Every few days I get these wedding advice e-mails from TheKnot.com - stuff like “Book a Florist Now – or Forever Hold Your Peace” and “9 Reception Disasters to Avoid”. To my great disappointment, Reception Disasters only included things like what to do if your younger cousins eat too much wedding cake, or your floral centerpieces wilt, or what happens when you’re running low in liquor. There was nothing about how to behave if your wedding is the first time in 12 years your parents will be in the same room at the same time, or how to deal with your aunt’s scotch-loving boyfriend. That’s the kind of Reception Disaster I’d like to avoid, but perhaps I am alone in this.
I tried typing in “TheNot.com”, just for fun, but it brought me straight back to The Knot website, where I was greeted by, “Welcome Back Natalie and Tony! 287 days until your wedding!”
I really only signed up with The Knot because you have to if you want to look at their dresses. I’d thought finding a dress would be the easiest part of this whole wedding thing, but as it turns out, not so much. My first attempt had been a store one of my already-married friends had gushed about. “They give you your own room!” she’d said. “They ask you want kind of dress you want and then bring it to you!”
I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive, but the room had its own leather couch, so I tried to force myself to revel in the luxury of it all. The saleslady measured me, and then brought me a white corset, fluffy bathrobe and a pair of white pumps. She instructed me to put them on, then disappeared, returning a few minutes later under a cloud of white.
“Close your eyes!” she said.
“Um,” I said. “Can I see it first?”
“Nope!” the saleslady sang, cheerfully. “Now hold your arms above your head…”
She stood there, expectantly, and I realized the idea was for me not to see the dress until it was on me, so that I would fall in love with my bridal self and throw down my Mastercard with reckless abandon.
“Open your eyes!” she said, breathlessly, after I’d struggled in. I did.
“Oh,” I said. “It’s… nice.”
She looked disappointed. “We don’t want ‘nice’,” she said. “We want WOW.” Then she whipped off the dress and trotted away, leaving me to stare at myself in the mirror in my corset and pumps, both of which were a couple of sizes too big and gave the impression I was a kid playing dress-up in my mother’s clothes.
The rest of the afternoon kind of became a bridal Groundhog Day. The saleslady would appear holding another dress, and I’d close my eyes, dive in, and then try to think of something polite to say.
“It’s a bit, um, lacey,” I’d say, or, “It’s sort of whiter than I had in mind.”
Eventually, instead of coming back with a dress she brought in the owner of the store - the Grand Poobah of wedding dresses – probably to get a load of the girl who deemed a dress “a bit virginal”.
“She doesn’t even like this one!” she said, worriedly, as I stood there draped in chiffon.
The owner frowned. “What are you looking for, exactly?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, feeling like a total moron. “Something flowy?”
“That is like WATER,” he hissed, and we stared at each other for minute, in a sort of bridal standoff.
“You know,” he said, eventually. “Not very many people want… what you want.”
If only I’d listened.
In January, now slightly distressed as according to TheKnot.com I was supposed to have bought my dress AND accessories by now, I asked my father to come wedding dress shopping with me. I figured if I had to deal with someone who insisted I looked glorious in something the size of a Volkwagen, my father, who doesn’t believe in sugar-coating anything – especially to salespeople – was the right person for the job.
The other bride who was at the store when we arrived had brought her mother, grandmother, and 8 friends. All of them had shiny, perfectly-coiffed hair, and appeared to be having a whale of a time. When I emerged from the change room, they stopped in mid-conversation. The bride actually gasped.
“Oh!” she said. “You look like an angel!”
The dress was made of many layers of translucent fabric embroidered with flowers, and the saleslady has fastened two giant clips to my back to keep it from falling down. I looked in the mirror. My hair was frizzed out in several directions, none of which were down. If I looked like an angel, it was a wind-up toy angel belonging to a two-year old.
“What do you think?” I asked my dad.
“Nice,” he said, shrugging, and returned to his Blackberry.
Later, as we left the store empty-handed, and I tried to explain my frustration.
“I know she meant it as a compliment,” I said, “but I don’t want to look like an angel.”
“I know,” said my dad.
“It’s not a normal shopping experience, is it?” I said. “It’s not just a dress they’re trying to sell us.”
“No,” said my dad. “It’s a dream.”
I realized he was right. It is a dream. And maybe what we’re all hoping to find is a dress with a written guarantee of that dream, which in my case is that my relatives will set their differences aside that day and be smiling and supportive like the people in Martha Stewart.
“Anyway,” my father added, reassuringly. “At least you didn’t look like that other bride.”
Touched, I thanked him. Then I pulled out my To Do list, and made a note to stock up on liquor.