Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
When Emily Parker opened the invitation for her co-worker Tiffani’s rustic barn wedding, she burst into tears. "It’s not that I wasn’t happy for her…" she says, looking back. "I just didn’t think I could do it again."
For the past two years, Emily has been trapped in what can only be described as a "motherf*cking wedding tsunami," attending as many as three rustic barn weddings per month for friends, family, and acquaintances.
Emily’s bank account was drained, but her closet was in even worse condition: Every last one of her stylish, tasteful, not-white dresses that looked good with wedges had, tragically, already been Instagrammed.
With one exception.
Like most bridesmaids’ dresses, Emily’s fit reasonably well, and indicated to other wedding guests that she would be a good person to ask where the bathroom was.
Last summer, Emily was maid of honor at her sister’s rustic barn wedding. There were seven bridesmaids including Emily, each one assigned a frothy silk chiffon gown in a different shade of blue. Like most bridesmaids’ dresses, Emily’s fit reasonably well, and indicated to other wedding guests that she would be a good person to ask where the bathroom was.
"It’s not that the dress is ugly, it’s just long and boring," said Emily diplomatically while browsing her sister’s wedding photos on Facebook. She’s right: Even mix-and-match necklines couldn’t save this group of women from looking like a smiley handful of luxury tampons.
The hollow refrain of "You’ll wear it again!" has broken even the sanest bridesmaid, brainwashing her to overpay for a dress she normally wouldn’t be caught dead in. Most women keep old bridesmaids dresses sealed in their closets forever, like The Babadook, because to wear it again it is to publicly admit their own folly.
Some women take a more superstitious tack, and with good reason: In ancient times, bridal attendants wore identical gowns to distract evil spirits from harming the bride; a bridesmaids’ dress is the sartorial equivalent of screaming "DRAG ME TO HELL, INSTEAD!!!!" Willingly re-wearing one is just asking for it.
It’s no secret that women hold themselves to starlet standards when it comes to dressing for formal events, but it’s not frivolity, it’s self-preservation. Just imagine the public outcry if Jennifer Lawrence re-wore a Golden Globes gown to the Oscars. We would assume she was feral, or worse, "making a statement."
"I had to have a different look every time," insists Emily. "But I knew, deep down, that if I hemmed the dress, it could be different enough for Tiffani’s wedding."
"I knew, deep down, that if I hemmed the dress, it could be different enough for Tiffani’s wedding."
There is an unwritten covenant between modern couples and their dearly beloved: In exchange for passed hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, guests are expected to flood social media platforms with adulatory wedding content. This widely accepted practice ensures that anyone not asked to attend will feel like a big, fat, stinky loser. If an Uninvited were able to trace Emily’s dress to its source, it could boost their confidence, and the power dynamic could completely unravel.
This thought plagued Emily, and she considered skipping Tiffani’s wedding altogether, but after a particularly inspiring SoulCycle class, she decided to move forward with alterations.
Emily’s best friend, Anne, remembers getting the call: "She told me she was going to wear the dress again, and I just thought, ‘Why would you throw away your life like this?’" Anne coughed. "Excuse me, I meant likes, not life." Other friends distanced themselves from Emily, removing her from several group texts and cancelling plans.
"They didn’t know who I was anymore," said Emily. "I understood, though. I barely knew myself."
In need of a seamstress, Emily called her mom, who’s always been handy with a sewing machine. "I just… I just want to take it up a few inches," Emily stammered, feeling her mouth go dry. "Maybe tea length?" Emily remembers hearing her mother mumble "that’s just not how we do things" before hanging up.
The stress began to compromise Emily’s health. Her life coach diagnosed her with acute FOBSATTS (Fear Of Being Screenshotted and Texted To Strangers).
The stress began to compromise Emily’s health. Her life coach diagnosed her with acute FOBSATTS (Fear Of Being Screenshotted and Texted To Strangers). She also started sleepwalking. She’d go to bed normally, then wake up and find herself on the kitchen floor, scrolling on ASOS and pounding a bag of Pirate’s Booty. "Even my subconscious wanted me to find another option," said Emily.
Still, Emily kept going. After weeks of trying, she found a tailor on Craigslist who would do the work for her, but only at night, and only for cash. When it was finished, she picked the dress up in an unmarked bag, hidden behind a trash can inside the Jamba Juice at Port Authority.
Finally, Tiffani’s wedding day arrived, and Emily made her way to yet another rustic barn. She looked beautiful, almost like she was wearing a normal dress. She posted an Instagram of herself. Haters and friends alike double-tapped their approval. "I don’t think I’m a hero," Emily blushes, "but if my story has made someone else even a little bit braver, that’s cool." Her favorite dress memory? When a fellow guest grabbed her arm and cooed, "Omigod, I love your dress! Where did you get it?"
"Oh, it’s... vintage," Emily replied, with a coy smile.
"Amazing," said her admirer. "Also, do you know where the bathroom is?"