I’m renting a wedding dress.
"So have you chosen a dress?" This question came from all directions, seemingly moments after the engagement was announced. Yet I didn’t try on a single wedding dress for nearly 3 months after the proposal, and when I did, it was not the experience I’d expected.
I had perused various tacky wedding websites of shops all around the Ostrava and Prague regions. Many of them seemed like white prom dresses, mostly in princess styles. I’d almost resolved that I could only find a suitable dress in Prague, but as walking through the town square, I noticed some bridal shops, whose websites had escaped me. I decided to at least try the largest: svatební salon Angelika. My dear friend (and maid of honour) Jana booked an appointment for us, and my trusted and kind friend (and roommate) Verča agreed to join us as well.
Heeding Verča‘s advice, I made sure to sleep well the night before and to make myself presentable in order to feel well. Jana and I even met for a coffee (plus delicious Belgian chocolate upon chocolate cake) at a favourite café before walking through the sunlight to the salon. When we arrived, instead of a proper greeting, we were directed to an overly floral couch and I was asked the wedding date. Then we were directed to page through the mass of huge albums full of laminated photos of wedding dresses and name the models we liked. Not wanting to spend an hour flipping through pages, my roomie mentioned the line that I liked, and we were soon directed to the appropriate album. As I started listing off models, the woman finally asked for my budget. I mentioned it, and she said they were out of my budget for purchase, and I then asked about renting prices. So saying, I decided to abandon my culturally given idea that wedding dresses must be purchased, and I decided to go the Czech route of renting.
After listing a few more models, she mentioned that every dress would cost me 40 CZK (about $2) to try on—not exactly a pampering experience. With that cheery remark, I decided I was ready at least to try on the dresses that first had caught my fancy. Jana and Verča remained on the couch, and I went to the large curtained area. Instructed to strip down, I was soon brought a slip. Soon the curtain parted just enough to see someone’s arms coming through a wedding dress. I slid into it, they buttoned, zipped, tugged, etc. until the dress was on, and then the curtain was flung open for my friends’ feedback—and the workers immediately demanded my opinion.
Perhaps I should pause to say that I was using plenty of English during these interactions and directed my comments to the familiar kind faces of my friends. Yes, I speak Czech, but I don’t have the vocabulary to talk about bodices and waistlines and the cuts of dresses.
Some opinion was given, and I can’t even recall what that first dress looked like, because soon followed a series of: curtain closed, dress overhead, zip, curtain opened, opinion, curtain closed, dress overhead, button, curtain opened. The cycles must have been less than 3 minutes. Despite the many dresses as I had looked at online, I hadn’t yet seen how any of them went on my figure, and I’m a slow decision maker so the rush, the playing of “Sex Bomb” overhead, and the lack of smiles unsettled me (not to mention the army of headless manikin brides looking on). I started to feel frustrated and a bit lost. They never said, “okay, here’s the model Miri . . . next we’ll try Marie,” so I had no reference of which dresses I did or didn’t like. I just knew that the white ones were washing me out.
I came out and looked at some more dresses in the catalogues, and asked about a bathroom, to which she said that they didn’t have one. (I’d highly recommend every prospective bride to shop for dresses with a full bladder—it’s both comfortable and flattering.) When Jana asked if I could just run to another shop to use the bathroom before continuing, the woman replied that they had another appointment soon.
I tried on a couple more dresses, feeling more and more rushed. There was even one that I quite liked, but before I could really comprehend what I was wearing, they unzipped it and took it off. As I saw another dress coming at me, I asked if I could have a couple minutes, to which she repeated that there was another bride waiting. So then I asked for at least a single minute, pulled the curtain closed, and started crying against the mirror. I pulled my own dress back over my head and went to cry in Jana’s arms. And this was a transformative moment. She and Verča were all kindness. No matter the attitude or approach of the women in the shop (who were maybe stressed or tired or new employees or just following the cultural norm), they wouldn’t be at the wedding—whereas, Jana and Verča and the dress would be. Once I was sure that the dresses were safe from running mascara, I went back to my curtained cavern.
Not only has our present culture and society—both in the US and in Europe—distorted views of marriage and given unrealistic and unhealthy expectations, but also weddings are blown out of proportion (here mostly referring to the USA). Reality TV shows devoted to finding wedding dresses, Youtube tributes to incredible proposals, and perfection spread all over Pinterest can set some lofty expectations, no matter the budget. These expectations build huge amounts of potential disappointment.
I could have chosen to leave the shop and go to Poland or Prague to find a dress, but I didn’t want to be that proud or selfish. It was important to me to respect the time of everyone else connected. Originally, I’d hoped to have all of this sorted within the month of April. I knew I couldn’t choose bridesmaid dresses or make other aesthetic decisions until I had chosen my own dress. I knew that if I didn’t choose a dress that day I might end up travelling to find something, and I didn’t want to burden anyone with travelling there with me, let alone finding time to do it with a wedding less than three months away.
So I wiped the tears away and tried on more dresses, including some from earlier, and finally there was a dress that I didn’t want to take off and made me cry. Having chosen through salty tears, I asked about photos for my far-away sisters and for my own reference. Of course, the whole time I’d seen their sign forbidding photos (very helpful of course in remembering which of x many dresses you liked and why), but since I’d chosen the dress, I figured it’d be okay. And the woman said it was, once I paid half the price, signed a contract, and gave over my identity card. Was I to do that all still wearing the dress?
A second woman came and allowed the photos, and my smile was luckily only slightly dimmed. Once out of the dress and into my normal clothes, I gave over my identity card and was ready to pay for the deposit, when she asked for cash. This was the point where I finally said something to the effect of, “you’re selling such expensive things and you don’t accept cards?” Were I to actually buy the dress (as opposed to renting), it would be about $2500. Forgive me, but I didn’t have it in cash. So Jana stayed behind while I went with Verča to an ATM, where I remembered that I’d set up a limit for myself of how much I could withdraw in a single transaction. Nevertheless, we solved it, went back, and made the reservation official. I signed the contract—though not in in blood, but maybe I should have since they did say that my biometric card wasn’t sufficient, and I’ll have to bring my passport (and shoes) to the pre-wedding fitting. Maybe I’ll take a shot stronger than one of espresso to that fitting. And then use the bathroom.
Despite the inconveniences mixed in, they dropped away as I walked out of the shop with Jana and Verča at my side and the knowledge that I wouldn't be naked on my wedding day.