More than a Wedding Dress
The conversation went the same as most of ours do: One of us came at it logically and the other was stuck in pure emotion. It was a warm, May evening, and my fiancé Matt and I were discussing whether we should postpone our wedding set for August, 23 2020.
I’d seen the writing on the wall for months, ever since stay-at-home orders were issued throughout much of the country. A 250-person wedding was no longer a celebration – it was a public health nightmare. While Matt accepted the inevitability of a postponement shortly after the first non-essential businesses shut their doors in California, I wasn’t quite ready to concede.
In the midst of this discussion, when one of us (you can probably guess who) ended up in tears, I blurted out, “There is a gorgeous wedding dress in a bridal shop a few miles away with my name on it, and it will have to sit there all alone for another year.”
That material detail may seem trivial, but as tears trickled down my face and my breath started coming out in whimpers, all I could picture was my white gown, hanging on a quilted, cushiony hanger in a closet in The Bridal Salon of Saks Fifth Avenue, wrapped in plastic to protect its elegant, silk damask fabric. Although it was likely stuffed in between hundreds of other gowns, in that moment, it felt like an isolated museum artifact representing a lost time.
I said yes to that dress long before the phrase “social distancing” was inserted into our daily nomenclature. It was a warm and sunny October day when my Aunt Janet and our family friend Tanner joined me in the plush Saks’ Bridal Salon – a whole floor in the Men’s Store dedicated to flowing white fabrics, designer brands, and joyful tears. I always admired Janet and Tanner’s fashion sense and they were being very helpful with all of the planning – Tanner even agreed to be the officiant for our wedding – so when they offered to come out and assist me in finding a dress, I gladly accepted the help. Five bridal shops and thirty dresses later, the right one had finally revealed itself. I had that giddy, “when you know, you know” moment when I slipped it on. I looked into the mirror at the dress, at me in it. I felt sure the designer made it just for me, to show off my long neck, to hide my less than desirable tummy pooch. The luminous fabric brought my pale ivory skin to life. It glimmered, flashing shades of pink and silver, as I slowly shook my hips back and forth. I imagined myself walking down the aisle, my eyes locked on Matt, everyone else’s eyes on me in this perfect gown. This was it. This was the dress I was meant to wear when I married my best friend; my always logical and caring person who seamlessly became the love of my life. I’d dreamt of finding him for a long time, but I may have dreamt of that dress for just a moment or two longer.
When I found the dress, my eyes welled with joy. I squealed and did a little happy dance, pumping my fists from side to side and jumping up and down. I hugged Janet and Tanner, a viral exposure risk by today’s standards. Then I embraced Thereza, the warmhearted saleswoman who helped me find my size, wiggle my body into it and zip me up.
I took my mom to see it a week later. She’d been with me the first few times we’d looked at dresses but couldn’t make the trip with Janet and Tanner. I traipsed around the store in the dress, accessorized with a pair of borrowed beige heels and a trailing, silk-lined veil. My mom’s eyes smiled big, her mouth opened wide. She only wore this expression when she was genuinely surprised or in awe of something.
“That dress was made for you,” she finally said after my third lap around the dressing room. I felt like a little girl again as I looked at her. My mom didn’t cry, but I knew from the look on her face that this moment was as big for her as it was for me. We’d both been talking about it for most of my life, exchanging opinions on the style of gowns we liked. Talking about my wedding was common conversation for us, long before I even had my first serious boyfriend. We’re both planners and we tend to put family above everything else, so anticipating a day of celebration with our community was one of our favorite pastimes. Before I even met Matt, my mom and I had my bridesmaids picked out. But the situation was no longer hypothetical, and the dress I was wearing was the proof. After so many years of talking about the big day, it was finally becoming a reality, and this dress was a necessary ingredient to making the day as special as we’d imagined. We placed the order.
Five months later, I received a call that my version of the dress, fit to my exact measurements, was in. My mom, future mother-in-law, and Janet and Tanner were scheduled to come to Los Angeles the following week to accompany me to my first fitting. As with most decisions for the wedding, this event was a family affair.
Then, on March 19, Governor Gavin Newsom made the necessary, but unfortunate decision to issue a statewide Stay-At-Home order, closing all non-essential businesses in California, including department stores. The world’s fifth largest economy shut down in days. My dress became a non-essential item, a luxury that couldn’t be afforded in our new normal.
