‘A Tale of Two Dresses’ by Melissa St Pierre

In the wake of the recent presidential election, a new era dawns for the USA. In the two gentle tales of dresses and weddings that follow, Melissa St Pierre offers us an important underlying message for the months ahead: ‘Keep the good and fashion afresh.’ They also speak of hope and a return to individuality, to the people these women really are, not the images they thought they wanted.

Custom Fit

It was jewel blue, one of my favorite colors. And online, the dress looked beautiful. I measured and measured again (for good measure) and ordered the appropriate size.

I felt like a jerk because I couldn’t participate in the shower in person, nor could I do the bachelorette party.

The wedding was in October. In Kentucky. I live in Michigan. And at the time, I didn’t have the time nor the money to run across a few states for a couple hours.

I felt like the worst bridesmaid in the history of wedding rituals.

Why, again, had I agreed to stand up in my friend Amanda’s wedding?

I really didn’t know; except I had wanted to be in a wedding for as long as I could remember. But I wasn’t doing a great job.

But at least I was trying.

I had the dress.                                            

It came and I ran into my bedroom to put it on.

At the time, I was working out daily. I walked at least five miles and was in pretty good shape, but the dress wouldn’t budge over my hips. No matter how many times I jumped up and down tugging on the thing, nothing happened.

Crap, I muttered, and I tried the next best thing.

I slid it over my head.

I still wouldn’t go over my hips.

Ut oh.

I took it off and looked at it as though I could “will” it into fitting.

I tried it a few more times to no avail.

Crap, I muttered.

I had a friend, Carmen, who was a talented seamstress. She could turn anything into something beautiful that fit like it was not only supposed to, but that made you feel like you never wanted to remove it.

I texted her. “Dress for Amanda’s wedding is here. Disaster. Need to shave hip bones OR alter dress. Which one can we do quickly?” She voted that we try to alter the dress.

The following week, we met up and she began to deconstruct the dress.

Now, there’s nothing quite like watching your friend take shears to a dress you just paid way too much money for and the look of pure joy as she hacked into it with glee.

“It just has really bad lines.” Carmen said. “I love this material, but I hate this design. Now, I could just let the seams out a little…. Orrrrrrrrrrrrr, I could take this apart and make you a dress that rocks.”

She took it apart.

Then, as if Vera Wang herself touched my friend’s brain, she sketched out what the dress would look like once she put it back together.

“Give me a few days. I have some supplies but I need to work on this top a little.”

I would’ve given her the stars to make the dress work.

By the time she was done, Carmen made me a perfect A-line dress. It bunched at the top and was adored with a vintage inspired broach to tie it together.

I loved it!

I wore my hair up and in crazy curls.

As we were getting ready to walk down the path leading to the wedding, my friend Amanda burst into tears.

‘I don’t want to do this.’ she repeated. I counted at least three before my ‘hey, you should say something’ instinct kicked into gear.

‘Amanda, are you sure? If you really don’t want to do this, you don’t have to,’ I said, ‘but it would’ve been nice if you said something before now and before the dress!”‘ I thought.

She asked for her mom and her grandma, and who doesn’t?  For that matter, looking back, who doesn’t say ‘I don’t want to’ at least once? Maybe that’s a sign of things to come… I don’t know. I don’t claim to be a decent bride/s/maid.

‘I don’t want to do this,’ she cried even after she talked to her mom.

Alright Scott, (as I internally still refer to myself by my maiden name), you have done nothing for this wedding. What are you going to do now?

I pulled Amanda into the bathroom and plunked her down on the closed toilet seat. (Because all this day would need was a wet bride butt.)

I looked into her pretty brown eyes that had fairy tears leaking onto her puffy cheeks. She, like me, could not disguise tears. If we cried, it was on like Donkey Kong.

‘Mel, I am really not sure I can do this,’ she said shakily.

Crap, I muttered to myself.

‘Okay then, I can march my lovely ass right up there and tell them the gig is up, enjoy the food, peace, we’re out!’

She laughed, ‘Really, it’s okay? It’s okay if I don’t marry Tom today?’

