Carolina Bride

Dress rehearsal

I've fallen in love again. With my wedding dress.

Early on, it was all I could think about. It was a symbol of the wedding - as dreamy as the flower arrangements and reception venue - yet the dress was real, tangible and hanging just a few minutes from my house in that bridal shop in SouthPark.

But those dress daydreams fluttered away in the strange and unsettling (and also wonderful) lull in the planning, and then traded for less glamorous details, such as where to print our programs and which transportation company to book.

Luckily, spring brought with it a chance to revisit the dress. The first fitting was my first chance to imagine my dress free of the pins and clips that had held it up each time I'd tried it on previously. It had always been beautiful, but in many ways I'd been afraid to get my hopes up, afraid it wouldn't turn out the way I'd imagined once it actually fit.

But as the seamstress pinned and tucked, and I got a glimpse of what I would look like on my wedding day, I felt relieved. Sure, there was fabric bunched along the seams, waiting to be snipped free. Sure, the dress was still too long, gathering in a pool of ivory fabric at my feet. But it was beginning to look just the way I'd hoped. And for maybe the first time, it felt like mine.

When I went back for my second fitting a short time later, the dress was one step closer. No more pins, though the excess fabric was still folded inside, just to be sure. There were a few minor adjustments this time, then I was on my way until about a week later, when I'd don the dress for my first time outside the shop for my bridal portrait.

I'd always felt a little conflicted about the portrait. Would the wedding day feel a little less special, having already worn the dress, veil and shoes for a few hours? Was it somehow bad luck? Or maybe worse, what if I stepped on my train, or in a muddy puddle and ruined the whole thing before I set foot in the church?

On the other hand, the bridal portrait is a chance to work out any kinks with the dress, hair and makeup before it's too late. It's a dry run - and I figured it might even help alleviate the waves of emotion I'm sure to feel on the wedding day. Not to mention, I was pumped to see the shots my photographer would come up with from our session.

So there I was on a sunny May morning, getting ready for the photos. My hair and makeup stylist arrived at my apartment at 7:30 a.m. and got to work. By 9:30, my mom and I were on the road. We pulled up to the site of the shoot, an estate on the edge of town, a few minutes behind schedule. Frazzled and apologetic, I shimmied into my dress.

Maybe it was the fact that we were late, or maybe something else altogether, but I never once felt like a bride that morning. I felt beautiful, and bridal, but in more of a girl-playing-dress-up way. It was fun and a little overwhelming to step into that dress, but it wasn't sentimental. Even my mom - who has cried over my invitations, music and even our names on the caterer's quote - didn't shed a tear.

Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it means I won't be as much of a mess on the wedding day as I thought. Maybe, when you throw in the rush of getting ready and pulling off the event and making sure everything goes as planned, you don't have time to dwell on what it all signifies.

Or maybe, as I hope and suspect, it takes more than a dress to make a bride. I have a feeling I'll get there next time, when what awaits at the end of the hair and makeup and yards of ivory is not only a photo session, but a church full of people, an aisle and my fiance waiting at the altar.