As the first blogger walked out in her dress, I looked around at the rest of us. There was more than one unsure look, and whispered questions about just how much the help is really needed to get into a wedding dress, "because, you know, changing clothes in front of other people...?"
Changing into the dress with help wasn't a big issue for me, but did I walk into the store with a list of things that aren't my style. No low cut backs. No strapless dresses. No lace. No fit and flare. I'm really good at identifying all the no's in my life. All the things that won't work. I'm not always so good at identifying the yeses. But as the night progressed, I started to feel a little more brave. I asked our amazing dress expert Jocelyn which dress she would pick for me, and she brought me this dress - Alfred Angelo 896.
This was my pedestal moment. A dress I never would have chosen for myself was perfect. It was more than just the dress, though. I had already tried some fantasy ball gowns that were beautiful, but this dress was me. Granted, a much more dressed up version of me than usual, but still me.
I know it sounds silly, because this dress is definitely so many of the things I am not - strapless, lacy, fitted. But once it was on me, I saw other things, things that might not mean much to anyone else, but are jumping out at me now even as I look at the picture. The lace is complicated, but the silhouette is simple. It is open and free, yet it fits close. And an understated metallic embroidery makes it shine as if lit from within. All these things feel like small expressions of me.
It is a testimony to a beautiful dress, yes, but it is even more of a testimony to a powerful moment. A perfect space in time when we connected on a deep level as women. We let go of fear, dropped our insecurities, and celebrated our beauty and our spirits. We even helped each other with 100's of tiny buttons. And we laughed. So much laughter.
This is exactly the kind of experience my friend Lee imagined other women having when she found her perfect dress for the vow renewal she and her husband are planning for their 10th anniversary this summer. She partnered with Alfred Angelo to develop the Real Women/Real Brides campaign, to encourage women of all body types to step out into the light and make wedding dresses truly beautiful. But even though I've read their stories, and been there when women tried on dresses and were photographed, I didn't imagine how amazing it would be until I was the one standing on that pedestal.
I'm not looking to get married again - Thomas and I have already had three weddings together, I don't think we are going for number four - but it was so much fun to try on the dresses. Every bride has a different dress experience. My mom found my wedding dress when she planned an entire wedding for us in three days. It was perfect. I wore it for both our second and third weddings. It will always be the most special dress of my life.
I thought about that when my friend Kristi messaged me the day after this event to say, "I saw you wearing my wedding dress on facebook!" That is the power of a wedding dress - over a decade later you can catch just a glimpse of your dress, and you are transported back to that moment when you stood with your true love and made the most special promises of all to each other. A piece of your heart wears that dress forever.
Even though these aren't the dresses I was married in, they hold a small piece of my heart, now, too. Because they mark a night when I saw beauty and sisterhood meet. And that is an amazing thing.
If you want to have an experience like this, you can participate in the Real Women/Real Brides campaign at your local Alfred Angelo. They carry dresses through size 26 (and that is a real size 26, not a wedding dress size 26 that is actually a size 4 in the real world), so there is something for everyone to try. Check out all of the beautiful brides at My Sentiment ExactLee for more information. You can also find Alfred Angelo on Instagram and Facebook, because it is always fun to look at incredible wedding dresses, even if you aren't planning a wedding.
For more wedding dress-trying-on fun, check out this great video from Sparkly Nicole, you will even get to see Kelly helping me put on a dress with hundreds of little buttons.
*Disclosure: Alfred Angelo gave me a gift certificate for a bridesmaid dress at this event. I wasn't required to say nice things, or to tell you that I think it would be awesome to wear dress 896 every day.