‘Honey, it’s okay if you don’t marry Tom today, tomorrow, or next week.’

She asked me if I’d thought of running before I got married. I told the truth. And my friend Amanda smiled her beautiful smile and shook her head, ‘Okay, I don’t think I can do this today.’

I wiped the tears away from her cheeks and said, ‘Okay then.’

Her mom went in after me, and didn’t bother to hide the fact she didn’t like me. I was, after all, a Yankee, and a liberal (Yikes! I’m still not sure how she knew that).

Thirty minutes later, we were late for the wedding.

I was starting to get uncomfortable in my fabulous silver stacked heels. And I was starting to get annoyed. What could they possibly still be discussing? World peace?

Forty-five minutes.

Amanda came out of the bathroom.

‘Let’s do this ladies!’ she proclaimed.

I spun around and stared. I was ready to tell the menfolk that the days trading of women and goats was off the table. As in, not happening. As in, my awesome dress and shoes would be on my way back to Michigan.

‘What. Are. You. DOING?!’ I hissed through a fake smile. (Fake isn’t even the right word. Forced, maybe? Painted on, maybe?)

‘I am getting married,’ she said. ‘It’s the right thing.’

‘For whoooooooo?’ I asked, drawing out the ‘ooh’.

‘It’s okay, it’s what I want. I’m sure.’ And she passed me to slide her fancy shoes on and march out the door.

Okay, I thought. Okay, she’s fine. She knows what she’s doing. It’s okay.

And with that, I linked arms with my other beautiful friend, Ashley, and we walked out and into the sun, ready to see Amanda off to get married.

After the reception, I changed my clothes at Ashley’s and stowed my dress for the trip back home.

And I didn’t touch the dress for about a year.

Then one day, my friend Carmen asked if she could fiddle with it a little bit.

‘I haven’t even worn that dress since the wedding,’ I said.

‘I know, but I think I can make something better out of it!’

She made me a Tinkerbell shirt out of it. It hit me at the top of my thighs and flared out when I twirled.

I just recently resigned it to the ‘donate bag’ as my 2020 body isn’t getting shaved any more than my 2013 hips were going to.

Amanda’s marriage lasted about a year, if that.

My dress lasted a day.

I don’t know if it was, truly, a sign. But I wonder if I had told her that my dress didn’t fit, maybe it could’ve been a conversation about things that just don’t fit. No matter how much we love them.

Sometimes, things need to be custom made. And even those get turned into Tinkerbell shirts.

From time to time.

And when they no longer fit, it is okay to donate them.

Punk Rock Corset

Something about the fall in the Midwest makes people want to get married.

Maybe it’s the changing colors? The warmth of apple cider and donuts? Is it all symbolism for changes?

Or, is it something else? Something psychological that evades immediate understanding.

The second time I was asked if I would be in a wedding, it was a fall wedding. October even. Again.

This time was special though. I was the maid of honor.

Of. Honor.

 I was the big dog. The top brass. The big cheese. The one with the best dress, next to the bride of course.

When asked to stand up in my friend Grace’s wedding, I nearly catapulted out of my skin with joy.

Grace is one of those people.

She’s an immediate friend. It doesn’t take time. You just are friends.

She has caramel colored skin and dark curly hair. She has a full body laugh, is a fiercely loving friend, and is an outstanding mama bear.

My friend Grace is beautiful.

She was also the best bride I’d ever seen.

‘I don’t really care what the dress looks like, it just needs to be dark purple.’

‘That’s it? That’s my only requirement?’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that’s it. I want you to like your dress.’

I am a planner. Immediately, I opened my calendar and began nailing things down.

Bridal shower? Check: approximately a month out from the wedding. Location? Secured by Grace’s mom and one of my best friends. Food for said gathering? Check. Decor? Check. Invitations? Check.

Bachelorette party? Check. I’d be riding a mechanical bull on October 5 at approximately 9:30 pm after eating dinner and karaoke. Dramamine purchased? Check. Organized fun arranged? Check.

When it came time to deal with my dress, it was my only concern. I did every other maid of honor task first.

