the city, it was an easy walk to the enormous outlet mall. I jumped right in, starting at J.Crew to look for the basics. It turned out that if I didn't want shorts (who knew J.Crew made so many varieties of high-waisted shorts?) or a classic T-shirt, I was out of luck. I picked a gorgeous sky-blue pencil dress — perfect for work but not so much the beach — and headed to the Gap next door, with hopes there’d be more weekend-friendly options.
But there weren’t. I sorted through the shelves of shorts (MORE shorts) and tank tops, desperate for just one pair of underwear. In near hysterics, I made stops at Banana Republic, PacSun, Loft, and Abercrombie. Regardless of the brand, I was confronted with tiny shorts and crop tops at every shop. I found myself exhausted in front of H&M ready to end my day. Whatever it had, I would get. I settled on a pair of leggings for my weekend outfit and came face-to-face with a wall of thongs. I am notorious for my hate of these satin straps of underwear torture, but at this point I just needed something to put on my body.
Waiting on line, I passed by the strangest dress I'd ever seen before: black and gold spandex with a cutout back, impossibly short but with a high neck, the stretchiest of materials. I would never have looked twice at this kind of dress; it wasn't my style, it wouldn’t match a single thing in my closet, and I didn't go out enough to warrant a club-style dress such as this. Somehow, though, with the waves just a block away and the thongs draped over my wrist, this was the best weekend outfit choice. I grabbed it just in time to complete my purchases.
I took an hour to write in my in-room hot tub overlooking the beach (truly a magical place, AC) and then went for dinner on the casino floor in my new spandex dress, fitting in completely among the clanking of slot machines and the smell of cigars. While this shiny outfit was a good few inches shorter and way, way tighter than anything I’d ever normally wear, I noticed no difference in the way people reacted to me. My hair in a high bun and my dark cat eye were the only recognizable parts of myself, but these other casino-dwellers didn’t know that. Dare I say, I even felt more comfortable in this sparkly getup than in my antiquated leggings. Looking around, everyone was clad in similar outfits, wrapped in stretchy materials and glitter. By coming out of my shell style-wise, I had inadvertently fit in more with my surroundings.
Back home, the dress is hanging up in the back of my closet. I haven't worn it again, and I'm not totally sure when I could. But it's there, a reminder of a strangely exotic staycation where I got to play dress-up for the night.