February 3, 2013

{Who's Inside the Dress}

 [The following is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, that uses Princess Diana's life as a 'backdrop' to view and illuminate our own. This is from a section called "Loving the Skin We're In."]

While the royal wedding was being planned and arrangements organized, much of Diana’s attention—like for many brides before and since—went to the dress. In my wedding articles and blogs, I ask brides: What image do you want to remain in the imagination of your guests? It’s not the vision of a lovely woman in a beautiful gown that really inspires. What remains unforgettable and inspiring is when that image is infused with the beauty of an open heart. Being included in the intimacy of the day is the real gift people take home and feel when they recall the image of the bride. Perhaps that’s what makes some wedding dresses themselves so memorable: they were chosen with that same open-hearted, “being in love” attention.

Diana chose the Emanuels—the husband and wife team known for their “full blown romantic style” as described by costume writer Kay Staniland—to design her wedding gown. And I thought her selection was perfectly aligned with the “goddess energy” stirring around her. The designers’ intent, following Diana’s lead, was “to transform [her] into a fairy princess”—and this included lots of flowing silk tulle veils. But it seems the young princess-to-be innately knew how to present herself with the aura of a fairy-tale princess by the choice of such a feminine confection. Her appearance captured the imagination of the world looking in (some say it tapped into the spirit of the Divine Feminine), and—like an inspired, striking physical appearance can do—it not only started fashion trends, but it also changed something fundamental: women’s relationship with themselves as a bride and as a woman.

In later years, the more sophisticated and worldly Diana (who now wore more tailored and simple, sleek clothes) lamented about her choice of the romantically fluffy wedding gown design she selected as a teenager. Maybe this was due in part because the gown’s elaborate design—breaking with a tradition of toned down and sparse styles of the previous two decades—had received criticism from some fashion quarters. Yet thirty years later, on the eve of her son William’s wedding, a survey of 5000 women voted Diana’s dress the “best ever” over a long list of other royal and celebrity brides and their choice of gown.

Diana’s full veil was also criticized at the time as a step backwards for women’s self-expression. But—as I wrote years later about my experiences dressing brides in my shop during the 1980s and 90s—I felt wearing that kind of sheer, gossamer, over-the-face veil gently enveloped the bride in a lovely stillness. Perhaps this was a holdover from what I saw with Diana as a bride and the choices she made. I’m sure I was thinking of her and other brides who had intuitively chosen to wear a veil when I wrote in my book, The Bride’s Ritual Guide: Look Inside to Find Yourself:

As I dressed and fitted brides in the quiet privacy of my shop, I shared this impression with them: “Imagine the bridal veil representing the mystery of womanhood. Wrapped in a gossamer cloud, the veil reveals the woman.”

Then some enchantment would always follow. As I attached a veil to the headpiece in the bride’s hair, I watched closely as she turned to her image in the mirror. Her eyes widened, her face softened, her heart opened and then a little gasp as she looked at her reflection, like some long lost recognition remembered.

When we put our attention inside, it always opens us to notice what’s outside of us in a deeper, more profound way. Whether it’s a flower or the person standing in front of us, when we are really present, then they are really there. And if it’s wearing a wedding veil as a bride that will do the trick, then so be it!

Like all rituals of the marriage ceremony, the various wedding costume components—the special gowns and veils, tiaras and flower garlands; the sashed uniforms and polished boots, top hats and crowns—whatever the time and place and fashion require of the bridal couple, all the wardrobe pieces play their part. This fanciful wedding garb was originally designed to have us feel the moment, to put us on notice of a change to come, that a passage of life is opening its endearments; and the intimacy of how each item feels on our skin is a reminder to slow down, look within and be aware of who is inside the costume! ~

[This is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, that uses Princess Diana's life as a 'backdrop' to view and illuminate our own. This is from a section called "Loving the Skin We're In."]


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