The Story of the Wedding Dress

On May 5th, 1996, Dan asked me to marry him, after a month of concentrated discussion about the pros and cons of marriage. Knowing full well how much I hated most of the wedding dresses currently on the market, and also knowing that I had almost committed to buy (on spec) a Laura Ashley™ dress, just on the off chance that I would someday get married, I ran right out and started looking.

Well, okay, maybe I waited a week or so, until my sister got into town from San Francisco. Anyway, there I am – newly engaged, and ready to start looking for the dress. Amy and I headed straight for the nearest Laura Ashley store.

After two circuits through the store, I had to ask the sales rep if there was another store I should be looking in, because there were no wedding dresses in stock, and the remaining dresses were not what I wanted for my bridesmaids. That’s when I found out Laura Ashley no longer made wedding dresses. Rot.

The next day, we were in Ellicott City, at the only wedding shop in town (the name escapes me, but I can’t recommend going in there). Having already determined that it wasn’t going to be a Laura Ashley dress, I started looking for alternatives.

We went in, and after quite a wait, finally got some attention from the shop owner, who (once she found out the wedding wouldn’t be till the following September) refused to take me seriously. Big mistake. I had been in the shop once previously, but this time I actually tried on a few of the dresses she had in stock, from Country Elegance.

Close but no cigar. Then she pulled out a Jessica McClintock – this was more like it, though not exactly what I had in mind. The catch?

“I won’t order it without a deposit, the deposit is not refundable, no not even if they don’t have your size in stock.”

We left without turning back. Then, not quite ready to give up, we headed further south to the nearest Jessica McClintock store, to see if we could get that dress, or if there was anything on the rack with no train, in the right kind of style. While we found a few that were ok, they weren’t “right,” and with so much money at stake, we gave up.

We went to my High School reunion the end of that month, where I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in 16 years – time flies when you’re having a life. Anyway, it turns out Eric had an Antiques business, which he was about to kill off. He told me that in his stock somewhere was a box full of lace, and he wanted to know if I thought I could use it.

I’m never one for turning a blind eye to sewing gifts, so I said “sure,” figuring that this would be trim for something later on, or at the very worst, trim for the dress I was going to have to make on my own.

We left Rochester and headed home, and I kind of forgot about the offer. I pursued a couple of other avenues trying to find the right dress, and tried on nearlies and almosts for months to follow.

Then, around mid July, I received a box in the mail from Eric. Lace. Vintage lace, circa 1928 – 1932. As promised. In dress-goods lengths and widths.

“Cool!”

I started designing the dress I would make for the wedding after Costume-Con Fifteen was over. Even found a picture of the dress at a convention the beginning of November. Late 20’s. Exactly right for the vintage lace.

December rolls around, and it’s the Friday before our annual Home for the Holidays party. The house was a disaster, and I didn’t feel like going into work – in fact, I wasn’t feeling all that well earlier in the week, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to have a doctor’s appointment.

I scheduled it for 2:30, and called in sick for the day. After a morning spent cleaning, and the appointment (which was over by 3:30), I was ready to head home.

But wait! We had a party to go to that night, and presents to buy (or at least birthday cards) for four friends. I figured that I’d go to the discount paper place and at least pick up something for the party. I almost drove past the consignment shop, by the name of RePeats, then barely missed being rear-ended by a big, white pick-up truck as I decided at the last minute to turn right and dodge in.

“Maybe I’ll find something inexpensive for presents in here.” I swear that’s what I was thinking. After months of discouraging leaps into bridal shops, I was finally happy about making the dress, and even had Dan’s (grudging) blessing.

So what was I doing over at the fancy dress rack? I don’t know why I looked. I was so positive that there wouldn’t be anything for me, and I was almost right.

White, size 12, tons of glitz. No.

Ivory, short to the knees in front, size 6. No.

Ivory cotton damask, no train, no glitz. What size? 14. LAURA ASHLEY!

(Note, for those of you who haven’t experienced this: As an English clothing manufacturer, the sizes on the labels are more body accurate than any American wedding dress manufacturer would admit to. And the dresses are all sized somewhat shorter, which meant I had a chance to fit into it, without a lot of alterations.)

“Ok, now,” I said, “this could still go horribly wrong. You could hate the dress when it’s on.”

“What’ll it hurt, to try?”

I got into the dress, and stepped out of the changing room, eyes closed. Turned around to the mirror, and opened my eyes. “It’s my dress. I think.”

I called my friend, Laurie, and convinced her to bring her 18 month old down to the store, to see if I was crazy. It’s now 4pm or thereabouts. I kick around the store for 40 minutes, and even try on a few more things, but not before bouncing off the wall at the sales clerks (one of whom turned out to be the owner of the shop).

“You have no idea how long I’ve been looking. And it’s a Laura Ashley!”

Laurie finally arrives, and I get back into the dress again, with some help from Miranda. We step out, and I look again, but not before I notice that there are no stains on this dress anywhere. Clean as a whistle. We both agree that this is the dress.

I gladly hand over the deposit, promising to return in a week with the remainder, as soon as I get paid. While we’re going through the paperwork, I ask about the history of the dress. I find out that this is the second time it’s been on the floor – was already on layaway once, but the person who wanted it never picked it up, and that was back in August (I think).

We finally finish all the paperwork, and I go back over to the fancy dress rack to show Laurie a dress I thought she might be interested in, and while we’re talking, another of the sales clerks comes over and says, “You were asking about the history behind the dress? This is the former owner.” Laurie and I look at each other, and I start grilling the woman.

Seems she and her former fiancé were engaged, and she had wanted a Laura Ashley dress, but was told that the dress had been discontinued (it was never clear to me if this meant that they weren’t making them at all anymore, or if it was just this particular dress).

She proceeded to search throughout Maryland, D.C. and Virginia looking for the dress. (Sound familiar?) She finally located it in the attic of a New York bridal salon, in a box. She got it home and then, for reasons she didn’t share, they called off the wedding.

I told her that I promised the dress would be worn, and thanked her over and over for giving me the opportunity to have the dress myself. She left and so did we.

A week later, paycheck in hand, I paid the balance on the dress, and took it home, but not before asking the clerk about the “chance” meeting. He told me that she had called earlier in the week because the time on the dress had expired (?) and he told her to give it a few more days (?!).

Answer: She was there to pick it up because it hadn’t sold.(!?!)

Months go by, and it’s after Costume-Con, and I can start to rebuild my social life. We go over to have dinner with friends Doug and Lisa. First thing out of Lisa’s mouth? “You and I have the same taste in wedding dresses.”

???

Turns out she’s the one who had the dress on hold – if her sister had chosen differently, I would have had a different dress!

I guess it’s just the luck of the Irish (or something).

Thus endeth the Story of the Wedding Dress

Betsy R. Delaney, June, 1997