Wardrobe malfunction,anyone?

Posted Oct. 26, 2008, at 11:39 p.m.

When I decided to attend Fusion:Bangor’s annual Flava Gala, held Oct. 18 at a hangar at Bangor International Airport, and drag my husband, Dustin, along with me, I had given very little thought to the “cocktail attire” dress code and what that meant in a city where the temperatures are dipping into the 30s and 40s. I have spent most of my adult life in one of three places: San Diego, Calif., Jacksonville, Fla., and Pensacola, Fla. In fact, I have never lived north of Virginia Beach, Va. My stash of cocktail attire, therefore, includes dresses with no sleeves, open-toe high-heels, and not one single shawl.

When I was getting dressed Saturday evening, I asked Dustin, “Do you think the no-pantyhose trend is a generational and universal thing, or is it a it’s-too-hot-in-Florida-to-wear-pantyhose thing? Do you think women here wear panty-hose?”

“You’re asking me?” Dustin said, twisting up his face in confusion. His choices for the night were simple, and not one bit different from what they were in Florida: coat, tie, pants.

I put on a sleeveless, tiered chiffon dress with tiny beads (remember the beads; they are important later) at the hem, and froze my you-know-what off all the way to the door of the hangar. That’s when I saw some women in pants and sweaters.

“I think I need to go home and change,” I told Dustin. But as a man who has worn the same suit to every single formal occasion for the past decade, my husband doesn’t understand the feeling of being overdressed for a party. He nudged me forward into the hangar, where a crowd of young professionals (Fusion is a networking group for people in their 20s and 30s) was gathering. We didn’t know a soul, and that’s why we headed straight for the table with drinks.

Despite my inappropriate attire, I felt right at home in the greasy hangar with scuffed cement floors and the faint smell of JP-5 jet fuel, even if the location had been incredibly transformed into a fantasyland of paper lanterns, candles and flowers. I never knew an airport hangar could be so beautiful! The airport setting might have been a novelty to some partygoers, but for me, it was one of the few things that felt familiar. I’ve been a military dependent my entire life, so I’ve attended every kind of party — birthdays, formals, homecomings, reunions and holidays — inside hangars, where you have to watch your step around aircraft tie-downs and signs, such as the one near our table Saturday night that read, AVOID FOD: Foreign Object Danger.

At some point during the night, Dustin and I found ourselves (possibly by some strange magnetic force involving all those shiny medals on military uniforms) near the only other two active-duty military personnel at the party: an Army colonel, who was the guest speaker, and a major from the University of Maine. The presence of the men’s uniforms, their close haircuts and their clipped manner of speech seemed even more familiar to me than perhaps the cavernous hangar.

“Go talk to them,” I told Dustin, because, mostly, I was tired of talking only to my husband.

But Dustin didn’t move. There is a system for these things, and although I’ve been around the military since day one, I don’t always understand the rules.

“I can’t just walk up to a colonel and say, ‘Hey, how you doin’?’” Dustin said.

Shortly thereafter, we spotted our son Owen’s soccer coach. This is one of the many things that I love about Bangor. In a relatively short period of time (we moved here Aug. 25), I’ve already run into people I know in unexpected places. And unlike the military’s complex chain of command, with all of its rules and ways of doing things, the people of Bangor have been refreshingly warm and welcoming to this girl who likes to walk up to people and say, believe it or not, “Hey, how you doin’?”

Later, during the awards ceremony, I sat at our table and snacked on stuffed pastries.

“How’s the dessert?” Dustin asked.

“Good, except the ‘stuffed pastries’ don’t have any filling,” I whispered.

A few minutes and several stuffed pastries later, I stood up to go to the restroom and found all the “lost” stuffing in my lap. Yes, I had to walk across the hangar floor, past a room full of people I don’t know, in a dress that was too formal and cold and had a grapefruit-sized smudge of pastry filling on the front.

Oh, but it gets worse. When I got back to the table, I found a pile of shiny black beads in my seat and realized that my dress was unraveling at the hem. If anyone had needed to find me, they could follow the trail of beads from the restroom to the drink table to the dessert cart and to my seat.

In the end, whether or not I wore pantyhose was the least of my concerns. After dessert, Dustin finally introduced himself to the major and the colonel. I noticed he was a little slow to claim me as his wife — the one with pastry filling on her dress that was coming apart at the hem. Which, of course, means that some things (besides Dustin’s suit) never change; whether we are in California, Florida or Maine, Dustin — well, he just can’t take me anywhere.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her new book, “I’m Just Saying …,” is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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