May 15, 2001
Fitting Room Blues


Over the weekend, a new indignity in the anything-but-dignified struggle to find My Perfect Wedding Dress.

The latest horror: the Communal Fitting Room.

Imagine that you are a 43-year-old woman of, shall we say, comfortable proportions. Not fat, exactly  --  at least not fat anymore, thanks to a combination of Schwinn and Slim Fast  --  but not exactly Flockhart-thin, either. You have curves where curves are supposed to be. You also have curves where curves aren't supposed to be. 

But you're working on it.

Imagine that you've been wedding-dress shopping since early morning  --  that you and your steadfast fiance have been on the road since 8 a.m., visiting every department store/shopping mall/bridal outlet between South San Francisco and Hayward  --  and that you are both ready to collapse from outright exhaustion  ...  except that something keeps pushing the two of you onward, telling you "Just one more store and then we'll quit."

Imagine that you walk into the Jessica McClintock Outlet Stadium, late in the afternoon, with absolutely zero hope of finding anything even remotely appropriate (and knowing that even if a miracle occurs and you DO manage to find something remotely appropriate, it must also be in your size/in stock/in your price range) ...

... and then imagine accidentally stumbling across the ONE dress, out of the thousands and thousands of dresses you've seen today (and in the weeks immediately preceding today) that looks like it might work.

It's not your Dream Dress, by any means.  But then again, after everything you've been through the past couple of weeks, you've sort of abandoned the whole Dream Dress notion anyway. What it is is a long, slim, vintage-style gown in someoranother delicate ivory-colored material, trimmed in lace and seed pearls, bearing a modest price tag and  --  miracle of miracles  --  tagged in *your* size.

Hallelujah. Sort of.

Imagine holding the dress up in front of you, as your fiance stands next to you carrying your purse, and wearily asking him "Do you like it? Would this be OK?" Imagine that he nods and says something singularly guy-like and unhelpful --  "That certainly looks like a wedding dress, alright"  --  which is as close to a ringing endorsement as you're going to get, you realize ... so you look around you, a little uncertainly, and you say the words you were beginning to think you'd never hear yourself say:

"I think I'll try it on."

Imagine that you head for the fitting room  --  once you've located the fitting room, that is, over on the far side of the football-field-size warehouse  --  feeling ever-so-slightly terrified. This is it. This is the first *real* wedding gown you'll actually try on. This is as close to success (or a cash register) as you've come, so far. Your heart is beating quadruple-time, and although you're afraid to dare hope, you're hoping anyway.

Let this be the one let this be the one.

Imagine that your fiance stoically positions himself outside the fitting room door,  still holding your purse, as you give him a nervous smile and enter the inner sanctum. 

With any luck you will momentarily be looking at yourself in a mirror, dressed in your wedding gown.

Imagine that the sullen fitting room attendant checks to see how many dresses you have draped over your arm -- One -- and that she hands you a little round plastic doohickey with a number stamped on it -- One -- and that when you ask her "Which way do I go?," meaning which curtained entrance do you use to enter the fitting rooms, she shrugs and says "It don't matter." So you hang a right and push through the curtain, expecting to see the usual rows of individual private fitting rooms ...

... and imagine, instead, that you suddenly find yourself in the middle of the tenth grade girls' gym locker.

Imagine standing there in shock, clutching your Size 14 wedding gown, in a cavernous room filled with mostly-adolescent Size 2's and 4's in various stages of dress and undress ... all of whom are unselfconsciously struggling in and out of prom gowns and bridesmaids gowns and wedding gowns, while their critical (and fully-clad) mothers stand nearby, barking out observations and orders. ("OFF the shoulder, Amber! It goes OFF the shoulder!")

There isn't an underwire or standard brief or pair of support pantyhose in the entire room.

Imagine your dawning horror when you realize that this is precisely what it looks like: a communal fitting room. No doors. No curtains. No privacy. Just a gigantic room filled with chattering, semi-nude young women ...

... and a wall of mirrors.

It's like suddenly finding yourself in a "Porky's" movie.

Imagine taking a deep breath, closing your eyes, clenching your jaw  ...  reminding yourself I am strong, I am confident, I am beautiful, David loves me just the way I am  ...  and, feigning a casualness and a self-confidence you do NOT actually feel, pulling your T-shirt off in front of everybody and standing there, in this room full of Wonder Bras, in your sturdy Lilyette underwire.

Imagine feeling the blush beginning at your toes and working its way inexorably upward to your hairline.

Imagine yanking the Size 14 wedding dress off the hanger and frantically stuffing it over your head, tugging it down right over your jeans (which, I'm sorry, you absolutely refuse to take off because you can't remember which underpants you're wearing), in hopes of covering yourself up quickly, thereby allowing minimal amounts of public exposure ...

... except that somehow the skirt part of the dress has managed to flip inside-out as you were pulling it over your head, and now it's stuck, so you've got to take the whole dress off and turn it right-side-out and then try it again ... 

... except that this time you've got the dress on backwards, and when you try to pull it off it gets stuck again, and now you're standing there in your bra and your Levi's with this enormous pile of flimsy ivory-colored fabric and lace on top of your head, like a lumpy oversized turban ...

