Sunday, February 28, 2010


Saturday finds us shopping for wedding gowns—an unlikely scenario at best. I’ve often said that there is one and only one reason why I would like to be crowned Queen of England. The reason: I’ve read that the queen never shops for herself, not in stores anyway. Apparently she sits at the castle signing proclamations and petting corgis while designers and maids scour the planet for a selection of garments, gorgeous and comfortable from which she might make a choice. Yes, I’d be a good queen on shopping days. Take me to a store at 10:00 and I’ll be peevish by 11:00, whining about the heat, complaining about the crowds and suggesting we find a spot for lunch while there’s still a place to sit.
But on this day I have received an invitation to take part in the process with the bride-to-be and two of her bridesmaids and it seems to me that even the queen might find herself wanting to put the royal duties aside for a few hours if she had received the same.
The universe, on this particular day, is friendlier than I had expected. So excited about the bridal prospect are these young women as we enter the first shop that they fail to warn me of the cardinal rule of wedding shop shopping—shoes are definitely deposited at the door. It isn’t until we are leaving, and they are searching for my shoes, that one of them notices I have them on. Quite a remarkable oversight, since I have already been guided around the borders of several flowing trains to a place where I might examine the curve of a neckline or the fit of a waist. Later in the day sitting near the dressing room of a mall shop in a mega-mall I will hear a sassy salesgirl chastising the unfortunate members of a different entourage for failing to take their shoes off. “This is a wedding store,” she will say, in a tone suggesting that anyone with an IQ of 10 would have known. But my infraction has happened in a smaller venue where the brides are seen by appointment. In this venue we are served by the manager herself, a cheery well-mannered woman who does not usually serve customers but is doing so for this special occasion. She, without doubt, has noticed my shoes and thought better of mentioning them. Being the manager, she has a sense of how to make or break a sale.
It is important to order today, she tells us. That should ensure a delivery by the end of May. Every week you wait at this point delays the delivery date by two weeks. “Which of these two do you prefer?” And then, “Please come back soon if you want to order.” She is keeping a file.
We know already that we will be ordering. Our bride is smaller than any size on the rack. But gradually I come to understand that every bride will be ordering. What they do with the dresses on the rack remains a mystery. There is only one of each type, and that only in one size. Size is no concern here. You start with a dress bigger than you and clip it together to match your shape. You then imagine how it would look if it really fitted you. They’ll be ordering it with your measurements in mind. This dress, for example, can be ordered in two heights, five feet nine inches and five feet six inches. Not to worry that you are only five feet three inches. The dress will need to be tailored after it arrives.
As dresses are tried it becomes clear that there are many choices at hand. Will it be strapful or strapless? One strap is also an option. Will we have diamond white or ivory, real silk or satin, organza or taffeta, trimmed with lace or bling?
“Oh Mom, get up and come over here. Now don’t step on that train. I’ll show you what bling is.” The train rustles. Another prospective bride is scurrying to get out of my path.
A wedding shop is a psychologist’s paradise. You could get a fascinating Ph.D. watching personal dynamics. A peevish sister says, “Mum, I think we just have to quit this. She doesn’t seem happy in any of them!” Meanwhile, other brides seem particularly partial to styles that show off their bellies. On-lookers hint that the style may be less flattering than some other fashion, but they do not hear. If it weren’t for the fear of train derailments I might jump up and go over to help. “I am wondering,” I might say in my best professional voice, “if each of you could pause for a moment and tell me what you are hearing from the other.”
But I stay in my seat. Beside me one of our bridesmaids says, “She has a good one on now. I just wish I could go over and tell her how wonderful it looks.”
“Go for it,” I urge. Our bride is hidden behind a curtain. She’ll not be out for thirty seconds or more.
Up leaps our bridesmaid. “You look wonderful in this one,” she says to the stranger. She herself married several years ago and has recently become a mother. She’s sensitive to the power of concepts like positive reinforcement.
But the stranger says, “I think I prefer the other one.” And now our bride is out again.
The day wears on. I do my best to behave. My patience is rewarded. Our bride, the one who should be overwhelmed, judging by the endurance we notice in other brides, seems to have sipped at the fountain of endless patience. How many gowns has she tried in how many shops? None of us can remember. But one bridesmaid needs a snack, another a washroom. In this context my needs appear casual, inconsequential. I don’t have to whine for anything.
Off we go, across the city, across in another direction. We snack at lunchtime, have lunch when we ought to be snacking. Somewhere around 4:00 we notice that we are wandering without focus.
No choice has been made by day’s end. But this leaves us with no worries. Several of the dresses will probably do just fine. Home goes the bride to look at the photos. Did I mention the camera? A digital camera in the hands of the bridesmaids has captured multiple views of the bride in every gown. She will choose in the quiet of her living room and return to whatever shop for a fitting at a time convenient to her. Our work is done—well, mine anyway. Nothing left for me to do but wonder how one person can, at the same time, be both my baby girl and a gracious, beautiful woman.

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