Lauren: Buying the Imperfect Dress

It's my dress. Or is it?

I bought my wedding dress today. It was on sale at a local boutique, marked down from $1495 to $660. The saleswoman said I could have it for $550, if I bought it today. I felt the familiar clench in my chest, the one that comes when I am forced to make a Big Decision, one that involves parting with a stack of money.

“I’ll have to think about it,” I said. “Go home and look at the photos.”

She nodded. “No worries. We don’t pressure you here.”

Then she went and hung the dress in the front window, right behind the screaming red clearance sign.

I walked home, trying to make peace with spending a week and a half’s rent on a dress that I liked, but didn’t love. I thought about the frivolous things I could buy with $550, like the suspended egg chair that sits outside of the home store and taunts me with its promises of comfort. Or 110 coffees from Gloria Jean’s. Or half of a MacBook Air.

Or a wedding dress?

When I sat down in front of my computer, I immediately uploaded the photos from the shop and scrutinized them. The dress was everything I said I didn’t want. It was taffeta. It had fussy flowers on the bust. It was strapless. It had a big poufy bustle thing on the back. If I’d seen it in a photo I would have said absolutely not.

But it hugged and dipped in all the right places, rendering alterations unnecessary. For once I didn’t feel like the gown was wearing me, waiting to swallow me whole at the first opportunity. You look like a bride, my friend said.

And that, I realized, was the problem. I don’t want to look like a bride. I want to look like me, only better. Like me sprinkled in unicorn dust. Like me, getting married. I thought I’d gone into this wedding dress search without illusions. I’m not looking for the perfect dress, I told the shop assistants. Just one that’s flattering and comfortable. I congratulated myself on being a levelheaded woman who didn’t expect miracles from a dress.

But still. There was a tiny bit of disappointment when I decided to buy a dress that I didn’t full-on, choirs-of-angels love. If I bought the dress, my search would be over. The secret glimmer of hope that I’d magically find something perfect would be extinguished. People would start asking me what my dress looked like, and I’d have to say, “Strapless, with flowers on top and a big bustly thing on the back. But it looks really good on, I swear.”

I examined the pictures again, more times than I care to admit. When I removed my expectations about what I wanted from the dress, I did like what I saw. If it sold, I’d be disappointed. I compromised and reasoned that if I couldn’t get it for a price I was comfortable with, I wouldn’t buy it at all. The decision was out of my hands and up to fate. Well, really, the shop owner, but fate sounds better.

I went back to the store to make an offer. There was the dress, in the window. I felt relief tinged with misgivings, but thought about what would happen if I didn’t buy it. I’d frequent bridal stores and try on dress after dress until they all morphed together in my mind and I hated every one of them. Eurgh. That didn’t sound appealing.

“You came back,” the woman said. “Decided to get it?”

“Well,” I said. “I did the numbers, and I can only pay $400.”

A few minutes and one hushed phone call later, the dress was mine for $400, “because it’s Christmas.” Suddenly I was standing outside in the brilliant sunshine, wedding dress folded over my arm. My wedding dress. For the first time ever, I’d successfully negotiated a price in my favor. And now I had a dress.

But the wedding is still nine months away, I thought. What about all the other dresses out there, the ones that might be better? I focused on the negatives, like the fussy flowers and the taffeta. How can this dress express who I am when it has these features that are patently not me? When I look like a generic bride?

I hung the dress in my closet and sat on the bed. We faced off for a few minutes, the dress defiant in its carry bag, me mentally cycling through the negatives instead of the positives. For a moment, I wondered what would happen if I chose to see the good side. If I chose to remember how it fit perfectly and felt right.

I took the dress to my mother-in-law’s house, where there’s more closet space and I won’t be tempted to try it on incessantly. It will live there until September, when I hope that I unzip the cover and love what I see. In the meantime, I’m rehearsing what to say the next time someone asks if I’ve found a dress.

“Yes,” I’ll say. “It’s strapless and A-line with a big bustle on the back, and it looks awesome.”

There. That wasn’t so hard. If I say it enough times, I might start believing that it’s true.

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