Last Saturday afternoon, my friend Jen and I checked off what most women consider the pinnacle of the wedding planning experience: saying “Yes!” to the dress. As I’ve touted before, I consider myself a more atypical woman/bride when compared to the traditional or socially-projected image of what a bride should be. Yes, I was excited to prance around half naked as attendants bustled over me, cinching corsets and lifting trains of fabric up behind me as I struck poses in front of mirrors and mirrors.
Wait, was I?
Reflecting back, I was just so unclear of how the process would work in real life. Sure, I had watched a TLC show or two in my time. But, I wasn’t visiting high-end boutiques where dress prices started at the equivalent of our house’s down payment. Instead, Jen took me into the lairs of Bridal Mart, the pride of Burlington, NC, where dresses of all designs/shapes/sizes consumed the warehouse space located in rather vacant outlet mall.
Other women had warned me: “You need to arrive RIGHT when it opens or it will be packed!” But, I had things to do that morning (run 20k was on the list, which was fantastic), so dress shopping would need to wait until I was ready. The temps were still below freezing, and gusty winds likely kept more at home on that Saturday. As we arrived around 12:30pm, the store was a hum of activity but nothing compared to the frenzy I imagined based on the dispensed advice received. (Cue imagination: H&M, day after Thanksgiving, Justin Bieber in the middle of the store – that’s what I was anticipating.)
As we started to paw through the racks, Jen emphasized to me to keep an open mind. Yes, I had visions of my “perfect” dress: tea-length or a bit shorter, white, a ballerina skirt. I had no strong preference for the top: single-strap, halter, corset, sweetheart. I wanted to ensure I had a dress that was: 1) comfortable; 2) danceable; and 3) flattering. Simple preferences, right?
The racks were organized by length, style and price (you better believe there was a sales rack!) Each dress received a look of scrutiny from me, and Jen continued to press that even if I didn’t think a dress would look good on me, I would often be surprised when actually trying it on (she modeled for Bridal Mart back in the day, so I considered her advice rooted in evidence-based experiences and worthy of following).
Finally, a dress caught my eye! It was much longer than I desired (it had a TRAIN) but the combination of fabric and design was incredibly appealing. Jen plucked it off the rack and held it, as we hunted for two more to bring back into the dressing stables (no, they were not rooms. It was like being in a high school locker room again, and frankly, I mean that almost too literally. I think I was the second oldest bride-to-be there.) Jen found this shorter dress with – hold the phone for a minute – feather whisps hanging off the body. If we were getting married in Vegas, I might have considered it. Durham = not quite so much. But, to appease Jen’s clear adoration for this flashy ensemble, I promised to don it for a quick glance. The third dress I brought back was a shorter gown as well with a great deal of lace – almost vintage looking.
Alright – here we are in the stables and all humility is thrown out the window as you strip down to be inserted into one dress after another. The first dress – wow. It fit me to a tee. It was so elegant – the moment I saw myself in the mirrors, I was taken aback. I had flashbacks of playing dress-up as a child, and it felt both awkward and inviting. Was this really me? I was surprised how much I liked the dress, so I kept it on the “hold list.” The feather dress saw a quick demise (I wouldn’t even allow Jen to parade me out in front of the mirrors) and the lace followed quickly thereafter – I discovered that a lace top would not comply with my comfort rule.
Then, I saw a shorter dress with a black sash on a mannequin, and I immediately wanted to try it on. Flagging down someone to help with this process proved challenging, and once that was accomplished, the art of removing said dress from mannequin was a whole separate layer of struggles.
Mind you, as all of this is taking place, there are entourages for the various brides-to-be sitting on couches and benches, watching (and judging) everything. I was not a fan of their gazes: many seemed less-than-friendly, especially as I tried on some of the funkier, shorter dresses. Welcome to the South, Katie.
Once we successfully stripped the mannequin, I tried the dress on, and I really, really liked it – it was a single strap top, and super cute and flirty. But, I wasn’t in love with the skirt, and there was something about that first dress that stuck in my mind…
I tried another dress, and then slipped back into the first gown one more time.
Yes, this was the dress. The seamstress came over, and we discussed the potential for shortening it into a tea-length, which appeared to be possible and made the dress even more beautiful in my eyes. This was a one-of-a kind dress, and the fact that it fit so perfectly seemed – forgive me for superstition here – a sign.
So, I said “Yes!” and rang the bell, signaling the completion of a critical step for a bride-to-be. Then, I heard the ringing of the credit card machine. Less of a desired step, but – the dress was on sale, AND it was under budget. A double-win that could only be celebrated with a beer alongside a great friend at the Wooden Nickel Pub in Hillsborough.
Oh, did you want to see the dress? I’ll gladly show a picture…
in 229 days.
In the meantime, this is probably my favorite shot from our engagement photo session – meow.