The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: Saying Yes to the Dress

March 26, 2013

Saying Yes to the Dress

Two things I've learned during my engagement - wedding dresses need to breathe. And yes, there is such as thing as a dead, lifeless wedding dress.

I know that a wedding dress can "die" because right before I went shopping for a wedding dress, I became obsessed with TLC's Say Yes To The Dress. In one episode, a tearful bride has to shop for a new dress weeks before her wedding because her seamstress sent her first dress to a dry cleaner who put the dress into the washer, and basically, killed the thing. I learned that a dead wedding dress looks wilted, doesn't have the form and structure of a wedding dress, and is basically unwearable. You apparently can never, ever put your dress in a washer. Ever.

I know that a wedding dress needs to breathe because I did some online research about how to store a wedding dress before your wedding. Apparently, you're supposed to wrap your dress in a white sheet, and lay it flat in one of those garment boxes, and then store it in a cool, dark place. But only if your dress is made of expensive lace. Your polyester dress, however, can hang where ever. What the Bridal Internets all agree upon is this - your dress should be protected by a breathable garment bag. And it should stay there until you take it to get altered. And then after that, keep it safe until the wedding day. Do not, under any circumstance take it out of the bag before, and put it on "for fun" or to show your friends and relatives. Do not let anyone touch the thing until your wedding day lest it get dirty, smells like smoke, or gets otherwise damaged. Do not even look at it slant-eyed because at any given moment, that dress, the dress you loved and paid half your life savings for, could wilt and be damaged. (Ok, not really, but the Internet sure made it sound like that.)

Of all the things I had to invest in for the wedding, I have been the most conflicted about my wedding dress. On the one hand, I hated the idea of investing in a dress I would only wear for 8 hours, and then would go into a box, never to be seen again, saved for the daughter(s) I may or may not have. I was unsure about how much to put towards such a dress, torn between the idea that this was supposed to be a dress for "the biggest day of your life" and my greater desire to invest my time, energy and resources to putting together a kick ass reception that would be enjoyed by all.

On the other hand, so much of this time of engagement and wedding planning is also about "the experience" - the experience of being a bride-to-be, the experience of trying to join two lives. And, whether or not I liked it, the experience of putting on a wedding dress. I feared that if I didn't at least try a wedding dress on, and consider wearing one, that I would always regret missing the experience.

In the end, I chose to give shopping for a wedding dress a go because I didn't want to regret never having the experience of wedding dress shopping. Whether I chose to buy an actual wedding dress, or walk down the aisle in a store-bought sundress was beside the point. In the end, it was about having the experience - which I'm told is supposed to be "once in a lifetime."

I was terrified of being sold to, so I picked a bridal big box store, rather than a bridal boutique. All the so-called "cons" of the bridal big box - lack of personal attention, your bridal consultant serving two brides at once, being herded in and out - were precisely what made me comfortable. I didn't want attention lavished on me. I wanted to be bunch of dresses and then to be left to my own devices. I wanted the bridal consultant to be just a little bit distracted so that I could look at myself in the mirror, feel wonderful (or ridiculous), and take my time.

And that was exactly what happened. My kind, but distracted, bridal consultant didn't bat an eye when I told her my budget. In fact, she said - oh, that's going to be fine. She brought me six or seven dresses, and, other than helping to get me into the dresses, basically left me alone. In fact, I even got to sit around in a couple of dresses waiting for her - which is invaluable because being able to sit comfortably in your dress (to you know, rest and eat dinner) is really important.

I haven't been privy to many of my girl friends' wedding dress shopping experiences. But I do remember, post college, I was the maid of honor to a dear friend. And the moment she found her dress, she turned to us, teary eyed and said, "I feel like a bride." The memory stuck with me for over ten years.

Now, obsessively watching TLC's Say Yes To The Dress, I've noticed that the moment these brides knew the dress was "the one" was when they felt most like a bride. It was the moment they felt beautiful and, more often than not, there were tears. Before I went to my bridal appointment I wondered - would I have this moment? Or would I make the dress decision like I made most of my wedding decisions, with some emotion, but a lot of practicality, and with a keen focus on my budget?

In the end, the moment "I knew" came subtly. We'd tried on all seven dresses and narrowed it down to two - one of which was about twice the cost of the other. I was sitting around in one dress, waiting for the bridal consultant to come back so she could unzip me, and I was talking to one of my bridal party. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, dress, veil and all and I thought, "Oh god, I look like a bride."

I wouldn't have called that moment magical, or beautiful. It was more a moment of slight terror and surprise. But it was the moment I knew - this is the dress.

Of course, this was the dress that was more expensive of the two, and I couldn't bring myself to buy it. The practical side of me wanted to keep shopping to see if I could get a better deal. The practical side of me knew I should sleep on it. On the other hand, if I bought the dress, I'd be done. I would have THE dress. I could move on to some other wedding planning task.

It took a phone call to Guillermo to help me with a decision. I told him my dilemma, tried to explain what each dress was like, and then he asked the question, "Can you send me a picture?"

(Altogether now - *GASP OF HORROR*)

Yes, I sent him the pictures. Yes, he saw me in the wedding dress. And he picked the same one that I thought was "The Dress." I was relieved. My worst fear was that I would pick a dress and when I walked down the aisle he'd think, "What the hell is she wearing?" We'd made all the major decisions about this wedding jointly, even the picking of the engagement ring, and it didn't seem right to me to make this dress decision alone.

When he said yes to the dress, my emotions kicked in. It moved me to think that he considered me beautiful in this dress - that something I enjoyed would also bring enjoyment to him. When I cried in the store, everyone thought it was because I'd found the dress. In reality, it was because Guillermo thought I was beautiful.

So the dress now hangs on the back of my bedroom door, in a breatheable garment bag, away from the sun, from prying eyes, and from fashion shows for friends and relatives.

Tradition often dictates many things about engagements and weddings - he's supposed to pick the engagement ring, and I'm supposed to pick the dress. Both engagement ring and dress are supposed to be a surprise - something that the other will automatically love even though they have not been privy to the choice. But I'm not sure how often that's true to our life. Guillermo wasn't sure he could hit a home run with my engagement ring, and truth be told, I wasn't so sure what kind of dress he would think I look good in. In the end, the tradition didn't work for us, and we chose a different way.

In so many ways, this upcoming wedding is a reflection of our mutual yesses - first to each other, and then to each aspect of the wedding. Guillermo may not look it, but that man has opinions about what he wants in this wedding - how he'd like it to feel, and how he'd like our guests to be taken care of. And so, each aspect of the day has needed both my yes, as well as his.

It's my hope that this planning process is the beginning of how we make all our major decisions in our lives together - with some thought for the other and ending in some form of a mutual yes.

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