I never was a girly girl, nor am I now a very feminine woman. I don’t have my nails done, I don’t spend hours at a salon regularly perfecting my hair color and I’m incredibly awkward in a dress or skirt, or heels. Normally, I spend ten minutes on makeup, my hair ends up in a knotted bun and I prefer blue jeans, a tee shirt and boots or flip flops over any other outfit in my closet. Having raised two sons, who couldn’t have cared less about sports, or proms, or any other social gathering that didn’t involve bon fires or car clubs, I have little to no experience chumming with fellow parents.
A recent invitation to a ‘Parent’s Tea’ riddled me with anxiety, to say the least. My husband, beaming pride, gladly accepted the invitation from his daughter and her college sorority, on our behalf, asking no other details except the date and time of said event.
Beside myself with angst, I harassed him until he finally called her back to ask the most important, life altering question of all……”What do we wear?….. to ‘Parents’ Tea’?” He didn’t understand my angst, and neither did she obviously, because the response translated to me was “dressy casual, you know, like you would wear to church”.
Whatever angst I initially felt, amplified ten trillion times over!
I don’t attend church, not regularly, not enough to understand what the ‘church dressy casual code’ is. Not wanting to sound like a fashion buffoon, by asking her exactly what that meant, and most importantly, not wanting to embarrass my step-daughter by showing up breaking all ‘church dressy casual codes’, I did what any sound minded, intelligent, fashion forward-thinking person would do……..I signed on to the internet.
I must interject here, so my angst may be slightly understood: My step-daughter was groomed to be a girly girl, and continues growing into a very feminine young woman. She is treated to manicures and pedicures, and regular salon visits to maintain her perfect shade of blonde, and she has a wardrobe most young women would die for. Normally, her makeup is flawless, her hair looks like silky strands of gold, and she’s dressed to the nines in the priciest, current fashions. She was an academic/athletic/social queen in her high school years, and as such, warranted her mother a rightful crown as ‘goddess of parents’.
In a nut shell, their girly girl-ness and parent elbow rubbing parent elbow savvy intimidate the hell out of me! Angst I tell ya, pure angst!
Thirty web articles later, I deduced:
- A hat is essential for most ‘tea’ events. I love hats, wear them all the time, the prospect of shopping for a new one made me happy.
- A pearl necklace is a refined touch for a ‘tea’ event. I inherited a pearl necklace from my mother, finally having somewhere to wear it made me thankful.
- A cardigan sweater is a must….. Because you don’t wanna expose too much skin at ‘tea’ after all…… and the angst was back, as the expression ‘Country Come To Town’ seared my brain.
My internet search left me standing in front of my closet, like a deer in head lights, mumbling to my husband…..”I don’t have anything to wear.”
Of all the articles I read, each suggested that when in doubt regarding what to wear to tea, check with the host, which I did when I insisted my husband call his daughter a second time to ask what to wear, to which she responded the same as before “dressy casual, you know, like what you would wear to church”.
My sweet husband, adoring me as he does, could see I was still besought with this response, so he agreed to take one for the team and accompany me on an inevitable shopping trip, declaring he wanted a new pair of shoes and slacks. Unlike most shopping trips together, that end in my wanting to strangle him because he’s racing the cart so far in front of me that I can’t catch him to deposit my finds, this one was different. This one was fun, for the most part anyway. Completely involved in the theme of ‘afternoon tea’, I enjoyed playing dress up, preparing for the new adventure.
Several hours in, his new shoes and slacks scored, I knew I was wearing his good deed down as I continued to circle rack after rack, store after store, empty handed. When he suggested a white, tea-length dress with black polka dots, I tried it on, knowing if I said I didn’t like it, he would surely explode. Convincing myself it was sophisticated enough, similar in style to Julia Robert’s horse race dress in ‘Pretty Woman’, I could see the relieved dread in his eyes when I announced…”Now all I have to find are shoes and a hat”. He didn’t suffer much longer, as I quickly scooped up a pair of dusk blue pumps with a matching flower adorned hat, deciding to top it all off with a sunflower yellow cardigan I already owned, and of course, my mother’s pearls.
We were set for ‘Parents’ Tea’!
A week later, dressed and walking out the front door, I stopped for a moment in front of the foyer mirror, feeling totally out of sorts. My intuition screamed “GO CHANGE! You look like Mary freakin’ Poppins!”, but a voice of reason argued tritely “This is what you wear to ‘tea’. Besides, ‘Pretty Woman’, you don’t have time to change”.
