When it came to wedding dresses, I thought I knew what I wanted.
But, after trying on over 25 dresses at three stores in Des Moines, I was defeated. My disappointments, especially after visiting David's Bridal, had left me tearful.
However, two days after my marathon shopping day—and without anyone accompanying me—I went back to Stacey’s, a warehouse of a store in a Des Moines suburb. My original consultant was present, and she was everything I needed: patient, understanding, laid-back, questioning, encouraging.
I put on the first dress I had liked. Some lace. Some sparkle. A nice pinky-brown tone. Straps. Mermaid. Tight. Okay. I took it off five minutes later.
I put on the second dress I had liked. I wore it for 45 minutes straight.
It was the one my mom and cousin had loved, one they had suggested I try. At the time, I had taken one look at its shocking inclusion of color and said, “It’s too ______, but I’ll definitely try it on.” They had smiled; they had known it was “me” before I even realized it.
At Stacey’s, I was handed a sash, a birdcage. Jewelry was discussed, as was my groom’s clothing. Shoes. Undergarments. Our choice to go without bridesmaids and groomsmen. To keep everything outside. I even spoke of our love of vintage and antique items.
“Our ‘new’ kitchen table is a 1950s chrome model from an antique store,” I told both two consultants, as they gussied my hair and hid what I considered to be the dress’s “imperfections.”
“Oh my gosh. That’s fantastic! I love that.” He—whose name I have forgotten, but whose persona I can compare with Kleinfeld’s Randy—stepped back and looked me from head to toe. “You need this dress. This works for you.”
He, my consultant, and the seamstress were flourishing with comments and ideas … and yet, I couldn’t commit. The dress was so different from any vision I had imagined. It wasn’t what I had expected. I was happily shocked, but easily confused. I liked it … but would it seem costume-y? Would it be enough to be “different?”
“What will the groom be wearing?” The seamstress, Laura, asked me.
I smiled. “I picture him in a suit. Not necessarily with a jacket, though. Brown or gray or something. An ivory shirt. And a vest. There has to be vest. And I think he’ll want a top hat.” I smiled again, looked down at the fabric that graced my toes.
“Oh. My. Gosh,” “Randy” gushed. “That’s so perfect. You guys are so great.”
But again, I couldn’t commit. I couldn’t understand the vision; couldn’t grasp the concept that this … this garment, this particular garment … would be my dress. The employees at Stacey’s encouraged me to think about it; they handed me a glass of wine and instructed me to weigh my vision, my guests’, my feelings, my budget. “Think about everything, but think about how you feel.”
That night, at 2:20 in the morning, I texted my mom. “GRrrrEEeeat. Now all I can do is think about that stupid dress. Figures.”
We agreed, once again, to meet at the Des Moines store. I drove 45 minutes, mom drove 2 hours. It was on a whim—I did not expect to obsess over an article of clothing.
Once in the dressing room, I told the consultant, “I want to put the dress on, fix everything up the way I had it, then put on the headpiece. And get some flowers. I basically want to have everything ready … and THEN I’ll look in the mirror.”
She tucked, pinned, clipped. I was plucked over like a mannequin. And when I finally emerged from the dressing room, I didn’t even look in the mirror; I looked at my mom’s face. She was smiling, albeit a bit sadly, waiting for my reaction. I stepped onto the pedestal, slowly. I fluffed the bottom of the gown, gazed at the fake floral arrangement in my hands. Finally, I looked up.
“Yeah, I don’t cry,” I exclaimed to my mother, who wore an expression of both humor and mock embarrassment. “It’s just not me.”
The consultant and my mom both looked at me, hoping for a more detailed explanation.
“Fabric doesn’t make me cry.”
My mom shook her head. "No, that's ... just not you."
Again, for a long time, I paraded around the store. I gazed at myself, asked for encouragement. I disappeared into the prom dresses, the train popped by the consultant. I could see another employee pointing at me and commenting. I looked in the mirror again, scrutinized my silhouette. Turning to the back of the store, I pictured Hans, his face, his vest, his top hat. His smile. His eyes. I walked toward them.
That’s when I knew.
I strolled back to my mom, enjoying the train, the fabric.
“Fabric doesn’t make me cry,” I said to her, touching her arm. “But Hans does.” I choked out his name, and my eyes filled with tears. “This dress, or any dress, no matter the cost, will not make me cry. I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to have those butterfly feelings. What makes me feel those things is Hans.” I paused, and mom tried desperately not to tear up herself. “When I think about him, when I thinking about walking toward him, that’s when I cry.”
And indeed I did.
After that exchange with my maternal parent, Stacey’s made me an offer, a bargain. I took it. And an hour after arriving, after trying on and testing, of fussing and worrying, I walked out with a large cloth bag, a dress enclosed.
Sadly, I will not be divulging its looks to you at this time. I will admit that my fiancé, my groom, my love, has seen it. (If I was going to purchase it, I needed him to like it; and—since I do not believe in traditional superstitions—I sent him a photo of me wearing it.) Quite literally, only a handful of others know what it looks like. My choice to remain secretive is to protect my guests; they are the ones whom I want to surprise, to stun. I wish for them to take a look at my somewhat unconventional gown and say, “That’s Dawn.” If a guest does not think my dress is beautiful, then he or she should not feel obligated to tell me it is. He or she should recognize only that the dress—one my mother and cousin attached themselves to first—is “me.”
In truth, I cannot wait to show it to you.
But first, some words for the wonderful employees at Stacey’s:
I want to thank all of you for helping me find my dress. For me, it was a difficult process, and I'm sure you could sense my frustration and defeat. However, you helped cultivate a NEW vision for me, one that felt different ... and right. You welcomed both my mom and my cousin into the appointment, one in which they fell in love before I did. Though I was unsure for one, two, three days, you continued to welcome me—and welcome me excessively and politely—at each successive appointment. Each compliment was appreciated and highly regarded. You fussed and played, tweaked and tolerated, and I cannot thank you, especially Moriah, enough for assisting me. You gave me hope, confidence, a dress. Thank you.