Saturday, September 13, 2014

the dress

I've been planning my wedding for about five months.  Everyone I talk to is interested in it - where is it?  when?  can they see my engagement ring?  And, most prominently, what is my dress like?

If I had my feminist hat on right now, I would go into detail about how the outsized importance assigned to the wedding dress - the thousands of dollars many brides spend (even brides whose wedding is, overall, not particularly pricey), the substantial fraction of wedding magazine advertising real estate devoted to them, and of course the sense that selecting the dress not only sets the tone of the wedding (this is what my mother, a typically very reasonable person not particularly interested in fashion, told me) but also says something fundamental about the bride.  

But - yes, that was me being brief - instead, I am going to focus on my own experience.

I knew pretty early on that I wanted something with a mermaid or trumpet cut.  I'd looked at some pictures online and those dresses seemed sleek and attractive and less fussy.  I started with a trip to David's with an old friend, where I tried on seven dresses in that silhouette.  I liked most of them - partly because it was pretty awesome to be trying on wedding dresses in the first place - and one in particular stood out (see it here).  The tight bodice flattered my curves, the tiered organza skirt felt appropriate for my beach ceremony, and I felt beautiful and bridal in it.  But I had other stores on my list, and I'd agreed with my mother that I'd wait until she came to town, a month later, to make the decision.

My next stop was Kleinfeld's, with two very opinionated friends.  I tried on many dresses - six?  eight?  - all with mermaid silhouettes.  I quickly found out that I wasn't particularly drawn to lacey bodices and in fact found them unflattering.  I loved what a corset back did for my figure.  A couple of the dresses, Monique Lhuillier styles with sculptural skirts, were promising - but none of them won the unanimous approval of my friends, who liked me in sophisticated, unfussy cuts, and myself, who liked me in something with a little bit of pizzazz.

Third, I went to Lovely Bride, a boutique in Tribeca, with my brother's girlfriend.  I tried on only two dresses there - because on the second dress we hit the jackpot.  It was a Hayley Paige mermaid with a very simple silk satin bodice, a sweetheart neckline and a low back with a tulle strap held together with a jeweled clip, and a puffy organza skirt (I don't remember the style name, but I on this page it - or a dress a lot like it - is the leftmost one on the second row).  The dress was a work of art, everything I had looking for, special and beautiful, and I almost bought it right then.

And then I went home.  I talked to my mother.  I thought about it a bit.  The dress was pricey, and it would need a lot of alterations since the chest and hips were the same size and no human woman is shaped like that.  I'd have to have a bra sewn into it, and it wasn't very forgiving so I'd have to lose some tummy pudge to look good in it.  Also, I could only barely sit in it - maybe losing weight would help? - and, because it was a mermaid, I couldn't walk fast.  The sales associate and many of my friends assured me that it wasn't an issue: on my wedding day, I wouldn't be sitting, or eating, or walking much, or moving in any way.  Apparently I'd be in a body cast, looking beautiful.

Still, I loved the dress.

And then I started looking at photographers.  This entailed looking at a lot of pictures, in particular of beach weddings.  Lots of women seem to get married on the beach in very sophisticated dresses, and some of them look silly and some of them don't.  Others wear unstructured, vintagey, hippie styles - something I liked in theory, but that hadn't seemed to work on me at David's.  One picture in particular stuck with me - a bride and groom running along the waterline together, holding hands.  The groom's shirt was untucked and the bride held her skirt up with her free hand.  

It wasn't the bride's dress that stuck with me, or the groom's outfit, and I didn't end up hiring that photographer.  But I remembered the look on the bride's face - she was happy, and in love, and she was wearing her wedding dress, and she was running.  There was no way I could run, much less along the water, in the Hayley Paige dress.  I could walk in little, mincing steps; I could dance, a little bit; I could move my arms.  In that dress, I would have been beautiful - it's impossible to wear a garment that amazing and not be - but I would have been trapped.  I would have spent the day thinking about my dress, negotiating stairs and sand, checking the state of my tummy pooch in every mirror, worrying that sitting down too fast would split the seam.  That's not the way I live - I won't buy a garment if I can't walk briskly for half an hour while wearing it - and it's not the way I want to get married.

So, the hunt was still on.  I decided I should try shopping on my own - maybe fewer cooks would help me zero in on the dress that was right for me.  I took the bus to New Jersey and went to Nordstrom, where I found some nice dresses - more Monique Lhuillier - but nothing inspiring.  I went to the Nicole Miller boutique, where I tried on many very pretty silky dresses, all reasonably priced and reasonably flattering, that did absolutely nothing for me.  They just didn't feel wedding-y enough.  