... but imagine that eventually you manage to remove the dress again, and you make sure that it's right-side-out and facing in the right direction this time, and you oh-so-gently pull it over your head, one more time. You adjust the bodice  --  Does it feel a little snug?  --  and tug the skirt down over your Levi's, reaching behind you to zip it up ...

... except that it won't.

Zip, I mean.

The zipper moves about two inches up from your waistline and then it just stops. No way, Tubby, it says. I'm not budging another inch.

Jesus. Have you accidentally managed to pick up a Size 4, rather than a 14? Imagine frantically scrambling to find the price tag, dangling from one lacy sleeve, and verifying that this is, indeed, marked as a Size 14 ... except that it feels like you're trying to squeeze your fleshy, fortysomething self into your third-grade Brownie Girl Scout uniform.

Imagine turning around, at that precise moment, and catching your reflection in the mirror behind you. For a moment all you can see is yourself: a pale, exhausted, overweight forty-three-year-old woman, squeezed painfully into a dress that is clearly, in spite of what the tags say, a minimum of three sizes too small. That's bad enough. But then imagine you suddenly lock eyes with the seventeen year old Prom Queen standing next to you  --  she in her $500 baby-blue halter gown, looking all dewy and lovely and innocently slutty  --  and you see an expression of mingled horror and pity on her young face that says Ewwwwwwwwww. Shoot me if I ever grow up to look like THAT.

(Imagine resisting the urge to tell her that she has a zit the size of a Frisbee in the middle of her back. Let her Prom date be the one to discover it.)

Defeated and angry, imagine that you yank the stoopid too-small wedding dress off, one final time  ...  toss it unceremoniously onto the hanger  ...  and safely pull your T-shirt back on. Somehow you've managed to lose your little plastic doohickey -- "I've lost my little plastic doohickey," you report to the sullen fitting room attendant, who shrugs and says "It don't matter" -- and you flee the fitting room in disgrace.

"Let's go," you say to your fiance. He doesn't bother to ask you how it went.

Imagine that you're feeling pretty darned sorry for yourself by the time you get home. Imagine that you take your stack of bridal magazines and dress catalogs and dump them into the kitchen trash, and that you delete all of your bridal website bookmarks, and that you cry a little bit in the bathroom with the door closed ... and that you lay around on the bed a lot, feeling disappointed and sad and filled with self-pity.

Imagine that this disappointment and self-pity carries over to Monday, when you're sitting in your office trying to plug yourself back into your job ... making it difficult for you to concentrate on important stuff like voicemail and timesheets and Offset Barrier Type-Y Crossings With Signalized Crosswalk Indicators. You publicly attribute your sour mood to "the Mondays"  --  or to an abbreviated case of Monthly Hormonal Yuck  --  but deep down inside you know better. You're upset for a couple of reasons. One of them is because this whole search-for-a-wedding-dress thing has proven to be so much more complicated and more exasperating than you'd expected it to be. You've discovered that an entire segment of the population  --  the middle-aged/not-Flockhart-thin/second-time bride  --  is being more or less ignored by the bridalwear industry.

That pisses you off.

But the real reason you're upset  --  the thing that is eating at you today, more than anything else  --  is knowing that you're doing precisely what you swore you wouldn't do, when all the wedding-planning stuff began: You're losing sight of what's important. You're forgetting why you're getting married in the first place. You're allowing all of the emotional brouhahahahaha over the dress to take precedence over the marriage itself. You're forgetting that the reason you're going through all of this fuss and folderol is because you're marrying your best friend ... your dearest love ... your soulmate ... your life's companion. The guy who has selflessly and uncomplainingly stood by, holding your purse forcryingoutloud, while you've searched fruitlessly for your Dream Dress. The guy who didn't even bat an eye when you announced you were thinking of laying out eight hundred bucks for a dress you saw on the Internet ... or when you just as suddenly decided against it, two weeks later. The guy who held you back and prevented you from killing Ludmilla and Scary Bridal Shop Lady totally dead, right there in the middle of the Snooty Bridal Fashions For Everybody But *You* Boutique. The guy who has logged a bazillion miles on the Subaru, driving you to hell (or to the mall: same thing) and back.

The guy who probably wouldn't care if you wore a gunny sack and flip-flops to the wedding, as long as you are the person standing next to him when the minister says "Do you take this woman ... ?"

Imagine, then, that at some point in the middle of your morning, you finally decide Enough is enough.

Imagine that you wait until your lunch hour rolls around. Imagine that you switch your phone over to "Do Not Disturb" and lock your office door ... that you pick up your purse and park your sunglasses on your nose ... and that you walk ten sunny blocks to the Oakland Sears store, telling yourself that I am going to walk out of that fudking department store TODAY with a dress for my wedding. You don't care if it's long or short, beige or ivory, austere or froufrou-intensive ... insanely expensive or embarrassingly cheap ... as long as it fits, and as long as it's at least vaguely bridal-looking, and as long as the sales clerk rings it up and lets you walk out of the store with it on the spot.

And as long as the fitting rooms are PRIVATE.

one year ago: extra calories, please
two years ago: remembering the tree house

throw a rock