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11.29.09

Can an $895 Dress Be a Bargain?

Donna Karan’s new Infinity dress promises 10 different looks for the price of one. Fashion naïf Nicole LaPorte sets out to discover whether it’s too good to be true.

One dress. Ten different ways. That was my Thanksgiving weekend challenge. Could I pull it off?

The bets, placed rather quickly in the office, leaned toward: Hell no. I am not what you would call a dress type. When forced to wear them, at weddings (including my own) or other formal events, it is never in the spirit of looking sexy, or making any kind of impression or statement. If anything, it is a burden that leads to more burdens: having to shave my legs and find the proper shoes, which I inevitably don’t own. Watching Mad Men, I marvel at all the corset tops, A-line skirts, and sheath dresses, but I also consider them the source of Betty Draper’s bitchiness. Give the girl a pair of jeans!

When I walked out into the living room, my husband looked startled. “Why don’t you dress like that all the time?” he said.

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And so, it was with a bit of humor that I wound up as the guinea pig to “test” Donna Karan’s new Infinity dress, a garment that claims to be 10 different dresses in one. In theory, it all sounds fairly simple, and reasonable. “With a twist here, a wrap there, it’s strapless one minute, two kinds of halter dresses the next,” reads the mini-mission statement that is written on the tag. “And it’s also a high wrap-waist skirt…There’s your wardrobe.” It’s this multi-tasking quality that supposedly justifies how much the Infinity dress costs: $895. The logic is that you get 10 different looks for $100 each. Bargain! Or gimmick? I wasn’t sure.

The dress arrived rather unceremoniously in a FedEx box. It didn’t look like much. It was navy (I’d made sure to specify no red, which it also comes in), and made of a heavy, polyester-y fabric—or, a “refined matte jersey.” There were two, very long sashes that made me think of the drapey numbers Rami Kashou was always making on the fourth season of Project Runway.

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I hung the dress up on the deluxe, velvet-covered hanger it came with, and sized it up further. I still wasn’t seeing much. It was loose and strapless, about mid-calf length. The sashes, though, were intriguing, and I could tell they were the key to the dress’ Transformer-ness. Based on the printout I’d been given—my main road map, which showed 10, super-skinny models wearing the dress all the different ways—I was going to have to figure out how to turn the sashes into straps, neckties, and other impossible-looking configurations.

 

 

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I decided to debut the dress at Thanksgiving dinner, opting for the short-skirt/halter-top version, which looked like one of the easier styles (for now, I was staying far away from the necktie version). I began by wrapping the sash around my neck to try and create the halter-top. Instead, it looked like I had slung two, sad-looking ropes over my shoulders. Plus, there didn’t seem to be enough material to do both the top and the sash that was supposed to go around my waist. Running out of time, I gave up, and made up my own variation, throwing the sashes over my shoulders and then tying all the loose material up in back. The girl in the picture had on leggings. As perhaps the only American woman who doesn’t own a pair, instead, I pulled on a pair of black running tights. To cover up my sloppy handiwork, I put on a cardigan.

When I walked out into the living room, my husband looked startled. “Why don’t you dress like that all the time?” he said, which gave me hope. I went back and looked in the mirror. I did, actually, look better than I normally do. More cleaned-up. More feminine. Even effortlessly so. Even without the right shoes, I liked it.

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At dinner, the dress was an instant hit, and I experienced what it was like to be a sartorial conversation piece. People had heard about the dress and wanted to know more. What was it made of? Did it really cost $900? Was it worth $900? (Long debate about that.) Rachel, a friend of my sister-in-law’s, who was wearing a glittery gold jacket and kick-ass black boots, looked at me quizzically. “Can I just—?” she said, motioning her hands toward my midsection. Within seconds, she had undone the straps and was furiously bandaging the sashes around my waist. When she was done she stepped back and surveyed her work. “I learned that from wearing calypso dresses,” she said proudly. Everyone nodded in approval. “It’s an action hero dress,” remarked my sister-in-law, Ali, staring at the sashes. “You need to save someone with it, like in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

 

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The next morning I finally set about the challenge of mastering, step by step, looks one through 10. By now, the Donna Karan PR people had sent more elaborate instructions. Or, sort of elaborate instructions: a few bullet points, really, explaining how to create the “Capsleeve Infinity Dress,” the “Twist Halter Dress (2 different ways),” the “Strapless Infinity Dress” and the “One Shoulder Dress.” For the next hour, I stood in front of the mirror, at war. The most helpful hint was that twisting the sashes was the key to the halter top. But other than that, the bullet points were mostly lost on me.

 

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I’m confident that someone with more—any, really—fashion savvy, would have had far more luck. I don’t think Donna Karan is lying. I also didn’t feel like a total failure. Even though I didn’t perfectly master the Infinity, over the past few days, I liked being the girl in the cool, chic dress, when everyone around me looked the way I normally do: like getting dressed wasn’t their first, or even second or third, priority. Like clothes were mostly an afterthought. And I’d found a way to, as the saying goes, make it my own, with the pseudo-calypso look, cardigan, flats, and running tights. Is the dress worth $900? You decide.

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Nicole LaPorte is a West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.