The Dress Files, Part One

Once Army Boy and I were officially engaged, it didn’t take me long to start poring over photographs of wedding dresses.

I knew from the start what I didn’t want, which was a pretty long list. Strapless was out of the question, as was wearing pure white. My complexion just doesn’t work with white, and I don’t really have any intention of tanning for my October wedding. I didn’t want any gathering or pick-ups in the skirt, and wasn’t fond of the current trend of ruching across the bodice. And I was completely opposed to the idea of a mermaid or fit-and-flair gown.

(Wow. I was a pain.)

Instead, I found myself drawn to gowns with vintage details, romantic lace and keyhole backs. I usually kept it safe with A-lines, not knowing how these gowns would fit a curvy girl.

Up to this point, a lot of our wedding preparations feel like they’ve been in the abstract. We’ve booked a location, a photographer, and a dj, which will all come into play at sometime in the near future.

When I woke up Saturday morning, I did my best to contain the excitement that FINALLY, we were going dress shopping. For the first time, my near-obsessive research was going to be put to use, in trying to find “the dress.” Mom had been preparing as well, watching marathons of “Say Yes to the Dress” and learning exactly what NOT to say. Yes, she cracks me up.

Our first stop was a classy salon in downtown York, PA. They carried a couple of lines of dresses that I was anxious to try, as numerous people had referred me to them. When we entered the shop, I immediately felt as if I’d entered an alternate universe. It was glamorous and lovely, and we were surrounded by the most lovely fabric confections.

My personal assistant, Jeanne* came to meet me in the front, and asked me what I wanted in my dress. I quickly rattled off the list that I had prepared in my head- “Elegant, Romantic, Classic. Not strapless, no gathering” accompanied by the pictures that I’d printed off. She escorted me back into the fitting rooms, where I was immediately in awe of the girl standing on the pedestal and examining herself in the mirrors.

She was in a luscious ballgown with a corset bodice liberally decorated with beading and crystals. When I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor, I told her she looked lovely, and motioned to Jeanne.

“That. I need it,” I said, motioning to the dress. She smiled, and said she should be able to grab it shortly. Mom settled into a chair to await the first reveal, and I was handed a strapless girdle, a loathsome torture device that I was practically unable to get into by myself. Fortunately, Jeanne stepped in and helped me fasten the last few hooks.

She brought in a lace gown with a sweetheart neckline, a satin belt and ornate brooch in the front. As I stepped into it, I felt prepared to look in the mirror and see myself as a BRIDE for the first time. When it was fastened, I chose not too look, and instead walk out into the main dressing area to see the full picture.

What I saw when I got to the mirror was… well, underwhelming. Jeanne had put me in everything that I said I wanted, and I… hated it? WTF?! By all estimations, with a pair of lace cap sleeves this should have been my dress, and I was bored by it. I was more absorbed with the Ballgown Girl behind me, who had tried on another beautifully delicious number.

Mom and I both shared our thoughts as to what we “liked” about the gown, and back in the dressing room I went.

I’m going to spare you the details of the next few dresses, mostly because a: I didn’t care for them, and b: I honestly don’t remember them. The real turning point of the session came when the owner came in, looked me up and down and said “Will you go sexier?”

I met his eyes in the mirror, looked at the 3rd or 4th underwhelming dress, and unequivocally answered “YES.” He left and quickly came back with a few selections.

“Let’s try these,” he half suggested, half commanded, as I hitched up my heavy skirt and went back to the dressing room. I surveyed the gowns he’d chosen with something like dismay. Look at all that ruching on the bodice! This is so not me!

Jeanne helped me into the first dress, and took her time getting the corset back closed. As she tightened the lacing up the back, I saw something remarkable happening. The ruching conformed to my curves and emphasized them, giving me a more noticeable waist. The skirt was artfully draped from my lower back, and the train fell behind me regally.

I made the journey to the mirrors yet again, and the manager’s face lit up. He nodded his approval, and grabbed a veil to make the picture more complete.

