AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 7/28/2004 12:22:00 PM ----- BODY:

Oh Make Me Over

The bridal shop is one of those places you pass by in your day-to-day business and never go into, the store next to the mall or the Starbucks or the ATM. The dresses in the windows are quickly assessed and dismissed, fading into the landscape with other places that don't apply to you. When it does apply to you, for any reason, it's a lump-in-the-throat feeling. Especially if you have to be the maid of honor. For a wedding in New Jersey. For your former roommate and close friend. When you've never even been in a wedding before, and can count the number of weddings you've been to on one hand, and when the number of weddings you've been to drops to one when you factor in whether or not you were serving as a church acolyte at the time, setting the door-bell tinkling in the bridal shop means an instant panic attack. This is the kind of place where you have to make an appointment to try on clothes. It's the closest a retail establishment can get to the gynecologist's office--not a man in sight, and every woman regarding her sisters with guarded sympathy, where all the employees speak to you in overly respectful, hushed tones. Seriously, I've been having nightmares about this ever since Heather told me she wanted me to be the maid of honor. I've had nightmares about showing up in jeans because I couldn't get the right dress. Nightmares about the flowers turning out to be skunk cabbages. Nightmares of champagne flutes being flung at my head. To say this place added to my anxiety is an understatement. In general, I tend to vehemently resist any concept that insists on reminding me that I am female, and informing me through subtle signals that I am an inadequate one at that. Slim-waisted girls were being fitted for their sweeping, Princess-Di dresses that would have to be financed like a car (and probably weigh as much, all told). The place was wall-to-wall taffeta and mirrors. An absolutely emaciated woman in front of me told her "consultant" she wore a size 2 or 4, depending on the brand of clothing. The woman, explaining to her as gently as possible that bridal sizes run small, led her to the eights. The skinny woman's face fell. She obediently followed the consultant, looking as if she had just been diagnosed with cancer. And then there I stood, for the woman sitting at the little white Empire table behind the floral-themed appointment book, next to the white Princess phone, to look up at and try to hide her dismay as she asked, "May I help you?": a shapeless blob in ratty khakis, saying, "Uh...I'm supposed to be trying on bridesmaids' separates?" It is given to some to be graceful ballerina types. This I know and accept, as well as the fact that I am not one of them. Most of the time I'm able to simply avoid having this drummed into my head. Not at the bridal shop. First of all, if any of those separates were actually the sizes written on the tag, I'll eat them, organza and all. Of course, I remembered what the skinny bride-to-be had been told, but the true misfortune here was that I was trying on the largest size they have available. I'd hit the ceiling of acceptable female dimensions. Never mind that the pants I'd discarded in a heap in the corner of a dressing room were two sizes smaller than the dress, and like many of my pants, slide down off my hips sometimes without warning. It's safe to say I was out of my element. Meanwhile, cruelty upon cruelty, the only mirrors were outside the dressing rooms; they formed a corridor of solid mirror all the way around the row of little cubicles, in fact, with handles sticking out every so often. In this funhouse arrangement, in order to see how badly the too-small dresses didn't fit, I needed to swing open the door with a conspicuous creak and stand in the middle of the store, where all the other women could observe how my cleavage leapt up to my chin, and how the dress pulled shiny and taut around the rest of my body, from every conceivable angle in those extensive mirrors. I only opened that door once, when I was squashed into the first item, a snazzy navy blue number. And when I did, I discovered something far worse than another woman staring at me--even another skinny woman. It was a pre-teen girl, standing blonde, fresh-faced, slant-eyed and haughtily magnificent in a miniature bridal gown, complete with train and satin opera gloves. Her grandmother was fussing over the veil. I'm not sure what the dress was for (I would imagine for First Communion), but it didn't matter. Having been a girl her age (and quite a beautiful one at that), I knew precisely what she was thinking as she narrowed her eyes at me, ugly old thing ruining her view of her own perfect reflection. I could feel her untempered scorn, and worse, I understood it completely. I shut the door again. Reduced to cowering behind a mirrored door by a ten-year-old girl in a tiny wedding dress. That's what the bridal shop did to me. Maybe that nightmare about showing up in jeans wasn't such a nightmare after all.