First, there was the Romance Was Born silk sheath, printed with fantastical jeweled animals in electric shades. Then there was the sheer red Lover mini, sleeveless and prettily ruffled. A Willow silk halterneck with a black-and-white bird motif that I wore to every wedding. The hectic multi-print Kenzo x H&M frock, whose voluminous skirt hid a non-functioning security tag a forgetful sales associate forgot to remove.
Every year for my birthday, I buy myself a dress. Not that I don’t acquire slips and shifts any other time of year—I’d be lost without one-step outfits. But the Birthday Dress is a different affair. It’s not for work. It doesn’t have to justify itself with a strict cost-per-wear ratio. Practicality can take a hike when it comes to this dress. It’s the garment I indulge my most frivolous tendencies for; I worry about everything else in my life, except this.
Rewards for getting older, if you’re mindful and privileged and healthy and lucky, are numerous: You still get to traverse this unlikely earth, experiencing and doing, going forward to new things (or the ones you love so much you don’t mind repeating them). I love receiving birthday wishes from friends and family, and gathering people together for my birthday week (which has, admittedly, sometimes spanned two weeks—both the week beforeyour birthday and the week after your birthday count, that’s the law).
I also like a little quiet time as I venture further into the calendar of me. Occasionally I’ll take a trip by myself or settle in to an early seat at the bar solo. Sometimes I’m reflective; other times, I’m just thrilled to do whatever the fuck I want without having to think about someone else. But the ritual I love the most about this milestone rolling around is getting the Birthday Dress.
My bank balance aside, there’s no restriction on what this dress should be. Depending on the trends that are populating stores that season, it might be full-length or a mini; it might have long sleeves, or none at all. In Australia, where I’m from, I’m a summer baby, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere my birthday heralds the beginning of winter, so there’s no uniformity there, either. Printed or solid, shine-infused or stoically matte, dark or neon bright, it doesn’t matter. I get to follow my fancy down any dress-shaped rabbit hole I want.
Past Birthday Dresses have tended towards the party aisle. I’m celebrating, after all, but that’s not a must. The rules are: I have to love it; I have to fall in love with it; I have to buy it before my birthday (a couple of months early is okay too); I don’t have to wear it on my birthday; I never have to wear it again, or ever, if I don’t want to (to this day, 2017’s Tibi Plissé tent dress remains as pristinely white as it was when it arrived in its Bergdorf’s box a year ago). Once, it wasn’t even a dress—it was a black Rachel Comey silk set, top and pants, printed all over with poodles.
I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I will say this is one of my favorite things I do for myself. No matter how good or difficult my year has been, no matter how long it’s felt since I picked out the last one, the Birthday Dress is its own bright spot. Regular life rules don’t apply. If it’s cold out, but you’re craving the sweet sensuality of lace, that’s your prerogative. A habitual preference for items you can throw in the washing machine can be set aside, just once, for a Dry Clean Only situation. So what if it looks like a wedding dress? That’s nobody’s business. And if it’s a look that’s so of its time, that will tellingly age as another year ticks by? Well, that’s normal. Everything—and everyone—does.