Sheath. Lace. Floral. Sexy. Must have straps. Whimsical. Ribbons. Flowing. Light. Breezy. Fairy. Color. Different. Claire Pettibone.
It’s what I thought I wanted. In fact, it may still be what I want. What matters is that I am no longer looking.
I’m particular. Very particular. So very picky, so very stubborn, that those closest to me often refrain from voicing ideas; they fear my instant rejection. Indeed, I often disregard the suggestions of others; it is one of my many faults. I insist that things exceed perfection, and this had earned me a not-so-favorable (and yet understandable) reputation.
So, when it came time to examine—yes, “examine,” for I knew I would scrutinize any shape, style, bead, sequin and seam—wedding dresses, I feared I would not be able to find something that suited my vision precisely.
Trying on dresses for the first time was overwhelming; I was fresh from my vacation to Indiana, engaged for four days. It also happened to be my birthday.
My mom accompanied me to a store in Ames, one which featured approximately four dozen dresses. Most were frilly A-lines I immediately despised; “princess gowns” were nowhere on my list of wishes and wants. Sheath. Lace. Floral. Straps. Color. Whimsical. Breezy. Lace. Sexy. Lace. Lace. Lace. Different.
I was allowed four dresses; I forced myself to pick two I knew I would never buy. I was slighted by the sales assistant’s questions, her forceful pushing. “Try this.” “What about this?” “How many people at your wedding?” “What’s it like?” “How many bridesmaids?” “This?” “This?” “No lace, but what you do think?”
I sighed. No thanks. No. 150 max. Outdoor. Zero. No. No. No.
Of the four dresses, only one was tolerable. It was entirely lace … and entirely strapless. And also entirely too small.
“Well, you’ll have to order it,” the sales assistant told me. “It takes at least sixteen weeks to get it in.”
I laughed. “Then this isn’t it,” I said, staring at the train and the fabric, which stretched taut across my hips. “As of yesterday, I’m getting married in sixteen weeks.”
We left the store empty-handed, discouraged. The lace dress was the only one that had interested me; I had preferred its dreamy silhouette, its dropped waist. Though it was pretty, it was also stark white—a color not suited to my olive skin—and more than twice my budget.
Mom and I spoke for awhile in the parking lot. She spoke from the heart, spoke with emotion. She was not ready to let go; was not ready to see me try on dresses.
“You’re my miracle baby,” she said, with teary eyes and a bobbing head. “This is … this is hard.”
The only response I felt was one of reluctant abandonment; and so I stretched my arms around my mom.
It was three weeks later—and the morning after my last day in the newsroom—that I met my mother and cousin in Des Moines. I had planned for an entire day of dress shopping. We would visit three stores, try on a dozen dresses, eat lunch and supper.
Perhaps, just maybe, I would find a dress.
The first store—which I will get to in my next post—was wonderful at accommodating me and my family.
The second and third stores were not as thrilling. The second store was not large, and even its consignment gowns were above my budget. Though I tried on three dresses, I was not sold by any of them. Trying to remain positive and polite, I insisted on finding something I liked about each gown. The shape, the narrow waist. The slit. The zippered back I could unlock and move by myself. The color. The sequins. Something. Anything. But there was nothing in the store; nothing within my meager budget. Both my mom and my cousin could read my eyes, read my lips and see they were without a smile.
The third and last store of the day, David’s Bridal—the Walmart of the bridal industry—was simply terrible. Out of morbid curiosity, I had wished to experience the chain store myself; I had heard of rudeness, of forgotten brides and overworked salespeople.
Upon arriving at the store, I was pushed aside by other appointments. My assistant was evidently eating lunch, so I was forced to wait. When she finally arrived, she led us to the mother-of-the-bride dresses (which, of course, we had no interest in), then to the bridesmaid dresses (which, again, I had no use for). When I was finally given a dressing room (a tiny, mirror-less square), I was roughly handed a crinoline and a strapless bra.
“I already have on a strapless, actually,” I said.
“Well, we recommend that you wear one of ours, which happens to be a partial body suit.”
“Oh. Well, no thanks; I’m actually more comfortable wearing my own. And thank you for bringing in the extra tulle, but I’m okay without it.” I pointed to the hoop dangling from a nearby hook.
“Again, we recommend it. It gives you an idea of how the dress will be shaped.”
“Oh.” I was taken aback by her tactics. I glanced at the attachment, which was priced $79.99. I resisted the urge to scoff. Our exchange was a subtle sales pitch. “Again,” I said, “I appreciate it, but I’m fine without. I’m interested in purchasing a sheath dress, anyway.”
“Well, those are going to get caught between your legs, so we encourage all of our brides to put them on.”
I was confused. “But … then … it … wouldn’t be a sheath.” Her absurd behavior almost led me into a sadistic smirk.
“Well, I’ll just pull some dresses and see.”
One after one, I donned a design. Each was cheaply engineered. The mass-production was appalling; there were many dresses in the store, yes, but they were identical. A strapless lace gown could be found in one, two, four, ten sizes. I could see each seam, see where patterns overlapped and holes were placed. I stood, disgusted yet submissive. Dress after dress after dress.
The assistant would appear only to take away one dress and return with another. When I finally had a lace sheath on, my mother, cousin and I took control of the appointment. We had been deserted by the assistant, so we took it upon ourselves to pin on flowers and ribbons, a sash and bows. They played and fussed. I yawned. Stretched. Looked in the mirror. Looked in the other mirror. I was overwhelmed, tired, exhausted, frustrated. I could not, and would not, pay $600 for an ill-quality, mass-produced gown that still needed a steam trunk full of improvements.
Back in the small cubicle, I shed the lace gown, stood in my underwear and cried silently. I sniffed and choked. I was defeated, upset. Finding my dress was an impossible task; my expectations were not realistic. Because I already knew that my vision was financially unattainable, I wrongly assumed I would have to settle. It was an entirely negative outlook, one that left me in tears on the sidewalk outside David’s Bridal, my mom comforting me behind a stone pillar.
I didn't think I was ever going to find one.