'Being frugal and spending R550 on my Durban July dress almost ruined my style reputation'

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How I attended some horse-riding action at the Durban July. Image writer's own
How I attended some horse-riding action at the Durban July. Image writer's own
  • My Durban July dress cost R550, but the torment I endured for the bargain was not worth it.
  • When I fit the dress for the first time, I looked like a sumo wrestler, ready to collapse.
  • But the breathtaking coastal views, horse riding on the beach and cruising into the sunset in the warm province, courtesy of South African Tourism, Sho't Left, was all the travel therapy I needed after the near-death experience. 

Now that I survived the life-threatening situation - or rather, one that put my fashion-forward reputation in the ICU - I am questioning my frugal ways, and if bargain-hunting was worth the torment I went through. I was about to lose my street cred!

Or maybe, I should blame my love for thrifting and frugal ways. I don't know what it is, but we can all agree that constant petrol and food hikes don't allow for money to be spent without tact.

In all honesty, some of us make it look good but our bank accounts are on "one minute remaining".

Actually, when are we striking as a country? I am ready and willing for that toyi toyi. LOL!

Let me tell you what happened. After all the trauma from Covid, being threatened by soldiers so we could stay home, alcohol smuggling and not being able to buy a packet of Doritos, I was not going to pass on an invite from South African Tourism, Shot'Left, to a province that is sunny and hectically fun.

It was the biggest fashion weekend in South Africa, Durban July, after a two-year hiatus. Who would dare say 'no'?

READ MORE | Ashley Graham loves bargain-hunting at discount stores

I am writing this back in Johannesburg and I am already thinking about when I am going back to the land of mindless fun and magical experiences. 

First things first - my biggest stress through all of this was finding a dress to complement the theme, Show Me The Honey ahead of the race day at Greyville Racecourse. And I had three days to get it done.

So, I was sort of losing my mind. Everyone else around me either had a designer on standby or they had money for it.

I had little money for the big event, but I never back away from a style challenge, especially not for the biggest event since the country went mask-free. 

The plan started off on a good note. I hit the streets of Joburg and bought five-metre material for R150 - bargain number one, check. 

The sales lady gave me a weird stare though and said, "that's too much material for a dress for you," but I was adamant. I didn't have a design at this point, so I wanted to save myself from having to stress. Remember I had three days. 

READ MORE | 'When in doubt, I go thrifting. Some of my best outfits cost R100 or less'

Now, driving back home, I realised I didn't know to whom I was taking my fabric. My usual seamstress would have shouted at me for expecting a dress from her in 72 hours.

Then frugal mode kicked in. I thought of a 19-year-old I met recently and I saw that he could design "cool" clothes. Don't get me wrong, he is talented but...

'He is coming up, so he will have time to make the dress for me quickly,' I thought.

I then convinced myself some more and thought choosing a simple pattern would be a walk in the park for the genius, "cool" clothing designer. 

READ MORE | Would you spoil your furry friend with the Gucci pet bed worth R122 000?

"Do you only do men's wear?" I text in a slight panic because I am running out of time.

He answers with confidence that calms me, "I do everything. I have done dresses many times before." 

He says he doesn't have any pictures when I ask for a catalogue of his work, but this does not rattle me. I am convinced that the few jeans I have seen him design make him an all-rounder. His confidence also makes me put my guard down. 

Fast-forward to Monday, the day after he "started" working on the dress (two days left), and he tells me he is done and I could come for my fitting. I must admit, I got worried when he said the dress is ready for collection, all done in a day. I thought to myself that I was either going to be thoroughly impressed or devastated. 

I rushed to his place of work, a small room in Soweto that he recently started sharing with a tailor who has been there for over five years and is more experienced in dressmaking.

READ MORE | Carpenter by day, drag queen by night - husband has spent over R100 000 on his glitzy drag wardrobe

On arrival, the dress was on the table. I laughed in panic before even touching it. That nervous, in-disbelief kind of laugh. I felt like I might have collapsed or had a heart-attack but I was taking deep breaths.

Days before all this, my doctor told me to stop stressing because my body was already reacting to my stresses prior to this one. It must be the price of oil.

Anyway, I took the dress and held it up. I desperately needed a bucket of ice-cold water over my head. There was no way I had such a large waist or this body shape, no ways! 

I put it on. I don't know why, but denialism was thoroughly dealing with me.

He helped me zip it up and I transformed into a sumo wrestler. It was like I had put on 20 kgs. Thinking about this moment is so triggering. 

All the while, my 19-year-old designer was looking at me with fear in his eyes. "What did I do wrong sister?" At this point, I wanted to take off my wig and get into character.

Me, a sumo fighter! 

READ MORE | Designers Palesa Mokubung, Kwenzi Nkomo confirm they are ready to ‘Show Me the Honey’ at Durban July

style, fashion, durban july
Moves I could pull in that dress. Image by Beano5/Getty Images

His colleague, the tailor, stood up and took my measurements again and assured me that he needed a day to fix it. I got home and I cried such an ugly cry. 

The next day, after several changes, my dress looked better, only a few adjustments needed to be made. Now, I felt like I was Carol Bouwer all over again (I am a tad bit obsessed with her - but who isn't?). 

Another day later, my dress was done. I paid R400 for the dress and it was ready hours before I was due to fly out to Durban. 

style, fashion, durban july
Ready for horse-racing at Greyville Racecourse in Durban. Image writer's own

When my outfit was sorted, it was only then I could look forward to waking up to coastal views and immersing myself in the travel therapy I desperately needed.

The beauty that lays bare a plane ride away from Joburg was all the medicine I needed to heal and fetch my style reputation from the ICU.

Being woken up by the seashore and cruising into the sunset, horse-riding on the beach, shark diving, an ocean safari was a soothing and fulfilling experience courtesy of Sho't Left.

It makes so much sense why Durban is carrying the country's tourism industry on its back.

As for me, I am no sumo fighter and I can safely say that although I will remain a bargainer, my risk taking will have to be more calculated. 

And when all is said and done, I think my 19-year-old designer is likely not going to be making any urgent dresses for me any time soon. But if his attitude is anything to go by, he'll go places in a few years despite the sumo moment that none of us want to remember.

At the end of the day we both lived, learnt and managed to stylishly slay the sumo dragon - and that's all that matters.

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