Let’s get one thing straight: I’ve spent about 25 years of my almost 30 years on Earth expecting to not get married.
It’s not that I have anything wrong with lifelong commitments, partnerships, or any manner of family-rearing. I’m totally down with all those things. But the pomp and circumstance of weddings? The hullabaloo that is the dress hunt, the mile-long registries, the nail-biting adherence to tradition?
No, thank you!
Approaching my own wedding has been, to say the least, a difficult process of figuring out what I do want and why. With every new decision and task, I have to consult my gut. And often times it rumbles its disapproval with the potency of a Ren & Stimpy episode.
One of the things that I knew would not be happening for my wedding was the ubiquitous white dress. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear that I’ve never, not even once, dreamt about what dress I would wear at my wedding. I did once imagine what a pleasing dress might look like, because around age 14 I thought my ambivalence about the whole thing was disconcerting, and the only thing I could think of was ‘strapless’. Good try, 14-year-old Astromaid.
Not-White was a good starting point for this hunt, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough. A couple of my best girls and I set two dates to scour the environs, to begin getting ideas. Because no matter how much I thought it could still fit under the umbrella of ‘non-traditional’, I knew leggings were out of the question for this event (I mean, seriously, I can wear something other than leggings at least 1% of the year, and especially for my own wedding).
Secretly, though, I was hoping they would find the perfect dress for me and I would only have to give one convincing, emphatic nod. And preferably that it would be the first dress we found.
The first scouring took place at our local mall, which had a dismal selection. I put on a total of one dress and needed two of my friends to get out of it. Score.
The next scouring took place at a larger mall about 45 minutes from my house. The selection was larger, but not quite as formal as what I thought I might want.
What I thought I might want. I still didn’t know what I wanted, at all, and tried on anything that remotely caught my attention. Some of the options I loved, but were totally not for a wedding; and other things looked like I was trying to be my own flower girl (which, hey, would be cool. And perfectly non-traditional).
We realized, after fingering far too many flimsy blouses at H&M and Anthropologie, that we might need to go to a place dedicated to formal wear. So off to David’s Bridal, the number one place I had been hoping to avoid.
Let me be clear: David’s Bridal is very good at what it does. The shudder I experienced when signing into the bridal registry had nothing to do with their business plan, and everything to do with my own disgruntledness with the wedding industry. When they asked me who the bride was and I felt my lower intestine try to strangle itself, it had less to do with the perky and helpful employee Taylor and more to do with my own skin-crawling aversion to being labeled ‘a bride’.
The whole place is set up to honor and uplift brides preparing for their big day. And that’s cool—if you’re into playing the wedding game. I know a lot of women who love this sort of thing, and I respect that. But I’m not someone who wants to play the game, not even for a second.
So I beelined it to the bridesmaid section. The store only had three non-white wedding dresses, which all had trains. What even is that for? I could google it, but more importantly, I know I don’t want it. Taylor helpfully collected the dresses I selected and started a dressing room for me. Soon, I had about five options and went to dutifully present them to my friends on what was a literal stage.
A fucking stage. Because this is our chance to be the belle of the ball, a princess for a day. But I’m an astronaut mermaid! I hide in the depths of the sea or the soundless oblivion of outer space. I am really not okay with so much attention. And this became piercingly clear to me when, from inside the cheery stall of my dressing room, shimmying into a sequined gold floor-length dress that might have come from the Mother of The Bride section, I heard a bell ring…a few screams of surprise…and then applause.
One of the other girls in the store had made her selection. SHE FOUND THE DRESS!
My stomach catapulted and I growled through the door at my friends outside.
“If they ring that bell for me,” I told them, “We are walking the fuck out of here.”
I was surprised by my own vehemence, and I admitted to my girlfriends later that I would be unpacking these feelings for a while. Good thing I have a blog, huh?
It’s not that I disagree with looking pretty for a day, or dressing nicely for a special occasion. It doesn’t bother me that other women go the traditional white dress route. Plenty of brides make choices that are different than mine, and that’s totally fine.
So what is it?
I thought about this as I grunted and shimmied into my remaining options. Most were immediate No’s. I tried on one regular wedding dress, for shits and giggles. I felt so weird.
