Tag Archives: wedding

My Wedding Dress

Had we been able to make a trip to India before our wedding, things would have turned out very differently. We both like and are comfortable in Indian clothing, and would have been happy to buy (or have made) something Indian, probably a lehnga for me (I have not worn saris enough to be able Read More…

Had we been able to make a trip to India before our wedding, things would have turned out very differently. We both like and are comfortable in Indian clothing, and would have been happy to buy (or have made) something Indian, probably a lehnga for me (I have not worn saris enough to be able to wear them gracefully – it’s an art). Brendan looks very sharp in a long kurta, and could definitely rock an achkan.

But this was all happening on a short timeline. We couldn’t go to India before the wedding (we’d be going there in September, after the wedding), and I was not able to find anything Indian readily available and to our taste in the US. 

On the other hand, I was not going to wear a traditional western wedding dress – at my age and our stage in life (second marriage for both, already lived together for years) the “virgin bride” symbolism of a white dress would be wildly inappropriate. 

May

By mid-May, with wedding plans well underway, I was still not sure what I was going to wear. I knew I wanted to dress up (something I do rarely), but had no clear ideas on any particular style.

Meanwhile, something else was percolating in my mind. As you know if you’ve ever seen me, I have disproportionately large breasts on a narrow torso and shoulders. Yes, the boobs happened naturally and, frankly, if there was a way to make them smaller without major surgery, I’d take it. (The lumpectomy to remove a tumor took a chunk out of my right breast, but not enough to make much difference.) 

Large breasts are heavy. A good, well-fit bra will support them, and I’ve been investing in good bras for years, but at best you have a tight band and metal underwires cutting into you all day, and some of the weight is nonetheless suspended from your shoulders. I have deep grooves in my shoulders from bra straps, and frequent shoulder and neck pain.

I had begun to wonder whether a corset might be a good alternative, but I didn’t know enough about them. Corsets are complicated. I had no idea how to buy or fit one, but I did know where to look for information: Cora Harrington’s The Lingerie Addict. And there I found a beginner’s guide by Marianne Faulkner, a corset designer at Dark Garden in San Francisco.

I had been aware of Dark Garden – perhaps the premiere corsetiere in the US – for many years, and always had an idea in the back of my mind that someday I’d have something made for a very special occasion (the SF Symphony’s Black and White ball, maybe?). So, on a day in late May when I had other business in San Francisco, I stopped by. Just to try something on. Really.

With very necessary help, I tried an off-the-rack overbust corset. The attendant got me all laced in, stepped back, and said: “You’re crooked.” I could see in the mirror that she was right. Like many other girls, as a schoolchild I had been diagnosed with a mild scoliosis, then never thought about it again. But, with the multiple vertical lines of the corset fitted tightly against me, it was easy to see that my right shoulder and hip were slightly higher, so the verticals weren’t quite vertical. And, of course, one breast is noticeably larger than the other since the lumpectomy.

The solution would be a custom corset, made to fit me precisely and balance the unbalanced. And, if I was going that far, I might as well have a skirt made and turn this into my wedding dress, right? Of course right. At that point, I was talking with Marianne Faulkner herself, and getting very excited about the whole idea. Back when I was in school in India, I had quite a lot of clothing made – that was almost the only way to obtain clothing in that time and place. But I’d never done anything like this.

What about color? Dark Garden’s off-the-rack collection runs to dark colors, which much of their  clientele prefers as part of a steampunk or Edward Gorey esthetic, and of course there’s the BDSM crowd with their black and leather. But the talents at Dark Garden can certainly handle color

What color, exactly? That was easy. Brendan likes to wear and looks very good in pink.

And it suits me, too. I looked through Dark Garden’s samples of satins and silks, and quickly zoomed in on a double-faced satin in a warm, hearty pink which subsequently proved difficult to name or describe (or photograph). It’s not orange enough to be salmon, but it’s not the typical pale color that people think of when they hear “pink.” Anyway, here it is:

This would be the fabric on the outside of the corset, but it wouldn’t be suitable for a skirt, especially in summer. Marianne and I discussed doing an overskirt in lace, with a pencil skirt underneath for modesty. She happened to be heading to LA on a fabric buying trip, and said she would look for some possibilities there and bring back swatches.

