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Lessons from The Day of the Dress

Several weeks ago, I was invited on short notice to help “fill a table” at a benefit dinner. The theme of the evening was the Roaring ’20’s. (The 1920’s, not the current decade, which seems to “roar” decidedly less.) So, I hit the interwebs and found a long sparkly gown to rent for the weekend. Because the notice was short and the service is good, the dress arrived the very next day.

Speaking of the next day, that was also the day the text arrived telling me there had been a misunderstanding, and the table was in fact already full and didn’t require any additional warm bodies in sparkly gowns.

So there I was, with a sparkly gown and nowhere to wear it.

What to do? What do to? Should I throw a party? Get dressed up and invite my friends over? Try to sneak into the benefit?

I decided to go a different direction. I woke up Saturday morning, donned the dress and a pair of white sneakers, took a selfie, posted it on social media, and announced “The Day of the Dress.” I then wore the dress everywhere I could think of, and posted the pictures on Facebook. All day. I cooked. I pumped gas. I worked out (or at least pretended to work out, long enough to get a shot or two.) I rang a Salvation Army bell. I posed with a Walmart greeter, a skeletal Santa Claus and a life size Bruce Willis cutout. I went out for donuts, went out to dinner, went out for cocktails.

And it went viral. Friends were sharing the posts. People who barely spend any time on Facebook were checking in regularly to see where I would go next. I got invitations. Suggestions. Requests to join me for the next Day of the Dress.

At one point I was driving around with my niece, whom I recruited as my photographer, and I started laughing. She asked what was so funny and all I could say was “It’s just SO stupid!!”

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Why yes it is, you may be thinking. And I’m reading about it in my local Catholic newspaper … why?

Well, here’s where it got interesting. And made me think:

When a middle aged woman wears a long, sparkly designer gown, a pair of sneakers and a parka around the streets of Denver in late November, she doesn’t look glamorous. She looks a little ridiculous. And that attracts a fair amount of attention. People were calling out to me — on the streets, in the stores, even from their cars. “I like your dress!!” And I would follow up. “You want to hear the story?” They always did. Then “you want to be in a picture?” Again, they always did. Always. (Well, except for one camera-shy Walmart greeter who hid behind the sign while his partner flashed a big smile.)

Honestly, I didn’t want The Day of the Dress to end. When I finally got home, late in the evening, I sat down in front of the fireplace. Because I was cold. And because I wanted to contemplate the day.

On the average day, I see a whole lot of people, but I only actually speak with a handful. I talk to my dad, my clients, perhaps a friend or two, maybe a cashier. But between the streets and the store aisles and the elevators and the restaurants, I see a lot more. Tens or perhaps hundreds of images and likenesses of God. But we pass like ships in the night, each absorbed in our own thoughts and our own worlds.

All it took was one sparkly dress to break that cycle. I connected with so many people on The Day of the Dress. I spoke face to face with scores of random people I met. I connected virtually with thousands more.

What I was doing was really so ridiculous. But it made people so happy. I have photos of myself in the dress, posing with complete strangers — smiling like they just won the lottery. People who saw it on Facebook still tell me that following The Day of the Dress had made their day.

And it sure as heck made mine.

My takeaway? I think we live in a fundamentally lonely society. Even in the midst of a crowd, we feel isolated. Perhaps it’s distrust, perhaps is reluctance to defy social convention. But we walk around in our own little bubbles.

But we don’t want to. The Day of the Dress taught me that people are dying for connection. They don’t want to be isolated, any more than I want to. They want to connect with the people around them. They just don’t know how to break the ice. Give them an excuse — anything fun, anything positive — and they are more than open.

I never understood people who wear weird clothes, or dye their hair strange colors, or do other things that make them stand out. But now I think I do. A certain amount of weirdness seems to bring people out of their shells.

So what am I going to do about it? I’m not going to walk around in a designer gown every day. (Although I am going to do it at least once a year. And from what I’m hearing, I’m going to have a lot of company next time.) I’m not going to dye my hair or wear purple tights.

But I’d bet there are other ways I could stand out. What if, during this Christmas season, I really try to let my faith show — on my face, in my demeanor, in my actions? What if, when I walk through the mall, instead of thinking about everything I have to do, I think about the people around me? What if I just try to look at them in love, instead of looking through them? What if, after praying that the love of Christ enters my heart, I do everything I can to radiate that love? What if I look for reasons to reach out to the sad, the lonely, the hurting?

Perhaps I can find ways to sparkle without the dress.

Perhaps we all can.

Mary Beth Bonacci
Mary Beth Bonacci
Mary Beth Bonacci has been giving talks on love and relationships across the United States and internationally for . . .well . . . her entire adult life. She was among the first Catholic speakers to introduce audiences to St. John Paul II’s beautiful Theology of the Body. She is the founder of Real Love, Inc., an organization dedicated to promoting respect for God’s gift of human sexuality. Her book Real Love, based on the Theology of the Body, has been translated into ten languages. She is also the author of We’re on a Mission from God, writes a monthly column for Catholic newspapers and contributes regularly to the Catholic Match Institute blog.

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