Last week I took my dad on a field trip to Edison, NJ, which is apparently a huge local source of Indian and Pakistani clothing. My dad knows nothing about South Asian clothing, and is notoriously drawn to garish pinks, neon yellows and ugly oranges, and so in the car he told me, “Elisabeth, I am happy to give you my opinion, but I want you to keep in mind that I have horrible taste and almost certainly don’t care.” So we rolled into town and started shopping, my dad snapping pictures as I (awkwardly) modeled scarf after scarf in the mirror, pinks and purples and golds, with anxious and confused salespeople trying to get me to try on the matching outfits. No, I explained to them, I was not looking for an entire South Asian wedding suit—I already had a white dress. I only wanted the traditional rectangular scarf, known as a dupatta, that is typically embroidered or bedazzled in fabulous and beautiful ways. Judging by the reactions, this was an extremely unorthodox, and somewhat suspicious, approach to wedding shopping. We left with lots of good ideas, but no dupatta.
I am continuously surprised by how many people respond immediately to news of my impending wedding with a question about The Dress. Apparently The Dress is a Big Deal. Apparently it’s The Most Important Thing. Apparently any good bride has been dreaming of The Dress since she was four, and it is her first and only priority once she gets engaged. When she finds It and puts It on she will be The Most Beautiful Bride Of All Time. And then she will live happily ever after.
I’ve never been hugely invested in the concept of The Dress, and I am certainly not invested in the pressure that comes with it. Early on in the wedding planning process, when Amin and I were discussing how to blend our cultures in a pleasing and harmonious way, we talked about both wearing South Asian dress to the wedding. We both love South Asian clothing and it seemed like a great way to showcase his and his family’s culture (and I would get to wear beautiful and sparkly clothing in the bargain!). He was happy. His family was happy. And secretly, I was even more thrilled to agree to this, because I felt like it freed me my culture’s expectations surrounding The Dress. I could enjoy the benefits of beautiful clothing without having to find the most perfect white dress in existence. And with Amin’s family ready to help me navigate the complicated world of Pakistani fashion, I wouldn’t have to do it by myself.
And then, late at night, I was on the internet with a friend, surfing for wedding dresses. My wedding had made my friend obsessed with finding a dress for her own hypothetical future wedding, so we weren’t even looking for me. And then, accidentally, we stumbled across a Dress. It was for sale on a Chinese discount dress website, it cost less than $200, and it was perfect.
And not even a little bit Pakistani.
My thinking at this point was along the following lines: It’s gorgeous. It’s incredibly cheap. If I get it and hate it, it’s an expensive future Halloween costume (Princess Elisabeth!). If I get it and love it, we’ve just saved a bajillion dollars on a wedding outfit and I will look awesome. Plus, there’s all sorts of crafty things I can do to a simple satin dress to Pakistanify it.
I talked to Amin about it. He was attached to the idea of us wearing Pakistani clothes. Oh well. No biggie. I put it out of my mind.
Except it wouldn’t go. It lurked there, that Dress, singing its siren song. And suddenly all of those little logistical concerns about getting a Pakistani wedding outfit seemed really legit. How was I supposed to buy a Pakistani outfit anyway? I don’t know anything about buying South Asian clothing. And I wasn’t going to be anywhere near anybody who knew anything either—or, not for very long. And, said my mind, why is it so awful anyway that I might want to wear a dress from my own culture? Besides, it would offer me an opportunity to be really blendy and multicultural, and you know I love that stuff.
Suffice it to say, this became one of those things I suddenly, irrationally, felt strongly about. And so, a month or two after our first conversation, when Amin asked me what my plans were for my clothing, I pointed him back to The Dress. And Amin, as it turned out, didn’t feel as strongly about this as I did. So I bought it.
And now that I’ve made this decision, the crazy dress pressure is back, worse than ever. My Western relatives and friends think I’m a little insane to be buying a wedding dress off a discount website, and Amin’s South Asian family is very skeptical of my half-baked plans to wear a dupatta instead of a veil. And since I’m basically making things up as I go along, I can’t say I’m terribly confident either. To make things worse, the dress got here, and was gigantic, and even though I ordered it big on purpose I was still incredibly, and irrationally, disappointed that my fairy godmother hadn’t arranged for it to miraculously fit me perfectly right out of the box. I looked like a tiny doll wearing a giant cardboard dress. The naysayers and the doubts got louder. I was going to be The Ugliest Bride On The Planet. Although I know I should not give into the hype, I have begun to feel as though the success of my marriage depends on my ability to be that perfect and gorgeous bride in the eyes of two very different cultures with two very different aesthetics. I may disappoint them both.
But oh well, right? We’ll figure it out. The dress is with a tailor. Amin’s cousin and sister have generously stepped in to help me with dupatta-shopping, so I’ll be in London and Houston over the next couple of weeks enjoying an impressive selection of South Asian goods, and Amin is going to get his outfit to me so I can drag it around with me and match it. We’re going to look awesome! Better than awesome. And since, bless him, he found an outfit which is also mostly white, it might even look like my white wedding dress was part of the plan all along. Fingers crossed.
Photo by: Hart & Sol Photo