Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to Not Look Like a Trainwreck in Your Engagement Photos

A Guide for the Hopelessly Unphotogenic

Remus and I are both average-looking people; definitely not traffic-stopping gorgeous, but I don’t think anyone has ever been repulsed by either of our physical appearances. Yet for some reason, getting either of us to take a halfway decent photo is a struggle. Awkward smiles, stiff postures, ill-timed blinks, unflattering angles, and hair having a mind of its own are all common themes in our photos, both when posing alone or together (the fact that neither of us can smile on command without looking like a serial killer doesn’t help, either). Which is why when we first started shopping for a wedding photographer and the idea of doing an engagement session came up my initial reaction was:

I accepted the need to have our wedding day photographed, naturally, but the thought of engagement photos was horrifying. At the wedding there would be other things to do/worry about and plenty of people around to distract us from whatever the photographer would be doing, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about that day. Plus, all those extra bodies around meant there were more people to potentially have embarrassingly bad photos taken of them, so even if all the bride and groom shots came out poorly, we could still laugh at “the weird face your aunt is making here” or “what in the hell is my father doing in this shot?”.

But then I started thinking—and reading—about wedding planning and all its elements, and began to wonder if maybe having a set of professionally-taken photos of just the two of us not dressed in our wedding finery would be something we’d like to have. We could use them for our “save the date” cards and potentially in other parts of the wedding process, and at the very least always have a good Facebook profile photo. I would also be a time for us to meet our photographer before all the hullabaloo of the wedding day and let them get to know us (and how awkward we were likely to be to work with), as well as be a trial run for their services. If I came out looking like a deranged hunchback in the engagement photos, I would know we needed to hire a different photog for the wedding. And perhaps get me fitted for a back brace.

And as I looked over the portfolios of the photographers we were considering, I saw a continuous stream of engagement photos of couples who weren’t supermodels, but still looked great in their photos. That could be us! I thought. We could be a nice-enough looking couple smiling naturally at each other in front of some pretty backdrop!

When we found a photographer we both liked and she offered us a decent deal on an engagement session and wedding day package, I asked Remus if he would ignore my earlier declaration of “no way in hell are we doing engagement photos” and submit to the photo shoot, and he happily agreed (or said “um…I mean, I guess, if you really want to…,” but my memory’s fuzzy).

We were both a little apprehensive on engagement shoot day, and I’m not going to deny it felt really weird having a photographer follow us around and encourage us to “act natural!” when there’s absolutely nothing natural about having a photographer follow you around. But when she sent us the photos several weeks later, I was amazed at how well they came out. I had been hoping for maybe half a dozen usable photos, but she provided more than 100 shots that I wasn’t at all embarrassed by my appearance in, making me infinitely glad that we took the leap to do an engagement session, and solidifying that we chose our wedding photographer well (a big relief because I had no idea how I’d go about firing a photog if I had to).

So below are some potentially helpful/potentially pointless tips for other hopelessly unphotogenic people on how to take good engagement photos.
  • Wear your own clothes.
If you’re already uncomfortable being photographed, don’t double-down on the awkward factor by wearing an outfit you’re uncomfortable in or unfamiliar with; now is not the time test drive that Rent the Runway dress you think might possibly maybe look good on you.
  • Choose a setting that suits you.
While looking at photographer portfolios I saw engagement photos of couples lounging in an open field, holding hands while skipping through a forest, snuggling up in a camping tent in broad daylight, and playing peek-a-boo around a sculpture (you know…like you do…). Remus and I were doing none of this nonsense. If we were going to be photographed, we were going to be photographed where we were comfortable, doing things we actually do. So our first location was a bar. A very nice, ornate bar that was the setting for our very first meeting. We also chose some outdoor sites around Chicago—hoping our January photo shoot would allow for some outdoor shots—like the bridge we regularly cross when heading downtown and in front of the Chicago Theatre, an iconic landmark from the place where we live. Every location we hit were places we’ve been to multiple times before, so there was no environmental unfamiliarity to deal with.
  • Think of things to talk to each other about before the shoot.
Part of the ludicrous “act natural!” instruction of being photographed involved us trying to ignore the camera and simply interact with each other. While this worked some of the time, most of the time we were simply talking about how awkward we felt being photographed. If I had to do it all over again, I would come up with conversation topics or stories to share beforehand, so when we were told to “act natural!” we’d have things to naturally chat about.
  • Be prepared to make out in front of a stranger. A lot.
On our way home after our engagement session ended, Remus commented, “I think that’s the most we’ve ever made out in front of another person,” and he was right. Having photos of you kissing is inevitable in engagement and wedding shoots, so just find a way to deal with it. We got complimentary champagne from the bar that was our first location, which helped, so maybe try that.

