I am inside the world’s most famous bridal store, navigating a sea of women. Women everywhere, only women, of every shape and height and size and color and ethnic group, ranging in age from perhaps 8 to 70.
My daughter’s friends arrived early, and they call me over, grinning and waving their arms. I try to check in with the exquisitely beautiful girl behind the counter — Kleinfeld will charge you $100 if you miss your appointment, and we are running late — but the beautiful girl happily informs me that my daughter is the only one allowed to check in. So I wend my way through the rising and falling waves of women to my daughter’s friends, and we exchange excited greetings.
A bouncy party of ladies at the banquette next to ours is called to meet their bridal attendant. They are wearing identical black t-shirts declaring their relationships to the bride in curly red script; “I’m Her Grandmother!!!” “I’m Her Aunt!!!” “I’m Her Mom!!!”
Drifting languidly toward the door like so many gazelles is a herd of lanky, tanned blondes. They stand out from the crowd in their coordinating peach summer dresses. I notice a little girl in a short spaghetti strap dress. It is 40 degrees outside.
“They must hope they’re going to be filmed for the show,” says my daughter’s roommate. “Look. They all got their hair done. And their makeup is perfect.”
I had forgotten about the show that made the store a household name, “Say Yes to the Dress.” To me, Kleinfeld is still a scruffy bridal boutique in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where you can buy a sample dress for $500, or a designer gown for $10,000.
Finally, my daughter strides through the double doors, her mane of curls streaming behind her. She checks in and we are assigned an attendant. Brandy is a cheerful girl with bobbed blond hair, crimson lipstick and a club-kid white complexion. Like all the attendants, she is dressed in black from head to toe.
We follow Brandy from the packed reception area into the bridal salon, a blindingly bright room approximately the size of an airplane hangar. Massive chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling 20 feet above our heads. The rows of track lights make me feel like I’m in an art gallery, or a theater.
As my eyes adjust, I see a vast, airy space punctuated by sofas and chairs. The seating arrangements divide the room into smaller areas that are both private and completely visible to everyone else, all at the same time. Did I mention it was white? White are the walls, the woodwork, the columns holding up the ceiling. White is the awning, the carpet, the tiny lights in the chandeliers. White are the molding and trim, the flowers in urns and vases, the smiles of the attendants. White are the gowns hanging on white hangers and white racks, and white is the color of the light in the cupboards behind the dresses. White are the brides, pivoting on little round platforms in front of their families. I’ve never seen so many shades of white in one place; creamy white, pearly white, transparent white, ivory white, silver white, champagne white, diamond white, a white with tones of pink, a white that is nearly gold; white as the feathers of an angel’s wing.
Brandy deposits us at a couch near the wall of tiaras, hands us bottles of water with “Kleinfeld” printed on the labels. We stand in a circle, my daughter’s college friends and me, as she leads my little girl away to the dressing rooms. “The next time you see her, she’ll be wearing a wedding dress,” Brandy promises as she departs.
I feel a little abandoned. Hey, what about me? I want to shout at Brandy. I’m the mommy! Shouldn’t I be back there too, helping my baby choose her wedding dress? You don’t even know her! And I fret: Will she remember to tell the attendant that we have a limited budget? That her dress needs sleeves, can’t be backless or strapless or plunge too low?
In the distance, I see a vision, a spectacular Botticelli Venus of a girl with long tawny hair making her way across the room. People at other stations turn their heads to stare. The vision comes closer. My daughter approaches us, in a perfect lace gown that makes her look like a princess in a fairy tale. My daughter, the bride.
My heart beats so hard I think it’s going to jump out of my chest. I’m literally shaking. She steps up on the little round platform as the attendant poofs out her train. She looks at herself in the mirror.
“What do you think, Mom?” she says.
What do I think? A minute ago, it was me trying on wedding dresses, with my mother smiling through her tears. A minute ago, it was me and my best friends clowning around at Kleinfeld, snapping pictures of the dresses when the attendant wasn’t looking. A minute ago, I was shopping for her dresses at Baby Gap, and she thought the clowns rotating slowly around her mobile were the greatest show on earth. How did the years pass so quickly?
“You look like a goddess!” I blurt. Her friends chorus their agreement. She looks incredible. It’s like the dress was created just for her.
Today, we do not say yes to the dress. We came here for the full Kleinfeld experience. We take frequent breaks to admire or critique the gowns that girls around us are trying on. We drink the bottles of Kleinfeld water. She tries on four more dresses. We take lots of pictures. She looks gorgeous in all of them. But to me, only the first one matters, the one that finally made me understand that my daughter is really getting married. It’s not about me making choices for her. She is stepping into her adult life, the one where I am not in charge.
By the end of our session, she has decided she likes two of the dresses. Brandy slips us her card and advises us that if we want either one, we’d better order it by Tuesday. We smile and nod. The wedding is six months away. We have an appointment at another, more affordable store later this week.
We have a group hug with the bridesmaids, and then my daughter and I leave the store. On the way out, I impulsively take her hand. For a while, we walk down Fifth Avenue like that — as if she is still a little girl, and I am afraid she will get lost in the crowd if I let go.