I made a lot of rules for myself about The Dress, because I loooove dresses and I was a little afraid of what I might do when unleashed in a world of lace and tulle. They weren’t rules with any rational basis; they were just rules based on the fact that part of me still guiltily believes that an intelligent human being has no business being interested in what she wears.
Rule: I would not spend anything close to $1,500 on my wedding dress, because that would be silly. (Note: No rational basis, since I can afford it, and hey, fashion is art. If Damien Hirst’s preserved corpses can command large sums of money there’s no reason Oscar de la Renta’s lace dresses shouldn’t.)
Rule: I must not have to wear Spanx in order to look good in the dress.
Rule: The dress must be slightly different, but not so much as to cause unfavourable comment. However I must also feel like myself and not just some generic bride when wearing it.
Rule: I wouldn’t buy more than one dress. I’d just choose one for the English wedding and stick with it. (For the Chinese wedding it’s usual for brides of my socio-economic background to wear more than one dress in the course of the day.)
My search for the Dress started well. I went dutifully to one bridal salon, out of a vague concern that I’d be sorry to have missed the experience of twirling in pretty dresses before admiring friends. To my relief, I found that wedding dresses are just like other dresses—one feels exactly like one’s ordinary self in them. I’d worried that it would be a Say Yes to the Dress kind of transcendental experience in which I’d be convinced to part with huge wads of cash because the dresses made me feel so pretty, but this didn’t happen.
Reassured, I bought a vintage dress on sale on Etsy. The measurements seemed correct. It had a few quirky details, but it was floor-length and in the neighbourhood of white—eminently suitable, I thought. There were a few issues with it due to its age and delicacy, but nothing a clever seamstress couldn’t fix. I found the clever seamstress by dint of Googling, left it with her to correct… and plunged into a slough of despond.
The dress was pretty—wasn’t it? I looked at the blurry shots I’d taken of myself in the dress over and over again. A high collar didn’t really suit me, did it? Those strong late ’30s shoulders… didn’t they look kind of silly?
I was not helped by the fact that the intimates to whom I showed the dress responded with stricken silence.
“It suits you … I guess,” said my mother.
“Maybe you can get the seamstress to change the sleeves so they don’t make your arms look fat,” said Bridesmaid S.
This is not the sort of talk to inspire confidence in a wobbly bride. Cephas, being old-fashioned, refused to have a look at the dress. In desperation I showed the pictures around a larger circle of friends; the feedback was largely encouraging, but it didn’t help. The seeds of doubt had been planted.
When the dress returned from a stint at the drycleaners, I put it on and felt confused. I couldn’t look at it objectively. It was associated with months of worry and insecurity—and embarrassment, because I felt like an idiot worrying so much about something so relatively unimportant. But I knew I didn’t feel pretty in it. I wasn’t even sure I could go out in it without attracting ridicule.
This is where the story gets a bit absurd. You may have read about Meg’s Great Dress Search, which ends unexpectedly with a ’50s dress she just happens to pick up in a neighbourhood vintage store. On holiday in San Francisco, I strolled into my third Haight Street vintage shop of the day and started browsing. Half an hour later I strolled out with a grin and—a dress.
Oh, not the Dress. Just, you know, a sleeveless cream chiffon ’50s dress with a poufy skirt and boat neck and ruching at the waist. I’d only tried it on on a whim.
So you know when you try an outfit on and you start peering at yourself from different angles and making faces at the stunning vistas of new hotness that are opening up before you? Yeah. That.
I hadn’t even wanted a ’50s dress! Forgive me, but I felt like the ’50s full-skirted dress was overdone. So many people wear it. (Yeah, Zen, because it’s totally flattering for a ton of different body shapes and wearing it makes people want to dance. Maybe that’s why.)
Equipped with a backup, the original dress I’d bought suddenly looked much cuter than it had appeared in my panicked imagination. But unfortunately I’d given it a bath to try to get rid of the stains the dry-cleaning hadn’t dealt with, and the bath had spoilt it—all the self-covered buttons were stained with rust. So I have an excuse, if anyone bothers to ask me why I’m not wearing the dress I showed them.
But actually, I have no excuse. I just like my new dress better.
You shouldn’t spend a fortune on your dress, but you might want to fight to wear a dress you like a lot.
The dress isn’t the most important thing in the world. But I’m interested in clothes and the wedding is kind of a big day for me, so I want to wear a dress that makes me wriggle with excitement. I wouldn’t feel guilty for changing my mind multiple times about an outfit I was wearing any other day, so why feel like changing my mind about my wedding dress is somehow a reflection of me as a person? (Provided, of course, I don’t bankrupt myself in the process.)
I didn’t stick to all my rules, but to be honest, those rules don’t matter to anybody in the world except me. So I forgive myself. Maybe next time I can worry about something more important than a set of arbitrary rules I just made up—like centrepieces, or wedding favours, or indeed artichokes.
Photo by: Julie Randall