A closet barnacle’s latest chapter aka the Blue Lagoon Dress gets down to business

The Blue Lagoon Dress is jonesing to get on a plane with me, and I find myself at sixes and sevens.

A traveler more intelligent than I would look at her flight date, ignore the dress, and efficiently troll her closet for clothing that’s more or less attractive, appropriate, and practical enough for a location with seasonal heat and humidity.

Me, I’m sitting around in sweaters and boots waiting for the heat to kick on and the atmosphere to knock off the temper tantrums. I’m trying and failing to wrap my (damp and chilled) mind around packing for “business very casual: creative” tasks and “potentially embarrass Ms Madeline’s charming teenagers” get-togethers.

A woman who self-identified as proactive and action-item-oriented would stroke out. Luckily, I’m not that woman.

I swear I’m trying to stay focused…but every time I open the closet door my eyes keep sliding over to a long slice of tropically colored fabric that knows way way too much about me.

That’s what I get for having a cyan-cloaked skeleton in my closet.

Back when the Blue Lagoon Dress first wedged itself into my heart*, I was deeply immersed in a phase of dressing I characterized as “severe and voluminous” but those close to me labeled much more coarsely as “black and baggy.” So I’m not even sure how a garment that was bright turquoise (loud) AND patterned (busy) AND paisley (overwrought) came home with me.

I will say the dress had two major things going for it:

  • a floaty, unstructured, full-length design that covered and concealed a lot of my body
  • two near-weightless components: a slip of silk crepe de chine and an overlay of sheer chiffon

In those days, the first was always a plus. And given that I was living in a region known for long stretches of “95/95” weather—95 F with 95% humidity—the latter had understandable appeal. I was still waffling when my mother offered to buy it as a birthday gift.


Nevermind that the dress’ shape made me look like a big blue rectangle from all angles and that the color was too bright: from that day forward, the Blue Lagoon Dress was my default garb if I needed something to wear to a moderately fancy summertime event.

Strangely, once I became aware that the dress’ shape made me look like a big blue rectangle and the color was too bright, the dress didn’t go away. Year after year, closet purge after closet purge, it escaped banishment. And unlike many of its less-than-flattering wardrobe cohorts it also escaped massive alterations. After all, I rationalized, I only had a TRUE need for a superior version of the BLD once or twice a year—so why spend the money on a replacement or a fix?

Clearly this ounce or two of fabric had and has a hold on me. In fact the word “blackmail” springs to mind. But if that’s the case, what shameful secret am I loathe to admit?

It’s actually a chain of interrelated shameful secrets.

1. I love maxi dresses and maxi skirts

Which is why, after figuring out I could corral its billowing fabric with a hip-slung belt and a tonal T-shirt, my suitcase will contain the Blue Lagoon Dress.

Wearing the Blue Lagoon Dress = no fear of (accidental) flashing

L, The Blue Lagoon Dress' billowy fabric gets corralled by a hip-slung belt and cotton topper; R, an aqua T helps mitigate BLD's unflattering brightness

Baby-stepping away from the "Smell my joss sticks" vibe by adding an aqua T and cognac belt

2. My Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist sides have a love child they refuse to acknowledge: the Persnickety Bohemian

My version of bohemian is neither grubby nor communal, thank you very much. But it allows that being carefree and directionless has its upside. As does having scads of money to further one’s “goals” of being carefree and directionless.

Others may crave Burning Man hijinks, but my definition of bohemian nirvana = lush heiress hideaways filled with color and pattern

John Lennon's customized Rolls Royce

3. I have a (guilt-ridden) thing for cultural appropriation

Many countries have intricately colored and patterned designs that I covet having around me in authentic or Westernized form. In small doses, anyway.

Anthropologie May 2010: A world where indulging one's inner bohemian means ponying up $1100 for a rug and $500 for a hanging chair

Textile historians generally give Babylon/Persia credit for paisley’s origins; the motif then spread to India. In an attempt to cash in on the 19th century fad for Eastern shawls with the pretty boteh/buta shapes, Europe started mass-producing their version of the design. One of the leaders of the pack? Paisley, Scotland.

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and paisley’s on the Blue Lagoon Dress and my caboose.

STILL on my caboose, that is.

4. I’m not ready to break up with the Blue Lagoon Dress

In general, I love the way long, featherweight skirts cycle in and out of mainstream US fashion but always have a whiff of the offbeat. I enjoy how they swish when I walk; I relish the way they make me feel graceful when I sit; I appreciate that they let me be a little slapdash with ye olde razor.

Granted, the Blue Lagoon Dress and I have an uneasy relationship these days. I’m oppressing its innate qualities to serve my own selfish ends, true, but I still appreciate BLD’s easy breezy nature and bold swimming pool shade. When a special occasion calls and it’s too damn hot to care about defining my shape or wearing my best colors, odds are that good that the Blue Lagoon Dress will still be my go-to pick.

It may not be healthy, but as Sheryl Crow sings:

Well maybe nothin’ lasts forever / Even when you stay together

I don’t need forever after / It’s your laughter won’t let me go

So I’m holding on this way.”

* Feel free to guess how many years ago the fateful meeting took place; if you’re correct, you’ll have the smug satisfaction of knowing you were right (a priceless commodity in the Vix Household)

PSA: Threads of History has a fascinating post on the visual history of paisley.