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Hidden horrors of bed linens

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times
published September 28, 2002

Several years ago I asked a twentysomething guy at the office if he was going to hear a panel discussion on Jack Kerouac, the beat generation writer, and he said, no, he had to go look for a duvet cover.

A duvet cover?

This was a guy, in the first place, and in the second place, what did he plan to do with his weekend after that 10 minutes was taken up?

That was before I owned a duvet. A duvet (pronounced doo-vay), for any of you fortunate enough not to know, is a French word for comforter, the kind you put on a bed. The difference is that a duvet, as opposed to a comforter, needs a cover. The plain duvet is usually just white, but not white in a sense that it looks finished. White in the sense that it cries out to be covered.

A year or so ago I bought one. It made sense at the time: If you buy a duvet, then you can take the cover off and wash it as often as you like. You can change the cover, too, without having to buy a whole new comforter. So when I saw duvets on sale at Stein Mart, I was there. I bought a Ralph Lauren king-size down duvet for about $70, a great deal. It's white with the unfortunate addition of little polo guys embossed on it, making the need for the duvet cover even greater.

Here's the rub: Only the most expensive designers make duvet covers. I guess they figure if you're stupid enough to buy a comforter with a French name, they can really sock it to you. Duvet covers actually cost more than duvets! And more than comforters, which don't need a cover.

I have been looking for a duvet cover for, let's see, a year and a couple of months. I've shopped in every linen department in Tampa and specialty stores in New York City and New Orleans. At first I wanted something distinctive. Then I just wanted something that doesn't wrinkle. Or at least isn't wrinkled when you take it out of the package.

A king-size duvet cover is roughly the size of a football field, but when packaged in a plastic wrap it's the size of a Russian novel. Wrestle that huge duvet into the cover, which opens -- like an envelope -- on only one end. Fasten the buttons and voila, you've got a bed that looks like Sid and Nancy slept in it.

"Do you think the wrinkles will hang out?" you ask your husband.

You don't even consider ironing something this size.

Back to the store after you and your husband (this is not a job for one person) wrestle the duvet out, then begin the Rubik's Cube task of refolding it to fit back into the package.

Of course, even if you could find a duvet cover, that's not enough. You still need shams and, unless you want your bedroom to resemble a rooming house, a bedskirt. Shams? They're probably out of them. Or, they don't make them king-size. Shams, I've found, are now often made in two sizes: standard and Euro. Euro refers to huge square pillows, the kind I don't have, and, as far as I know, no one has, here or in Europe.

And bedskirts? Are you aware they come in different lengths? I wasn't until my husband and I heaved the king-size mattress off the bed, balanced it against the wall, slid on the bedskirt, replaced the mattress and found the skirt trailing a couple of inches on the floor. So much for that, a loss of an hour rummaging through a sale table and an $11 charge for having pillowcases sent from a store in South Florida.

An additional loss of about $40 on shipping for a returned catalog order, and that did it. Enough!

I got a $30 bedskirt from Bed, Bath and Beyond for which I had to drive to Brandon instead of the N Dale Mabry store. There was a Bucs game on that day. The bedskirt sort of complements a cotton blanket I'd bought for $17 at Belk's going-out-of-business sale. It's only temporary, I tell myself.

Hmm, it's been about eight years. I should call the guy who didn't go to the Kerouac talk. Maybe he's found something by now.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

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