Thursday, May 9, 2013

Buying a Wedding Dress: Cruel Cultural Experiment? Or Fun Excursion?

So the day after tomorrow, on Saturday, May 11, I shop for a Mother Of The Groom dress with Alexa and Emma, the beaus of my two boys, Jake and Zach.

My future daughter-in–law, the one for whom a Mother Of The Groom Dress is necessary, also has a name that ends in the ‘UH’-sound.  Her name is Leya!  Aren’t letters and their sounds FUN??!  I miss teaching …)

Nick and Leya, of Canadia
Due to living in a different country, Leya cannot join us for our shopping excursion.  But before I discuss her country-of-origin, I want to share the story of how Emma and Alexa will shop with me in two days … with precise data:  Technically, Leya alone will become my ‘first daughter-in-law’ in 36 days.  In our family’s Great Race, she is first up to marry one of several sons. This one is Nicholas. Theirs will be a stupendously gorgeous ceremony held June 15 at which I shall wear a new dress.

Zachary just got engaged last weekend and their wedding date is a mystery, but ‘in-progress.’  Much like the renovation of our town’s public library.  
Zach and Betrothed

Which brings us to our Alexa. 

Jake and Alexa
She loves libraries and has a degree very similar to the one Nick and I have.  We are all English majors.  She and my son Jake – a biotechnology major -- are not, technically, “engaged” as of today, May 9, 2013, I am pretty sure they have been “going steady” for so many arrays of years, often in the same dwelling, that she became my Common Law Daughter-in-Law in autumn of 2006. 

Anyway, I, Emma, Alexa and my actual birth-daughter whose name begins with the letter A – Abby – are shopping together for dresses.

In less than three days.

I have started pre-medicating.

Emma is orchestrating our shopping itinerary at places with names like David’s Bridal and Macy’s and Lord and Taylor  …  and there is good reason she is master of ceremonies for our shopping itinerary.

I do not shop.

I either wear something someone has accidentally left at our home in the aftermath of an alcohol-relevant party, or I wear clothing my sons and daughter have left back here at the house, which they used to wear in the late 90s, (my students used to get a kick out of this!).

My newest pieces fall off the rack when I bump them in error -- as they swing and hang like Salem Witches -- landing in my grocery cart, inches from the frozen food section… where I am standing … along with a dozen other Walmartians waiting to be ‘rung up’ by someone who will pierce my plastic bag with the sharp edge of my organic salad box, ultimately launching arugula onto the hot parking lot next to a wad of pink gum and a spilled Dunkin Cool-At-ta.

In summers, I am clad in whatever my husband has purchased for me the previous year at Clearance Sales held at New Balance or Nike Factories in Boston … including sneakers he buys by guessing my size, and he is typically close!

In case I have lost you, I do not shop.

When Nick and Leya got engaged last winter, I thought I’d probably wear something in my closet:  I have a kimono or two from the time I played Pitti-Sing in a production of The Mikado in 1975. Kimonos are famous for their forgiving waistlines which can expand or contract, depending on the number of boxes of Italian Cookies I have Stress-Ingested that week.

But apparently -- and Abby, Alexa and Emma have echoed this sentiment -- purchasing an actual dress for my son’s wedding is almost certainly some cultural rite -- much like those of Nelson Mandela’s people who ritually circumcise the village boys upon their 13th birthdays in an outdoor spring ceremony. With a big impaling-sword and no anesthesia.  Much in the manner I expect to be shopping on Saturday.

And yes, my son is marrying a Canadian, but it is still customary that I acquire a new dress for the event.  I don't know what you've read about Canadia, but I have been there.  It is a lot more progressive than Massachusetts or the bulk of the original colonies. So I ordered a dress on EBay back in February. It was delivered on my stoop within three business days.

I was uncertain this was my dress, as it arrived in an envelope the size of a Hallmark greeting card. 

“Greetings, Carolyn Given, from the makers of Miracle Hose, the 400-foot hose that upon drainage, self-coils into the size of a Swiss Army Knife.  Enclosed, find your Miracle Bandage Dress!  Congratulations on your smart shopping choice!”

