How to Dress on South Beach

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“Amanda, listen, that is a work dress, not a South Beach dress. Trust me.”

I sat at the airport gate with an hour to go before my flight. The woman behind me wore a red knee-length skirt, a pleasant floral top—yellow with a white floral pattern, and sunglasses. Her obviously dyed red hair looked a bit more orange to me. Her arms and legs were perfectly tan, her feet slipped sockless into a pair of fashionable white pumps. She was clearly a careful dresser, and clearly wanted her daughter to pick up on this trait of hers as she loudly instructed her over her cell phone in front of a group of assembled strangers.

“Amanda, sweetie, listen, if you think you can get away with a dress like that, you’ve got deep psychological issues. You know what, never mind, it is clear you have psychological issues. A dress like that is like your best winter woolen. You wear it to a place like South Beach, and you are clearly going to embarrass yourself. No one cares if you embarrass yourself at work, but in South Beach, trust me, honey, they are going to care.”

The woman barely moves as she speaks. I would expect her to be gesturing animatedly with her hands, or flipping her pump on her foot, or picking at her nails, but this process of yelling at her daughter seems to be something routine, something so common that she doesn’t even move.

“Wait, he’s wearing what? Oh, sweetie, you can’t be seen with him if he is going to wear something like that to South Beach. No, no, no. You tell him, get a nice pastel colored shirt and a pair of white pants. That is what they want at South Beach. It won’t go with your dress, but then nothing would, not if you insist on wearing that one. On South Beach, they are looking for a particular type of thing. If he wears that, they’ll be looking for him. They still won’t be looking for you.”

I look around the people nearby, wondering if anyone is finding either amusement or cruelty in this overheard conversation, but no one seems to be reacting at all, just reading or talking or playing cards or texting. I think about mothers and the pressures they put on their daughters to be a certain way. Growing up in a Mormon household, I watched my mom raise five daughters, teaching them to dress modestly and wear only light makeup and to have only one pair of earrings in their ears. Never did I hear my mom go on a critical tirade like this. Then I wonder, what if it isn’t her daughter? What if it’s a co-worker, a sister, or a friend. I kind of wish I could hear the other end of the conversation, but mostly I’m glad that I can’t. I continue listening, fascinated.

“No, you may not wear one of my dresses. No. No! That one is one of my favorites and you would sweat in it. Frankly I don’t want to pay to have it cleaned. No, not that one either. The last time you wore that dress, you got a stain on it.. You shouldn’t be so sloppy. No. You’ll just have to wear—oh, honey, not the purple-black. Maybe the black-black. That could at least qualify as a South Beach. Try that. Wear the black-black. Now look, I’m tired of this conversation. I only have an hour before I bored, I need some peace. Mm-hmm, love you, honey. Go have some fun.”

The woman clicked her phone closed, packed it into her red leather purse, slipped her shoes back on her feet tightly, and walked away. I smiled, curious at this small glimpse I’d gotten into this woman’s life, and felt satisfied that, while I never wanted to go to South Beach, at least if I did I knew what to wear.

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