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.”