My O.C.: Ready-to-Wear Opportunity

Accepting a glam invite in sneakers and sweats leads to a revelation.
Illustration by Pete Ryan

There I was, power walking in the mall when a well-dressed young woman stopped me in my tracks. 

“Excuse me,” she said. “Would you like to see a fashion show?”

This confused me. Not the fashion show part—South Coast Plaza had undergone an extreme makeover, replacing the likes of Sears and McDonald’s with enough designer boutiques to rival Rodeo Drive. That one of the new haute couture shops was debuting its latest collection came as no surprise.

But why pick me? 

Certainly there were more potential customers within easy reach, folks who could better afford to buy expensive clothes on a whim and had the Gucci backpacks casually slung over their shoulders to prove it.

“It’s right in here,” she said, indicating the Emporio Armani shop behind her. “We’d love for you to join us.”

You’re kidding, right? I’m standing here in sneakers, sweats, and a short-sleeved T-shirt with “Jazzercise” scrawled across the front—which, despite my being a devoted fan, I don’t think counts as a designer label.

Besides, I was already super busy getting my steps in while trying to make sense of stuff I had no control over. Lots of dramas had fallen like rain of late. Personal health scares. Good friends going through tough times. Planet-killing asteroids headed our way. 

During these last few roller-coaster years, I’d cried into my tea and held the hands of hurting friends and loved ones more times than I cared to count.

“Maybe next time,” I said, starting to walk away.  

“We’re serving hors d’oeuvres and Champagne,” she called out. 

I turned around, looked Miss Armani square in the eye, and said, “When does it start?” surprising us both.

Five minutes later, I was standing in the boutique’s inner sanctum drinking Champagne before noon and already regretting my impulsiveness. 

The brightly lit space had been cleared of clothes racks and tables, replaced by a tall black backdrop in front of what I figured were changing rooms from which the fashion models would emerge. Folding chairs were set in a cozy U-shaped formation, giving each of the dozen or so ladies already seated an unobstructed view of the makeshift stage area and—not great news for me—my shy arrival. 

I took a seat, feeling my face flush. It was immediately apparent I hadn’t received the memo. The other women were dressed in chic coordinate ensembles that even I could see outranked anything taking up space in my closet.

And behold, the shoes! I’d seen enough “Sex and the City” episodes to know I was in the presence of shoe royalty—red soles, pointy pumps, sassy sandals; these were the queens of high-end heels. I hunkered down even more and tucked my humble Skechers under my chair. And just like that, I was in high school again.

A store employee appeared to thank us for our patience and said the show would begin soon. Next to me, two gals exchanged whispered comments en français. A silver tray appeared and I tucked my Champagne flute between my knees to reach for one of the free hors d’oeuvres, almost spilling my drink. Thankfully I caught it in time, but I noticed my neighbors’ French got a little more animated after that.


Despite the rocky start and sideways glances, I had a great time. 

Maybe it was the up-close-and-personal pageantry of it all, feeding the fantasy that I would actually wear a dress that short ever again. Or maybe it was the animated emcee, a stylist “all the way from L.A.” who gave me an amused wink—really!—upon seeing my Jazzercise top sitting front and center. Whatever the reason, I started to have fun, let loose, and let my sneakers emerge from their pretzeled position. For weeks after, I happily told any friend who would listen all about it; and, in doing so, came up with a theory for why I had such a surprisingly good time. 

I think these past few years have made us over-stressed and hypervigilant, wondering when the next bombshell or virus droplet is going to fall. So we put on our Fitbits and set out to do 10,000 steps a day. We wash our hands a lot, pray even more, and try not to eat processed foods. We endeavor to be loving partners, wise parents, and awesome friends. Except here’s the thing about ambitious to-do lists: They tend to be overwhelming. I mean, no pressure, right? 

But at the fashion show, for that one carefree hour, my phone was turned off, my hands didn’t smell of sanitizer, and I was responsible for nothing and no one beyond keeping my drink in its glass. I left Armani that morning without a new outfit to add to my nonexistent spring collection but with the knowledge that sometimes doing something for yourself is the best thing you can do for others.

I also left with a free box of gourmet chocolates, handed out as a lovely parting gift. Feeling the weight of it in my hand, which could only portend good things, I was tempted to take the extra box left unclaimed on an empty chair. Had I not been so conspicuously dressed, I might’ve done it, too. My Ross bag was certainly big enough. 

As it was, though, my outfit provided no cover or alibi—quite the opposite, in fact. One look at my Jazzer-togs and tennies and anyone would agree that in the category of Most Likely to Make a Quick Getaway, I was the best-dressed woman in the room.