June is a big month for a number of reasons, including graduations, Pride, the start of summer, and my birthday (“you’re welcome,” says this Gemini.) It’s also prime time for weddings—and is apparently way late to get started shopping for a dress if you’re getting married in the fall. So to get a move on in preparing for my own impending nuptials, I recently did my American bride-to-be duty and subjected myself to the horror that is bridal dress shopping, going straight to the belly of the beast with an appointment at Kleinfeld.
For those of you who might not know, Kleinfeld is arguably the most iconic bridal boutique in the world, serving a staggering 17,000 brides per year in their 35,000 square foot Manhattan showroom, which boasts the world’s largest selection of wedding gowns. It’s also the setting for the reality show Say Yes to the Dress, a testament to the sacred Western hetero-female cultural rite of finding “the dress,” which has run on TLC for a whopping twenty seasons. (Though I never personally counted myself among the show’s target audience, I was once in a parody of the show back in my L.A. comedy days: I played a “bridezilla” who ran from the bridal shop, screaming—in the sketch, the dresses came to life-like puppets, demanding brides “say yes” to them.)
Walking into the vastness of Kleinfeld for my 90-minute appointment—alongside twenty-six other parties sharing the same slot—they really fit in a whole lotta brides—I was immediately a touch overwhelmed. There were gaggles of Gen Z women squadded up with their families, while our little party of three perched politely in a corner, trying to take up as little space as possible. As an elder Millennial, I’m a bit less “blushing bride” and more “withered crone” on the archetype spectrum—though to be fair, a lot of people I know who got married in their 20s are now enjoying their first divorce, so I’m okay with it.
When my appointment time arrived, my mom, friend (who works in bridal fashion, and without whom I would not survive) and I were ushered through a palatial showroom, where we were dazzled by every type of sequin, sparkle, lace, taffeta, silk, and tulle you can imagine on countless gowns lining the walls. My consultant took down some key details about my wedding date, and I cluelessly attempted to describe what styles I’d like to wear—anything? Something that makes me look pretty?—and then she and my friend were off to somehow find a handful of dresses in this incomprehensibly vast selection.
I felt like a tiny bride cog in a big bridal machine. Everywhere around me, I saw different women in completely different dresses, all looking absolutely amazing. My ADD brain could hardly focus on where I was going—I almost walked down the wrong hall several times when going back and forth from the dressing room, there were just so many shiny things! It was impossible to imagine making sense of it all without a guide, but luckily I had a very confident—and competent—bridal sherpa leading the way.
Even though I’d never fantasized about my wedding dress or dreamed about this moment, I have to admit that the magic of it did get to me. Adorning yourself with something crafted with such attention makes you feel… opulent. Special. And that’s the whole idea, having the right garment for your “special day.” Looking at myself in the mirror, feeling very Disney princess, and a little bit like a snack, well, it was incredibly special. In spite of my analytical mind saying, “Girl, this is not tax deductible,” I was very much living my fairy godmother fantasy, feeling like I’d been sprinkled with some bibbity bobbity shit to look my finest. And that was just while wearing the worn-out floor model.
There is no question that the whole wedding industrial complex is absurd. Spending multiple thousands of dollars on a dress you wear once is categorically offensive. And pondering doing so while the stock market is tanking, oil prices continue to soar, and we’re barreling into a bear market—and while thinking about the venue, catering, DJ, florist, and other sundry bills you waiting to max out your credit card during this age of soaring interest rates—well, that’s enough to inspire any bride to hyperventilate.
And yet. SO PRETTY.
(No pictures here, because I have a supportive fiancé who actually reads my work—I know! That’s why I’m marrying him!—and he wants no spoilers.)
I did not say yes to the dress… yet. The $4,500 price tag—plus $500 for rush delivery to allow for alterations in advance of an October wedding date—was a bit much to take in. So I’m taking a moment to weigh some other possibly less ruinous (but hopefully still dreamy?) dress options.
As much as I want to be reasonable—have to be reasonable—with my wedding gown decision, I do think I finally understand what the big deal is about “the dress.” Walking back out through the main room, littered with brides, I saw one decked out in her full regalia, veil on her head, dabbing tears away from her eyes as she gazed at herself in the mirror. There was something so profoundly moving about that moment, the doubtlessly absurd price point of the long trained sequin gown she wore didn’t seem to register at all. It was an incredibly private moment I was publicly witnessing where this woman got to put herself first and feel like an absolute princess. Weddings are the one time for cis-hetero women where it’s completely socially acceptable to celebrate yourself. And while some “bridezillas” might abuse this privilege, it actually can be a pretty nice thing to take that space and time and say, fuck it, yeah, I am worth a multi-thousand dollar dress. (Though I still don’t know if that’s something I can wrap my head around personally.)
In the end, I can say the whole experience did at least make me start feeling like a real bride, and that was a pretty nice moment in and of itself. Even if the bigger economic picture that came with it is just a little bit distressing.