"So when is your hair appointment?" my sister Lisa asked.
A simple enough question, even expected, considering it was five hours before my walk down the aisle to be married.
But the words hung in the air. My mother snapped the air in front of my face.
Lisa lowered her head. "Earth to Amy. Your hair, your nails, your makeup–when are you going in for this stuff?" she said, looking at her watch.
There was no hair appointment. There was no nail appointment. I figured my long, straight hair would look just fine washed, dried and combed. My nails weren't cracked and I hadn't bitten my cuticles down all week.
Sister: "You. Are. Not. For. Real."
Mother: "She's kidding, Lisa."
I dropped my fork and sat back in my chair, looking at the baseball game over the bar. I glanced over at my dad for help. He excused himself to go to the men's room.
Sister: "Ma. She is not kidding. Look at her. She's not."
After the small quarrel this revelation caused, it became abundantly clear that I had skipped over a grave and requisite ritual for the bride on wedding day.
The months leading to this moment were something of a battle. For reasons of personal style as well as personal finance, I was determined to fight off the pressure to overly enrich what has become a multibillion-dollar wedding industry. Besides the grand parade of the formal caterer, the champagne and wine, the band, the flowers, the limo, the photographer, the rehearsal dinner, table favors, gifts for the wedding party and about 157 other items (the New York Times reported recently that the average price of the American wedding is over $25,000), there was the matter of getting myself properly and appropriately dressed. If you're going to forego cracking Fort Knox to throw a fete, how do you dress yourself on what remains after running up the tab for dinners, a band, flowers, the bar and the rest?
When a girlfriend said affectionately, "I'd love to go to the bridal shops with you looking for your dress," support on such a hunting-and-gathering mission was appreciated, but the fact that I was expected to go to not one but many different places–that was the rub. Just weeks before this kind offer I saw the 11 o'clock news carrying a segment showing brides pressed up against metal grates at Filene's Basement in Boston, waiting for the gates to open at midnight so they could claw and scratch their way through giant bins for the perfect Vera Wang dress at a discount.
I had accepted my fate–spending several days trekking in and out of bridal shops–when one fall's evening, on an errand at the Holyoke Mall, the window of the Jessica McClintock dress shop stopped me in my tracks. And just to check prices, I went in.
Four spirited young women hauled out several ivory dresses they had picked out from my description. Lo and behold, inside the third dress, I turned around in the mirror to the nodding appreciation of the salesladies. No lace, no beads, no train and it looked like a $3,000 gown; clean lines, elegant construction, a simple trail of buttons down the back.
And for $158 (on clearance, a discontinued dress), my hunt ended that single night in a single store. The next morning I awoke feeling like I had pulled off the impossible, like I'd solved world hunger.
Not to be outdone, my girlfriend Jessi eloped the very next month to Hawaii and told me she had just "bought one of those flowy, short white dresses at that store Deb at the mall for, like, 30 bucks or something." I was astonished and impressed.
Since the gown issue was resolved, I moved on to other important matters: shoes and jewelry. Dyeing shoes hasn't been in vogue since the prom, but matching my shoe color to the gown seemed logical, even important. One of the only shoe shops that still did this age-old task of dyeing women's shoes affordably was Payless Shoes. They were closed-toed, attractive little numbers I would honestly wear again, and acquired for a mere $37.
Jewelry was the one thing I had in the bag; my mother, an antique collector for decades, had generously adorned me with heirloom pearls and single-pearl earrings. What could be more classic for this occasion than pearls? Admittedly I'd been tempted by quite pretty jewelry at my dress fitting at Modern Bridal on Main Street in Indian Orchard. In the nick of time, I remembered my budget and my pearls, and decided to spend my money, $99, for an elbow-length veil.
(One warning on the fitting: take a girlfriend. You will need her help to be sure you've got the right fit. The more-than-snug fit of the bustier (I purchased a white lace one at Bare Necessities on Boston Road in Springfield) will challenge even the most limber and athletic woman. I could not get into the dress alone.)
But back to 90 minutes before the ceremony. Luckily for me, my sister (the maid of honor) is a cosmetics executive with Chanel, and she proceeded to straighten my hair and apply enough makeup to my face to make Tammy Faye jealous (but really–in the pictures it looked just right, as she promised). My nails got two coats of pale pink polish from CVS, and my mother busily sewed small roses into the comb of my veil.
Photographer Mike Mislak poked his head inside the door of our bridal hive.
"They're ready. Let's line up. Mother of the bride first."
My mother squeezed my hand. My sister handed me a rose bouquet. And I fought back as my eyes watered.
I didn't want to ruin such a perfect application of mascara.