Shout out to our photographer Lane Fowler for her great work on our engagement session. I would say we’ll be less nervous and awkward at the wedding, but I’m a terrible liar.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Unexpected Ego Boost of Wedding Dress Shopping

If the women on Say Yes to the Dress are to be believed, shopping for your wedding dress is the most insanely magical experience of your life, falling on the excitement scale somewhere around the level of a child going to Disney World for the first time, or being accepted into Hogwarts. I, however, was looking forward to wedding dress shopping somewhere closer to the “just a cleaning” day at the dentist level (ultimately not painful, but still not my favorite way to spend time).

Having never been perfectly proportioned to fit into any standard-sized clothing, shopping for clothes has regularly been a nightmare for me. My waist is small, but my persistent mini Buddha belly prevents me from pulling off anything that’s form-fitting in the midriff region. My ample chest is ridiculous and often requires tops a size larger than the rest of my upper body necessitates, thus creating weird bunching and bagginess anywhere that isn’t boob. I’m on the shorter side of average height, so I am blessed with neither long legs nor a long torso (it seems only fair that every woman should get at least one of those), and the less said about my ass, the better.

While this is all annoying enough when shopping for regular clothes, trying to find flattering formalwear is a whole different circle of hell. As a teenager I regularly needed nice dresses for concerts (band geek alert) and then, of course, there was prom dress shopping. Having been built like Betty Boop since age 12 or so, I never got the luxurious years of being able to pull on a simple slip dress that resembled a nightie and look fantastic, so I would have to bypass the juniors’ department to wade through the ladies’ racks of clothes, desperately searching for something that would cover everything it needed to cover without looking frumpy or like something my mother would wear. Then, after trying on dozens of options, if there was one that at least minimally met these requirements, I was sold, usually not because I was in love with the garment, but simply because I wanted to be done shopping.

Shopping for dresses as an adult hasn’t been much different, except now that it’s age-appropriate to try to look sexy I have to deal with options that don’t seem to understand that going bra-less is simply not an option for some women, and wearing a strapless bra is basically an exercise in uncomfortable futility. When I was a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding two summers ago, I begged her to please pick out a dress I could wear a regular bra underneath, and when she did it was like a gift from heaven (other than the fact that the dress had to be too tight across my chest in order to fit everywhere else (I refused to shell out tailoring money for a bridesmaid dress)).

After finding a couple of nice-enough dresses that I don’t completely hate over the years, I’ve held onto them and rotated through them whenever a cause to dress formally has come up, praying each time they fit well enough to prevent me from having to go through the struggle of shopping for a new one.

When Remus and I got engaged, I asked if he would care if I wore a traditional wedding dress or not. He said no, but wondered what I would wear instead.

“I dunno…something simple off Macy’s sales rack that doesn’t look like hell on me?”

When this idea didn’t go over well, I suggested a jeans and t-shirt dress code for everyone, which would undoubtedly make us the most popular wedding in everyone’s memory.

“Why don’t you just get a wedding dress like a normal bride?”

Easy advice from someone who’s never had to care if his chest was properly supported or what his butt looks like in anything.

My mom and aunt were very excited at the prospect of wedding dress shopping with me, probably because the last time they did that it was the 1970s and their long-term memory isn’t what it used to be. They booked flights to Chicago for a long weekend of shopping, I started doing my research on dress styles and tried to predict the direction we’d go in (ball gown: not even as a joke, A-line: universally flattering and a likely contender), and ultimately booked appointments at nine different bridal salons while they would be in town, because I was getting this one particular wedding chore done ASAP so I didn’t have to think about it anymore. If I didn’t find my dress in one of those nine shops, then jeans and a t-shirt it would be (and I was fairly confident Remus would still say “I do” if this was how things shook out).

