*Note: “Say Yes to the Dress” is a reality show on cable TV that follows the trials and tribulations of brides-to-be as they shop at New York City bridal salon – something else I learned along my wedding planning journey.
I dreaded having to buy a wedding dress. I’m not one to focus on clothing of any sort, so I found the dress thing to be one of the least appealing aspects of wedding planning. In fact, for months after our engagement, I never even considered what I’d wear. But, I soon found that I couldn’t avoid the issue. Over and over, the first question many friends asked after Eileen and I announced we were getting married was, “What are you going to wear?”
I don’t know if people were so interested in our attire because this wedding, unlike most that they had been to, was going to have two brides, and they assumed that one of us would be wearing pants. Or, if they were curious because they had rarely, if ever, seen me in a dress. Or, maybe it’s just a common question to all brides. Who knows? In any case, the suggestions abounded, and included stories of what other married lesbians wore at their weddings.
We knew that we didn’t want to wear pants. We wanted to dress up, more than usual. And, we didn’t want one of us in a dress and the other in pants, as we were adamant about avoiding gender identity questions. There would be nothing to suggest that one of us was taking the role of the bride (the fem), while the other was acting as groom (the butch). No. We would dress equally.
Our first attempt at wedding dress shopping was at Nordstrom, where I tried on short, colorful dresses full of ruffles and pleats. Not my style, I thought when I saw them on the rack. But, once on me, they actually looked pretty good. Surprise! And, I found that I was having fun. It turns out that for something so important as a wedding dress, you can request a personal saleswoman. She waits on you hand and foot. We were treated like royalty. I learned something, too. That is, if a dress doesn’t fit perfectly, there are seamstresses who can make adjustments. What a revelation!
After trying on more dresses than I’ve worn in the past 40 years, I settled on what seemed – in a moment of fashion-induced blindness – a possible option: a royal blue, highly pleated, satiny dress with a large sideways bow on it. More sober eyes would later admit that it was a rather strange choice, but the saleswoman insisted I buy it since there was only one in my size and it was easily returnable. At least I had something to begin with. Meanwhile, Eileen, who had been similarly engaged, found nothing.
Next up was a store in Old Town, Alexandria (VA), recommended by a friend who asked if she could join us when we checked it out. It was a quaint place that sold clothing, jewelry, bags and folk art from Latin America, as well as vintage wedding dresses. When we arrived for our 10:00 am Saturday appointment, we introduced ourselves and explained that three of us were here to look at wedding dresses, but that just two of us were getting married. The owner replied merrily, “I hope not to each other!”
What a wonderful entrée! (Pun and sarcasm intended.) We responded calmly, “Yes, indeed, we are going to marry each other.” That silenced the woman, and not knowing what else to say, she quickly called another saleswomen to take us upstairs. Later, several friends told us that if this had happened to them, they would have walked out. But, we weren’t going to let gender identity issues get in our way….
The room was packed with long white dresses covered with full-length plastic sleeves displayed on parallel racks. Unlike the saleswoman at Nordstrom, our assistant simply pointed to the racks and instructed us to go through them. It wasn’t easy as the dresses were tightly packed and not all the racks contained dresses of the same size. And, we had to take turns squeezing into the tiny dressing room with the cranky folding door. At least, we enjoyed the amusement value of the situation and the 70-something, exercise-crazed, youth-seeking saleswoman. And, we learned about the existence of Spanx, another revelation to those us ignorant of modern girdling techniques.
Eileen actually found a dress she liked there, but since I came up short, we left the store empty-handed. We continued to spend the next couple of weeks checking out department stores, fleeing from racks of formal wear with price tags of $1000 or more. I was not going to pay more than $300 or $400, including tailoring costs. And, for that reason I knew better than to even step foot in a bridal wear store. However, that doesn’t mean I learn quickly. After all, a return trip to Nordstrom had me walking out with atrocious dress #2: a purple thing with an overly ruffled skirt. At least it was floor length this time…
After a while, Eileen made it clear that she was finished with dress shopping. She was going to buy the one she liked in Alexandria. And I realized that if she was going the route of the traditional long white dress, I would need to do the same. So, we returned to the store in Virginia where both customer and salesclerk have their eyes opened to life as it exists in 2011. Eileen would buy her dress and I would hopefully find some dresses newly arrived since our last visit.
The latter was not to be the case. Nothing else had come in. Luckily, Eileen is very resourceful (another reason for me to marry her!), and while perusing the tightly-packed rack of discounted dresses, she came across one that was remarkably similar to hers – halter top, same shade of white, with a lacy bodice. And, it only cost $65, vastly reduced from its original price of $350. However, it was two sizes too big for me.
Thanks to my recent training on the art of wedding dress buying, I now knew about seamstresses. No problem to cut here, tuck there, and fashion a gown that would be perfect. So, out the door we walked, with two traditional wedding dresses wrapped in dress bags, draped over our arms. Little did we realize that our purchases (and, I must admit, a bit of make-up) would gain me a once-in-my-lifetime compliment, “You look truly beautiful.” I offer thanks to getting educated, albeit without need for Spanx.