Friday, July 9, 2004

Unmarried but in love with a wedding dress



Maggie Downs

The traditional dash was like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

The animals stormed out of their corrals. They trampled barricades. And they posed danger for participants, with some causing bruises and minor head injuries.

But shopping for wedding dresses with a bunch of girls smelled a lot better than any stinkin' bulls. And there was a light salad lunch afterward.

Our venture into the great white yonder took place over several days recently and consisted of endless bouts with sales racks, impossibly bony lingerie and sprawling hoop skirty things. There was a lot of laughter and some tears. And then there was the fighting - with buckles, corsets, hooks and other customers.

It's all part of the bridal experience, I guess.

But the thing that makes my friends different from other brides is that they're not. Brides, that is.

No, my friends simply like to shop for dresses, even though they're not getting married.

My friend, G, even purchased a wedding dress through eBay. Two dresses, actually - one for her nonexistent ceremony, the other for her imaginary reception. And she has bids on a few more.

This kind of practice is discouraged, said the wedding consultants from places like Classic Bride and Bridal & Formal, both in Reading's bridal district. Otherwise every girl would be parading through the place to try on expensive samples from famous designers Lazaro, Demetrios and Vera Wang. Particularly coveted for try-ons is the decadent Jessica Simpson gown, a saleslady at Bridal & Formal told me.

Plus, they don't want styles to change before the bride-to-be-someday actually gets hitched. Though I think this is only a problem with bell-bottomed gowns.

I know we're not the only women our age doing this. I've been to other people's houses and have seen the stash - Bridal Guide, Modern Bride, Bride's - haphazardly tucked away like nuptial porn.

"It's a guilty pleasure," said the decidedly single Becky Peters, 24, of Fort Mitchell, who buys the bridal bibles every spring. "The dresses are pretty. It's kind of like when I used to pretend to be a princess when I was little."

My friends think there's a deeper reason some single gals delight in shopping for wedding gowns, even without the promise of a walk down the aisle.

"It's a rite of passage," said K, who pointed out that other girls had bat mitzvahs or quinceaneras. "This is our big step into adulthood for my culture. But I'm about to be 30, and I still haven't had that. I want a special day, too."

Still, she worries that trying out gowns looks a little weird to other people.

"Somehow it was fun to dream about and talk about getting married when you're a little kid," she said. "But when you're almost 30, it takes on tones of desperation."

For one of my other friends, there will be no groom waiting at the altar. She's a lesbian. Particularly with the U.S. Senate poised to take up the Federal Marriage Amendment next week, which would define marriage as "only ... the union of a man and a woman," she doesn't think a ceremony will be anywhere in her near future.

"We're socialized to grow up and get the big puffy white dress and the big ring and the big house. Only that isn't likely to happen to me," she said. "Well, maybe the house."

For me, the appeal of futile dress shopping is simple. Even though we're all sassy, independent, fabulously single women, we can still get all the pretty with none of the pain. We get poufs of chiffon, elaborate beading and whispers of silk without agonizing over canapes and seating charts. We get a moment of perfection in the mirror minus the labor of hand-writing thank-you cards. We get our own version of a wedding with no bull.

Even if it does scare our partners like Pamplona never could.

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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