And then the last dress was the one. I knew, because my friends made that “ooooh!” noise when I came out onto the freaking stage. As I admired the plunging backline and the perfect shade of mossy pink, I knew this dress would work just fine.
No bell was rung. I didn’t even make a purchase that day, since the dress I tried on was just a bit small, and my proper size was located in a different store. So I was able to slink out of there without any overzealous bride-to-be harassment—I mean, uh…celebration.
A few days later, I called the store that had my size and ordered it. A regular transaction like any other person. Which, after that full day of intense bridecitement raining upon me from the World At-Large, I desperately needed a respite.
Dress ordered. Purchase made. One more detail taken care of. I was sitting pretty, able to breathe a little easier now that the looming detail of the Wedding Garment was taken care of.
The dress arrived a few days later in a box that was comically beaten up. I hung it on my bedroom door, inspecting it, re-familiarizing myself with it since our last meeting.
A few hours went by, the dress in the back of my mind as I continued with my work day. I don’t know what the shift was, or why it happened. But somewhere between the dress’ arrival and later that afternoon, I became completely convinced that I had made the hugest mistake of my life.
I furiously googled “non-traditional wedding dresses”, something I hadn’t done previously because I felt secure with finding something I wanted on my own. But now? Now I had no idea what I was doing. And all these dresses were white, or mostly white with a little bit of a different color. I even googled “courthouse weddings” to scope what other non-traditional brides were wearing—and they were wearing long traditional dresses, or short white dresses, or short red dresses that I definitely wouldn’t pick.And the doubt crept in. I thought, Holy hell I really messed this one up. I should have gotten a short dress. I should have gotten white, because maybe I really do want white now. And look at all these courthouse weddings in short dresses! You’re gonna look like a freak showing up in pink, much less a floor-length dress, in the middle of August. What were you thinking?? ABORT. ABORT.
At this point, I had about two weeks until the ceremony date and not a lot of free time to go dress-hunting again. So I thought I might google a dress, find something online, and hope that a totally new dress that I couldn’t try on prior to my ceremony day would work out perfectly. Yeah, great idea.
I searched for two full hours, stress mounting with each new website that originated in China. Nothing I even remotely wanted in my price range could arrive by the ceremony date, and the pressure to find this sudden, elusive perfect dress was like an ogre breathing down my neck. I reluctantly tore myself away from the computer to go pick up Jorge from work, and I cried the entire car ride there.
And then I cried the whole car ride to drop him off at this next job. I JUST WANT TO LOOK NICE, I wailed to him.
And then I cried more on my way home.
Jorge was a champ; he took it all in stride, and reminded me that whatever I wore for the ceremony was fine (even leggings). When I got home, I consulted some of my best friends on the issue.
I THOUGHT I WOULD BE IMMUNE TO THE DRESS CRAZE, I texted my best friend and honorary maid of honor, Becky, during a binge session of Google Shop and hummus with pita chips. I EVEN CRIED ABOUT IT. WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?
Because this is a preeeeetty big event in your life, she gently reminded me. I felt better after that. I really had thought that my non-traditional approach to planning a ceremony and reception would somehow exclude me from stress or confusion…especially of the dress variety.
But as it turns out, stress and anxiety aren’t linked to only white things. And after a few hours I felt less like a dress-doubting maniac, aided by the fact that I had settled on the dress for my reception with the help of both Brian and Jorge. I knew it might not arrive to my house in time for the ceremony itself, but either way it was one more item off the to-do list for the reception itself. Clicking ‘Purchase’ makes a lady feel good, even if she hasn’t tried the damn thing on.
The next day I woke up, bright and early as always. I looked again at the pink dress in the bright light of the morning, appraising it with fresh eyes and a clear head. I couldn’t identify at all with the stress and clamor of the day before. It felt like a dream, or perhaps a slightly lame edition of Say Yes To The Dress; and as I fingered the lacy pink bodice, I thought…Eh, it’s not so bad. This dress is perfectly fine.
Nobody rang a bell; I’m not wearing white; and I sure as hell dodged the bride moniker as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t qualify for my very own bride-to-be meltdown before the courthouse wedding day!
On the next edition of Wedding Woes & Wonders: What’s your problem with the wedding industry, anyway?