Another friend of mine was a magician with fabric. Actually, she was a magician with textiles of any kind. She could look at a pattern and make it happen.

‘Every woman needs a corset that makes her feel confident,’ Carmen proclaimed.

She had an idea for a maid of honor dress that would stun on me but be exactly what Grace wanted.

I found myself in the kitchen of our mutual friend’s home being measured, taped, groped, and studied. But, when these things are done in earnest by loving and creative friends, you tend to forget it’s awkward as all hell.

Carmen looked at me, her face scientific.

‘Not only is your corset going to rock, it’s going to be reversible! You could wear it with other things!’

I knew without a doubt, I would not, in fact, wear it again.

I love fashion, and in another life, I would design shoes. But the idea of wearing a corset top ‘just because’ was about as foreign to me as Greek.

‘But you could!’ Carmen persisted.

A few weeks went by and then she presented me with the second magical dress she made me.

It was royal purple satin.

The corset had small sequin details on the bodice. The inside was gold. ‘Perfect for reversing and wearing with jeans and a black jacket.’

(I’m 5’3 and not Selena. That combination wasn’t going to happen.)

But the dress was amazing. And Carmen was right, the two piece combination made me feel like a masterpiece.

The only other requirement was cowboy boots.

Something about fall, midwestern weddings, makes people come up with combinations that don’t always make sense. But, as a girl that not only loves and appreciates shoes, owns a gazillion pair, and has them in multiple shades, shapes, and styles, I didn’t have a problem finding the right boots.

I only needed to write my speech.

I’d been working on it since the day Grace asked me to be in the wedding. I had draft after draft sketched in my notebook. Nothing worked. It wasn’t coming and I was getting worried. As a writer, this should have been an easy task.

I needed to incorporate something about love, life, the fall, beauty, hope, new beginnings, happiness, and the idea of forever.

‘Falling in love is totally punk rock.’

I found the quote to open the speech and the rest spilled out. I made words fit together and the comparison of love to a classic, timeless song made sense.

The wedding day came, and everything went off without any issues. The weather cooperated. In fact, it was unseasonably hot. Grace, her daughter, sister, mother, and I all got ready together and as any time we are together, laughed so hard we screwed up our makeup and I couldn’t control my hair to save my soul. In the end, we looked perfect, but I don’t know how it happened.

Grace got married.

And then, she moved.

Grace and Jason moved to his home state: Georgia.

In a few short weeks, she sent me the first text.

‘I hate it here.’

Oh crap. I muttered.

Grace was deeply unsettled. Jason, as it turns out, spun a story decorated with sprinkles and bullshit. Enough so that we didn’t see it. A story I have since become all too familiar with.

She wanted it to work. For her sake. For her young child.

But after a few months of being isolated, verbally abused, and charged with taking care of her husband’s ailing family, Grace had enough.

I cried on the phone with her as we realized her dream was a bad Aaron Spelling script, or some 90’s after school special. I wasn’t yet well versed in disaster, but I could see she needed out.

I listened as she talked about fear. Not wanting to disappoint her family or hurt anyone.

She didn’t even want to hurt Jason, who had been hurting her for months.

We talked it through, and she changed her mind every now and then, but in the end, she left. 

Grace became a country song as she packed her two-door coupe and made the journey home, to the land of red and gold falls.

It’s been seven years.

I haven’t reversed my corset. But I know that I can, and that I will. When it’s my time.

Something about the fall in the Midwest makes people want to get married. But corsets don’t go well under jackets.

Corsets, as they say, should make you feel beautiful.

Anything less should be reversed.

And don’t wear them with boots. Unless they’re combat.

Then, it’s punk rock.

About the contributor

Melissa St Pierre
Melissa St. Pierre teaches writing and rhetoric at Oakland University in Michigan. Her work has appeared in The Blue Nib, Panoply, 45 Women’s Literary Journal, Valiant Scribe, and Elizabeth River Press Literary Anthology. She has also performed her work in Listen to Your Mother, a literary nonfiction storytelling showcase.

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