Last year I moved to the Bywater, a weathered but vibrant neighborhood in New Orleans where no one seems to be going for a dress code. I'd left Williamsburg, Brooklyn, my home of almost two decades, because I was ready to escape the high cost of living—and the high fashion. Over the years the neighborhood had filled with artists, models, stylish trust-fund kids and wealthy Europeans; eventually, I didn't set foot outside my front door without bright pink lipstick and heels. But despite the Rachel Comey boots that made me three inches taller, I always felt somehow underdressed. What a relief to move to a place where I could forgo artifice! In my new hood, the pace is molasses, and many of my neighbors dress with hair unwashed, jeans torn, tattoos faded and no makeup. I'm like a caged animal released into the wild again! And yet...

One lazy Sunday last summer I woke up with a desire to swan. A friend had told me about Windsor Court, a hotel so elegant it refers to its staff as "the Royal Family." I put on a vintage flowered sundress and paired it with turquoise sandals I'd had no occasion to wear until then. I (carefully) got on my bike and headed downtown to immerse myself in the pomp and gentility, and perhaps even to flirt. I clicked across the marble floor and sank into a leather couch. Nearby, a harpist strummed. For the next languorous hour, amid the swirl of out-of-town visitors, I simply sat—intriguingly, even mysteriously, I hoped. I opened a book. I crossed my legs, ladylike. Alas, I found no one to flirt with. And yet, in that sumptuous space, with the help of that printed dress, I filled the tiny New York–shaped hole in my heart.

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