Further adventures in corsetry

Today, I spent a very instructive morning at the Bridal Room in Leeds. After being scolded for being late, I was led upstairs into a big room and asked what I wanted. “Something quite simple, small and nothing strapless,” I said.

I was ignored. One thing you learn very quickly about wedding shops is that your opinion doesn’t matter in the slightest. I was laced up into four Maggie Sottero dresses, one after the other, by a pleasant but brisk young lady. They were all strapless, huge and complicated.

The modern template for wedding dresses was set by Vera Wang: a corset top and wide, A line skirt. This outline suits most women, which is why I suspect it’s so hard to find anything else. Your figure is held in by the corset at the top, and a big bottom or thighs are concealed by the full skirt below. If you’re reasonably tall and fleshy, this is ideal. If you are small and slight, it’s ridiculous.

After being strapped into each dress, I was then made to stand on a box to make me the right height. I pointed out that this was silly, because I couldn’t spend a whole day standing on a box. I was told that for 200, someone would cut a strip off the bottom of the dress so it wouldn’t trail on the floor. Great: pay a third of the original cost to get bits taken off. Maggie Sottero dresses come in a range of lengths, but maybe this information hasn’t been shared with bridal shops.

The dresses were all lovely and well-designed and flattering, but the best you could say was that I was in there somewhere. As well as being too long, the samples were all far too big for me, so big in fact that the excess material around the bodice had to be gathered up in huge clothes pegs. I was then told, quite brusquely, that I would have to decide which one I wanted by Monday at the latest.

To buy a wedding dress is to enter a parallel universe. Designers you’ve never heard of suddenly assume huge importance. You are not allowed to compare prices with other shops: you are not told the model number of the dresses you try on in case you attempt such a heinous crime. You cannot tell if a dress will suit you until you try it on in the correct size, which isn’t possible unless you fit the sample. If you are short, the corset top will be too long and the dress will never look right. The lead times are astonishing and can be up to six months.

I’m not a huge fan of the corset top. If I want to wear a corset, I will wear one under the dress, for that is where they are supposed to go. I was also surprised at how overtly sexy some of the dresses were, considering that a massive meringue is most at home in a church wedding. My suggestion that I’d like something with *sleeves* was dismissed immediately, which I think said more about their stock than my taste.

My colleagues and I took our leave of the Bridal Room after an hour of enormous dresses. I think the attendant was expecting me to fall in love with one of them and put a deposit down then and there. I’m not an idiot: I wouldn’t do that with a 1,500 laptop and I’m certainly not doing it with a 1,000 dress that I won’t see for four months.

I was somewhat humbled after showing off to my audience that the dresses were far too big when we popped into Berkertex. There was a woman in there trying on a dress that would not do up the back. But she’d have looked far better than I did in Maggie Sottero’s Julie.

If I were to buy an off the peg Prada dress, I could wander around shops, try it on without an appointment, compare prices and once I’d made my choice, buy it then and there and take it home. But I can’t do that with a wedding dress that costs roughly the same. Well, actually, I can. Designers have websites and I have a phone with a camera. However, get caught doing this and you are thoroughly scolded. I did not get caught.

However, there is a world beyond these enormous triangular dresses. In the States, there is a thriving market for formalwear designed for younger women and teenagers, because of the enduring tradition of the Prom.

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