Pretty soon after my wedding I started to wonder what I was supposed to do with my wedding dress. It wasn't the kind of thing I could wear to a Christmas party. Some people, I knew, had their dresses "preserved" by a dry cleaner, a kind of textile embalming. I didn't think my dress would take too well to that.
And even if it did, what was I "preserving" it for? No one else in my family or close circle of friends was likely to wear it. It was too distinctive. And, if I'm being honest, I realize that not everyone sees the appeal of a dress that walks so fine a line between "swan" and "chicken".
I also think that wedding dresses have their moments. I don't know a single women around my age who wore her mother's dress. Our mothers' dresses may be beautiful, but they look old-fashioned. As a generation raised to be independent, each of us wants to do her own thing. I won't kid myself into thinking my hypothetical daughters will be any different. I probably wouldn't want them to be.
I knew I could sell the dress on e-bay, but it felt weird to put a price tag on so sentimental an object. I also doubted I'd get much for it. The dress was easily the most expensive dress I've ever owned, but even so the price was fairly modest (some people spend more on their cell phones). Some friends suggested re-purposing it into another kind of object. I joked that I could probably turn it into a down pillow just by turning it inside out. But that felt weird, too. It was a dress. A special dress. I didn't want it to be anything else.
I hung onto it without too much serious examination until our one-year anniversary (moving it across the country twice—carefully). Then I started to worry about the dress aging. I really didn't want to unzip its garment bag one day and have it not be beautiful. To me, that would be much sadder than having it not be there at all.
So, I went into research mode. There are more than 2 million weddings in the US every year. What are people doing with all these dresses? After much searching and thinking, I found what seemed to me to be the perfect solution: a charity called Brides Against Breast Cancer. BABC collects donated wedding gowns, sells them (at a discount) in a nation-wide tour, and uses the money to grant wishes for women with metastasized breast cancer.
I loved the idea that my wedding dress would be another person's wedding dress. I so loved wearing it and it made me really happy to think about someone else feeling the same way. The fact that it would be someone who might not otherwise be able to afford the dress of their dreams just made it sweeter. I could also imagine this other wearer preserving the dress for her daughter or granddaughter, making it into something new, or watching it age as she did. Wedding dresses are treasured objects and I knew my dress would be in good hands with Bride #2.
And then there is the money it would bring in, the wishes it would help grant. I spent a lot of time on BABC's website reading about the work that they do (and, yes, crying a fair bit). The women they help are so strong and grateful. And their wishes are so humble. One woman asked for a video camera so she could tape a message to her yet-unborn grandchild. Another woman asked for a plane ticket so she could properly say good-bye to her mother. These seem like such basic things: the ability to be remembered, or to say good-bye. It hadn't occurred to me that some people wouldn't have them. After spending some time reading their letters, it was obvious to me what I'd do with my dress. It seemed so fitting and perfect and clear and...inevitable, really.
I could make this a much longer story if I included the six months it took for my sweet, sentimental husband to be ready to let it go, or how I almost gave the dress to him instead. I could tell you what it felt like to put the dress on one last time, in the middle of our crappy apartment in Pittsburgh, barefoot, my hair undone.
I could also write about finding a box just the right size and packing the dress away. The walk to the post office. Watching the box disappear behind the counter. But the only important thing to say is how good it felt.
Yesterday I sent the dress away. Today I looked at some wedding pictures. Seeing the dress in them, I didn't feel sad or wistful. Instead, I thought about my dress's future, where it will go, what it will do. Now, it's even more beautiful to me.