Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fight for the right to tailor.

With my sister's wedding rapidly approaching, I decided it was finally time to get my bridesmaid dress altered. I have had it for at least six months now but, like any red-blooded woman, wanted to wait until the last possible second for alterations to ensure it would fit my six months from now figure.

Six months ago I couldn't even imagine what I would look like at her wedding, let alone what size dress I would wear. Six months always seems like a really long time when potential hotness is concerned. It seems like enough time to completely transform yourself. Six months ago I could totally picture myself with flat abs and big boobs, gliding down the aisle to murmurs of That's her OLDER sister? No way has that girl had a baby! Now the wedding is less than two weeks away and, surprisingly, my boobs have not grown one bit (one day I will give up on the possibility of this happening). As for the rest of me? I figured it was nothing a little magical tailoring couldn't fix.

What Not to Wear has me convinced that a good tailor can make up for any number of sins. Like that the reason clothes don't look good on me is not because I eat pizza twice a week but because they're not tailored properly. I like that. It makes me feel confident that the only thing standing between me and Rihanna-eque hotness is a skilled seamstress. Why pay someone to snip and sew and prove me wrong?

I have never had anything tailored in my life. Not even my own wedding dress. That seems really crazy now but at the time I was a 22 year old kid who had only been to a couple weddings ever and had no idea what I was doing. My mom is not the kind of mom who is into stuff like weddings or shopping or bonding over weddings and shopping so she wasn't a whole hell of a lot of help, and my 19 year old sister/maid-of-honor was so completely wrapped up in her own teenage world she was M.I.A. for most of the reception and couldn't even be found to sign the marriage certificate (I later found out my "witness" was on the golf course sneaking cigarettes with one of her friends).

Not my sister. (Do I have a farmer's tan?)

I should have had Bill's mom help me find a dress (she loves stuff like that) or accepted help from the lady at the dress shop (that's what she's there for) but I was uncomfortable reaching out or being seen in my underwear. So, instead, I just acted like I knew what I was doing, like, Who me? Oh, I buy wedding dresses ALL the time, and bought the very first dress I tried on.

It was a simple gown that had lots of layers of chiffon that floated perfectly to the floor and looked lovely when I spun around (I told you I was young when I got married - I chose my wedding dress based on a six year old girl's criteria: the spin test). The rest of the dress was chiffon, too, with a beaded empire waist and straps. It maybe wasn't exactly my style, but I liked it well enough. It was pretty and affordable and I was starting to feel way overwhelmed at the prospect of trying on dress after dress after dress so I just kinda shrugged my shoulders and pulled out my debit card. I figured I could always alter it later if I changed my mind.

I thought this nonchalantly as if I had any sort of skills to back up a claim like that. As if it was totally feasible for me to leave the store with one dress and walk down the aisle in another. As if I had the power to redesign a wedding gown or (gasp!) pick up the phone and ask someone to do it for me. I didn't and I knew it.

And yet.

I can't recall exactly how it happened but I know I started with sewing and ended with gluing. I didn't have a mannequin or sewing skills or any assistance whatsoever but still managed to create a satiny corset-like piece for the top of my dress. Once I had it made though, I had no idea how to attach it to my dress. With my lack of skills, there was no way I was going to feed my wedding dress through a sewing machine. I knew it would make that unmistakable sound of destruction and I'd have to cut through layers of knotted thread and chiffon to pull it free.

Not knowing what else to do, I hand stitched it on at the seams and, when it wasn't lying down quite the way I wanted it to, I squeezed fabric glue in between the chiffon and the satin and pressed the pieces together until they dried as close to the way I wanted them as I could manage (I had to do the gluing while wearing the dress). Then I stitched on a few beads, re-did the straps, whipped up a veil and hoped for the best.

I was also clueless about hiring a photographer.
This picture my dad took in the driveway is one of the only full
shots of me on my wedding day and the top of my head is cut off.

No one knew my dress was a craft project gone right and I was thrilled that I ended up, more or less, with what I wanted. Still, I often wondered what it would have been like to have a dress measured and tailored and sewn just for me. (And, looking back at the photos now, it's hard not to notice that my dress looks a little off.)

But, we live and we learn. Had I known everything back then, there would have been no room for growth. Who wants to peak at 22?

I feel fortunate to be in my sister's wedding now, at the wise old age of 30, so I can experience a proper wedding vicariously through her. It will be fun to go to a family event where the bride knows some things about some things. A wedding with a real DJ and wedding coordinator and photographer. With beautiful invitations and thoughtfully planned favors and a dashing, well tailored wedding party.

Getting my dress fitted professionally was the least I could do.

I found a tailor through one of my good looking friends and drove right over to get my dress taken care of. Or, at least, that's what I should have done. Instead I went on a mission to fix what the six months had not. It started simply enough with a thought: If my boobs were bigger, my waist would look smaller. Then it took a quick detour through Victoria's Secret and Macy's and Target and any other store that sells bras. Don't you have water bras with MORE water in them? And ended with me buying silicone breast enhancers (size Large) from a young, perfectly proportioned checker at the fabric store. I've just got to get these boobs and get out of here!

Fortunately I came home to try on the dress with the bra and the boobs before going to the tailor because the combination did not work at all. If I put the booby cutlet things under my real boobs, it looked like I had breasts growing out of my stomach. If I put them on top of my real boobs, they completely stuck out of my bra. I was feeling brave but not brave enough to expose that to a tailor. Plus, I kept picturing a fake boob bouncing out of my strapless dress and onto the parquet dance floor while I did the YMCA with one hand and held a child or a drink in the other.

