An Ode to the Valentino Dress I Will Always Love But Never Own

Oh, the pangs of unrequited love!

Valentino

At least once a week, I send my colleague Carrie a link to some very expensive clothing item or accessory over Slack, our intra-office messaging system, with a brief but friendly note: “I would kill you for this.”

She does the same, but usually her message is: “Can I have this, please?” To which I respond, simply, “No.” Because the things we love — the things that actually shoot a stab of longing through our hearts, one I swear is almost painful — are different-stratosphere expensive. Take, for instance, this Valentino dress from spring/summer 2015. Glorious, no? I am drawn to it, I think, because it’s an elegant, grown-up spin on the bohemian maxi dress. It’s not quite as Cinderella-like as, say, this one, which is why I fancy it a more practical purchase. It’s something I’d wear to a nighttime wedding. Or maybe a ball!

But I’ve long given up on this dress — even forgotten about it (self-preservation!) — because it probably costs around $10,000. (While I can’t find an exact price, I assume it’s more expensive than this version, which runs $7,990.) And then an odd string of morning web skimming led me to Nasty Gal, which led me to this

Sure, it’s not the Valentino version. Not even close. But there are faint whiffs of similarity, in the ruffled tiers, in the sheer panels, in the boho-meets-baroque embroidery (one surely by hand, one by machine). Seeing Nasty Gal’s riff was like running into an ex. Instantly, I felt a pang, a sudden recollection of a forgotten love. I Google-stalked the Valentino dress, but it’s hidden deep in a 96-photo slideshow of the spring/summer ’15 runway collection. So we meet again, I thought as I finally came across the photo of it.

I let myself imagine how I’d style it, how I’d walk in it, where I’d wear it — that New Year’s Eve wedding, perhaps? And then I clicked out of the Valentino site, followed by the Nasty Gal site (for that dress would only be a rebound) and got back to work. There have been other true-love pieces since that dress, and there will be more to come. Since fashion is nothing if not cyclical, past loves will continue to creep back, in watered-down, mass-market versions and in new iterations on future runways. And, well, we’ll continue to long for them all and try to forget the fact that it’s a teeny bit of a cardinal sin to covet things.

So here’s to all the beautiful clothing we’ll never own. Here’s to the runway pieces that only Anna Wintour and fancy Russian oligarchs may own. Here’s to the gowns handcrafted in Parisian ateliers, and to the heavy shifts painstakingly beaded by hand. We see you. We appreciate you. We’d wear the hell out of you if we could. But until then, we’ll do our best to forget you. And when a knockoff comes along, we’ll do our best to resist it, because we know you were first, you’ll last longer, you’re made better. But if we can’t? Well, just know this: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And, well, you never really forget your first love.