A bandage dress is all the rage.  I do not know why – because once I shimmied the spandex bandage panels over my kneecaps, then my thighs and eventually, using pulleys and levers like a body shoe-horn, the dress ascended one hip and then the other – as though the dress were somehow giving breach-birth to ME – I slid my fingers into the arm holes, dislocating a thumb and spraining my other wrist --  then I threw my shoulders into the bodice … I think I did “The Worm” …  and voila!

The bandage dress in all its spandex-glory accentuated every dimpled divot of cellulite riding over my ribs, collarbone and back-fat, making me look unlike the mother of ANY groom and more like The Mother Of Jabba The Hut.

Bandage Dress as it appears online
And so, Emma, Alexa and Abby are taking me dress shopping on Saturday.       

Special Effects MY Bandage Dress Created 
One of the reasons I am not a Shopping Person is my long and lovely marriage of 35 years to someone who is extremely tall. 

I am not especially tall, but my spouse is, so I am knowledgeable about both extremes.  The apparel industry does its darndest to make medium sized people happy.  They give us an infinite range of fashion options.

Before I explain why very tall men are forced to be nudists, I want to define tall. Tall is a 39-inch inseam.  It is 81 inches.  It is two-meters, ten.  Tall is six-foot-nine. It is a species of tall outside industry specs and is ignored by the garment community. In fact, "supply" is so unrelated to demand that it falls completely outside the propensity-for-shortness curve, baffling economists everywhere.

This means tall people are left, naked and alone, forced to shop in exclusive specialty shops with exotic names like Big Yank that come with big price tags and big clerks with a poor grasp of consumer relations and English.

“Excuse me,” smiles a really tall consumer.

“Woe, you’re tall,” says the sales associate.

The tall consumer explains he is here to purchase clothing.

The sales associate stares.

The consumer points to a rack of shirts.

Slowly, the sales person observes the gentleman’s pant cuffs, frayed to the shins from road salt, then embarks on winsome repartee.

“Shit.  I thought polyester stretched better ‘n that.  Y’all ever consider natural fabrics?  In like, your size?”

For years my husband and I drove like vagabonds from specialty store to specialty store, finally honing our routine for the sake of economy.  At the threshold, one of us shouted, “You carry 39-inch inseams here, in anything, at all?”

This was how we learned that Van Garde’s Exclusive Tall Emporium procured unhemmed slacks from their supplier, then Raoule the Master Tailor would hem them.  But the economy was such that it no longer paid to provide this service.  “You ain’t gonna find nuthin but a 36 inch inseam anywhere. Good luck.”

Those last three inches meant the difference between hypothermia and normal life-expectancy.

Depending on how good the sales’ associates’ grammar was, sometimes we’d go into the store and purchase some extra tall but very wide short sleeve summer shirts. 

But if their grammar was particularly bad, we’d spend hours selecting up to nine hand-knit sweaters, a gorgeous full-length leather coat, several silk dress shirts and dozens of industrial-length ties, allow the associate to ring them all up, then we would walk out of the store.

“Wait, ain’t you gonna buy this stuff?”

“In THIS economy? Maybe someone ELSE will come in who wears a 39 inch sleeve." Our theory being that, while it may not pay be to be real tall, it pays less to sell nuthin.  Which is how my spouse became an expert mail-catalogue and online consumer.

I learned this technique, myself, from him.  And why not?  

With this kind of convenience for someone my size – which is an 8 in everything: shoes, pants, dresses, shirts -- there’s no need to board a vehicle and drive to actual stores and touch fabric and enter dimly lit dressing rooms with fun-house mirrors.

With Klonipin as my witness, I will never go dress-less again
Unfortunately, the ‘click of a mouse’ did not manifest a flattering event-dress for my son’s wedding, and since my spouse IS going shopping with our leftover sons – the ones remaining in this country -- for things like ties and socks for the wedding, I am excited to re-learn this ritual.

 In less than 48 hours, I will be in the presence of sales associates with excellent grammar and even more excellent champagne who can easily accommodate my size 8 needs.  Many thanks to Emma and Alexa and Abigail for your support!  And to my beautiful almost-daughter-in-law Leya, for making this day-trip possible!