Monday, October 09, 2006


Debbie is Getting Married

My childhood friend Debbie is getting married and I am the maid of honor. This is quite exciting because:

1. Debbie is getting married.
2. I am the maid of honor and always knew I'd never be part of anyone's bridal party unless she got married (thanks Debbie!).
3. We have to find her a dress.

Years ago Debbie and I sat and discussed the qualities we'd want in the man we married. I don't remember much of what I said, except for the fact that I wouldn't want to marry anyone who golfed and so far things are trending well in that regard.

I remember much better the laundry lists of dos and don'ts we put together for wedding dresses. I've long maintained that it is a heck of a lot harder to find a decent dress than it is nearly any other kind of clothing. Finding a wedding dress was going to add a whole new wrinkle to the challenge.

There was no way we were going to get her a dress like this. No offense, but where is the art? It's essentially an inverted triangle, a harness of a thing with gobs of symmetrically placed sequins and baubles thrown on top, as though a wedding dress were nothing better than a gingerbread house; the more gumdrops the better. A good wedding dress has to be more than a large white trumpet. I mean, if you are going to go the route of throwing a party and inviting guests then the least you can do is celebrate romance.

I will be the first to admit that, in the beginning, I didn't understand the hoopla surrounding this dress. Now, however, I realize that perhaps, among other things, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was doing her best to avoid standard monstrous creations like photo 1.

But when it comes to fashion, Debbie and I have never been particularly good at the "clean and simple American lines" thing. This may have something to do with the fact that I am:

1. not starving myself

2. not going to look like a beanpole even if I do starve myself.

So, a lot of American fashion doesn't mean a lot to me. This has changed somewhat in the past five years or so, as American fashion has come to mean something other than embellishment free sportswear. But it still means that the clothes that look oh-so-good on Gwyneth Paltrow, she of the no-hips-and-short-pelvis-Calvin-Klein-wearing persuasion, are never going to look good on me. I am never going to be a nice clean line.

Debbie is a master seamstress. You'll find her teaching class at Sew Fast Sew Easy, where she has helped shepherd numerous young designers (some whose names you might know) . When my mother's health made it difficult for her to help me with my final prom dress, Debbie took over and helped me turn my sad little sketches into a physical garment. When we go to thrift stores together, she is always showing me how to make my jackets a little more fitted, or fix sleeves. The woman can sew.

However, she is very clear on one thing; no one should design their own wedding dress (unless you are, like, Alexander McQueen). She's watched sewer after sewer, bride-who-hired-a-tailor after bride-who-hired-a-tailor, fail this challenge. I mean, it sounds so romantic, right? Sewing your own dress. But she says it never works. For anyone. I think part of this is because wedding dresses are traditionally white, and white reveals all flaws of construction, fabric and stitching. If you are a knitter, for example, you will note that patterns for lace shawls are typically photographed in white so you can very clearly see what the thing will look like when you are done. White is unforgiving.

Designing a wedding dress for most people is like designing a mansion before you've even attempted a small house, but have fixed up a couple of apartments. Or something like that. It's such an ambitious creation that you need to make a number of bad dresses before you are likely to succeed. I mean, you wouldn't hire a biology student to do your angioplasty. Amateurs shouldn't attempt to design their own dreses.

I personally have nothing against Vera Wang. There's a dress she made this season that has these crazy sleeves and interesting draping that I think is a fantastic design (It's also about $5000). But must her wedding dresses be the equivalent of Tiffany engagement rings? Must everyone want one by her? You get a dress by Vera Wang and it doesn't take a genius to figure out from which of her many price points/lines the dress was selected. It's like buying a Toyota. Did you get a Prius or a Camry or a Lexus? Are you sensible or decadent? We wanted to avoid Vera Wang altogether.

We were fairly certain we wanted something modern and romantic and this meant, something that "moved" and was perhaps "deconstructed" but still "pretty." As it happens, there are designers who were channeling our frustration with the wedding dress industry, and were trying to give us just that. So we got completely besotted with people like Elizabeth Fillmore who makes these great swishy dresses, or Suzanne Ermann who makes great, whimsical gowns.

One way around the cost problem is to not buy a wedding dress at all. Just adding the term "wedding" to something makes it more expensive: the wedding limousine, the wedding ceremony, the wedding dress. We looked at formal dresses that are nice and beautiful, like this one from Sue Wong and thought maybe this would be a good and practical way to go. But we didn't want to be too practical.

The truth is, I've become a strange shopper since I moved to New York. I rarely buy anything the "normal" way any more, as in, I rarely go into a proper store, look at the racks, try things on and pay full price. I'll scour my favorite and very secret thrift store (code name "Chez Marie" from which I've rescued A Diane von Furstenburg vinatage wrap dress for $12.99, two Vivan Westwood blazers for $14.99 apiece and a gorgeous funky black pleated Costume National skirt for $6.99, not to mention 30 ties each at $.99 by various designers for the man in my life), stand in line for a sample sale, skim through the racks of consignment stores because;

1. I'm a writer and we never have any money

2. It's kind of more interesting to shop this way.

In the end, it was a sample sale to the rescue. The Bridal Garden donates all proceeds from their wedding dress sales to charity, and from what I could tell, they get a healthy supply of designer dresses donated to them (there was one puffy Vera Wang number over which I lingered. But just for a moment).

In the end, we found a stunning dress that is very Debbie. It is also a sample, and as far as I can tell, the designer hasn't put it into mass production, which means it fits the whole "one-of-a-kind)" hang up we have. The dress, like the man she will marry, probably didn't fit all the little must-haves we had deluded ourselves into thinking she needed, but who cares? Plus, it was $675! And it needs a few alterations . . . . but she's a master seamstress and she can handle that.

So, thus ends the quest for the perfect wedding dress.

Now we need a dress for me. And if we hated most wedding dresses on the market, you can bet we really hate most every bridesmaid's dress even more.

Photos to follow when the blessed event actually occurs, some time next year.

You forgot about the Carmen Marc Valvo dress for $12.99, the one that was misplaced in the sleepwear!
I completely forgot it was in sleepwear. You are right. Maybe we should have looked for a discounted wedding dress in the nightware section of Barney's . . .
At first I thought, wow Marie's in two weddings... Oh wait, she's talking about Eiko.
What? It's not all about me?

Heh. No, it's all about Eiko and her wedding, which will be beautiful and special and romantic . . . to a very deserving guy.
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