I had a Cameron Diaz moment.
Finding a dress for last weekend’s wedding had me feeling like her character in The Sweetest Thing. In true procrastinator form, I waited until the night before the 8am wedding, which didn’t leave me enough time to go out of town. I found myself at the only dress shop in Suwannaphum – where everything is frilly, lacy, silky and bowed – wondering if I would end up drawing more attention to myself than my white skin already does.
The teachers told me not to shop locally for clothes. I had hoped it was because the options are limited, not because everything is made for a Barbie doll.
As I entered the store on main street, the owner, Ding, greeted me in perfect English. She told me she spent 10 years working as a seamstress in Bangkok before moving back to care for her aging mother. I told her I needed help finding a dress for tomorrow’s big wedding.
“What about this one?” I asked in reference to a shiny, gold number.
“It’s too small,” she said after sizing up my arm with her fingers. I instantly liked her. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’m a size large, sometimes extra large, in Thailand, and her honesty was refreshing in a culture that hates confrontation. Most Thai’s don’t have curves, so these overly decorated dresses look great on them, but on a girl who has plenty, they do nothing to compliment.
The next was a boxy, white frock with bunches of unnecessary fabric around the bottom half. Trying it on, I worried it was too short. Then Ding took the words out of my mouth, squelching any doubt.
Several more presented complications with the excess fat around my middle. They fit okay, but Ding informed me they wouldn’t do.
“You have a belly,” she said, bluntly. Unflattering wasn’t yet in her vocabulary.
We put away all the somewhat-decent-looking dresses and Ding grabbed a few more for me to try – the ones I cringed at when I first glanced through the store. I wouldn’t even touch them back home, let alone try them on, but Ding was so sweet. I knew I had to appease her.
“I’ll try that one,” I said, grabbing the bright pink, pleated one with leaf-shaped frills hanging down the front. She smiled.
Coming out from behind the dressing room (a curtain hanging in a corner in the back), I heard, “It’s good! Pink is best. It makes you look narrow; hides your belly. And everybody wore pink to the last wedding.”
She’s a great saleswoman – helpful but not too pushy. “I discount it just for you,” Ding said. Even though every sales person uses the same line when they barter, in Ding’s cozy dress shop, with her patient ways and unwavering honesty, I almost believed her. Almost.
For lack of any other options, I bought it for the bargain price of 650 THB ($21).
I went home, new dress in hand, and dreaded the morning when I would most likely enter a Buddhist wedding and stand out like an elephant in a temple.
When my ride arrived, four of my coworkers stepped out of the car wearing pink. I silently thanked Ding for her gentle nudging.
Whenever the teachers like what I’m wearing they ask two questions: 1) Where did you buy it, and 2) How much did you pay. They were surprised when I answered Suwannaphum to the first. When I told them what I paid, they were in disbelief. A friend of theirs had purchased the same dress a few weeks earlier and paid the sticker price of 1,300 THB. It’s the first time any of us had heard of a foreigner getting a better deal than a local.
Walking into the wedding cemented my faith in Ding. Unlike Cameron Diaz, I actually blended in (as much as a foreigner can) and my dress was a hit. Suwannaphum might not have much, but at least there’s a dress shop I can count on.