Somewhere deep in the clammy recesses of my basement, hermetically sealed against the ugly passage of time, protected from dust and decay and daughters who would play dress-up, nestled in ageless, non-yellowing, chemically preserved perfection, is the only dress I will ever wear to a wedding that was easy to buy.
Shopping for my wedding dress took all of one hour on a Saturday afternoon. My mom and sisters headed with me to the bridal salon. Within two attempts, we identified the perfect gown. The deal was sealed and off we went to choose my china.
I'm recalling this uncomplicated purchase as I wriggle my hips into the hundredth cocktail dress I will not wear to a wedding in September. This one sports a halter-top with a short skirt, bright white background (aren't there rules about wearing white when you're not the bride?) covered in huge, fuchsia flowers. I get it zipped, exhale loudly and face the mirror.
“Heaven help us,” I say to no one. “I look like a cushion for patio furniture.”
“Did you need another size?” My sales clerk thinks I'm talking to her.
“Yes, but I didn't see smaller hips anywhere on display.” Self-deprecating humor. What else is there?
“Which dress, dear?” she asks, missing the joke.
“That's okay,” I tell her. “I'm all set.”
I slip out of the patio cushion and attempt to extricate the next selection from its hanger. There are spaghetti straps and also those annoying strings just inside the bodice presumably intended for the hanger, but since they're too long, someone has draped them over and under a few times into a tangled web. Standing as I am in my under things, in front of a sign that says “video surveillance in use,” I rip the stupid strings from the armpits of the dress to move things along.
This one is black, always a forgiving color, and since my husband will be in a tuxedo and it's a Saturday evening wedding, I figure black is appropriate. It's fitted on top and sits nicely at the waist, with hot pink ribbon there and at the hem. But what's this? Just under the kicky skirt is a layer of crinoline and lace, designed to peek out from under the dress by about two inches. I look like I'm going to break into a Salsa dance. At the prom. With the other teenagers. What was I thinking when I pulled this from the rack? Maybe the “Musak” was playing something from “West Side Story.”
I peel through my other selections lining the dressing room walls. Too “Carol Brady.” Too bohemian. Too skimpy. Too “Saturday Night Fever.” Shoulder pads? Tell me the '80s aren't back. I was just getting used to the return of the '70s.
It's not enough to have a dress that's attractive and appropriate for the occasion. It also has to be age appropriate. But every dress I find is intended for females with hips like Mick Jagger and breasts from “Extreme Makeover.” Has no one taught today's dress designers the long-term effects of gravity on the female anatomy?
I give up on the high-end boutique and trudge through the mall to case out the sale rack at the big chain, repeating that wedding-guest mantra: “Nobody's going to be looking at me…nobody's going to be looking at me…”. Eventually, I find a dress that is neither matronly nor immodest. Doesn't look like something my high school sophomore would wear. Fits the bod and the budget. It's a miracle.
Then again, if nobody's going to be looking at me, maybe I should pull that dress out of the box in the basement. On the outside chance I get a compliment, I could say, “This old thing? I've had it for years.”
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)