Don’t get me wrong, I adore my two sons. They were so much fun to raise and grew up to be men I am proud of. But if you don’t have a daughter, you never get to experience that well- earned tradition of helping her choose her wedding dress. If, in fact, she chooses to marry and if, she is the dress type in the first place. I always knew it was not in the cards for me.
But I came close to the experience, twice, thanks to the sensitivity of two women.
My friend Joanne had three lovely daughters, each beautiful and brilliant, like they were ordered from central casting. Their father’s name was Billy and I nicknamed them Billy’s Angels. When the first got engaged, Joanne invited me to come with her and her daughter to the local high- class dress emporium, Suky Rosan, to participate in this long standing ritual. I never thought I would see the inside of Suky’s and reacted with the awe usually reserved for places like the Taj Majal or the Sistine Chapel. In the hushed, velvety interior were elegant women quietly procuring elegant gowns for young women living out their wedding fantasies. We sat on a sofa, sipped champagne and watched the self- assured bride- to- be try on, discard and consider dress after dress. The one she chose, with no need for assistance from us, was perfect for her; a simply cut, sleeveless bodice with a bateau neckline, embellished with bead work and joined at the fitted waist to layer upon layer of tulle. It was a ballerina worthy confection. Her mother and I sighed with pleasure. I continue to be touched that my friend shared that very personal and longed- for day with me, knowing I would never have one for myself.
But then came PJ. The beautiful, brainy and vivacious girl that captured not just my son’s heart but all of ours, invited me to participate in her wedding dress hunt. I was thrilled and more than touched.
PJ invited my husband and I to Atlanta for Thanksgiving to meet her family shortly after she and Adam got engaged. Sadly, her mother had been severely compromised by a stroke. But PJ had intuited the perfect plan; she would take both mothers with her to have her first look at wedding dresses. At the very atelier where they film “Say Yes to the Dress”, we watched in a private area as our girl tried on different looks. But this is a young woman who knows her own mind and style. She didn’t need our help but was caring enough to allow us into the experience of a lifetime. It was extremely emotional for all of us as I witnessed just how much could be conveyed by facial expression and tears, with no words necessary.
Later, PJ surprised me with yet another invitation, to join her and her bridesmaids as she tried on dresses in NY and had drinks after. To be included as “one of the girls” was the greatest honor a mother-in-law to be can get! However, the dress hunting itself left much to be desired.
This world famous bridal store, which shall remain nameless, herds potential brides into dressing rooms all opening onto each other, so every bride sees all the others coming and going. And each, with their support group, has little to no privacy. It was a very unsatisfactory experience.
And any bride over a size 12 is left with nearly nothing to try on, cast into the “plus size” category for which there are few, if any, samples.
Considering that 67% of American women fall into this category, I found this practice outrageous and, later, as I was seething at home in front of my computer, sent them a poison pen letter about their policies. Still, inclusiveness being the thing, I will be forever grateful to my daughter-in-law for starting our relationship on such a positive footing. And she did look smashing in the dress she chose.
As for me, I have bought two wedding dresses in my life, both very unconventional, well beyond the bounds of my girlhood dreams.
My first dress, at age 23, was bought off the rack, on sale, at Foley’s, Houston. It was white but what I would characterize as a Mexican wedding dress. With a deeply cut square neckline elasticized to go off the shoulder, bell sleeves and empire waist trimmed with yellow satin ribbon, it was cut all of white pin tucked fabric that fell simply to my feet. I remember my father being scandalized that I didn’t wear a bra but, hey, it was 1971!
When I became a bride at 60, my fiancé insisted on shopping with me, in itself a rule breaker. We went to South Coast Plaza in Orange Co. CA and looked for inspiration. It was all very “Pretty Woman” as I tried on dress after dress while he sat in a chair, on his phone, giving them a thumbs up or down. The dress that stopped us in our tracks was on a mannequin in front of the St. John boutique, about the last place I would think of looking. It had a wide scooped neckline, again nearly off the shoulder, lace capped sleeves and then was one long, form fitting pour to the ground. But the back was the eye catcher, dipping almost to the waist with a skinny decorative strap holding the two sides together and ending in a lace train. I had to wear a stick -on bra for that one! Oh, yeah, and did I mention it was black?? When he saw me in it,his eyes filled with tears and we knew it was THE ONE.
So despite not having a daughter, I have managed to have my share of wedding dress experiences, all varied and all very memorable.
I can only advise the daughter-less among you to sneak in the back door of the dress experience like I did. Or grab a bowl of popcorn and watch “Say Yes to the Dress” where you can have it vicariously AND critique to your heart’s content.