Congratulations! You have been selected as a bridesmaid in your friend's wedding. Not only are you one of her closest friends, you also get a brand-new dress. Oh, sure, you will have to pay for it, and it could set you back a few hundred dollars once you factor in alterations, but let's focus on the positive, shall we? Your friend assures you that this dress is not your average bridesmaid dress. This dress is gorgeous. It will look great on every skin tone and flatter every figure. In fact, if a musical starring Julie Andrews is ever written about this dress, "Flatter Every Figure" will be one of the songs.
You go to the bridal shop and try on a sample and let the saleswoman take your measurements. You stare at yourself in the mirror and try to picture how the dress will look when it's three inches shorter and in a completely different color. It's not bad, you admit. Your friend wasn't lying. You hand over your credit card and go home. It's just a matter of time before someone asks the inevitable: "Would you wear it again?"
If you're like me, even if you've just acknowledged how inoffensive it really is, you answer no.
During my stints as a bridesmaid, I've found that there's a big difference between whether I could wear a dress again and whether I would. To my friends' credit, they have picked dresses that really did look nice, dresses that would not look out of place at a future party, and yet I have never allowed an encore. This is, in part, because of the way a dress is transformed by its first use - it's no longer just a dress, it's Friend's Bridesmaid Dress. And when you're constantly going to weddings with the same friends, this association does not go unnoticed. Once upon a time, you may have been able to get away with it at an out-of-town wedding with a different group of people - now, Facebook will tell on you. Then a certain married friend will write on your wall: "That dress looks familiar..."
But it's not just a fear of getting caught that causes me to leave a beautiful chocolate-brown Badgley Mischka dress hanging in the closet at my parents' house. It's the realization that, even when the bride has our best interests at heart, it would be impossible for her to have the exact same taste as every woman in her bridal party. Just as I can recognize that Leonardo DiCaprio is an attractive man without being attracted to him, I can look at a dress and see that is pretty without being drawn to it as something I would choose for myself.
Clothes, whether they come from Zara or Dior, are one way we express ourselves. So when we receive compliments on an outfit, it's not just our appearance at that moment that's being praised but also our discernment - our ability to select the right piece for the occasion. We start picking out our clothes at a young age - or battling our parents to let us - because it's a lot more satisfying to give yourself a mental "You did it!" sticker when you actually did do it. I have attended seventeen weddings in the past six years, so I'm certainly not above repeating outfits. I would just rather wear the one-shoulder cobalt-blue dress I found on my own four times (so far) than put on something that makes me feel even a smidge less special.
From the engagement party to the bridal shower, the cost of being a bridesmaid is not insignificant, so it's not surprising that brides try to frame the dress as an investment that will pay off in the long run. But unless it's one of those situations in which she merely specifies the color and lets the bridesmaids take it from there, I choose to view this purchase, like the penis straws used at the bachelorette party, as just part of the package. I don't agree to be a bridesmaid to add to my wardrobe - I do it because my friend wants me to be part of her special day. What the dress looks like almost doesn't matter.