In the meantime, she took lots of measurements to begin work on my corset, and we made an appointment for a month later for my first fitting.

I did consider having a suit custom made for Brendan at a nearby bespoke tailor, and stopped by there to discuss fabrics. But I knew that, in the throes of finishing a book, there was no chance he would make the multiple trips to San Francisco that would be necessary. I put off the question of what Brendan would wear to… later.

The dress was going to cost a lot – a bespoke corset on its own is expensive due to the time, materials, and highly skilled work that go into it. I rationalized the expense (to myself) as follows:

  • I’ll be able to wear it again, either skirt and corset separately, or together for some other fancy occasion since it’s not a white wedding dress. The corset will look great with, say, black velvet or black leather pants.
  • I was seven months pregnant at my first wedding, so I wore a white elastic-waisted embroidered skirt and shirt combo from Bali – definitely not the princess-waisted, full-skirted dress I had pictured for myself (not that I could or would have spent a lot of money on a dress at that stage in my life, even without pregnancy). I had missed out on having a fun wedding dress then.
  • I can afford it now.
  • I’d be supporting artisanal couture.
  • On average, I spend little on clothing, especially now that I work from home a lot and, when I do go to the office, I don’t need to dress up – jeans are just fine at Amazon.

But, to be honest, this was all just rationalizing a decision I’d already made. I wanted to look beautiful. I wanted my groom to be knocked off his feet and proud that he was marrying me.

June

Building a custom corset is expensive in part because the process requires several wearable mockups. This was my first:

As you can see under my left armpit, Marianne pinned the mockup to show where it needed to be adjusted to fit better. You can also see yellow chalk marks on the front where more adjustments would be made. Wearing it felt… fine. A bit of a shock when they tightened it the first time, but I quickly got accustomed to it and felt comfortable, contained and supported rather than constrained or constricted.

Marianne had, as promised, brought some swatches of lace, but I ended up not liking any of them. This one was a candidate (the color matched the corset fabric far better than appears in this photo), but I decided it was too gaudy.

We discussed instead using a solid fabric for the skirt, probably a darker color, in silk. Dark Garden had some options in stock.

But Marianne also recommended that I look at silkbaron.com for a wide choice of silk types and colors. Oooh, yes – my kind of website! (Though I would have been even happier to see all these beautiful fabrics in real life.)

I ordered swatches of silk in a dozen different shades and, when they arrived, tried them out one by one against the corset fabric.

It was impossible to show in a photograph what I was seeing in real life, in artificial or natural lighting, I suppose due to the contrasting textures and reflectivity of the fabrics. I was sending photos to a friend or two to get opinions, but ultimately had to decide based on what my own eyes were seeing. I settled on “rhubarb,” which was the same shade of pink as the corset fabric, but a completely different texture in dupioni silk – what we used to call “raw” silk. 

Here are the two swatches together against my skin:

I was carrying fabric swatches with me everywhere, obsessively matching colors…

In late June I was back at Dark Garden for another fitting, in corset mockup #2, with an off-the-rack skirt in the same style that would be used for my own pink silk skirt. At this fitting Autumn, the proprietor of Dark Garden (a woman-owned business in San Francisco for 30 years!) brought her experience to bear in adjusting the corset to compensate for my tilted torso.

July

Mockup #3 was ready in mid-July (I was wearing dark glasses because I’d had my eyes dilated that day for an eye exam):

At this point, the fit was just about perfect: close-fitting with no “muffin top” bulges, supportive and comfortable. Yes, still a bit of a shock when first laced tight but, in the few minutes I was able to wear it in the shop, I quickly got used to it

My friend Melinda came with me for one of the fittings because, as a former theater person, she had experience lacing corsets, and I was going to need her help on the wedding day (and before then)

I did not show any of the photos to Brendan – I wanted the dress to be a surprise. He knew the color and had figured out that there was a corset involved. He kept saying that he “wasn’t that turned on” by corsets, which was a bit deflating. But my friends and everyone at Dark Garden just smiled knowingly and said: “He’ll change his mind when he sees you in it.”

August

I went back to Dark Garden on August 9th to try on the final corset and skirt. It was magnificent, exactly what I wanted. I felt like a queen, and like Wonder Woman in her armored bustier.