Our first stop was David’s Bridal, which I thought would be a good place to start in order to try on the various wedding dress silhouettes and narrow it down to my best options. Side note: This was also the same David’s Bridal where I purchased the aforementioned bridesmaid dress and was more or less called a liar by one of their salesgirls when I wound up getting my dress in the same size as my street clothes, even though “bridal sizes run about two sizes small, so that can’t be your street size.” I really don’t know what to tell you, lady, because I have a closet full of clothes at home all in this same size…

This time around I was paired with a salesgirl who never accused me of needlessly trying to trick her with my clothing size, but who didn’t really seem to know what she was doing. She was splitting my appointment time with a bridezilla who was picking out her maid of honor’s dress, much to the apparent chagrin of said MoH. While the salesgirl would try to walk Bride Kong through the shades of purple they had available, I would awkwardly step into the dresses she had absent-mindedly handed me, then back out of the dressing room for her to zip/button/lace me up when she didn’t come to the dressing room to see how I was doing.

I didn’t already own a strapless bra, so I was freewheeling it in this try-on, and the results were…not good. Unflattering sagging, fabric bunching, waistline hitting nowhere near my natural waist…looking at myself in these sample gowns confirmed every reason I had for wanting to avoid this experience altogether. My mom and aunt desperately flipped through David’s Bridal’s lookbook, trying to find styles that might work better than what I was putting on, while I just wanted to get the fuck out of Dodge and go have lunch before my humiliating afternoon appointment at another store.

Then arrived my savior: a veteran salesman in a natty bowtie who was was absolutely horrified at the state of the dress I was in.

“Oh, honey, no,” he declared as he happened by with an armful of dresses going back to the stockroom. “We need to cinch you in and pull you up. May I?”

I told him to go for it, and go for it he did. Grabbing the top of the bodice he yanked my boobs back up to where they should be (“Sorry, but we get really friendly here”), then grabbed a handful of plastic clips whose sole purpose is to clamp sample gowns so you can see what the dress will look like once it’s tailored for your body, and started gathering and clamping the back of the dress.

“There,” he declared, spinning me back toward the mirror. “That’s how it’s supposed to look.”

And with one giant tug and a few plastic clips, he had managed to give me the perfect Jessica Rabbit-esque hourglass figure that every woman aspires to have. He asked what I liked and didn’t like about the dress (nice shape, too much bling for my taste, shiny satin is gross), then told my salesgirl to go pull a couple more samples for me to try. After a few more rounds of “zip, tug, clamp,” I hadn’t found my dress, but I had found my perfect silhouette, so when we went to my next appointment, I knew exactly what to ask for, and every dress that salesgirl (who thankfully knew how to clamp a sample gown, unlike the first girl I worked with that day) pulled made me look how I wanted to look on my wedding day, and I left Shop #2 with two top contenders in mind.

We only made one more shopping trip the next day, and after trying on another series of flattering dresses in my perfect silhouette, I couldn’t stop comparing them to one from the previous day, so I cancelled the remaining six appointments and went back to Shop #2 to purchase my wedding dress (which I have been promised has the proper structure that it can be tailored to support me without the need of a strapless bra, and the prospect of being able to go bra-less for the first time since I was 10 is more exciting than I would have thought it would be).

Now if only there were a most cost-effective way to have all of my clothes fit well than dropping a couple grand on singular items, then also paying for tailoring.

So thanks to all the bridal salon sales associates out there who know how to expertly wield a plastic clamp in order to help women find their perfect dress shape, and special thanks to Samantha at Weddings 826 in Chicago, who wasn’t upset that I wasn’t a bubbly bride-to-be and didn’t cry when I chose my dress, and who, when I declared that I think veils are stupid, simply agreed, “You’re right; veils are kinda stupid.”