Friday, June 18, 2010

The Perfect Wedding Dress in Ninety Minutes!

(No, this isn’t the gown Eleni chose. I can’t reveal that one until after the wedding. This is from my collection of vintage wedding photographs-- Grace Weaver Powers who was married to William Denton Bloodgood in New York City on 4/22/1903.)

When daughter Eleni surprised us on June 4 with the news that she was planning to be married to Emilio in Corfu, Greece on 10/10/10—only four months away—she added that she’d made an appointment for us to go shopping on Monday, June 7, at one of the only two places in New York where a bridal gown could be bought off the rack rather than made to order, which takes months. The gowns in this place are all samples, she said, most of them worn once by models and donated by the store or by the designers themselves. Best of all, the gowns are sold for a fraction of what they’d cost at retail and all the proceeds go to charity.

I was about to participate in that hallowed ritual of mother and daughter—the search for the one perfect gown that would showcase her beauty on the most important day of her life. It was a liminal moment—a term Eleni taught me while majoring in folklore and mythology at college—because it marked her stepping across a threshold from one stage of life to another. I felt privileged to be included in the momentous search. (And I mentally swore to keep my opinions to myself and let her find the dress that she’d always dreamed of.)

We drove from Grafton MA to Manhattan and showed up at 12:00 noon at The Bridal Garden on the ninth floor of a grim industrial- looking building on 21st Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue.

Once inside, we were greeted by two salesladies, Winona and Vivienne, in a vast suite lined with gowns, each in a clear plastic zipper bag and sorted by: strapless gowns or gowns with straps and/or sleeves, and gowns with full skirts or straight skirts. They explained to us that they were a non-profit organization and that the profits from selling these donated dresses goes to a charter school in Bedford Stuyvesant.

Eleni, who is only 5 feet tall, already knew that she didn’t want a strapless gown nor a full skirt filled with crinolines. There were two other brides already shopping with their mothers, and each pulled out all the dresses that appealed to them, which Winona and Vivienne carried into their dressing rooms, separated by curtains. (No shoes or moms allowed inside—and a prominent sign warned “no photographs.”)

Once she tried on a gown, the future bride would emerge to view herself in the wall of mirrors while the salesladies provided a small stool to stand on in order to see how the skirt would fall and turned the mirrors so she could see the back.

Next to us was a tall, slender, dark-haired young woman with her mother who originally came from Croatia. The Mom carefully unwrapped two rectangular pieces of lace that had been handmade by the girl’s grandmother. They were hoping to incorporate the lace somehow onto the gown she chose.

That bride gravitated toward gowns that were modern, slim and drape-y, often involving panels of chiffon that drifted about the body, reminding me of something that Isadora Duncan might dance in.

Eleni, on the other hand, who came in thinking she wanted something simple and unembellished, found herself selecting gowns that involved lace, like a bride in one of my vintage photographs. Soon she had narrowed down the 12 original selections to three gowns, but in the end, we all agreed that one gown, an absolute vision in exquisite point d’esprit lace, was the clear favorite.

I knew that when she appeared on her wedding day everyone who saw her would gasp in admiration. Even the salesladies exclaimed at the sight, saying the dress was unique—it had arrived from Barcelona, Spain only a week ago, donated by the designer, Rosa Clara, and it was immaculate, having never been worn. (Dresses that have been soiled are cleaned by the Bridal Garden’s special dry cleaner for $250 – a bargain price.)

I asked Winona about her job; it would be so interesting to watch brides and their mothers choosing a gown. Each mother/daughter team must be a mini-drama as the dynamics of their relationship play out. It’s an emotional experience watching a daughter emerge from the dressing room for the first time dressed as a bride. No longer a child who needs her mother to advise and instruct her—she’s ready to walk down the aisle on her own in a dress of her own choosing.

Do the brides and their mothers often cry? I asked Winona, who had mentioned that she had a background in psychology and education. “Usually when we put the veil on it happens,” she nodded.

She added that most brides, when they find the dress that they love, get a particular expression of delight, a “bride face” when they see themselves reflected in the mirror. At this moment Eleni definitely was wearing her bride face.

Eleni twisted her blonde hair into an up-do and Winona brought out a simple veil and placed it on her head. Like all the other MOB’s, I felt my eyes fill with tears. Because Eleni had decided that she was going to buy it then and there, I got permission to take photos, while Vivienne checked the length and the fit. She told Eleni to bring it back to have it shortened and fitted, once she had the perfect shoes.

When we left carrying the dress, expertly packed and rolled, both Winona and Vivienne hugged and kissed Eleni. We rode the elevator down to the street in high elation. The whole transaction had taken less than an hour and a half, and now we were headed off to a favorite restaurant nearby, Le Singe Vert, to have lunch and raise a glass of wine to the bridal gown which had come all the way from Barcelona just in time to find its destiny as the One Perfect Dress for Eleni.

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