Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Finding THE Dress

You're standing there, naked, in front of a stranger. It's a female stranger, but a stranger nonetheless. You're thinking "did I get a good shave?" and "are my tan lines super scandalous?" as you step your bare feet into a cylinder of silky white heaven. The strange woman helps you step into the massive cocoon of fabric, and she slides it up your torso. Then comes the zipping, the cinching, and the sucking it in, so she can fasten the dress with her huge metal clips that look like the ends of jumper cables. How is it okay for such a beautiful garment to be touched and held together by jumper cables?

Wedding dress shopping is a wonderful event. I thought it was the most wonderful when I went to WATCH my close friends, future sister-in-law, and cousin search for their dresses...but it became an entirely new adventure when it was I who was looking for the dream dress...the perfect gown for me to wear on the day that everyone swears will be the best day of my life.

The first time I tried on a wedding gown, I wanted to cry. Not because I was so moved by how I looked in it, or because I caught a glimpse of my mom's quiet face and glistening eyes at seeing me in a white wedding dress for the first time, but more because I was simply overwhelmed by the sight. For many young women, our whole lives are filled with people speculating about when we'll get married, who we'll marry, and what our wedding day will be like. Society puts so much pressure on young girls to strive not for professional satisfaction, but for finding the ideal mate and settling down... and I guess I was not the one to question that aspect of social norms...I wanted a fulfilling career, BUT I'd also grown up staging weddings with my Barbie dolls, sketching gowns in lecture halls during college, and subscribing to wedding magazines much before I actually needed to...but only because I was "getting ideas for parties" or "scouting styles for a friend's wedding."

But the first time I saw myself in a wedding dress, I realized "this is it." I am actually getting married. No more dreams about what the lucky man will be like. No more questions as to where I'll be living and what my career will be...well, that's actually not true. Those questions are more prevalent now than before...It's here, and I am the bride-to-be.

Still, what I felt was pure shock. It felt fake, like I was trying on my mom's dress when I was 7 years old, "pretending" I would actually wear a dress like this some time. But this was very real. I could feel the fine silk skimming my skin, and it was my own hips hiding beneath A-line skirt. With a veil on my head there was no question that I was the one preparing for marriage.

With each dress I tried on, and each bridal salon I entered, I gradually became more comfortable with the sight of me in a wedding gown, and by the end, I was actually enjoying it. Did I want to feel like a princess and wear a more traditional, poofy ball gown? Or did I want to feel more like a 40s movie star, in a slinky body-skimming silk charmeuse sheath with just a hint of beading? Each dress transformed me into a different kind of bride, but many of them evoked different sides of my personality. Trying them on became a sort of addiction. I wanted to savor each experience, because each one represented so many different possibilities and brought out so many different sides of my personality.

When I finally did find "the" dress, I knew it only because it became the gown that I measured everything else up against. I would say to my mom, "well, I wish it had blank like the other gown," or "didn't you think that the way that other dress hit me at the waist was just a tad more flattering?" and I began to realize that maybe my search was over. The other dress quietly became the dress with each not-quite-right gown I tried.

This was the dress that I could actually envision myself wearing on my wedding day. When I pictured the Spanish-style mission where our ceremony will be, the arched threshold, how my dad will look in his tuxedo, I could absolutely see myself wearing that dress. My entourage sighed in big-belly gasps when I walked out in that gown, and that was the only reaction of that magnitude. (My favorite reaction from my mom in other not-right-for-me dresses was "well, it doesn't look awful..." Thanks, Mom. She's always trying to let me down gently...)

My emotional roller coaster ride trying on dresses proved to be a blast and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While modeling gowns, I was able to pretend I was a princess bride getting married at the Plaza in New York in duchess satin, a corset top, and tons of beading, and I also got to be a beach bride, in bare feet and body skimming silk. And then I found it; the one that fits me and my style (and hopefully, Kiko's...) perfectly.

Like everything else with the wedding, I wanted to savor the gown shopping. My wedding day is a little more than 10 months away, and my wedding dress shopping is over. But like all other aspects of the planning, it just makes me more excited for the big day...and hopefully the dress I picked will represent all the different facets of my femininity and personality...and hopefully it won't make me want to cry the day I put it on!