But there was a lot more involved in pulling together my wedding “look”…

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Enrico and I were married (by a justice of the peace in New Haven, Connecticutt) on January 17th, 1989. Here’s the story: Part 1: Tanzania Surprise Part 2: Coca-Cola, and an Ostrich Part 3: Justice of the Peace Part 4: The Wedding You might also like: Shotgun Wedding 2: Coca-Cola, and an Ostrich Shotgun Wedding Read More…

Enrico and I were married (by a justice of the peace in New Haven, Connecticutt) on January 17th, 1989. Here’s the story:

Part 1: Tanzania Surprise

Part 2: Coca-Cola, and an Ostrich

Part 3: Justice of the Peace

Part 4: The Wedding

Shotgun Wedding 2: Coca-Cola, and an Ostrich

I called Enrico in New Haven to let him know the news. He had not been happy about my traipsing off to Africa in the first place, so, while he was happy that I was pregnant, he was not at all happy that I was pregnant in Africa, and wanted me to come home immediately. Read More…

I called Enrico in New Haven to let him know the news. He had not been happy about my traipsing off to Africa in the first place, so, while he was happy that I was pregnant, he was not at all happy that I was pregnant in Africa, and wanted me to come home immediately.

This was around week two of a four-week working trip, and I still hadn’t managed to accomplish much of the work I had been sent to do in Tanzania. I was reluctant to walk away from the project, even though I was not feeling at all well. The next morning the center shuttle van came to pick me up, and I vomited in the van. The kind driver was very concerned – he thought I had gotten malaria. I didn’t want to tell anybody at the center that I was pregnant. I knew that being pregnant and not (yet) married wouldn’t have been a big deal in Cameroon, but I wasn’t sure how Tanzanian culture would react.

Enrico left no stone unturned in trying to persuade me to drop everything and fly home. He called my parents and every friend of mine he could find a number for – between that and frequent calls to me in Tanzania, his phone bill was around $800 that month. As a result, I got calls from everyone. My parents, to my surprise, switched tracks – Mom said she didn’t feel old enough to be a grandmother, while Dad was clearly delighted at the prospect of being a granddad. My friend Stephanie, who had never even spoken to Enrico before, called in some bemusement – she had had a frantic call from him, begging her to convince me to come home.

Meanwhile, I tried to find something in Tanzania that I could stand to eat. It seems petty to say so, but the food in Arusha left a lot to be desired; I had been sorely disappointed after the wonderful cuisine of Cameroon. In desperation, I switched hotels, to the new Swisshotel across town. The hotel chain had sent a chef out from Switzerland to teach the local staff how to cook the hotel’s standard menu. Sitting in the dining room one day, I was witness to an amusing scene:

The chef was describing the menu, item by item. The steak sandwich, he explained, was a steak on a long, crusty baguette. He illustrated a long shape with his hands.

“No, no, sir,” said the Tanzanian cooks, “a sandwich is like this!”- and their hands shaped a standard American square of bread.

[Some Tanzanians have by now learned to make long sandwiches: my classmate Mahmood opened Africa’s first Subway franchise several years ago, in Dar-es-Salaam.]

The only foods I could keep down were tomatoes and salted peanuts. On my aunt Rosie’s advice, I also drank lots of Coke – she told me that Coke syrup used to be sold in pharmacies in the States as a remedy for morning sickness. It works, for morning sickness and any other form of nausea.

Between starvation, Enrico’s badgering, and frustration with the training project that was not getting accomplished, I finally decided to leave Tanzania a week earlier than scheduled, and fly to Rome to join Enrico and his family for Christmas (as originally planned). My boss wasn’t best pleased about it – “You always give the client more than you promised, not less!” Well, neither the client nor I had reckoned on me turning up pregnant…

Getting out of Tanzania involved a bit of adventure. The American woman with whom I had travelled to Ngorongoro (I’ll call her Donna) was working out in the bush on an ostrich-rescue project. Ostriches are extremely stupid; they don’t look after their nests, so the survival rate from egg to adulthood is about ten percent. Donna and her partners had a deal with the Tanzanian wildlife service whereby they would go out and collect the wild eggs, and hatch them in incubators on a farm. They would take some percentage of the chicks to ostrich farms in the US, and release older chicks back into the wild, with a greatly enhanced survival rate, resulting in a net gain in Tanzania’s ostrich population.

