What do you do with a wedding dress you bought for a wedding you are no longer having? This was the question I asked myself for months after my engagement ended. Well-intentioned suggestions from friends and family included selling it, leaving it with the boutique and losing the deposit, dying it another colour and using it as a formal dress, cutting it to make it into a party dress, or burning it as an act of catharsis. Interesting ideas, however I could not bring myself to entertain any of them.
One day, many months after the breakup, and just weeks before I was supposed to pick up the dress from the bridal boutique, I looked at my mum while we were driving to the movies and said, "I think I'm going to keep the dress..." My mum, my eternal cheerleader, didn't miss a beat and responded, "I think you're making the right decision".
For context, I have never ever wanted a formal wedding with pomp, circumstance and spectacle. I loathe the spotlight and large audiences, even ones filled with well-wishers and loved ones, it makes me nervous and terrified. My dream wedding consisted of my partner and I getting married on a picturesque beach somewhere on a tropical island with only our immediate families and grandparents. The more budget-friendly version of that dream consisted of getting married at either city hall or at a beautiful park in Toronto where I live. I truly had never in my life thought about what I wanted to wear on my wedding day because it did not seem that important to me. My parents were on-board with my simple wedding dream because they knew it was true to who I am.
Enter my now ex-partner. I was up front with him very early on about not wanting a wedding and he said he understood, however as time went on his family and some friends were very vocal about wanting us to have a big wedding and an even bigger reception. It was a non-issue until we actually got engaged in late 2015. After months of back-and-forth with our families, the following spring I eventually agreed to a grand reception if I could have a small and intimate ceremony at a park in Toronto on a warm and hopefully sunny Friday afternoon in the summer. So we set the date for July 2017, the month after construction was to be completed on the townhouse we bought together. It was going to be a busy summer, but I was excited.
My mum and I wasted no time and began our search for a dress in June - more than a year before the wedding date. The guest list circled around 360 people (two-thirds of the guests were on his side) so I knew I couldn't show up in rags or a thrown-together dress. If I was going to find a dress - which my parents were generously fitting the bill for - I was going to do my homework. I had to quickly learn about the different silhouettes, necklines, sleeves vs. straps vs. strapless and so on, and then decide what appealed to me.
It was the seventh dress I tried on, at the third boutique my mum and I visited, which was the winner. I have never in my life experienced an emotional reaction to an article of clothing until that moment. I could not stop staring at myself in the mirror. It's not just that the dress made me look and feel more beautiful than I had ever seen myself before, but more surprisingly, I felt courageous when I wore it. Like I could step out in front of those 360 people and own that spotlight for an evening. The silk and lace of the dress and the Swarovski crystal bridal belt were ready to go to battle against my introversion and social anxiety because in that dress - my dress - I felt invincible. I had an appointment at another boutique scheduled in a half-hour but I told our consultant that I didn't want to try on anything else and she said "that's how you know you've found the one, dear". When my mum finally stopped crying we took a few pictures of the dress I knew I'd never forget, put down our deposit, and I left smiling from ear to ear.
Fast-forward to that moment, post-breakup, with my mum in the car. My reasoning for wanting to keep the dress was this: just because the guy wasn't the one, didn't mean the dress wasn't the one. Right or wrong, when I wore the dress, I wasn't only thinking of him, I was thinking about myself. I wasn't thinking about how beautiful he would think I looked, I was thinking about how much confidence I had while wearing it. How interesting it was that something as material as a dress could make me see myself in a way I hadn't before, but in a way that I should have all along. The truth is, all women have that fierceness within us, but sometimes we just need someone or something to come along and remind us of it. My light gold, fit and flare dress with a low back did that for me. And it was for that reason that I could not imagine parting with it, at least not yet.