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Elisabeth: Changing Course

Up to now, I’ve spent a lot of time fretting over our wedding clambake. Between negotiating my divorced parents in the same place, and my genuine questioning about whether getting married as queer women is the right thing to do; between our extrovert-introvert unbalanced guest list, and the feeling of blowing our life savings on a one day event; yep, I’ve been fretting. K and I have been jointly fretting, actually, although about different things, which has meant some tense conversations over dueling laptops and Excel spreadsheets. About a month ago she wanted to delete a column where I was collecting stats on neither-responded-nor-invited-yet guests who might decline a pre-wedding event, and I could not possibly understand why she wanted to delete said column since it was key for my estimates, all of which culminating in me shrieking, “Data is the basis for the entire field of epidemiology and frankly all of public health and you can certainly delete that column, I’m just POINTING OUT it is everything I stand for personally and professionally.” About ten seconds after saying that, I wanted to shove myself back in the closet, but it’s too late and now K pretends that I am John Snow, getting married in between field collection at the local water pump.

In the past week, though, the vibe has definitely started to change. Last Saturday I woke up at the crack of dawn to head for the Short Hills Mall, that magical suburban Mecca that I once heard referred to as the heart of darkness. I had two of my most fashionable friends with me, and we were going to find me a dress to wear at my wedding. I had a BPA-free water bottle, supportive running shoes, and protein-based snacks. Find me a goddamn dress and let’s get on with it.

I’ve mentioned my struggles about trying to figure out my wedding outfit, about what one should wear if one doesn’t want to wear white and doesn’t fit into “regular” sizes. Since that post, I can report I’ve done exactly nothing except fret (well, and rail against the media’s portrayal of women). In March, a friend made me go to Lord & Taylor (we tried Saks, but the one in the city doesn’t carry sizes past 14. Thanks, Saks!). She picked out about four hundred possibilities, and I picked out one that I thought was properly festive. It seemed promising. I did a slow turn as my friend diplomatically said, “That would be a great wedding dress, if your wedding was a dance club in Miami instead of a daytime clambake cocktail party.”

Real talk: if I did this on my own, I’d end up in a sailor shirt. A friend once described my gender identity as “camping femme.” Accurate! I refuse to wear those zip-away combo shorts-pants, but other than that, my standards are sensibly low. That, combined with my general shopping disdain, frustration at rarely finding things that fit well, and major unease with the wedding industrial complex, brought me here, about four months out from the wedding with not even any ideas for what to wear. So when we pulled into the parking lot ten minutes before the mall opened, I took a long slug of decaf coffee and ordered myself to think differently.

You guys, we were there all day, at least seven hours past my normal shopping tolerance. Thank god for those sneakers. Four department stores, a restorative stop at Brookstone for an energizing shiatsu chair massage (where I stared in amazement at the full wall of personal massagers that Brookstone now carries), my first and last meal at the Cheesecake Factory, and free shots of espresso from the helpful Bloomingdales salesperson operating the Nespresso machine, but we were completely, totally successful. We found not one, but six dresses. Six dresses I’d be happy to wear at our low-key joyous clam bake, dresses ranging from whimsical to nautical to festive to sexy, dresses that feel very much like me. None of them are white or particularly wedding-dress-like, although one of them is gold lamé and would look fabulous on a dance floor, yet somehow also manages to look appropriate for a daytime clambake. And as I slipped each of them on, I got a little thrill, every time.

My friends snapped pictures of the top dozen, so we could make an educated decision, and I kept flipping back through them when I got home that night. In some of the pictures, I look bossy, hands on my hips and project managing the situation; in some of them I’m speculatively checking myself out in the mirror. When I look at them, I get that thrill all over again. So this is what everyone’s been talking about. Knowing what I could look like has freed up some of the fretting space for excitement; for the return of those funny, stomach-flipping feelings I’d get when I first started thinking about marrying K. I am excited to get married, messy politics of it and all. I am excited. I’m excited to slip one of these dresses on, excited to walk out of our apartment and hop on the Q train together to ride to the church, excited to marry her.

As long as I leave the tags on, I can keep all six dresses until I’m ready to make the decision. So now a large chunk of our wedding budget is tucked away in my closet (behind the camping supplies, obviously). I tried on every last one for K that evening, who was appropriately congratulatory, appreciative, and occasionally misty eyed. I preened in front of our bedroom mirror, clothes strewn everywhere and cats lolling around, and spun out in a particularly full-skirted one. “I could get married in this dress,” I crowed. She held my hair in a ponytail and we looked at ourselves in the mirror, grinning. “You could marry me in that dress,” she agreed.

Photo of Elisabeth dress shopping from her personal collection

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