As the number of coronavirus cases increased steadily, I told myself that thinking about my nuptials was selfish. People were dying, and I was essentially concerned about a party? But I did think about it constantly. I worried we would have to postpone, that everything I’d dreamt of was ruined. Then I guilted myself for worrying, which pushed me into a cycle of self pity and self loathing for months. I couldn’t win, no matter how I looked at it.
When my nearly always pragmatic fiancé suggested rescheduling on that warm May evening a couple of months into the pandemic, I wasn’t sad about us. I had no doubt he and I would eventually marry. I said “forever” to this man when we moved into our first place together. I said it again when we adopted our first puppy, then our second. Five years of friendship, plus an additional six years of a committed relationship later, we were the closest to marriage a couple can be without the wedding bands and a signed contract. But what saddened me about a postponement was losing the opportunity to celebrate our nuptials with all of the people we love. After Matt’s proposal, when we sat down to plan our wedding, we agreed the most important part of the day was everyone else. Because our relationship wasn’t just about the two of us, we wanted our big day to be a “thank you” to those who were there as our life together blossomed. We wanted to show our gratitude to our solid, loving community of friends and family who brought us to where we are today.
Our discussion that evening ended as it needed to. We decided to postpone the wedding and began to contact family and friends to let them know our decision. Everyone we talked to agreed it was the right call, even though it was a disappointing one to make. I kept to my same mantra, that this wasn’t as big of a deal. That we should just be happy we were safe and healthy. But the more loved ones I spoke with, the more I came to realize this was an extreme disappointment. We won’t get to see the people we love this month. We won’t weave together a beautiful fabric of everyone we care for on our intended wedding day. There will be no hugs, laughter and tears shared. Instead, we sit alone in our homes, waiting until it’s safe to come out, just like my wedding dress. That amalgamation of fabric is the clearest symbol I have of a beautiful wedding day; it’s a perfect fit and a clear reflection of how our friends and family blend into our lives. But the dress is stuck in a closet, alone, unable to be worn. And I can be sad about that. I can grieve the loss of my wedding day, even if there are much more serious losses in this country that need to be mourned as well.
Our wedding is tentatively rescheduled for August 2021. We can’t know for sure, however, when we’ll tie the knot and get to see all of the people we care so deeply about. All we can do is wait.
We don’t wait in a silo, however. Hundreds of thousands of brides and grooms across the world are dealing with similar disappointments, with plans that will not come to fruition. We’re stuck in a limbo, not sure when our special days will happen, if ever. No, this does not equal the loss of a life or compare to more serious tragedies, but that doesn’t mean on-hold brides and grooms can’t mourn their missed chance. That we can’t feel frustrated for the overwhelming uncertainty this virus has brought to a celebratory day we’ve been looking forward to for months, even years.
Behind a beautiful wedding dress sits a $300 billion wedding industry worldwide. Due to the coronavirus, it’s estimated that downsizing, postponements and cancellations will cost wedding and event businesses more than $670 million in 2019 and 2020. Many dress designers, salespeople, and the seamstresses who create the gowns, along with florists, bakers, caterers, and photographers who orchestrate and memorialize the event, are struggling to make ends meet, as thousands of gorgeous wedding dresses, pristinely made for thousands of beautiful women, hang in closets, and in the balance.
When I finally get to go to my first wedding dress fitting, I’ll likely be alone and wearing a mask, no family nearby. But eventually, I will wear it in front of each and every person Matt and I love. I’ll wear it as we read our vows, kiss, and dance for the first time as a married couple.
Ultimately, it’s just a dress – pieces of impeccable fabric stitched together in the most lovely and strategic of ways. The dress can’t cure illness. It can’t fill the grocery store shelves with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It can’t even rescue our 2020 wedding date. But it can act as a reminder. The dress reminds us that the little things really make all the difference. It reminds us that loving one another is the most important thing we can do. And it reminds us we should never stop hoping for a happy ending.
Barbara Platts is an award-winning columnist and the online editor for Sweet Jane Magazine. She’s worked in many forms of journalism, from public radio to newspaper, and is thrilled to be pursuing her MFA for nonfiction writing at Antioch University. She works for Lunch Ticket on the interview, blog, and creative nonfiction teams. She lives in Los Angeles with her fiancé and two adorable pups. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @BarbaraPlatts.