23: The Peasant Dress

23: The Peasant Dress

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

The Peasant Dress

Just around the corner in every woman’s mind — is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her.

~Wilhela Cushman

“It’s a little tight,” I complained to the Macy’s lingerie saleslady.

“Sorry, hon. That top doesn’t come in Extra Large.” When I had bought the cap-sleeve blouse to match my eyelet peasant skirt two months earlier, I had hoped to lose weight.

“But my wedding’s ten days away!” I whined like a Bridezilla. Or, even worse — a wrinkled, overly tan sixty-two-year-old Bridezilla. I had been sure I could lose ten pounds and get down to my college weight. But I had only lost two pounds and I realized the fitted peasant blouse I wanted to be married in was made for the figure I had forty years ago. I’d be walking down the aisle popping pearl buttons like popcorn.

“Honey, you don’t need to lose weight,” the lady in lingerie reassured. “You need a waist cincher.” That sounded painful.

She returned with a wrap-around corset as solidly boned as a standing rib roast. With Herculean yanking and stretching, I was finally able to secure its top hook. I was new to these lingerie innovations. During my previous thirty-year marriage, I had preferred loose, comfortable clothes. Then I did drop some pounds — actually cried them off in buckets when my husband left seven years before.

After securing countless waist-cincher hooks, the dressing-room mirror revealed a slimmer waist. But it was obvious where all the fat went. It was spilling out of my armpits and ballooning around my hips. The blouse now buttoned without pulling at the waist, but my back looked like the Michelin tire woman. Why didn’t I listen to my future mother-in-law when she asked me if I was wearing a suit? A nice, respectable, age-appropriate suit.

“It’s on the beach, a small casual wedding. The bridesmaids, our daughters, are wearing tropical color sheaths, and I’m wearing a hippie, calf-length sort of peasant dress.”

“What color?” she asked, really meaning you never wear white for a second marriage.

“White,” I answered.

“Well, I hope George isn’t wearing a ponytail.” I just smiled. My vote was for the ponytail and a baseball cap to keep the sun off his bald spot.

When I had married my ex, I wore a tiered muumuu that did little to hide my eighth month of pregnancy. I assumed our backyard wedding was forever, and any future wedding planning would be for our daughters. I never expected to be in a fitting room with a wedding dress, looking for undergarment alternatives to liposuction.

After my ex left, I dreamed about that wedding by the sea I never had. The white, hippie peasant dress. Gardenias in long, flowing hair. Hand in hand with a man who’d say he’d stay forever. A silly dream for a grandmother of five to have. But then I met George. With our grown children and former spouses gone (George was widowed and retired), we shared our Florida days swimming, snorkeling and cruising, top down, in my new convertible while singing John Denver songs. Sometimes, I needed to remind myself that I’m not twenty-two anymore. I just feel like twenty-two with George. And when George suggested a beach wedding, I knew it had to be by the South Florida turquoise sea, the one that lured me here from California and brought George here from Brooklyn. The sea that had brought us together.

After liberating my stomach from the cincher, I noticed the tape measure left on the dressing-room chair. I measured my waist. How could my middle have grown by a whopping five inches? That couldn’t be; I wasn’t that much heavier than in college. I had heard that postmenopausal women thicken in the middle, but that wasn’t supposed to happen to me — I swim, I do Zumba three times a week, and George and I just bought beach bikes.

The waist cincher did take off an inch, but what to do about the unwanted cleavage — on my back?

“Honey, you need a full-length body shaper, shoulder to thighs, a slip, and of course you’ll want a padded bra.” The saleslady peeked in, and then disappeared like a magician behind a curtain. She returned with several undergarments that resembled wetsuits. What was the point of wearing a light, cotton, flowing wedding dress if I had to wear a suit of armor underneath? I looked down at the red tape measure coiled ominously on the velveteen chair cushion.

My dream of a sleek peasant wedding dress blowing in the ocean breeze had been a delusion. Obviously, a sixty-two-year-old with long, blond hair in a hippie dress at an island-themed wedding would look ridiculous to our guests. And the guest list was expanding every day, just like our budget and my waistline. George was inviting everyone. “Getting married to Barbara is the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” he told our friends. Sure it was easy for him. He’d wear his white Hawaiian shirt, not even tucked in.

I folded up the cotton skirt I loved and the perfect blouse and put them both back in the Macy’s bag with the receipt still in it. My perfect wedding dress wasn’t perfect on me. The world’s finest boned corset would not shape my body into the silhouette I wanted. I headed toward the escalator to find a dignified cream suit.

But before I could escape, the saleslady ran an interception, waving a long, stretchy camisole. “It tucks in the tummy and smoothes you out. All the girls are wearing Spanx.” Spanx sounded like underwear you’d find in an adult porn shop. But I’d try it.

Our day arrived. George and I stood side by side at the edge of a turquoise sea with a makeshift altar between us — a small wood table just big enough to hold the candle we lit together and my mother’s Bible. Our paparazzi guests overflowed the benches, snapping pictures under a canopy of pines. I loved the way the wind blew George’s graying hair out of his ponytail — wisps that danced madly around his ears, making him look like a sweet Einstein in a Hawaiian shirt. And the whole time he was looking at me, not the dress.

My cap-sleeve blouse was snug but smooth and the peasant skirt blew in the breeze against the round curve of my stomach. Reading my vows, I could breathe easily, no extra — wires, bones, pads or wetsuits underneath — just one body-smoothing camisole. And when George read his vows to me, he had such love in his eyes that I thought he was going to cry. And when he did, my heart filled with such gratitude that every blouse button could have burst, but I wouldn’t have cared. I felt beautiful that day — and, more than that, I felt loved.

Our wedding by the sea was beyond perfect, even if its casual, island, hippie-dippie theme was a bit hodgepodge. For weeks afterward, our friends and family kept telling us how much our wedding meant to them. I realized then that the true theme of our wedding wasn’t a dress style or decor — but a simple message: It’s never too late.

~Barbara Flores

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