I spent the summer of my 18th year working in a bridal boutique. I was about to start a law degree and my head was wobbly with fear and anxiety; I needed a holiday job that wouldn't trouble my patience or my brain cells.
For three months I helped women on the verge of nervous breakdowns choose the dress of their dreams (the suffix zillas had yet to bump up against the word bride, but there was still a lot of angry oestrogen splashing around that shop).
While most of the summer was an exercise in teeth- gritting, it was never dull. The shop specialised in the kind of frothy concoctions that danced on the edge of good taste, made up of too much tack and taffeta.
Our customers too, wavered between the tragic and the amusing.
Drunk with the idea that they could reinvent themselves with scraps of fabric, most had been planning their weddings since they graduated to solid food.
The look du jour was 'Disney princess' and when they weren't obsessing over tiaras and trains, they demonstrated considerable prowess in subjects such as chocolate versus fruit cake, and how doubling up on support knickers could rein in fleshy bits.
The ringmaster of this extraordinary circus was the owner, a woman whose mouth was constantly filled with pins and sarcasm.
"As someone familiar with the love affairs between men and women [she'd been married four times], most of these marriages won't last a year," she would say, as another hapless bride rode off into the sunset with an excess of tulle and an empty bank account.
When I asked her why they bothered, she looked at me as though I'd had the wedding gene snatched right out of me.
"Because most women spend their entire lives wanting a big production ceremony and the perfect meringue dress. And who are we to deny them?"
Weddings seemed to be this big, lavish drink that was lapped up by everyone but me, As a child I didn't doodle fancy white dresses in the back of my exercise book, or practise signing someone else's surname. And I sure as heck didn't give a second thought to my wedding menu or fantasy guest list.
It took me a good decade to realise that my issue wasn't with weddings per se. I'm as an enthusiastic a patron of a good knees up as the next girl - the fancy dresses, the embarrassing speeches and the pathetic lunge for the bouquet - just as long as it's someone else's.
It turns out I'm more interested in the passage than the rite. Having a solid, happy marriage, like my parents, is much more important to me than owning an album of pictures of drunk people in tuxedos. Or spending so much on something I can neither drive nor live in.
So when my partner proposed, it threw me into a spin. Being estranged from convention, we were never likely to go the way of the bridal-shop ladies.
Instead, circumstances conspired that we'd get married in Vegas for a magazine story. It ticked my boxes for something quirky, fun and so trashy it was almost cool. But once I'd made the decision to marry, the much- scoffed-at wedding dress obsession turned up to slap me around the face.
I knew I wanted to wear a beautiful dress but it had to be plain, simple and elegant. Having had my fashion compass corrupted by the summer job, anything involving lace, satin or taffeta was out. As were veils, fascinators and excessive embellishments.
Another limiting factor was my unusual wedding choice: I wanted to avoid clashing with the fake Elvis' rhinestones but still have something cute enough for a magazine spread.
With three months to go, and not a dress in sight, I turned into one of those women. My fiancé tried to be helpful: "Buy the first thing you see when you log on and be done with it," was one suggestion.
"Let's call this whole thing off," was another, more common refrain.
I played with the idea of having a dress made, but neither a suitable pattern nor fabric presented itself. I finally understood those women who had entered my life that not-so-happy summer.
As February wandered into March (April 10 was our D-date), I flew to Hong Kong for work. When I mentioned my dilemma to my guide, he swooped me up and took me to the city's wedding epicentre, where women with a similarly crazed look in their eyes bossed tailors around.
I found my blingy shoes and bag there, but the dress, alas, remained out of reach. On my last morning, as I opened my wallet to the factory outlets of Granville Road, I stumbled upon a woman selling samples and seconds of major European designers.
Being samples, they were also on the smallish side, which suited my five-foot frame. There, in a shop no larger than a Post-it note, I found it - a knee-length, A-line, white cotton and chiffon Chloe dress that was classic and hipster in equal measure.
It also, thankfully, disguised the Olympian-strength comfort-eating binge that had accompanied the wedding idiocy.
Best of all? It cost about a fraction of what I'd planned to spend. Five weeks later, as Elvis walked me down the aisle and latched me to my beloved for eternity, I gave my wedding cynicism a long slow kiss and sent it on its way.
- Sunday Magazine
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