My eyes always linger enviously on the travel advertisements in the back of the New Yorker. Yachting adventures in the Galapagos with a licensed naturalist, balloon rides over Cappadocia, adorable flats and townhouses for rent on the Left Bank and in the West End. The locales, sumptuous and sophisticated, conjure images of J. Petermanesque adventures and make me long for time, money and a companion who looks like Ralph Fiennes. Sadly, as for most people, these exotic expeditions are way out of my price range. But recently I discovered something in those precious little ads that accommodated my nonexistent travel budget and is useful whether you fly the Concorde or Southwest Airlines, whether your destination is Bali, Buenos Aires or Boston: Travelsmith's "Indispensable Black Travel Dress."
The dress is by no means dashing. Heads won't turn as you sprint through crowded airports trying to catch your connecting flight. In fact, when my package arrived from Travelsmith, in the five- to seven-day time period promised by the friendly sales associate, I was somewhat disappointed -- it looked plain and rather uninspired. But the dress is built for convenience, not runways, I reminded myself, and to its credit it has a basic simplicity and feels wonderfully soft to the touch. The dress, which has a standard, clean, A-line shape, is available in midnight blue and black, in women's sizes petite and regular, and comes in two styles -- short (knee length) and long (below the calf), with short or long sleeves. The material, a blend of Lycra and something called Supplex, is warm, sturdy and high quality. Travelsmith promises that the dress is wrinkle-proof and will roll up in a ball in your suitcase. It's up to you to decide whether the $99 price tag is worth not having to carry a travel iron.
The dark color and stretchy material flatter and hold the figure without suffocating, and the streamlined shape will work for women of all shapes and sizes. As advertised, the dress is versatile. ("Dress it up with pearls, dress it down with flats ... The jewel neckline can be accessorized with scarves or a favorite pendant for evening.") With jewelry or chunky heels it would be elegant enough for ritzy Venice restaurants, and with Keds, it is breezy and cool enough to tote the kids around Euro Disney. Because the material breathes, it feels neither too heavy nor too light, perfect for layering. I would have killed for this dress a couple of years ago when I backpacked through Israel and Greece in the July heat. It became embarrassing showing up again and again in trendy Mykonos cafes wearing my dad's old Eddie Bauer shorts and mutilated hiking boots.
But with no backpacking trips planned in the near future, I decided to test-drive Travelsmith's dress on a recent red-eye flight between San Francisco and Washington, D.C. I headed for the airport after work and checked my reflection in the airport bathroom mirror before takeoff to see how the dress had weathered my 10-hour workday. After sitting at my desk, changing in and out of the dress at the gym and riding in a crowded shuttle van to the airport, the dress was, as promised, crease-free.
While sleeping on a plane is never cozy, this flight was particularly rotten. The person sitting in front of me was lying in my lap for the six-hour flight due to a broken chair. Just my luck, there were no open seats because it was the Thursday before a holiday weekend. Still, my breathable, pliable dress felt soft and roomy -- and though I wasn't able to sleep, if I had gotten some shut-eye, I wouldn't have missed my nightgown.
Awakened at 5 for a bathroom call, after being wrapped in a scratchy, gray airplane blanket for hours, I discovered that while the dress was still wrinkle-free, it had collected enough lint to fill a laundromat dryer. Unfair, you say. Any black material would attract lint, especially after being swathed in the flame-resistant, pseudo-wool of the airplane blanket.
But while in Washington, I wore the Indispensable dress during a day of museum- and cafe-hopping and then to dinner and a movie to test its mettle. Sadly, after a day of excursions, my dress was still somewhat worse for wear. Flecks of matter -- threads, tiny lint balls, a thin layer of fuzz -- clung to my very wrinkle-free dress. Note to Travelsmith: Create an Indispensable Travel Dress in vibrant colors such as red and green that won't attract lint like a moth to a lightbulb, and I promise, when I finally get to take that walking tour of Tuscany, I'll bring it along.