An ode to my New Year’s Eve dresses

We all have our own favorite holidays for various reasons. One of the most divisive amongst my friends has always been New Year’s Eve. Some friends love it and some absolutely can’t stand it.

I actually have a more complicated relationship with it. I love the idea of clearing the slate and starting over with a whole year of possibility ahead. It’s inspiring and overwhelming in a good way for me, but I don’t love the hype and plans surrounding kicking it off. My favorite restaurants all of a sudden have crazy increased prices on a menu that doesn’t even include the standard choices. If you didn’t make a reservation over a month in advance, you won’t be getting in anywhere. Bars have cover charges upwards of hundreds of dollars and oversell tickets beyond their capacity. It seems kind of frustrating if you just want more of a low-key evening out without breaking the bank.

Rather than dwell on these aspects that I don’t like, I have chosen to embrace the fresh start characteristics and the one thing I like to do every year to kickstart the feeling of everything being new, which is to buck my usual comfy standard jeans attire, put on a dress and feel fabulous.

I have a soft spot for all the dresses I’ve worn over the years, but there are four in particular that stick out in my head as important for what they represented that night.

The dress  I wore when I was 13 was fairly plain: long-sleeved black cotton and a twirly mid length skirt. I shopped for it specifically with my mom in tow at the mall, then wore it with black tights and black flats. A kid in my grade had planned a house party, and all the girls invited had traded phone calls for weeks discussing our outfits. We had all decided that it would be fun for us all to wear party dresses. The night of the party I showed up and, of course, every single girl there was wearing a sweater and jeans except me. All the guys were in long sleeved pullovers or henley shirts and jeans. Immediately I realized how overdressed and out of place I looked and felt horrified and embarrassed. “What happened to everyone wearing dresses,” I whispered when I sat down next to one of the girls. “We all decided it was too cold,” she whispered back to me without meeting my eyes.

For the first hour I sat stiffly, wishing I could go home and change while music was played and pizza was eaten. When we started watching a movie to kill time before the ball dropped, I started to relax a little. After the movie we still had another hour to go. “Let’s play manhunt,” one of the guys suggested. “Danielle can’t, she’s in a dress. Plus it’s cold,” one of the girls pointed out. But instead of shrinking back and agreeing with her, I shrugged and said “No I’ll play.” We all ran around outside in the freezing cold, me slipping everywhere in my flats, but having a blast and no longer caring that I hadn’t been included on the wardrobe change decision. Years later I always pinpointed that night as the time I realized that was probably the first time that I learned that I shouldn’t let other people dictate my choices or allow them to make me feel uncomfortable.

My first New Year’s after college graduation was at place in upstate New York with a bunch of girlfriends. We were all in these “kind of’ relationships. Had all been out on some dates with our respective guys, but no one had an official label, so we collectively decided to not wait for them to invite us to do something on New Year’s. We made our own plans and the condo we stayed at in the Catskills for a long weekend was just like the one in Dirty Dancing. There were random activities like a group snowshoe, comedy night, a concert. We all put on cute dresses and went down to the main lodge on NYE and danced for hours until the sun came up. It was a perfect girls weekend. We agreed that there was no reason to ever wait for a romantic partner to make a plan when we knew we wanted to just go out and have a great time and celebrate.

When I was 31, I had planned on staying in and being miserable and alone because the guy I was completely head over heels in love with had casually crushed my heart my heart a few days earlier. Getting out of bed and facing each day was incredibly difficult. Leaving the house without a puffy face from crying was near impossible. But a friend offered me an extra ticket to a concert and my other friends who knew how much of a mess I was, urged me to go.

One friend in particular came over the day of with a box of chocolates. (She pretended we were sharing, but didn’t say a word when I chowed down on the entire box while crying my eyes out). She then firmly took me by the shoulders when I hit a lull in in my sobbing and said, “now I want you to put on a great dress, some lipstick and go have a great night. He is not sitting home feeling sorry for himself and I’m not going to allow you to either.” I obeyed her. Put on a cute black dress, my favorite lipstick and went to see Jay-Z and Coldplay for one of the most amazing musical performances I’ve ever seen live. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

When I was 31, I went to Las Vegas for New Year’s Ever. I brought the cutest most sparkly sequined dress to wear because, you know, Vegas. But I was there with the guy I was dating and we were at a point in the relationship when I usually panicked and ran in the opposite direction from commitment. Agreeing to get on a plane and meet him there and spend a week away together was a huge step for me and I was really proud of myself for taking the leap. When I packed that dress in my suitcase the night before I left for the airport, I waited for the unmistakable fear to take hold and cause me to consider canceling my flight. But it never came. And that’s what I think of every time, I see that sparkly dress peeking out from the back of my closet.

I no longer own half of these dresses, but I still have the later two as well as photographs of all four that fill me with a range of emotions at the memories they evoke. Maybe it seems silly to equate what is essentially just fabric with important moments in life. But I’ve always believed that when something really affects you, you tend to remember every minute detail about it, right down to what you were wearing. And whatever your only personal feeling is about New Year’s Eve, remember that it, like anything else, can always be an excuse to try something new or a reminder to be brave. No matter what you’re wearing.

[Image via HBO]