It was like being caught in an undertow of taffeta, sequins, and snarky sales-woman infested waters. Every ill-fitting strapless dress my mother, grandmother, and even mother of the groom threw at me, pushed me further and further under, as I held my breath, nodding and smiling at each shiny and overpriced gown suggested. Shopping for bridesmaid dresses is an inherently flawed process—not to mention shopping for bridesmaid dresses with a matrilineal train following your every step. The idea behind squeezing several (or in our case, fortunately, two) women into the same dress has always baffled me, and I feel it has remained an unspoken—and, in some cases, blatant—joke on the entire bridal industry. With upwards of 14 sizes between myself and the other bridesmaid, I figured the most difficult part would be finding a silhouette that we both felt confident in—the thought of pleasing the entire bridal party at the same time never really crossed my mind.
My sister selected her wedding gown with minimal objection. Years of guilty Say Yes to the Dress and Wedding SOS pleasures under my rhinestoned belt, I knew how important it was to take the back seat when it came to dress selection, Ohhhing and Awwing at every ruffle and lace-up bodice and puckered skirt. When she finally found one that she loved, my family followed suit, telling her what a beautiful choice she had made.
Weeks later, it was my turn. With the help of my fellow bridesmaid, I zipped up the back of the boat-neck cocktail dress. The sample I tried was clearly too big for me, a fact that I wished to exaggerate by putting on a pair of satin pumps that on my 7.5 feet, looked like they belonged to RuPaul circa 1992. As my sister (who had no strong opinion on what dress we wore) opened the door, I was hit with a wall of silent indifference, bordering on dissatisfaction; standing on a foot-tall pedestal, I never felt smaller. As the door closed, my mother’s question, “that’s the one she likes?” echoed in my sartorial lobe.
If hours of pillaging my closet before simply running down the street to get hot chocolate from that handsomely bearded barista had convinced me that it wasn’t myself who I dressed for, this experience taught me the contrary. Though my mother’s comment and the general lackluster response to the dress hurt, in the end, it didn’t alter my decision. If this was the dress I felt best in, this was the dress I would wear.
A friend once noted a defense mechanism I unknowingly reverted to when showing him a new garment I had purchased. Before giving him—or anyone, for that matter—the chance to state an opinion on whatever splendid trappings lay before them, I would blurt out, “Well, I like it”— simultaneously affirming my confidence in the garment’s beauty and shutting out potential naysayers. Though I didn’t verbalize this in the moment, the sentiment stands firmer than any starched crinoline or organza swatch. Like the old saying goes, “No one puts Baby in a corner.” And no one—not mothers, grandmothers, or saleswomen—puts Casie in a bridesmaid dress she doesn’t like.
text by Casie Brown