Donna and I had become friends; she’d come in from the bush every few days and borrow my hotel room to luxuriate in a hot shower. She planned to go back to the States soon, so I scheduled my departure to coincide with hers. There aren’t that many flights out of Arusha; we both booked on flights out of Nairobi, Kenya, which meant a few hours’ trip by jeep, across an international border.

A few days before we were to leave, Donna left a note in my hotel room: “See you soon! And I’m bringing a surprise!” Uh oh. No, she couldn’t, really – could she?

She did. She brought a baby ostrich.

The ostrich chicks bound for the US were shipped several dozen to a large crate, high enough for them to stand up in (at several weeks old, they’re about two feet tall). And they did stand up for the whole trip – anybody who sat down would get trampled and suffocated. This particular chick had a bad leg and couldn’t stand up properly; his chances of surviving the trip, let alone in the wild, were very slim.

Donna knew someone at the San Diego wildlife park who could perform the surgery little Gimpy needed to stand and run and live a normal ostrich life; the problem was to get him to San Diego. Her permit did not allow her to export ostriches except by the crateful, so she decided to smuggle him with her on the plane.

The first step was to cross the land border between Tanzania and Kenya, where passports, and possibly luggage, would be inspected. Donna put the ostrich in a gym bag which she stuffed down behind the car seat, out of sight of the driver, leaving just a hole open for his head to stick out. When we reached the border, she stuffed his head into the bag and casually tossed a jacket over it; our luggage was not checked, and we breezed on through.

Our flights from Nairobi were in the evening, many hours after our arrival, so we had booked a hotel room for the day. I didn’t feel well enough to do anything but rest, so I stayed in the room with the ostrich while Donna went out shopping. She put him on the floor near the bed, on a towel, and gave him salad and water. I lay down for a nap.

I had not known that ostriches make noise – but only when they’re happy. The jeep trip had been bumpy and traumatic, so Gimpy had stayed quiet. Now he started burbling with contentment, a soft warbling noise. I sat up in bed, startled, and looked at him. He looked at me. I lay down again. He started warbling again. I didn’t get much sleep, but, on the other hand, how many times in life do you get to hear an ostrich sing?

Getting Gimpy through Nairobi airport was going to be a little trickier. Donna took a hotel pillowcase and cut holes near the open end so that she could wear it over her arm like a shoulder bag. She put Gimpy in that, so he was snugged between her elbow and her waist, but he made too bulky a package to hide under her bush jacket. I loaned her my beloved Indian shawl, the dull brown one I had bought on a special occasion years before. Loads of sentimental value – I would not have risked it for anything less than saving the life of an ostrich. Donna draped the shawl casually over her shoulder; it looked completely natural while covering the pillow case and the ostrich.

My flight was earlier, so we went to the airport separately. I got worried for Donna when I saw that body scans and pat-downs were being performed on all passengers, and hand luggage was being x-rayed. How was she going to manage?

I got the whole story from her later, when we spoke on the phone after we had both returned to the US. Donna told me she had surveyed the security situation, and saw that she would have a problem with the body check. But she also noticed that the people manning the x-ray scanners were scarcely looking at their monitors. So she stuffed Gimpy back into the gym bag, under some other things, and he went through undetected (makes you feel good about Nairobi security, doesn’t it?). She said that, on the plane, the problem was to keep him from getting happy and making noise; she kept having to kick him. At Heathrow airport, she bought some salad and went into a breast-feeding stall in the women’s bathroom to feed him (he had to be more or less force-fed). A lady came into the bathroom with a baby, looked into the open stall, blanched, and quickly left.

Donna somehow got the ostrich all the way to California, where surgery was successfully performed, and Gimpy presumably lived out the rest of his days happily at the San Diego wildlife park. She mailed my shawl back to me, and now it’s had one more adventure than I have, having been an active participant in the great ostrich smuggling caper.

  1. The Italian Proposal
  2. Tanzania Surprise
  3. Coca-Cola, and an Ostrich
  4. Justice of the Peace