You could also totally tell I had fake plastic boobs shoved into my dress. And, although I told myself it was no big deal that the package said my new boobs contained a material "known in the state of California to cause cancer", they still made me itch every time I touched them.

I was running out of time and didn't have the patience to run all over town looking for another solution so I just made peace with the situation and took my big dress and my little boobs to the alteration shop.

When I walked in, the woman behind the counter was on the phone. "This is Kim," she said into the receiver without looking up. Kim, as in THE Kim of Kim's Alterations? This must be my lucky day. She moved the phone away from her mouth and said, "You try on." I can be a little slow on the uptake so I lifted my Ann Taylor garment bag up over the counter and stammered in my best polite whisper, "What? No. I'm here to get a dress altered." She cupped her hand over the receiver, nodded her head toward a fitting room and repeated a little slower so I would understand, "You try on."


By the time I got my dress on and stepped out to the full length mirror, she was off the phone. I held my dress up while doing my very best to explain what I thought needed to be done while blabbing on and on about how it was too big here, here and here and how I thought it looked better with the waist a little higher and how I didn't know but it probably needed to be taken in all over the place since it was like a whole size too big and on and on and on.

She pulled the dress tight around my boobs, stuck it together with a couple pins and said, "OK."

"Oh, um. That's it?"

"Yes. You get changed now." She told me to come back in two days with cash. Two days? I was impressed already.

When I went back to get my dress, I felt like an old pro. Try on? Sure! You don't need to tell me twice! I went into the dressing room and zipped up my dress. It felt good. I walked out to the mirror and checked myself out. The dress no longer needed to be held up which was nice and it looked pretty good. But something about it wasn't quite right. "It's just the lining on the bodice," said my inner seamstress. "We'll cut that out as soon as we get home. Then it will be perfect!"

But when I got home and cut out the lining and tried the dress on again, it still wasn't right. It was like the waist of the dress and the waist of my body were in different places. So instead of being smooth and flattering, the dress was a little bumpy and unflattering. I felt like a dope for not saying anything when I was at the shop but I was new to this whole tailoring thing. Typically bumpiness is attributed to my body, not my dress.

When I got back to the shop, I explained to Kim that the part she fixed was perfect but there was more that needed to be done. I put on the dress to show her. "See how if I lift the skirt of the dress up about an inch it fits my waist a little better?"

"No. In my opinion it looks better like this." She pulled the dress back down.

"Hmmm. Well, I don't think it looks so good. It's too long in the body."

"But it's just for bridesmaid."

"Yeah, but it's my sister's wedding. Besides, I mean, it just doesn't look right. It's all bunchy on my waist and clingy on my hips."

"Oh, you mean these fatty parts right here?"

"Yes! Exactly. It's not flattering to those fatty parts. Right!" Finally we were getting somewhere.

"But it's a lot of work. I have to take off the whole skirt and replace the zipper."

"Perfect! Yes. Let's do that." I wasn't about to back down now. Not after the Craft Glue Fiasco of 2000.

"But, no, in my opinion the skirt is too high like that. It looks better here." She pulled it back down, nice and tight around my fatty parts.

"Yeah, NO. It really bothers me. I need you to fix it. Can you fix it?" She exhaled in defeat, stuck two straight pins in my dress and told me to come back on Tuesday with cash.

I don't know if it was because I had to strong-arm her into tailoring it or if I was just getting a case of Bridezilla by proxy, but the next two nights I had nightmares about my dress.

In one I unzipped my garment bag to find the whole front of my dress stained with bleach. When I tried it on, Kim pretended not to notice (perhaps in her opinion it looked good like that).

Then the next night I dreamed that she had somehow altered my dress so drastically it was no longer recognizable. Instead of a satin strapless a-line, it was an 80s monstrosity with big poof sleeves, a bubble skirt and lace detailing. How she got that from two straight pins, I would never know. I spent the whole dream trying to figure out if I could pull off the new style because I was the matron of honor and, technically, that was different than a bridesmaid.

I was nervous when I went to get my dress. Even more nervous than I had been before. Kim greeted me with a familiar smile and handed me my garment bag. My first sigh of relief came when I unzipped the bag and saw familiar brown satin (no lace or poof sleeves!); my second came when I stepped in front of the mirror and my eyes were no longer drawn to my fatty parts. I borrowed a line from Liam and told Kim, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"I'm happy if you're happy," she said and smiled stiffly.

Did I detect a hint of sarcasm? Oh, who cares. "I'm happy," I gushed. "Very, very happy."

I compensated for the boob situation with really great shoes.

Now the only question left is what to do with my hair. I wanted to curl it and leave it down but I'm afraid that will be way too much brown. An up-do is nice for a wedding but I'll have to be very careful. If I get anywhere near bouffant territory, I'll be in big trouble. I can already hear some relative (like my dad) cornering me at the bar with something like, "Your hair looks great, kid. Just like that Sarah Palin gal. Now isn't she a breath of fresh air!"


Courtney said...

I think this is the hardest I've laughed since I've been reading your blog! Hysterical!

LClaire said...

I think your dress looks killer! I've had hard times with tailors in the past, can I get an Amen, and I think the only way to get what we want is to strong arm them. You go girl!!