And then, one day after work, I went to Macy's.  Right away I liked the consultant - she was stylish, of course, but also down-to-earth.  She wasn't a size two and didn't seem to think I should spend five thousand dollars on a dress.  After listening to my description of what I wanted, which hadn't changed very much, she pulled some dresses and I tried them on.  Eh, eh, eh.  I had tried on so many dresses at that point - I may have actually forgotten some stores in this telling - that none of them made an impression.  The consultant let me go out on the floor - the salon was pretty empty at that point - and choose some more dresses.  It was hard to tell what a dress would look like when it was on the hanger, and I ended up with some pretty weird styles.  I was having fun, but I was no closer to finding my dress.

The consultant was the one who pulled the dress I fell in love with.  It was from their Destination Romance collection, and it had a low-key ballroom silhouette.  It was strapless with a sweetheart neckline - I figured out early on that this works best for me - and a skirt with cascading layers of organza.  It was lightweight, simple, and very bridal.  It looked like me, like something I would pick and wear even if it didn't have a "wedding dress" label on it, and it was so easy to wear and made me so happy to have on that I could - and did - pick up my skirts and run.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


One of the problems of writing things down is that, to the extent anyone actually reads what you've written, it keeps you accountable.  From a conventional viewpoint that's probably a benefit, and it's one of the reasons people (including but not entirely limited to myself) make schedules and lists.  However, being accountable to one's later self is typically not why people write blog posts, and now I find myself feeling the need to answer for my many, varied, and highly certain statements about how I would never really grow to love New York.

Some of my reluctance to embrace New York is attributable to the simple matter of its being an acquired taste, and to the fact that when you come to the city alone, with not much money and nowhere to live, and with no real desire for an adventure, it's not an easy place to love.  It's not really an easy place to survive.  It took me weeks to stop being scared of the subway (some people might contend that I am still warier of certain lines and stops than is warranted, and it's true I have a suspicion of any train that does not run at least every ten minutes or that does not pass through my home borough).  It took months to feel really comfortable in the city, to lose (or, if I'm being honest, much of the time to mask) the wide-eyed looking-around quality of tourists.  And while I might have been more of a country mouse than most, I think there are others to whom embracing city life has been as intentional, gradual, and ambivalent.

But the other problem with New York is nothing to do with its inconvenience or its cost, its smells or its insects or its insane freakish thunderstorms that come out of nowhere.  The other problem is, for lack of a better term, its personality.

 I am not the first, or the dozenth, or the hundredth person to write - to think - about New York City as if it is a person.  To be more specific, I am not the first or the dozenth or the hundredth woman to think of New York City as her boyfriend.  Carrie Bradshaw popularized the idea long before I came to the city, and I'm sure her creators were mimicking Holly Golightly, whom I just realized she is an awful lot like.  But probably half the single women from here to the Brooklyn Bridge think of the city as their great love.  New York is a passion, a muse, a pounding pulse that will swallow you up.

And, like most of the passionate lovers of literature, New York City is a very bad boyfriend.  It is not reliable.  The subway frequently does not run on time.  It does not care for you the way you care for it.  Your rent can rise twenty percent in one year.  New York does not make sacrifices to help you realize your dreams.  It does not make a place for you in its life.  It does not introduce you to its friends.  Sometimes it seems not to know you exist.

It is not an accident that these sentences apply also to the types of men women in New York often find themselves dating.

But New York is fun!  Sure, it may be gritty, and crowded, and scary.  There may be piles of trash accumulating on the street and people shouting curses at you on the corner.  But behind the piles of trash you can find an Afghan restaurant - Afghan food!  There's such a thing! - where you can eat pumpkin fritters and lamb and rice and leek dumplings on a table with a carpet as a tablecloth.  Along the block are other restaurants: Indonesian, Hipster (also a cuisine, it appears), and Thai; and around the corner Alan Cumming is starring in Cabaret.  A few blocks in every direction are fashionable clothing stores, farmer's markets, museums, a giant park where people train for marathons year-round.  There's a new adventure on every block, and you can do a different interesting thing every day for probably your entire life.

What changed, for me, was being able to appreciate that fun.  What changed was that I found a stable job, an apartment of my own that I felt comfortable in, a few good friends, and enough comfort in the city to not be worried about losing my way.  What changed was that I found - in a figurative sense - a boyfriend.  I stopped needing New York to be my great love, my best friend, my caretaker.  Now, when the trains aren't running on time, I know another way to get where I'm going.  I don't need the city to be a stabilizer, a comfort, a home, which is good, because it's no good for that.  What it's good at is providing fun and adventure and novelty, in its own way and on its own schedule, often at what seems to be the exact wrong time.

New York is a very bad boyfriend.  Generation after generation of starry-eyed lovers have realized that, and left it.  But New York is a truly incredible wing-man.