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I have stress dreams about the perfect white dress.
Not my wedding dress, because somehow finding that didn’t cause me too much angst. I knew that I wanted to get married wearing something with sleeves and an A-line skirt. I visited a few different salons and politely clashed with a few consultants who thought I’d enjoy mermaid-silhouette dresses or lots of bling (I did not). But I emerged from wedding dress shopping pretty unscathed and many months ahead of schedule, and I felt good about that for a while. Until I started to worry about the outfits for Everything Else and started to hoard white dresses in a panic.
My fiancé and I are getting married in New York this September, with a further celebration in India at the end of the year. We are lucky enough to have two big families and a bunch of friends excited to celebrate with us, so we ended up organizing a full schedule of American wedding-related events, from an engagement party to a rehearsal dinner to a morning-after-the-wedding brunch. And (with the exception of the Indian affairs because white clothing can signal mourning in some traditions) I am anxious about finding white, “bridal” outfits for all these events.
I think this obsession has something to do with the fact that most of the formal and semi-formal events I attend nowadays are other people’s weddings, where I obviously wouldn’t wear white. So my own wedding and related events seem like the best (and maybe only) time to delve deep into the world of white dresses and really go all out. I also am nervous about what would happen if I didn’t wear white — would it signal that I don’t really care about being a bride? That I’m not committed enough to the whole wedding thing?
Logically, this is patently ridiculous, not to mention a real first-world problem. No one is going to show up to any of these things and not be totally sure who the bride is. (At least, I hope not.) But there is something inherently performative about weddings and wedding-related events, and I’m nervous about living up to the part. It doesn’t help that I was never particularly confident wearing white before. It requires too much vigilance around food, and I ain’t got time for that.
Being a bride seems to involve being a hostess, an actress, and something still and pretty to look at all at once. Just take a look at any bridal magazine or Pinterest board or television show or Instagram post. In these weddings, curation is key — and how the couple looks is apparently central to how aesthetically enjoyable the whole event will be.
I chatted to a few of my married friends about this to see if they felt similar pressure. They didn’t. My friend Gabrielle, who got married back in 2014, told me she used her rehearsal dinner as an excuse to buy a pricey pink dress she’d been eyeing. “I didn't feel any pressure [to look a certain way], but I also am not the most conventional bride,” she said.
Sally, my fiancé’s sister who got married this past November, also didn’t subscribe to the idea that she needed to look bridal for all her peripheral wedding events.
“I wore yoga pants to my rehearsal ‘dinner’ because it was at a bowling alley and I didn't want to have to worry about accidentally mooning my future in-laws,” she says. “I did wear a white T-shirt that said ‘Sally gets snatched,’ courtesy of my bridesmaids. And I wore a black dress to my next-day brunch because it was both comfy and cute. My general fashion philosophy is comfort trumps style. My wedding dress was not comfortable (I couldn't raise my arms above my shoulders), and I was only willing to suffer for beauty on my actual wedding day. As soon as I got back to the hotel from the wedding, I changed out of my dress and went to the after-party in my gym clothes.”
Talking to other people about this basically made me feel like a neurotic mess, and history doesn’t back me up, either. For thousands of years, women just got married in whatever their best dress was, color be damned, and the idea of having a wedding weekend with multiple events is decidedly modern. Other elements of our wedding will be modern, too — I won’t be wearing a veil, the wedding ceremony is entirely secular, etc. But still, bridal white is important to me.
And the joke’s on me, because finding occasion-appropriate white dresses that actually look flattering has been a whole situation. Good luck successfully purchasing something white that falls anywhere between an eyelet lace sundress or a full-on wedding gown! When searching for a white cocktail dress to wear at our engagement party this past winter, I spent hours combing Revolve and Net-a-Porter for something that was not floor-length or made of velvet. Now that summer is arriving, it’s easier to find white dresses, but they are overwhelmingly beachy, bohemian, or covered in ruffles. I ordered some promising white pieces from Bloomingdale’s only to discover that they were totally see-through. At least two dresses I bought on the internet had bows on the back that I didn’t notice online. My internet browser shows me ads for “perfect bachelorette outfits” like white velour rompers. Yet I persevere, and I currently have absolute tunnel vision in that I only notice the white dresses in stores.
All throughout wedding planning, I’ve been telling myself that our wedding is a party, not a piece of performance art. I’m failing to truly convince myself of that. I’ve pushed back against some things that are too costume-y for my liking: For example, I didn’t ask my bridesmaids to all wear the same dress. I don’t want a photographer present while we’re having our hair and makeup done — something about it seems intrusive to me. The garter toss is out. But the fact remains that we’re inviting people to be present while we get married, and the entire thing will be photographed and videotaped. We have a part to play, and I think that extends beyond the wedding ceremony itself.
What I’m wearing is a very small issue in the grand scheme of things, but I remain obsessed with it. Getting married with our big, crazy community present is hugely important to my fiancé and me. And so is hosting other events for the people who will come to celebrate with us, whether they took an Uber 10 blocks downtown or flew in from Dubai, India, and Hong Kong. At those events, I feel distinct pressure to look and act like a bride, whether that pressure is just internal or not. And I hope to play the part just right.