Dress Reversal

What if perfect packaging is the problem?

The wedding fair is a tactile enlargement of the dizzy spin that the vendors in attendance hope will take over the mind of bride. A bridal fashion show takes place three times during the day, allowing brides (and bridesmaids, and mothers-of-the-bride) to envision--you guessed it--the perfect dress. You can step inside a state-of-the-art limo, or listen to the strummings of a cocktail-hour harpist, or interrogate a DJ about his show ("When we play 'YMCA' we all come out on the dance floor, dressed up like the Village People"). There's a café where fairgoers can buy lunch and sit in a space that's decorated like a reception hall. "We have a mock head table and cake table," Trettle explains, to give you ideas about votive candles and ribbon-adorned chairs and place-card designs.

If the March 24 event is at all like previous wedding fairs (and yes, I went to the one in January), it will likely be overwhelming. The fair offers an arena--literally--of choices and ideas. But it's about commerce and contracts and deposits, not traditions and support networks and marriage. It's for the many, and that makes it confusing for the few who feel like we don't quite belong here. If the bridal industry's rose-colored view of the matrimonial world were feasible, we could reduce every wedding to a specific set of mathematical values (how many guests + how big a budget + how many months in the future), pop it in a calculator, and expect an answer that amounts to the perfect wedding.

Once I might have been quick to dispense with wedding traditions that seemed ridiculous. Long ago I believed that, as a grown woman, I would have no need to be "given away" by my father. Yet today I feel a little cheated that the choice wasn't mine to make. I would like it much more if the man who raised me could shake hands with the man I will build my life with. There doesn't seem to be room on the wedding industry's template for any combination of joy and sorrow, no matter how clear it is to me that I can't have one without the other.

Perhaps this is why I am stuck on the dress. According to the industry, I am not just selecting a garment. I am choosing a personality, and by extension, I am determining the tone of my wedding--and, the wedding industry subtly suggests, maybe even the fate of our marriage.

But Jen and Cornelia, they're just dresses. And building a life together is something constant, that my intended and I do every day. It's unfair, really, to place the burden of our future on the shoulders of a strapless gown--no matter how pretty. So I return to my spot in front of the mirror, content to narrow my search for a dress that, while perhaps not symbolic of all my hopes for life and marriage, perhaps not perfect, fits just fine.

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