Pulling into the parking lot of FMU, I immediately zeroed in on my step-daughter and her mother, who stopped to wait for us when they noticed our vehicle entering the lot. Every ounce of blood in my entire body rushed to flush my face while I frantically thought of how to escape this embarrassment: we couldn’t turn around and leave, we had already been spotted; there was no re-working the dress, or the shoes, or the god forsaken hat to draw any less attention; I was doomed to live out one of the most humiliating experiences I would ever remember!
Dismounting the truck, I could feel them sizing me up, as we women do, as I had already done, the moment I zeroed in on them. My step-daughter, her hair freshly pressed, was wearing an Autumn colored Native American print mini dress, accented by fringes at the bottom hem, which drew my eyes down to her cowboy boots. Her mother sported a black pair of leggings and boots, with a long waisted blouse in a geometric print. Nothing they were wearing said ‘tea’…..at all!
When the child, in her kindest expression possible, said “Well, don’t you look so cute?”, I thought I would die….right there in the middle of the FMU parking lot….in my polka dot ‘Pretty Woman’ dress and my grandma’s going to church dusk blue hat with my velvety dusk blue matching shoes! Mortified!
God, unfortunately for me, was short on mercy that day. I didn’t die, I remained alive for the next grueling hour. As other parents emerged from their vehicles, all similarly dressed in, what I now know is ‘church dressy casual code’ attire, my heart deflated and I felt sorry for my step-daughter and the certain embarrassment I was forever etching into her memory. “Biggest step-parent fail ever!”, I scolded myself.
My husband, gallant and brave, never wavered, walking side by side with me until we were seated inside, across from his daughter and her mother. I took a deep breath, appreciating the table’s cover, of at least half of my ‘get up’. A senior sorority sister gave a welcome, telling us a little about their sisterhood and invited us all to partake of the finger foods aligned across the length of a bar at the far side of the room, none of which included tea by the way. Naturally, I declined my husbands offer to join him; I would have starved to death before I got up from that table to draw any additional attention to myself.
Following snacks, there were activities planned for the sorority sisters and their parents, which made me feel even more outcast and awkward, but I endured, mostly because the awkwardness between my husband, his daughter and her mother outshined mine by far. By this time, another family had joined our table, a recent roommate of our sorority child, and her parents, who had much more in common with our sorority child’s mother than with us, with me. Conversation stirred between the ends of the table and before I could crawl out the room with any dignity left to salvage, the two mothers who had given birth to these two girls were chatting about their own angst suffered in deducing ‘what to wear to tea’.
I listened intently, as our sorority child’s mother confessed that she too had turned to the internet for answers; I thought her gracious for making the public confession and if she had shown up in a polka dot dress topped with an oversized flower adorned hat, I would have made peace with the entire debacle right then and there. But that was not the case.
As conversation continued, and I listened on, the birth mothers discussed their last minute phone calls before the event, with each other, with other mothers, in which they all found a comfort dress zone: “I’m wearing jeans”…….”I’m wearing leggings”…….”I’m wearing my gym clothes”. I couldn’t help, at that point in conversation, even though I felt like the outsidiest outsider ever, to pipe in “I looked online too! And this”, trailing my pointed finger from my head to my toe, “is what the internet says you’re supposed to wear to tea!”
Our sorority child, undoubtedly feeling my pain amidst the unsettling quiet brought on by my input, looked to me in earnest and said softly “I’m sorry Carlette”. I tried to make light of my egregious fashion statement, suggesting that the sorority sisterhood, should have, could have made the event much more fun had they embraced the ‘afternoon tea’ theme, as I had, but there was no saving grace for the subject at hand. No one was interested in hearing what Bozo the Clown had to say.
Slumping back, I managed to maintain my composure for the remainder of ‘Parents’ Tea’, letting it boil over the second I closed the truck door and tossed my hat in the back seat. Daring to speak, as I kicked my shoes off and hiked my dress up to fold my legs in the seat, my sweet husband said “We were the only ones dressed appropriately honey, everyone else was underdressed.” His cajoling didn’t help. I fumed all the way home.
It wasn’t until I heard myself telling this story later that I was able to see the hysterics in it, with my husbands remark serving as the punch line. Excruciating as it was to experience, it has made one hell of a funny story to tell. And as a bonus, I learned a few things about myself: I overthink things too much, too often; I need to lighten up a little/I take some things way too seriously; embarrassment is not life threatening, it’s just embarrassing.