My fiancé called me while I stood in the fitting room of David's Bridal Collections, staring at myself in the mirror. “I'm wearing my wedding dress!” I squealed, my inner Glinda-the-Good-Witch-Loving-Three-Year-Old hyperventilating in ecstasy.
It was my first dress shopping trip and I hadn't honestly expected to find anything to my liking. I was, after all, the same person who'd exhausted everyone's patience spending several weekends and tens of hours searching for the perfect prom dress.
“Have you seen her in this yet?” my sales associate asked, pulling aside girl after girl to tell me how special and pretty I looked in the gown. “She's the first person to ever wear this dress. I don't even want to put it on anyone else. It's like it was made for her.” “You look like Katharine Ross in the Graduate,” my mom said, tearing up. “This is it.” I announced. “This is The Dress.”
Three hours later as I sat in the car with the dress, a shocking receipt, and a growing feeling of foreboding, I couldn't remember what I'd liked so much about the dress. After a few more hours of brooding on it, I was fairly sure I hated it. What had I done? Is this wedding dress regret!?
What had happened to tea-length? To diaphanous? Since when had I wanted a cathedral-length veil?! I looked over the pictures again and again — berating myself. Empire waist? I'd wanted something fitted in the waist, not loose. Stripes and lace? Too casual, too trendy. It was obviously too formal while simultaneously too informal. How could I have missed it? Above everything else, it was too goddamn expensive.
Tormenting myself over wedding dress regret
I spent the next day punishing myself by looking at other less expensive dresses that matched my previous expectations — jaunty little things with skinny velvet bow sashes, birdcage veils, and soft layers of tulle. I looked at the picture of myself in the polka dot tea length gown that clearly should have been the dress I chose, if it hadn't felt too much like a dress I would wear to someone else's wedding rather than my own.
“Why don't you just try it on again and see if you still hate it while you're wearing it?” my fiancé asked, attempting to be the voice of reason in the cloud of my growing madness. It sounded like a good idea, but over the next several days, I found myself coming up with excuse after excuse as to why I couldn't try the dress on. “I need my waist cincher. I don't think it will even fit without it.” “I don't have a strapless bra.” “I'm sick and I won't look good anyway, so today's a bad day to try.”
After five days passed and I still hadn't tried on the dress, it became evident that I was afraid to try on the dress again. I was afraid that I would put on the dress and would see it in the harsh light of reality, proving that I had made a massive mistake.
Manipulated by the wedding industrial complex
It wasn't so much the fact that the dress cost nearly quadruple the price of the other dresses I'd looked at that made the possibility of the mistake so scary. It was the idea that I had let myself be manipulated into making that mistake by the Wedding Industrial Complex. I feared that I'd somehow listened to the saleswoman as she told me what a special bohemian snowflake I was and internalized it. I hated the idea that I had fallen prey to Wedding Industrial Complex's marketing schemes, even though I already knew what to expect and was trying so hard to avoid them. I am a critical thinker, goddammit! I am a conscious consumer!
When I finally put on the dress a second time and saw that it still looked beautiful (even without a strapless bra), I realized that my problem doesn't lie with the dress. It lies with the idea of The Dress. The One.
A wedding dress has somehow gone from being the nicest dress you already own, to being the single most important and meaningful piece of clothing you will ever wear. That's a lot of emotional baggage to wrap into one garment!
I had built such an unrealistic emotional connection to the idea of this dress that nothing could possibly live up to the expectations I had created for it. I was perfectly happy with the idea of getting married in the gown I'd bought, but it certainly wasn't My Wedding Dress. You know, THE DRESS
My Wedding Dress is the gigantic Glinda-pink, southern belle-skirted concoction of my three-year-old dreams. It's the regency-inspired, empire-waisted, sheath I'd imagined in middle school. It's the tea-length, polka-dotted, vintage, prom dress I'd pictured in college. It's the draped, diaphanous Grecian gown, and romantic mantilla I'd dreamt of wearing in the middle of a forest clearing. It's the striped and pocketed, lace, A-line gown I will actually be wearing on my actual wedding day.
It is all of those things and none of them because it isn't real.
My Wedding Dress is just a fantasy.
THE ONE is just a dream.
And that's OK!