I'll readily admit to being the world's worst most inept, overwhelmed, procrastinating bride. But! The one thing that's taken care of is my dress. I'll just wear the one I got for my first engagement.

When I was on the left coast visiting my fiancé's family last week, I had to field a lot of wedding questions; by the end of his parents' holiday party, I'd come up with the vague catch-all, "we're talking about the Spring." The one question I could field with total authority was the gown one, which I described in rapturous detail — save the little detail, of course, of having gotten it when I was engaged the first time, nearly four years ago.

Allow me to explain. I'd been with my boyfriend for six years when we got engaged, and the idea came as no shock to anyone. Now, that wedding was planned — no thanks to me — and my grandparents offered to buy my dress as their wedding present. When things unraveled, it was no hardship to return the ring, and I could deal with the pain of informing everyone and calling things off, but I saw absolutely no reason to taint my gown by association. About six months after we called it off, I discovered my mother had taken the dress out of my closet and hidden it in a guest room, thinking to spare me pain. But the dress had brought me nothing but pleasure, and I knew then that if I ever did marry, I'd still wear it. If I didn't, I'd just wear it around all the time, Miss Havisham-style.

Because it was so, so lovely. It was the dress I'd had in mind long before I'd met my first boyfriend; he'd never seen it; and, most of all, it had been made for me. It was, and remains, the only custom garment I've ever owned, and there seemed an unspeakable luxury to stepping into a dress I'd envisioned and having it fit perfectly. I'd long peered into the windows of the dressmaker's small shop in lower Manhattan, and it was with great excitement that I'd first breached the doorway and explained what I wanted: Swiss Dot; sweetheart neck; full, ballerina-length skirt. I was quickly persuaded to adopt a pale pink underskirt and a dainty tulle halter that sounds slightly ugly but is, I assure you, truly lovely. Without the crinoline, the dress would simply be a pretty, retro party-frock; with, it reminded me of the wedding gown from Funny Face.

Not that the process was all pleasant. The dressmaker was an intimidating and exacting figure. On my first visit, she asked me if there were any parts of my figure I didn't especially care to showcase. I considered the matter, and allowed as how I felt me shoulders were slightly broad in proportion to my frame (as the basic design of the dress was already chosen to mask and hilight more pressing concerns.)


"Everyone has some crap!" she snapped, which seemed to me very unjust given that I'd been effectively set up. In future visits, she seemed irritated by the throng of friends and relatives I brought to marvel at its progress, at my requests for swatches of material, and the consistently inappropriate underpinnings I'd wear to fittings. But by the end, we were both enchanted with the end result, with the dainty little kitten heels I'd found to wear with it, and with the tiny hairpiece I had had a milliner make to decorate my retro hairdo.

I could never blame the dress. After I found it, it brought me pleasure just to slip my hand into the garment bag and feel the fine, thin cotton. I toyed with dyeing it, of course, but it was too perfect. I didn't wear it, though, at least not until I met my fiancé — Matthew, that is. On one of our first dates, he asked me how far the wedding had progressed and whistled when I alluded to venues, dates, gifts and a dress. "Can I see it?" he asked eagerly. As this was one of several bizarre comments he'd made, and I was covertly checking my watch under the table, I was fairly sure I'd never be confronted with whatever sort of fetish this surely indicated, and let it pass. A few months later however, once we were embarked on what I insisted on referring to as a "fling," and we found ourselves at my parents' house, he brought it up again. Since by this time I'd learned he had an equally bizarre but somewhat less sinister interest in women's tailoring, I agreed, and he became the first and only man to ever see the Dress.

Which is, I suppose, bad luck now. But having seen it, he agrees that any substitution is simply out of the question. Its provenance is not something I am particularly eager to reveal to Matt's family, because I know it sounds flippant and a little tacky. The dress reminds me of a lot of painful things, naturally; but at the end of the day it's the frock I wanted to be married in, and I'd much rather be accused of vulgarity than have some tragic monument to disappointment sitting in my closet. More to the point, it's a beautiful, custom-made dress that must be worn! And the fact that it will be carrying me to City Hall instead of a fancy wedding by the seashore just goes to show: tacky or not, it is always in style.