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All Dressed Up

By Kirsten Valle

Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 06, 2009

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

Read more "Getting to 'I do.'"

With some solid plans under way and deposit checks safely holding my venues, I was ready to begin The Search for The Dress.

Id accompanied friends on the search before my roommate, for instance, who was a few steps ahead of me in the wedding-planning process, and another close friend, who got married two years ago. Im not sure I was much help, though, shuffling along with mothers and maids of honor, feeling mostly in the way as the very patient bridal consultants juggled armfuls of silk and lace.

I felt fairly confident in my taste, doling out thumbs-ups and thumbs-downs as my friends studied their choices in the mirror. But I was nervous about my own search, mainly because I didnt know exactly what to look for.

The quest began that first day of wedding planning, when I took off work and drove around town with my mom, trying to get the ball rolling. We made a late-afternoon appointment at a bridal shop in Dilworth and an early-evening appointment at another in SouthPark.

At the first, the woman behind the counter handed us a stack of paper tags and instructed us to browse the store, marking everything we liked. I knew I wanted something beautiful and flattering (obviously) and something that was a little different stylish but not trendy, classic yet modern. I was pleasantly surprised that, although Id selected a dozen or more dresses I liked, they were all somewhat similar: close-fitting and soft, not too heavy or dramatic. Even more surprising was that I loved the very first dress I stepped into. I twirled in front of the three-way mirror, feeling very bridal, before retreating to the fitting room. It was too early, I told myself, to love anything.

An hour or so later, Id narrowed the pile down to three or four favorites. The saleswoman made little notes about each on the back of a business card, handed it to me, and we were off to the next appointment.

There, the associate asked us specific questions about our price range, the look we were going for and what wed tried so far. Then she led me around the store, expertly flipping through gowns and pulling choices that fit our descriptions. I easily slashed that pile, too, down to three favorites. There was one in particular that struck me, but more on that later.

My mom and I spent the next several weekends on The Search. We revisited the first two stores. We went to a different one that promised lower prices, but found ourselves waiting in a crowded lobby for what felt like an hour before someone finally helped us. The store had some beautiful gowns, and the price difference was probably worth the small sacrifices in customer service, but nothing felt right. Moving on.

I looked online, tore through magazines and consulted with friends and family. I grew downright sick of the search, finding it mentally and physically exhausting those dresses are heavy! I found myself comparing everything to that one dress, an unforgettable Vera Wang in creamy ivory. Im going to avoid describing it any further, because of a certain fiances eyes, which will surely find their way to this blog entry.

Id tried it on at least three times before the final day, a late-July afternoon when my mom and I went back to the shop for what we hoped would be the last time. I shimmied into the dress and smiled Id forgotten how pretty it was. I craned my neck to see the train. I let the saleswoman adorn me with a long veil and a fake bouquet. I actually got chills.

Could this really be it? There was so much pressure, and I was almost afraid to say out loud that Id found it. But there I was, dwelling in the dress longer than I probably should have, turning side to side and imagining myself walking down the aisle.

No sense delaying it any longer, I thought. My mom and I paid, and as I stepped into the sunlight, I felt relieved. For the first time, the vision of my wedding was no longer blurry and dream-like. It was real, hanging right there in the back of that bridal salon.

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