Everybody’s first question when I shared the news of my son’s Scotland wedding was, “Do you have your dress?”
I knew I couldn’t do it myself. What I realize, now that I’m outfitted and accessorized from head to toe, is that without the help of my friends and family, I’d still be floundering in the waters of the terribly inappropriate.
I am fashion insecure. It baffles me how some people can know exactly what to wear, no matter the occasion. It seems so simple: They reach in their closets and pull out just the right thing. Who told them that this year it’s skinny jeans and lime green? How’d they learn how to wear a scarf? How to match a jacket with jeans? Which pocketbook to carry?
I become so confused when I start thinking about it. When I enter a store, my head clouds over, and everything seems like both a good possibility and a bad choice at the same time.
My daughter-in-law to be, knowing I am fashion insecure, said, “Don’t worry, Barbara. I’ll go shopping with you.”
I liked the idea. Good bonding time, plus someone with fashion sense to guide me. So, over the Christmas holiday, we spent an entire afternoon scouting, both in real stores and online sites, gathering ideas of what I was looking for, something comfortable but appropriately mother-of-the-groomly.
When I visited in January, she was ready with two beautiful dresses — comfortable and mother-of-the-groomly. On a Saturday afternoon, I modeled both. We took photos that we texted to my husband, my sister and the bride’s sister. I like her sister’s answer the best: “They both look great. She should choose the one she likes best.” My husband and sister were less kind: “Do you want to look pretty or old?” my husband asked. I chose pretty.
I brought it home and hung it on my bookshelf so I could look at it every day. I loved it. When people would ask that question, “Do you have your dress?” I’d answer with a smile and a quick, “I do!”
The dress needed a black jacket, so off I went on a Saturday in March, dress in hand, and for the first time since January, I put it on. I didn’t like it. I still liked it on the hanger, but I didn’t like it on me. It zipped in the front, and at the base of the zipper, right at the crotch, it poked out awkwardly. And up front, where I should have been filling it in with matronly bosoms, it buckled.
“I’m not wearing this dress!” I declared at the end of that day. “I’m starting over.”
My sister, who has fashion sense, gave me an entire Saturday. I spent the day trying on dresses and sending photos to my husband and her daughter. Nope, nope, nope, and a couple of lukewarm yeses came back in response.
Finally and with heavy sighs, we returned to the original dress. “No wonder you don’t like it,” my sister said. “It doesn’t fit. And that poking out at the crotch has got to go.”
So off we went to the alterations shop. The seamstress, named Elizabeth, put a couple of pins in the back and wah-la. It felt good. “I’ll move that zipper,” she said. “We’ve got to get that poke out of there.”
The issue of the jacket remained. “We think you need a black shawl,” my son texted me.
“I’m thinking red,” I told my poetry friends later that week. My friend Dede actually stood up. “You absolutely will not wear a red shawl,” she said. “I simply will not allow it.”
So that was that.
My colleague at school had a black shawl she said would be perfect. It wasn’t. My sister pulled a black one from her closet. No, it wasn’t quite right either. My friend Julie, in addition to sending me a friendship card that read, “I’ll be glad to talk about the dress any time you need me,” sent a link to a Google site. I ended up ordering a real pashmina made from the wool of Nepalese goats.
My one and only brilliant idea concerned shoes. My feet are hard to fit. I don’t do heels, and I certainly don’t do stilettos. But deep in my closet were the shoes I wore on my wedding day 35 years ago. I remember I’d liked them. They were Italian and very classy.
But they were brown. I pulled them out, tried them on, and sent a photo to my sister. “Dare I?”
“Yes!” she responded. So the next day, I carried them to the shoe shop and had them dyed black. They came back perfect. They have a heel, so I am practicing by walking around the house in them so I will not fall down on wedding day.
“How much are you willing to spend?” my sister asked in an email a few months ago.
I did not have to think about my answer. “To look good at my son’s wedding? Whatever it takes.”
I would pay tens of thousands for all I have received. What it took, though, came with no price tag.
I have not learned much about fashion, but what I know is this: I will look good at my son’s wedding, thanks to a whole village of friends.
Barbara Presnell is a poet and teacher of writing who lives in Lexington, N.C.. Contact her at barbarapresnell.com.