But still dreaming of a dress.
I never got to be a bridezilla. But I consider myself lucky to have been a bride at all, even if there was nary a dress in sight.
My road to marriage was more an amazing race than a stately journey. It was pouring rain as my spouse-to-be and I sprinted the six blocks from the parking garage to the church, our older kids gamely jogging along. Our toddler had fallen asleep, so I carried him crushed against my chest, praying he’d get enough rest so he wouldn’t scream through the ceremonies as my spouse and I got married with three other couples who were rushing into legal marriage that morning in Portland, Ore.
After we knocked, rang and then pounded, the doors of the church swung wide. The staff knew about the decision to offer licenses that morning, and they were ready to whip up weddings at a moment’s notice. Two of our fellow brides disappeared during the trip from the licensing office to the wedding chapel (they’d stopped for flowers). One future bride assessed our needs and took off to the store for sandwiches, because our preteens would kill if they didn’t get fed fast. I held the little one tight against me to keep him asleep, evading the friendly woman who kept trying to pat him, unaware that doing so might spell disaster should he awake.
We were not exactly wedding-ready. We were dressed for March weather in the Northwest: thick socks, heavy shoes, coats and sweaters. Our daughter was wearing black sweatpants, and the baby was wearing the same warm, grungy outfit he’d worn to bed. The 30 seconds spent vacillating over lipsticks was as much time as we had to fuss. Without six months to fret about every detail, we lacked the time and opportunity to turn into a bevy of bridezillas.
This was probably a good thing.
In my 20s (and while underemployed), I used to make little black dresses I could otherwise not afford, snazzy trousers that in retrospect were hideous in their shiny ’80s splendor, and the occasional shoulder bag. These days, I only sew couch covers, curtains and costumes. But from time to time, when I’ve gone to Fabric Depot for my annual Halloween costume-making marathon (dinosaurs, guinea pigs and vampires, oh my), I’ve ambled the aisles, heaving bolts about, somehow finding myself in the bridal section.
Generally, the bridal section of any fabric store is a taste-free zone. You have to go to a really spendy shop for a wide selection of wearable options, and only a fool would do that to costume a kid. But once, amongst all the hideous faux brocade, pearl beading, and too-shiny polyester satin, I saw it: a lovely bolt of off-white sheer organza just waiting to be made into a voluminous skirt someone could get lost in for days. Sigh.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this—21 years of partnership, plus the occasional pre-spouse pondering. Given the opportunity, I could probably rethink “the dress” 9 million times, order one I later decide I hate, sew something I end up discarding, buy something off the rack that I then return and change my mind at the last minute, going back to option one, agonizing all the way. Our spontaneous ceremony was astoundingly agony-free. No guest list to fuss over, no colors to debate, no menus to consider, no matching bridesmaid disasters, no seating plans resulting in a family feud, and no second mortgage to pay for it all.
As one bride said later, “We had all of the best parts of a wedding, with none of the worst.”
But seriously, what could be the “worst” about a white dress and a tiara?
OK, so the wedding has come and gone, legally as well as temporally, though the relationship remains. But my secret bridal obsession lingers. It was with mingled desire and anxiety, and a stifling of my self-esteem issues, that I entered a bridal shop for the first time to try on a dress —just because.
With the first waft of scented air I realized I was out of my depth. From the price tags on the gowns (my fave weighed in at $1,700), to the tuxedos in the windows, to the books filled with florists, caterers and photographers who charged more than my annual income, it was a store full of economic intimidation. I was brought up in a tradition that espoused plain gold bands, backyard weddings and a cocktail dress for the bride that wasn’t a one-time waste of money.
I would have fled out the door fast if it weren’t for the woman who owned the place—who assured me that they’d dressed plenty of same-sex brides—taking me firmly in hand and putting me on the banquette to watch the brides-to-be in action while she scooped up a dress or two for me to try on. Three things became immediately obvious: 1) Choosing a dress takes four females, minimum—one of them the maternal type. 2) Trying on wedding dresses is a leisurely activity. You can’t just pop in, point and say, “Throw it in a box and I’ll take it to go.” And 3) Strapless dresses aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. If wearing one makes you look like the figurehead on a ship, just say no.
Yet when the owner came back bearing three gowns, two of them strapless, I tried them on meekly, like a lamb.
Three new things became obvious: 1) There is no such thing as tying a shoelace in a wedding dress and my vision of Dr. Marten’s combat boots under silk would take two attendants to manage the grommets. 2) Taffeta and satin weigh more than you would think and beading is like lead. And 3) Putting a good wedding dress on makes you feel omnipotent—not only a princess for a day, but a queen for life.
I’d thought, mistakenly, that the sight of 43-year-old me alongside 20-somethings would be depressing. But the mirrors lining the walls took off 10 pounds easy, and the hairdo the owner mysteriously accomplished using a rubber band and a tug made me look like a happily ravished prom queen of mature years. Still, there was more than a killer outfit going on; there was sisterhood in that room, and, damn, it was powerful.
As I dragged myself out of the last dress, an asymmetrical, strapless number with dotted Swiss, an oval train and an infrastructure that kept me from looking like I belonged on the prow of that ship, I felt smugly satisfied that the time climbing into and out of dresses, with a net over my face (to keep makeup off the fabric), wasn’t wasted. I could pass on my newfound knowledge to my daughter, in case she should decide to have a traditional wedding someday, instead of doing a sprint across town in the pouring rain to get hitched, just like her mothers.
But when I tried to impart my wisdom on bridal poses and how far ahead one must order a dress, my daughter just looked at me as only a 12-going-on-13-year-old can, and said, “Geez, Mom, even I knew that.”