In Sofia Coppola’s cinematic portrait of Marie Antoinette, a baby-faced Kirsten Dunst discovers—on her first morning in Versailles—the court’s tedious process for the simple task of getting dressed. As she stands shivering in her birthday suit, the young royal’s various layers of garments are passed down a long line of ladies-in-waiting before she can finally wear them. “This is ridiculous!” exclaims the frustrated and freezing Dauphine.
Comically complicated it may be, but many a modern-day fashionable woman probably wishes she could nab one of Dunst’s ladies for her own use, because even without the crinolines and petticoats, getting dolled up on your own isn’t easy. From zippers that stick to tiny hooks and eyes, evening gowns are often a battle for stylish single girls (and some married ones too). In fact, unless you opt for simple jersey or slip dresses, donning a high-fashion look sans assistance can prove a veritable minefield of potential disasters.
Cecilia Dean, who often favors intricately constructed pieces from Christian Lacroix and Rodarte, has made her share of trips down to her doormen to be zipped up or corseted. “They’re always accommodating, and I think they get a real kick out of it,” she says. “I’m sure it’s a lot more exciting than what normally happens to you as a doorman.” But even this extra set of hands is not enough for some of Dean’s more extravagant choices. “Alexander McQueen is supertricky,” she notes. “I would actually never attempt getting into one of his gowns without at least two other people there.”
Other women have chosen to eschew inexperienced fingers altogether. “Some dresses are just way too complicated for a doorman,” says Jennifer Williams, PR manager for Carolina Herrera. Case in point: a poppy-print cocktail dress from Herrera’s fall 2007 collection. With a back full of bows, zippers, hooks and eyes, and snaps, the seemingly innocent-looking frock takes such mastery to put on and remove that Williams’s coworker Phoebe Gubelmann was trapped in it one evening. Luckily for her, the two women live a mere half block away from each other.
“It was the end of a crazy Fashion Week, and all she wanted to do was get out of the dress,” recalls Williams, who had helped Gubelmann into it at the office before she left. “I was in bed when she called and asked, ‘Will you meet me halfway?’” So Williams got out of bed and met Gubelmann on the street to undo the back. “It was the saddest thing. She was like, ‘Can you please get me out? I just want to go home and go to bed. My doorman can’t do it.’” The incident sealed their fates; ever since, the two make plans to rendezvous outside midway between their apartments (with a coat or other cover-up to provide sufficient camouflage for partially undone ensembles) whenever they have a big event.