Recently my friend Alex told me she was engaged at brunch, casually, sometime after Mimosa number two.
"Well, we are actually getting married," she said, barely looking up from her (admittedly delicious) omelette. I was shocked and happy, but tried — with the most composure I could muster — to match her casual-cool vibe. In the last year, five of my best female friends from college have gotten engaged. Though I am thrilled for all of them and their partners, I must admit that being the only single person at group events, dinners, and — most prominently — trips has suddenly become strange for me as the engagements have started happening en masse.
When we travel in groups, the assumption is now that significant others are automatically invited, a stark contrast from years past. This leaves me lamenting how real economies of scale are on a more regular basis than I'd like to be. Now, I have to clarify, though I'm single on my tax forms, I'm currently seeing someone who I care very deeply about, but we are barely in the "couple's vacation" phase, much less the engagement phase. So, given this engagement flash point in my current life, Alex's low key engagement announcement was initially a welcome respite from the litany of instagrams and wedding invitations.
Alex explained that her inconspicuous engagement announcement was due to the fact that she didn't originally plan to have a wedding or get married, ever. In fact, she told me many times that her and her now fiancé both think that marriage seems unnecessary in today's modern world. However, she recounted,
"Then we fell in love, and we live in different countries, so marriage was the most practical option for us to stay together. We originally planned to simply go to City Hall for our marriage license, [but] when we envisioned a celebration of our love, and we couldn't help but think of Barbados, the beautiful place where [my fiancé] is from. So we decided to invite our friends and family for a wedding there."
When Alex told me about her wedding, she also mentioned that they were trying to make the wedding and reception as low-key and DIY as possible — both to reflect their personalities and limit expenses as they are paying for almost everything themselves. One night, while we were drinking wine and discussing the details of her wedding on my couch, we had discussed catering, flowers, tables — reclaimed rum barrels, very Barbados — and almost everything else before I brought up the dress.
Oh, I honestly haven't even thought about that yet," she said, once again, as laid-back as ever.
That was the moment that, despite all of my single millennial marriage ennui, I found myself inexplicably deciding that Alex needed to try on some wedding dresses. She was working hard to create a wedding from scratch — and wasn't even having bridesmaids who could help. Shouldn't she get to enjoy the same sentimental dress-fitting moments that other brides did? Even if they were usually, in my opinion, kind of contrived? (Note: To be fair, my experience with this, going into the process, was limited to Say Yes to the Dress and Instagrams).
I reached out to Justin Alexander from Justin Alexander Bridal, to see if we could come in for an impromptu wedding fitting. When I told Alex, she was predictably nonchalant. She told me she knew she wanted something simple that would work with hot weather, but other than that, she hadn't really thought about it. To entice her even further to the bridal show fitting, I told her that if she was uncomfortable, I would try on some dresses too. Something I never thought I would be doing in the next four to five years. We figured, even if it was a completely horrible experience, at least we'd be able to laugh about it, and Alex would know with certainty that she didn't want a traditional wedding dress.
When we got to the bridal show space on Saturday morning, we were immediately overwhelmed, and felt completely out of place. The whole floor was covered in racks and racks of shiny, beaded, fluffy wedding dresses, and models wandering around the stands wearing long veils and holding up the trains of their gowns. When we made it to the Justin Alexander section, we were greeted by Mandy Hjellming, (Marketing Manager) and Terri Hilferty (Creative Director). Within seconds of us walking up to them, we were off to the races. Terri, with a seasoned eye and a totally no-nonsense manner, immediately started peppering Alex with questions about her personal style. While Terri began to grab dresses from the racks based on Alex's responses, Mandy explained to me, "within our company we design five brands each targeted toward a different bride who seeks a specific style on her wedding day. I love this part of the business because it allows us to give every bride exactly what is searching for."
I nodded, sipping on my wine, still not fully convinced. Within minutes, we were in a back fitting room, and Alex was stripping down to try on her first dress. The chaos of the space was nowhere near the vibe of Say Yes to The Dress, but it felt refreshingly not precious in the very best way.
And then, it happened. Alex put on her first dress (a chiffon Lillian West A-line gown with an illusion V-neckline, lace appliqués on the sleeves, and a dropped waistline) and her face immediately changed. The dress was perfect.
Terri noted that it looked like Alex felt right in the dress, regardless of how it looked (but also, it looked amazing). I was beaming, and I started getting misty just looking at her, in a completely uncontrived and unplanned way. What the hell was happening to me? I looked at Alex, and she was twirling around and smiling ear-to-ear. What was happening to us?
But, because we couldn't just stop at one dress (that would be a very boring episode of Say Yes to the Dress), Terri pulled out a number of other dress options for Alex in different styles and looks. Terri explained, as she helped Alex climb into another dress, "my number one piece of advice for brides is to not over complicate the process. Focus on how you feel in the gown and you will never go wrong."
For the next hour, Alex and I sipped white wine and tried on wedding dresses. I even got in on the fun with a Justin Alexander Signature Gatsby-inspired sheath dress that was perfectly unconventional (and that I justified could work as just a normal dress as well as a wedding gown).
As we continued to parade around in different gowns, something became very clear; I was completely wrong about wedding dress fittings. We both felt even more ecstatic as the day went on, and seeing Alex, a close friend I've known since we were college freshman, wearing wedding gowns made me smile so hard my face hurt.
When the day was over, though Alex had loved many of the dresses she tried on, it was clear that the very first dress she put on was still the one. We left the space with Alex arranging to get the dress and get it fitted for her wedding. All and all, it was a pretty wonderful day.
I'm definitely not getting married any time soon (or maybe ever), but I have to say that I'm sold on wedding dresses. It may seem sappy, but the process was so wonderful, both for me as an observer and Alex as a bride.
Photo Credit: Maryanne Braine