There’s an irritating coyness to the language around wedding expenses: they’re not expenses at all, they’re “investments.”
And then there was the dress. When a more God-fearing relative said “ooh, it’s sexy,” I angsted over whether that was supposed to be a compliment or a dig. When I asked my mom if she minded that I wasn’t wearing hers, she assured me—over and over—that she loved the dress, that it was my wedding . . . but I don’t think she ever quite met my eyes.
Throughout the nine months of planning, I agonized and fretted and cried in a Michael’s craft store while buying fake ivy for the seating chart because everyone, everywhere, was going to have a terrible time and whisper mean things behind their hands and judge me and only me, the bride, for daring to be a bride at all.
I don’t think people hated the wedding. In fact, I think everyone had fun. I did. Josh did. Now there was paperwork yoking us forever and a bunch of checks made out to the nonexistent “Mr. and Mrs. Josh Maxwell” to talk our bank into depositing.
Our wedding attire dutifully hung in our shared closet. Josh, as promised, wore his suit again. I, however, was not so lucky. My “investment” had zeroed out. No sensible financial planner would have encouraged it.
My no-nonsense side told me my dress was just a hunk of cloth that (as I did not intend to remarry) had no remaining material value for me—something to be dry-cleaned and packed in a garment bag and schlepped from our starter house to our family house to our active-adult-over-55 condo community until it was finally sold, smelling of mothballs, at an estate sale in the year 2080. There was the vague notion of passing it on to my daughter, but wasn’t I myself living proof that sometimes daughters think for themselves? (Not to mention that the mere thought of growing and raising a child to adulthood made me want to faint.)
I knew I could sell my dress, though. I’d browsed plenty of the used wedding dress websites myself. I’d also sold the odd piece of clothing online: blazers purchased in a fit of career aspiration, final-sale jeans that arrived too short. It’d be a little cash in my pocket in return for something I really, really did not need. But selling my wedding dress felt a little sad. Or craven. Or like an O. Henry-ish act of desperation I’d come to regret for the rest of my life.
I—we—didn’t strictly need the money, but we didn’t not need it, either. Including the cost of alterations, the dress was the most expensive item I’d ever bought, outstripping the previous title-holder (my MacBook) by a cool $850, and since I’d left my full-time job to write, I wasn’t in a position to turn down money. And yet I hesitated.
Even my website of choice, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, had an SEO-induced frankness to its name that squeezed any magic right out of it. Gone were the gauzy dressing rooms and the free champagne, swapped for a PayPal account and a brass-tacks attitude.
For sale: wedding dress, worn once.
I’ll just list it, I told myself. A $25 listing fee, no commitment. I didn’t have to say yes.
When I got my first message from Erica [not her actual name], I didn’t answer right away—I was traveling; I’d had a few nibbles go nowhere; it wasn’t exactly a priority. But the next time I checked my phone, there were two more messages: Did I get her first one? Sorry if she’s messaging too much. It’s just that she tried on this dress at the store and she loves it. Is it still available? Am I talking to anyone else? Could I let her know either way?
I knew I could sell my wedding dress. We didn’t strictly need the money, but we didn’t not need it, either.
I wrote her back. She replied almost instantly, explaining her search for a dress, her love for the elegance of the Abigail, the high price tag that kept from buying it at a salon. Suddenly, I was myself a year ago.
Could I take a close-up of the bodice? I could.
Could I knock $100 off the price? I could.
Could I ship it the next week?
It was only fibers, I reasoned, off-white shell and ivory lining (plus sewn-in cups, bustle ties, and some very faint sweat stains). It was an object I was ambivalent about and an object Erica was dying to own, to wear.
Absolutely, I told her.
Erica was ecstatic. She couldn’t wait. Her fiancé was going to take her to Texas Roadhouse to celebrate. My heart swelled—I was so happy for her.
I showed up to our small-town post office with my marshmallowy Nicole Miller garment bag and threw myself at the packing mercy of our postmaster. “Feels like I was just here with the invitations,” I said.
“Time flies,” he said.
Then we jammed the dress into a box designed for board games and it was out of my life forever.
Erica’s money paid for plane tickets. In June, my husband and I will fly to Ireland, to tour castles and villages and visit the place where his grandmother was born, years and years before she’d come to America and wear a diamond ring on her finger. And in July, Erica will walk down the aisle in a beautiful, twice-beloved dress. If those are the dividends of my investment, then I think I spent wisely.
Maybe, in the abstract, selling a wedding dress is sad. Just the way that, in the abstract, a wedding can be oppressive and uncomfortable and wide-open for judgment. But in the specifics, in my own actual personal life, I was happy to be married—I was happy at my wedding, even. And I was happy to sell my dress to this particular woman. I wanted her to have it, and I wanted it to make her happy, too.
Blair Thornburgh is the author of the young adult novels Who's That Girl, named one of Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year,and the forthcoming Ordinary Girls, both from HarperCollins Children's. Follow her on Twitter: @ATallOrder.