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FASHION | FIRST PERSON

You've Got to Have a Strategy When Looking for 'The Dress'

September 04, 1997|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite possessing the requisite double X chromosome, I never spent my young adult daydream time planning My Perfect Wedding.

I never flipped through bridal magazines conjuring images of string quartets, camellia petals and all my female friends in matching hoop skirts of yellow chiffon.

So when it came time to actually plan my wedding, I eschewed the baroque in all things, especially The Dress.

Operating under the belief that only one thing should look like a wedding cake, and that would be the wedding cake, I nixed trains, falls, big satin butt-bows and 7 zillion pearl buttons down my spine right off the bat. There would be no crinoline present unless the groom chose to wear it. And as this was his second wedding as well as mine, I thought that highly unlikely.

But still I had to wear a dress--a nice dress, a dress that would not embarrass my mother or my friends, a dress that would let those stuck in the back know that I was the one getting married, not my maid of honor.

It seemed a simple enough task: find a nice pretty dress in cream or white.

I figured it would take a day, two at the most. I had bought dresses before. What could be so hard?

Three weeks and 27 stores later, I'll tell you what.

Because it's my wedding dress and no matter how cavalier I might seem, I wanted it to be perfect. Understated, but perfect. Eastside, Westside, all around the town I wandered, drawn by the sleek, the sheer, the lacy. I trawled the garment district, the malls, Melrose, Main Street, Montana, the Glendale Galleria.

And I learned some very important things, not least of which was: Even if you aren't the type to follow the week-by-week checklist-from-hell recommended by magazines du marriage and wedding sheriffs everywhere, a little forethought can be helpful.

"I'll know it when I see it" was my guideline. Not so good.

So here are a few tips learned the hard way.

1. Pick a length. Preferably it's one appropriate to the time and place of the ceremony. If you want to show off your gams, make sure it's early afternoon and not high Mass at St. Monica's. I wasted hours trying on adorable short dresses until a friend pointed out that mine was to be "an evening wedding, not a sock hop."

2. Do not go to bridal stores. Unless you really need someone who looks like your great-aunt Maude telling you that if you really loved this man, you would wear a scoop-necked, beaded bodice, floor-length satin nightmare with matching head dress, bridal stores will only distract you. Sure a friend of mine said she found a simple Carolyn Bessette slip dress amid the baubles and beads, but I have it on good authority the same dress is available at Nordstrom. Where no one will make you wear ugly satin stilettos to try it on.

3. Do go to stores that seem obvious. This will seem like advice only to other poor souls like me who think if it isn't hard to find, it isn't worth it. Mall chains like the White Store and Jessica McClintock have lovely fancy frocks. Department stores too, especially if you're looking for a formal dress or a festive suit. And the boutiques on various fashion rows often have a short rack of fancier dresses. Just keep your eye peeled for anything pale or sheer.

4. Do look in bridal magazines. Just don't look at the bridal dresses; check out the attendants wear instead. Not only will it provide hours of much-needed comic relief, but you will find among the emerald sateen and fuchsia velvet some very simple swellegant styles that can be ordered in pastels or cream.

5. Tell saleswomen you are looking for your wedding dress at your own peril. Suddenly you will find that you are no longer a customer, you are a subject of fashion transference. By the time you wrench yourself away, you will know what she wishes she could wear or had worn on her wedding day. You may also learn quite a bit about her ex-husband's various proclivities. This information will only slow you down.

6. Do take someone with you. The saleswoman cannot be trusted. She will look you straight in the eye, completely ignoring the dress, a silky crossover backless gown that makes you look like a lab-accident morph of Mae West and Ma Kettle, and tell you that all you need is "a good foundation garment."

Honey, there ain't enough Lycra in the world. What you really need is a friend who will turn you right around, before you've had time to even glance at the horror in the mirror, with a dispassionate yet firm, "No, absolutely not." My friend Marci went so far as to intercept the saleswoman as she bore down on me with a lace tunic number. "She's the bride," said Marci, plucking the dress away, "not the mother of."

7. Do not buy something too small. One of the biggest advantages of buying off the rack is the absence of those arduous fittings so popular as transitory scenes in summer movies. But this puts the responsibility firmly on your shoulders. Be reasonable.

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