BY NITYA RAWAL
Nitya Rawal searched for dresses high and low, but when she found a seamstress to create her idea of the perfect dress, she was in bliss.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, my fiancé Sunil called me up from Europe to say that he was coming back to the United States and wanted to get married as soon as possible. Once he made up his mind, everything unfolded quickly. We met in New York, then traded in my two-seater sports car for a big silver SUV that would hold all of our belongings for the drive back to Iowa.
While we waited for the last adjustments on our car in Schenectady, New York, Sunil and I went to David’s Bridal Shop. A stern saleswomen, reminding me of a teacher I’d rather not have, scolded me as I picked up a whole handful of dresses to try on.
“No, no, no! You tell me what you want, and I’ll put it in a dressing room for you.” She took the dresses, then sat me down to answer a million questions. Forms first, dresses later, was her attitude. Then she allowed me to point at some more gowns that she gingerly carried into the dressing room. She opened a dress for me and I stepped into a hula hoop of crinoline that reminded me of the collectors’ dolls from my childhood. Sunil and I began to think more and more about a wedding somewhere warm so I could wear a simpler sleeveless dress.
As we traveled slowly west in our new car, I picked up a variety of bridal magazines and flicked through the massive texts. Sunil would glance over from the steering wheel, or over my shoulder at night, to give his yes or no.
When we got to Chicago, my Aunt Marty and I left the men at home while we navigated the city’s bridal boutiques. With saleswomen pinning size 12 dresses to fit my size 2 figure, I was never certain what I’d really look like. They assured me that this was the custom and even offered to alter size 12 dresses so that I could buy one right off the rack. Most shops said they could express order limited designs, but none could actually order my dress of choice and get it in six weeks.
I went home and continued dress shopping in Iowa and on the Internet. I found a website where I could get my designer dream dress for $1,000 off, but it took six months to order the dress, and I didn’t have that much time, even if I did want to drop most of our wedding money on a risky Internet purchase.
After trying on everything from every bridal store surrounding Iowa City and Des Moines, and being disappointed with every gown I tried, I walked out of another bridal shop empty handed again. A small woman came out of the back room and asked, “Have you thought of getting someone to make the dress for you?”
“Oh, yes,” I said with a sigh. “But I want something really stylish.” I was thinking of all the couture gowns I’d seen in magazines.
I almost didn’t even notice her as she followed me out to the car. She was so quiet. “I could make you a mock dress, so you could see if you like it first,” she said.
I looked at her skeptically. “Have you made a wedding dress before?”
“No. I just take them in. But some people say that altering is harder than making a dress from scratch,” she said. She seemed lighthearted.
“You’d make a mock dress?” I asked.
“Yes, we could make it out of cotton,” she said, “and then use it as a slip in the dress if you like it.”
“Could we make it out of silk instead? A silk slip would look smoother.”
I invited her into the back seat of my car and we talked more. I took her address, email, and phone number and told her I’d send her a photo and see if she still wanted to make it. She seemed confident and brave to do it. Obviously, she’d seen how difficult I was to please just in those few minutes … she could see my idealism about this dress.
But she was an unpretentious and hard-working woman. She never wavered in all the details of my designer dress. The original cost almost $3,000 and we made one for a fraction of the price, with all the same ornate details. I studied a photo of the dress endlessly to figure out how to copy the detailing. I also researched the dress on the Internet and discovered that the subtle detailing under the bodice was made with silk flowers and Austrian crystals. My seamstress directed me towards suppliers. I bought a book on how to make silk flowers and she sewed them up. We used a chunky cotton lace on the bodice, just under the bustline, and fastened on silk flowers with diamond-bright crystals spattered in between.
It took many two-hour round trips to meet with her for fittings, but I felt like an emerging princess. At the wedding, everyone said they’d never seen a prettier dress. It was made out of the finest two-ply silk satin, light as a nightgown and held on by double spaghetti straps. My veil was just a few yards of simple tulle bobby-pinned into my curlicued bun, with a wreath of tuberoses around it.
My wedding dress is a dress I’ll save forever—definitely the most exotic dress I’ve ever owned. Getting it made was the only way that I could satisfy all of the details that I desired, but it also turned out to be the most economical, creative, and fun way to step into my fairytale vision.