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Confusion and traditional values reign when shopping for bridesmaid dresses

I had a surreal experience at a bridal store looking for dresses with my honored attendants. 

Just as my fiancé and I are not wearing matching garments, neither will our attendants. First, we have a mixed gender party, so our guys are wearing suits and our gals are wearing dresses.  Second, our attendants are following our color preferences – my party will be wearing navy blue, his will wear red.  The guys will have a relatively easy time because all we must do is go to a men’s formalwear store and pick a tuxedo. On the other hand, our women are more of a challenge.

The challenge lies not with them but in the options available.  You would think that with so many places selling women’s clothing, we would have an easy time finding the right dress for them.  But, no, that’s far from the truth.

On one Saturday in August, my fiancé and I planned a morning of dress shopping.  With summer break ending, my time will be more limited due to  law school and work. This was our chance to see what was available in a place with all attendants present.  Out of four female attendants, three were available. We met for breakfast in Glen Burnie and then began our trip to a couple bridal boutiques

Our first stop was at a well-known, national chain bridal boutique. Outside its doors was a white hummer limo with a driver pushing for sales. Once inside, we were greeted by a large group of brides and bridesmaids -- all seemed to be searching for something or someone. On one side were rows upon rows of white bridal gowns, and on the other were colorful racks of bridesmaid dresses. Then, there were glasses display cases with invitations, bridal wear trinkets, and ceremony tchotchkes.  Along the side was a woman selling wedding cakes and catered goods, begging people to try her food.

I found what looked like a line of people waiting for service.  When I was up, a sale associate, wearing all black with measuring tape draped across her neck, asked, “Sir, you have an appointment?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied. I had called the night before.

“Okay, what’s the bride’s name?”

“There is no bride.”

“Oh.”  Pause.  “Then under who’s name?”

“Douglas.  Nivens.  My name.”


Already, my best friend/feminist-in-chief was about to break into hives from the heavy visibility of traditional values. 

Soon, a young associate came to our rescue and led us away from the front doors.  She guided us toward the middle of the store, where she was quickly pulled away by her superior and replaced with another older associate.  After quick greetings, we were asked again, “So, who’s the bride?  Who’s getting married?”

“Us,” we responded.

 “Oh!  Okay,” she said with a smile.  “So then, are you ladies our, um, maids?”

Yes, they were our bridesmaids for purposes of this store.  She showed us the aisles of dresses that would best match our color selections and cut. After voicing my opinion on style (I don’t like high-waist dresses), they commenced their search. First, they decided that short dresses were better for a May wedding than long dresses. Next, the consensus was for satin over chiffon dresses. They sized up, expressed yeas and nays, and grabbed handfuls of dresses that might work for them.  As voluptuous, curvy women, they had difficulty finding the right cut at the bust and the appropriate amount of shoulder coverage.  Most dresses came in a size 10, while we needed something more in the upper teens. 

All the while, Enrique and I found two chairs and sat outside a large mirrored wall apart from the dresses. We watched as a mother stood on a large platform before the mirrored wall, assessing her off-white dress. Then, in front of the platform were the individual dressing rooms, all with mirrors lining the exterior walls and doors, but conspicuously absent from the rooms’ interiors. Women must stand outside their dressing room just to see what they put on.

Ahead of us, we saw another dressing station where a row of friends, mothers and grandmothers were evaluating a bride’s dress. Initially, we heard murmurs and a couple critiques.  Soon enough, though, we heard a loud commotion. They clapped their hands, and the bride rung a large bell. She said “Yes to the dress,” and the world was saved yet again.

Meanwhile, our attendants finally took their dresses to their respective dressing rooms.  One by one, they stood outside, showed the dresses to one another, laughed, pointed, and cracked jokes. Some dresses were just god-awful.  Others were mediocre. One or two were decent enough to buy, but none truly captured their interest. We wrote in our notes which dresses each attendant liked and made our way to another bridal boutique. 

We lasted less than 10 minutes at the second boutique.  It was a couple notches above our previous retailer in quality but much smaller.  Inside, there were only a few people browsing their wedding dresses. No hummer limo or caterer pushing their services; instead, we were greeted by a curious look of a sale associate behind the boutique’s center desk.

We saw bridesmaid dresses at the back of the store.  The girls walked over to see what was available while I went to the sales associate.  She asked, “Do you have an appointment?  Who’s the bride?”  No and no.  She confirmed the location of all of the bridesmaid dresses, which was quite small compared to the aisles of bridal gowns in the store’s forefront.  After watching us glance at dresses for a few minutes, the associate came with a couple booklets of what was available, explaining most dresses had to be ordered and mailed to the store.

My attendants, though, were unimpressed.  The dresses cost twice as much as in the first store, none of the designs were memorable and the associates offered minimal interaction. We quickly left and declared our search in Glen Burnie over. Enrique had to take his best woman back to Virginia, and my attendants were going to make a last ditch effort at Towson Town Center (again, no luck there).

Where are we now with dresses?  All of us know the color, style, and fabric we want for the wedding. They attendants are free to find dresses that best fit their bodies, as long as Enrique and I see the dress first.  If they can’t find another dress, then we can buy from the national chain store.



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