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My first wedding dress experience happened on a Thursday. I walked into the salon thirty minutes before my appointment. Yes, this was the first time in my life I had been early to anything. I’ve slept through job interviews and waltzed in late to every class I’ve ever taken. I didn’t even get to see the ceremony of my friends’ wedding, but this time, I was early.

The salon was just what I expected, classy and good smelling with a touch of snooty. I went to the receptionist’s desk, gave my name and was told to look around for just a bit while my consultant finished up another appointment. I became aware of the soft music playing just as I spun around, which, as soon as I spotted the dresses I recognized to be Etta James’s “At Last.” A smile took shape on my face, goosebumps filled every patch of skin on my body and I (somewhat) gracefully leapt into the showroom. And, as Etta James sang to me, I knew I was home.

Those close to me understand this story because they know I’ve been planning my wedding since birth. For those who are not close to me, you must understand that I sprung from the womb carrying a Martha Stewart wedding planner and a handful of silk, organza, lace and tulle fabric samples.

This experience was one of the greatest of my life. Who would have ever though that playing dress up could actually be this joyful?

As per the instructions of my consultant, I surveyed the store searching for a gown I liked in each of the different styles and silhouettes. Just before we went into the fitting room, I spotted another, and asked if I could take that one along too.

“You’re welcome to try on anything you’d like,” she said, and then I knew that the next words out of her mouth were going to break my heart. “This is a Lazaro dress, and they’re a bit pricey.” That’s like saying that the bitter cold of the icy tundra is “a bit chilly.” I suppose I shouldn’t have tried on a dress I didn’t feel comfortable falling in love with, a dress that I would later find out costs nearly six thousand dollars. But I tried it on, fell in love, and wanted to marry that dress more than I wanted to marry Patrick.

From then on, my mission was clear: Find the version of this dress that is within my price range.

The next day I went searching at another bridal boutique after work. I left, sans wedding dress, filled with discouragement. I’d begun to believe that I wouldn’t find anything comparable to that designer dress. It didn’t help when the bridal consultant and the second boutique told me I’d have to buy a dress from a couture line if I wanted the cut and style I was looking for. She told me I had expensive taste, and I punched her in the ear. Then I left, wishing a stranger would approach me on the street and hand me a $6,000 wad of cash.

My friend and bridesmaid, Krystle, came into town for a visit late that night. I had recruited her to be my partner in Operation: Vision in White. We drove for hours to a boutique near Tampa. And, after trying on dress after dress, I found it. I found the next best thing to that Lazaro dress, and I actually liked it better than the original.

Now, more than ever, I’m looking forward to making my grand entrance. I think “At Last” will echo in my head that day. Amen, Etta James.

Whitney

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