Most of us have had the experience of wanting to be a swan and feeling more like an ugly duckling. It is probably most common among eighth graders, but we can be susceptible at any age. Fortunately, as we grow older, we discover the transformative effect of a great new hairstyle and a magnificent dress. Think Cinderella. Or Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries. Or Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. Even Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, who didn’t much care about being a swan, found out what a difference a good stylist can make. There is just something about that “Aha” moment when we look in the mirror and like what we see looking back.

In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which takes place during the American Civil War, Meg Marsh goes to visit her friend Sally Moffat and finds that when she wears her best tarlatan dress to a small family party, it is considered shabby and dowdy next to what the other young ladies are wearing. Tarlatan is a thin, stiffened, open-mesh cotton fabric. Sally’s family decides to help poor Meg look better for the upcoming ball, and so:

“On the Thursday evening, Belle shut herself up with her maid Hortense, and between them they turned Meg into a fine lady. They crimped and curled her hair, they polished her neck and arms with some fragrant powder, touched her lips with coralline salve to make them redder, and Hortense would have added a “soupcon of rouge” if Meg had not rebelled. They laced her into a sky-blue dress, which was so tight she could hardly breathe and so low in the neck that modest Meg blushed at herself in the mirror. A set of silver filigree was added, bracelets, necklace, brooch, and even earrings, for Hortense tied them on with a bit of pink silk which did not show. A cluster of tea-rose buds at the bosom, and a ruche, reconciled Meg to the display of her pretty, white shoulders, and a pair of high-heeled silk boots satisfied the last wish of her heart. A lace handkerchief, a plumy fan, and a bouquet in a shoulder holder finished her off, and Miss Belle surveyed her with the satisfaction of a little girl with a newly dressed doll.”

Meg ended up being a sensation at the ball, and while she later decided that it is always best to be oneself, she had “discovered that there is a charm about fine clothes.”  

We couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.  At the end of the day, a beautiful gown will always be transformative, and wearing one may even help us discover new truths about ourselves.