The transformative, magic power of a night out for non-rich women has captured our imaginations and our spirits for centuries, at least since Cinderella. For women who are not rich, the opportunity to “dress up” and “go out” comes along rarely, and brings with it a wave of excitement and frenetic activity wholly unwarranted by the actual occasion. Sure, Cinderella met the love of her life and became a princess, but she was dressed by a fairy godmother, after all. Us lesser female mortals, scrambling to put together a “fancy” outfit, planning accessories and make-up and getting there and coming back, managing childcare and dinner, all without the benefit of a wand, know better than to expect that.

And yet, we do. Not quite to meet and fall in love with Prince Charming, but that somehow, this night out will transform us, transform our drab lives. In The Necklace, Guy de Maupassant warns us precisely of such a transformation following a single night out: a poor woman borrows a necklace from her rich friend to wear at a fancy occasion (at the suggestion, let it be said, of her dumbass husband), and loses it. She buys an exact replica to return to her friend, and spends the rest of her life working at menial cleaning jobs to pay it off. Finally, when the last debt has been repaid, she tells the rich woman what had happened. The rich woman stares in horror. “My poor friend, it was a fake” she exclaims.

I do not intend to borrow a fake diamond necklace, nor yet to dance with a prince, and I do not think tonight will change my life. Yet I, too, am excited by the prospect of a “night out”, only because I get to wear a fancy dress (Smartset, $20, strapless, short fuchsia). Women at their toilette, getting ready for a party, it’s part of our mental cultural and artistic landscape. I shave my legs and cut my left knee, the blood pours into the running hot water and turns it pink, I’ve had my eyebrows plucked, I’ve thought long and hard about which shoes, which necklace, and if I can find my only strapless bra. I become one with Cinderella, with “Woman at her toilette wearing a purple corset”. My life will not be transformed, I know, but for a couple of hours, it will sparkle.
Paul Signac, Woman at her Toilette, 1893


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