I couldn’t believe my eyes- the style I was so avoiding was unbelievably flattering. I felt sexy and regal, but not overdone. I felt beautiful, but not exactly how I thought I would feel when I pictured myself as a bride. Mom was still not impressed, so it was time to move to the next choice.

This dress took the themes of the first and took them to the next level. There was gathering in the skirt (still yuck) that revealed a lace panel around the bottom of the dress. There were splashes of lace and beading that emphasized the structure of the bodice. The color was a light ivory that I could immediately see made my hair and skin glow.

Before the big mirrors yet again, I was speechless. I knew that I should be “ooo-ing” and “aaaah-ing”, but I still felt like I was just playing dress-up. The owner was pleased with himself and me, looking on with approval and saying “That is just stunning.” Some of the other assistants were walking through, and stopped to pause and look.

“That gown was made for you,” one exclaimed.

“I LOVE THAT,” breathed a girl who was there with her best friend.

“You look like a princess,” chimed in another. I couldn’t help but smile, as I watched my mom FINALLY get tears in her eyes. Adding a veil helped the final picture.

And yet?? Still nothing on my part. I didn’t jump up and down or break out in a huge smile… I just stared. Was there something wrong with me? As much as I liked hearing everyone comment on how gorgeous I looked, I still didn’t connect with the lovely gown. In fact, I heard Toula from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in my head saying, “I’m a snowbeast.”

At the exact same moment, another girl came out of her dressing room. She was wearing an extremely form-fitting dress that ended with an explosion of delicate ruffles below the hip. It was sassy, and fun, and she was simply glowing. She couldn’t take her eyes off herself in the mirror, and looked to her friend for advice.

“What do you think?” she asked modestly.

“It’s perfect,” Best Friend answered simply. Sassy Girl’s assistant grabbed some statement jewelry and a birdcage veil, and the picture was complete. She was walking glamour. Even though I wouldn’t have picked that particular dress, I could see how perfect it was for her.

“Everyone will remember you in that dress,” Best Friend suggested.

That’s when I realized what was missing. While Sassy Girl was shimmering and examining her ruffles from all angles, I wasn’t feeling “that special something” with my gowns. Even Ballgown Girl, who was a self professed tomboy, couldn’t take her eyes off herself in her ideal gown. After almost two hours, it was time for me to take a break and get refreshed.

I thanked everyone effusively for all their help, and for the invaluable lessons that I had learned from the progression of dresses. From my simple, romantic initial thoughts I’d figured out that I liked a dress with elegant structure, and sparkle was a must but only if the sparkle was purposeful. No random patches of lace and beading for me.

I made a follow-up appointment for two weeks later, to come back and revisit the two gowns that were the “favorites,” and Mom and I returned to the quiet of the car. I was already exhausted from the heavy gowns, and ready for a drink and a good meal. We pointed the car toward Lancaster, on the way to lunch and appointment number two for the day.

To Be Continued….

*- names have been changed, for anonymity and the fact that I totally bought my dress elsewhere. Mwah ha ha!


6 thoughts on “The Dress Files, Part One

  1. I went to one place, had the picture of the dress in my hand, they made me try like 4 others first THEN let me try on the one I wanted. It was exactly what I thought it would be. Perfect. It was exactly my size and needed no alterations. I couldn’t have done it again that way in a million years. But I do envy your merry-go-round of dresses. If I had it to do over, I’d shop longer. I’d still have gotten my dress, but I would have had more fun, I think. I can’t wait for the rest of the story!!

  2. I have to say, I know what you mean. It is incredibly strange how the things you think you want/like/don’t want/hate change when you actually start trying on dresses. I HATED dresses with pick-ups, and yet, what did my wedding dress have? I couldn’t help myself…I fell in love with the dress. (And the pick-ups, hence, why my bridesmaids all had them, too!) Can’t wait to hear more about your shopping experience!

  3. I think wedding dress shopping is the most exhausting experience of your life……..right up until the moment you find the ONE. Then, it’ is the moment of shopping perfection. I anxiously await the rest of the story.

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