What should I wear to my wedding?

The rhinestone-bedecked wedding dress chosen by her mom wasn't what the bride had in mind at all.

karen preston

I must have been in wedding planning denial or maybe wedding planning burnout because when my mother said she saw the perfect dress for me, I didn't protest. She had it wrapped up and sent to me by an acquaintance returning to Italy from the United States.

I had moved to Italy four years before. Or maybe it's better to say I came to Italy on a vacation years before, and I never went home.

My fiancé and I were to marry in City Hall in a small medieval town in central Italy. One hundred friends and family members would be arriving from the US and all parts of Italy.

Mom had gone to a wedding fashion show, or, rather, she had gone to a warehouse of ex-fashion-show garments that were on sale – one prototype in one size, half price. She saw a gown that showed off the shoulders, a feature she thought was one of my best. That's all I knew.

What I saw when I opened the box were what looked like rhinestones, tons of them, all over the ... what was that? ... the collar? Next, I saw glittering gold stitching. No, not stitching; it was sparkling gold and silver appliqué.

The cut of the gown, though, seemed very chic. It was in two pieces. The first was the equivalent of a small cocktail dress, strapless, short, kind of sexy. It was all ivory white silk, except for that gold tapestry.

The second piece was sort of a coat or overlayer that composed most of the gown. It was floor length with several layers of silk that, because of the extra-tight fit around the waistline and how the material had been abundantly gathered before sewing the pieces together, sort of ballooned out and cascaded down from the waist in a bride-on-the-wedding-cake kind of style.

The top of the coat didn't cover my shoulders. It had a wide band with that rhinestone-gold-tapestry pattern that picked up on the bust line band from the cocktail dress underneath and continued around my upper arms and back using a wide collar piece that folded over in such a way that it looked almost as if the dress had a built-in sequined stole.

The shoulders and upper chest area were completely bare. The sleeves to the coat were long. Essentially the "completo" held itself together with the tight waist fit and carefully placed stays in the top part of the overdress. When I walked, you could see my legs. Otherwise, it seemed I was wearing a dress that completely covered my lower half.

It was stunning, really. But it's an understatement to say that it was not my style.

I had been thinking more along the lines of a pantsuit, maybe something with a high "Indian" collar to look a little more sophisticated. I was willing to wear white or beige, but that was about it.

I had decided to keep the dress my mother sent a surprise from my future husband. But instead, as soon as he came through the door that evening, I said, "It came," and pulled it out. The rhinestones and gold appliqué were shining brightly.

"Can we sell it?" he asked.

Time passed. Details about the wedding materialized. The date got closer. I kept showing the gown to anyone who stopped by. I guess it's fair to say I simply got used to it. It's also fair to say I couldn't bring myself to go shopping for a wedding outfit. I just started thinking, "What harm would it do just to put it on for that one day?" It's here. It fits. I have some shoes that would work with it. Why not?"

And it was indeed perfect. I can't imagine any other dress that could have satisfied all the needs as well as that one.

First of all, with the ceremony in a medieval setting, we needed someone to be in theme. The dress with its tight bust stays and tapestry decoration had a medieval look.

Next we needed a centerpiece. This was my first lesson on when it's appropriate to overdress. When it's your turn to call attention to the event, it's best to dress the part.

Yes, it was my wedding, and I could dress as I wanted, but having 100 people in the room with us meant we needed to think about the party, too.

It didn't feel like a compromise as much as a step toward – shall I say it? – maturity, recognizing that there are others involved besides ourselves in this world. There's a time to be the centerpiece and just receive what others have to share with you, and there's a time to be in the background and share with others. I wonder if this is the gift my mother wanted to send me?

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