When The Dress Fits

By Lisa P.

What girl doesn’t dream of her wedding and wedding dress? I had the first without the second; or rather, I was able to enjoy the second vicariously only (translation: unsatisfactorily). I have been married for 40 years, so I have had a lot of time to think about my dream dress since that wonderful day when I saw my bride shining brightly in her own wedding dress. I would go to weddings and focus my attention on the bride’s dress and consider what I liked and didn’t like about it.

About 20 years ago, as my wife was repacking her old wedding dress she agreed to let me try it on when I told her that I could comfortably wear 75% of her dresses. Don’t ever try that – it can be terribly deflating (or inflating, if you think about how much like a balloon you will feel). The armpits were too tight and my chest was too big. Let’s just say it was a non-starter and pointed out the difference between a fitted dress and a dress that stretches as well as the changes wrought by testosterone on the human teenager.

About a decade ago, I tried again and bought a dress on Ebay for $15 that was one size bigger than my size (on the label). Don’t ever try that either – dresses you buy on Ebay can be outdated, and inexpensively made and the label is unlikely true to side. Not only did I have to contend with an ugly dress, but it didn’t fit either. Since it was so little money, I tried my hand at pulling out the seams to see if I could make it more comfortable. After hours of work, this little seamstress had met her match; she had a pile of cheap fabric that she could put on, but looked terrible regardless. I put it away (I now plan to throw it away) for another day, hoping (as one tends to do in these situations) that one day it would be magically transformed into a beautiful dress that fit me perfectly. To help you visualize this “bridezilla” in the wrong dress, I have included a photo. I do, however, like the color contrast between the white dress and green hedgerow with red berry behind it! I also must admit that the detailing on the upper arm isn’t half bad, as you can see in the accompanying photo that isn’t so washed out.

Fast forward to our pandemic life, with many dreams put on hold.  Dreams that are on hold, however, are not forgotten.  After developing antibodies to COVID-19 (the hard way), I have allowed myself some freedom to go to stores, and that led me about a month ago to a resale shop that I like.  The shop is situated in a strip mall between a toney neighborhood with 5000 square foot homes and an urban “sprawl” avenue filled with apartments of 500 square feet.  It makes for an interesting dynamic for a charity shop, because the store gets donations from the rich and sells them at a deep discount, whereas the usual shop like it seems to get donations from the middle class.  

The unique characteristic of this resale store makes it my “go-to” shop if I am looking to buy a $5 Nine West skirt or blouse, or some Mizuno yoga pants for $3 (like the ones I am wearing as I write this).  Unlike most such shops, they also have their “couture” aisle, with designer clothes priced far below what you would normally pay for those items.  I always look there first.  You have to buy immediately, because most clothing in that section is there for only a day.  My eye on this particular day moved immediately to a long white dress.  I thought it was extremely unlikely that it would be my size, but I had to see.  The dress was not a wedding dress per se, but it was a dress that could be worn either as a wedding dress or as a formal dress in the summer.  Size 10 – close to my size.  I knew, however, that it was highly unlikely to fit (remember my prior two experiences described above) even if it wouldn’t have the tight armpit problem because it was a strapless style.  Also, it was priced at $100 (oh my!), which was the highest amount I have ever spent on a dress.  But, it still had its original tags and showed a price of $799, so it was a real bargain and I doubted it would last the day.  With COVID, you can’t try anything on at the store, but the return policy is liberal, so I bought it and took it home to try on.  Alas, as I feared there was no way to zip it up.  My chest circumference was a couple of inches too big, even without the normal padding I add to enhance my breasts.  Darn it, I thought, I am foiled again.

Then I had a thought:  what if the dress could be altered?  I scoured the internet and learned about wedding dresses that were converted to corset style closure in the back to give extra room.  But, I needed womanly advice and so I sought it from my daughter.  I hold her that I had bought an “absolutely amazing dress” that still had its original tags (although she doesn’t care about designer labels – for your benefit I will admit it was Vera Wang) that is ivory and clearly was intended to serve either as a wedding dress (it has a short train) or as a gown for a formal where a train would not be out of order.  I told her that I thought the bare shoulder look probably would work for me because sometimes it moves the eye downward (that’s my theory anyway) and doesn’t focus on my wide shoulders.  I asked her whether she thought it was worth the effort to try to find a seamstress who could try to let it out or replace the zipper with the corset-style closure, even though it might cost me $75 or so.  Her reply:  “I wish I knew more about dresses and hemming and all that stuff.  I have no idea, but why not try?  Nothing to lose right (other than $75…but I think it may be worth the happiness/joy from the dress fitting and looking awesome).”  That was all the encouragement I needed!  Aren’t daughters amazing (or better, to use her term, awesome)?!

I set off to find a seamstress who I could ask (I had to find someone new, as the tailor shop my wife and I go to would not do, as they don’t know Lisa).  I was shocked when she told me that I needed perhaps 3-1/2 inches, and I thought she would tell me the situation was hopeless. But, she also told me that these types of dresses often have extra material to allow alterations and that she would try.  Would I mind paying $25?  I happily answered yes, because otherwise I would have to return the dress and I might never find something so lovely again.

I had to be patient to get the dress done, but when I went back, I must admit that I was absolutely floored by the results.  I asked the seamstress to take some photos of me in the dress, which she was only too pleased to do, and I was pleased with the results.  I won’t say that the dress “fit like a glove” but it felt comfortable and it made me feel like a princess.  Overall, getting the dress tailored was an absolutely fabulous experience.  It helps that my daughter (when she saw these photos) said, “wow, it is gorgeous and you look gorgeous in it!  Love it!!”  How’s that for a comment to make one’s day?

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“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Mary Pickford (actress)(1892-1979)

In my view, like Mary we exemplify the type of women who refuse to stay down!

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