As a child, I would carefully wrap delicate toilette paper around my dear Barbie dolls and design one-of-a-kind wedding gowns for their big day. I’d set the stage for the ceremony and prop up my Dimitri doll (from the 1997 animated classic Anastasia) as the groom. With great thought and care, I'd send the dolls in their tissue paper dresses solemnly down the tissue paper aisle.
Of course, back then I wasn't even thinking about my own wedding dress, but I’m pretty sure I would have wanted tons of sparkle and a high-twirling capacity.
Fast forward twenty-some years, and I've found myself happily engaged to a wonderful man. My fiancé and I thought, “Why wait a year to be married just to plan a party? We want to start our lives together sooner rather than later." So in a new city (for me) and planning to be married in five-and-a-half months, I vowed not to look at The Knot’s wedding checklist, a to-do list 24 months out with hundreds of insane little tasks.
Wedding vendors' reactions were classic. "October of, like, this year?!" That being said, I heard it could take up to nine months for a wedding salon to have the gown made (yes, really). The day after my intended bent down on one knee, I Googled nearby wedding dress shops with much less thought or care than I would have liked. I didn’t have months to research and plan the process that’s supposedly pivotal, a rite of passage even, to find the perfect wedding dress. I needed a dress now.
The quest for the dress began. I didn’t have an army of bridesmaids to accompany me, drink mimosas, or hurl commentary each time I paraded out of the dressing room as if I was on a game show. Instead, I started my hunt with my mother and the vague idea I wanted sleeves.
The first stop included a sales associate throwing me in slinky little numbers, skintight sequins, and ill-fitting poufed ball gowns. Sigh. Perhaps, in my unbeknownst pride, I imagined that I was above all the dress expectations. But, as I kept trying on horrible gowns, the pressure to find the perfect dress began to buzz about my head like a vexatious fly. Maybe it was the perfect storm of feeling rushed, hormonal, bloated, irritable, you name it, but I was panicky about finding any dress that could work. And on top of that, I felt like I needed to lose five pounds, thanks to the curse of dressing room mirrors and fluorescent lights.
We ventured further from the city, snaking along winding roads, venturing deeper into blue-collar hills. Trusty ol' GPS plotted us right in front of a small, cement blockhouse of a building. Tired, mouth agape, I slowly turned to my mom.“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
As we entered the little storefront, two elderly ladies greeted us and led us to a living room-sized closet with only a handful of dresses. I felt I was drowning in a room full of tulle speckled with rhinestones. I may have wanted that as a child, but it didn't feel right anymore.
Click, swish, click. I rummaged through the hangers one at a time. Peeking through billowing folds of satin, I found a sliver of thick, knitted, almost-1970s retro-style lace. Interesting. I pulled out the sleeveless, V-neck, head-to-toe guipure lace, ivory gown and thought I might as well try it on. It’s cool and quirky. What’s to lose?
I half-heartedly slipped on the dress and stood on the little platform in front of the three-paneled mirror, feeling like a schlumpy trophy. “Eh, I like the fabric.” It was then that I saw my mother’s face through the mirror’s reflection, eyes alight with a smile cracking from her lips.
She sprang up, took the train of the dress, and draped it over my forearm. “You could add sleeves!” she exclaimed. I will always love my mother for seeing the best in every situation. But in my pouty, self-pitying mood, I hesitated, worrying that we’d have no idea how it would turn out, and with no time to spare.
“Trust me,” was all she said, over and over. We had that one weekend to find a dress, so at my wits end, I decided to go with what I dubbed the “Frankenstein Dress.” We would remove beading and add sleeves, and in the end, I’d have to let our creation be a surprise—whether a lovely masterpiece or a monster worthy of sympathy.
Four fittings later (after a few crying spells and finding out I hyperventilate when anything is too tight along my ribcage), the dress came together thanks to my genius seamstress. It didn't exactly hold up to my 5-year-old self's twirl and sparkle expectations. But, at that very last fitting and two weeks before my wedding, I was able to look into the mirror and smile. The sleek, traditional, slightly retro long-sleeved lace dress was a far better fit for the woman I had become.
Perhaps I didn’t have the Cinderella experience of donning a dress and—bippity-boppity-boo—feeling ready for the ball. The dress certainly wasn’t perfect from the dressing room, and maybe many won't think it's perfect now, but it’s pretty darn beautiful. It seemed there was something outside myself that kept me humble and kept me moving forward—a sense of grace working on me and working through my mom.
After the whole experience, there were definite nuggets of truth I learned when it comes to finding the "perfect dress" and debunking the pressure to find said dress. Here are a few:
Sure, gathering inspiration on Pinterest and knowing styles you're drawn to is helpful to show sales associates as a starting point. But what you may like may not end up being what best fits you. Remember, dresses will be in standard sizes right off the hanger. Different fabrics, cuts, and silhouettes play a big part, so go out on a limb and try on a dress you may feel "eh" about. Look for details that make you smile (as that retro lace stood out to me), and don't be afraid to blaze a trail and make the dress work for you and your shape.
Coming to a point where you can embrace your natural shape, while striving to be healthy and the best version of yourself is a tall order, and you certainly don't need to be perfect before finding a wedding dress. Heaven knows I wasn't! Your weight will fluctuate before the big day, but don't buy a dress two sizes too small with plans on dropping tons of weight. The whole weight thing is another insidious pressure looped in with finding a killer dress meant to distract you from the importance and significance what you're entering into. Your fiancé loves you, and that means all of you, including your body.
Remember it's not about the dress.
When you walk down the aisle, you'll lock eyes with the man who has professed his heart to loving and serving you all the days of your life. Your fiancé will think you're beautiful, no matter if your dress is absolutely perfect to a T. It's about proclaiming your love, intention, and fidelity to one another. You could be wearing toilet paper, and it would still be OK—although hopefully with these tips, you won't have to.