A few months after my husband and I started dating, I asked him what had made him fall in love with me. After all, we’d been friends for over a year beforehand. His response shocked me.
“Your modesty,” he replied almost instantly. “While every other girl at our school is trying to show everything off, you are always modest, and that’s what made me first look at you.”
When I use the term modesty, I mean it as extending chastity--sexual integration for the sake of freedom--to love of neighbor: guarding others from lust while communicating self-respect. This doesn’t mean I can stop others from having impure thoughts or that it is my fault if they still do, but simply that I want to do my best in assisting others with that struggle. Modesty, for me, means evaluating the motives behind my outfits, examining whether I am wearing something to draw notice or attention to just my body, rather than to the fullness of who I am.
I knew I wanted to find a wedding dress that reflected these values. I wanted my dress to show off not my skin, but my love for my husband. A love that had caused me to leave some parts of myself covered prior to marriage. I didn’t view modesty as a milestone that I had reached and could now discard as I walked down the aisle, but as a lifestyle I wanted to continue embracing even after marriage.
Yet wedding dress shopping can be disheartening for brides who desire to convey their femininity in a non-revealing way. Add to that the fact that I wanted to completely cover my shoulders and shoulder blades due to significant scarring from teenage acne, and I knew shopping would be a challenge.
Despite this foreknowledge, I found the only time I got giddy was whenever I would step into David’s Bridal, my store of choice due to proximity and price range. I’m not sure why, but the bright atmosphere, cheery attendants, and racks of sparkling gowns would make me feel, for a few moments, the true excitement for my wedding day that I often buried under layers of anxiety. Even the fresh, flowery smell of the store would make my heart race in fairy-tale glee.
The day of my first dress appointment brought a healthy dose of concern. I had, of course, spent hours on the internet putting together images of ideal dresses before ever entering the store, but they were all iterations of the same dress I’d had in my mind since I was young: a pure white, A-line gown with lace cap sleeves. The one website lacking a dress like that was that for David’s. However, I assumed they’d have others in the shop.
The bubbly attendant assigned to me greeted us at the door and asked to see some pictures for inspiration. As I showed her each one, her face fell. “I don’t think we really have anything like that,” she admitted. Still, she told me she would see what she had. I fought back tears of frustration.
“Just try on this strapless dress,” my attendant insisted, but I refused. What had she not understood about my needs? “What if we added sleeves?” she asked, probably desperate to get me into any dress at that point.
My heart beat a little faster. I’d never even considered alterations like sleeves, panels, or layers. “I…didn’t know that was an option,” I replied. In response, she opened a tissue-papered package with a pair of lace cap sleeves, just like I’d originally envisioned.
As I stepped out into the wall of mirrors wearing that first dress, the lace sleeves balancing precariously on my shoulders, I blinked in surprise. I realized I was standing in the very dress I’d always pictured. This was it. This was the dress, except instead of a model, it was me in the dress, and it looked even better than I’d imagined.
At that point, there was no need for me to keep trying on dresses, but I slipped on two more anyway. As my mom stepped away to look at jewelry, I stood alone before the mirror, fighting back tears. Like so many other things that I knew God had brought to me in the past (including my groom-to-be), this dress just felt inexplicably right. Like they say, when you know, you know.
As someone who has always had poor body image, I was shocked to feel so radiant.
By the world’s standards, my dress may have been boring or plain. But for me, it allowed me to exemplify who I am as a woman, and who I want to be as a wife.
My “simple” gown, like any modest, feminine choice would, invited our guests to focus not on my body, but on the love in my eyes and the joy in my heart.
In a small way, it allowed me to witness to Christ, and make him--not me--the center of our celebration.
As someone who’s been there, I’d advise brides feeling anxious about dress choices to remember Romans 12:2: “Do not allow this world to mold you into its own image.” Reality shows and bridal magazines do not define what a beautiful bride looks like.
Whether you’re worried about size, modesty, cost, or something else, don’t feel you have to settle for the world’s standards. Instead, let the joy of your love for your spouse, and for Christ, be your choice garment on your wedding day.
I wish I’d said a prayer that day before going shopping, because I bet the experience would have been far less stressful. Looking back, this is what I would have prayed:
Prayer before wedding dress shopping
Lord, as I go to try on wedding dresses today, I pray this is a joyful time, and I offer you the anxiety I may feel.
Help me to experience joy in this process, and find a dress that will make me feel beautiful inside and out.
Thank you for my groom, who values my heart over my body. Help me to remember he will find me radiant no matter what I wear and that my smile is all he needs to be happy.
Guide me to the dress that will mark our new beginning, that will exhibit my love and joy in this vocation and make me feel like Your beautiful, beloved daughter. Allow my dress to glorify You, oh Lord, and praise you for the gifts you’ve given me.
If I am worried about my looks, help me see past my self-perceived flaws, to see me as you see me, and remind me that my true beauty lies not in the standards of this world, not in the clothes I wear on the outside, but in the way I live my life, and in the joy I exhibit in your Presence and in the presence of my beloved.
About the Author: Emily Ricci is a Spoken Bride vendor and the owner of Gloriam Marketing, a Catholic marketing, consulting, and event planning firm that designs programs and custom inserts for Catholic weddings. She married her college sweetheart and best friend on June 16, 2017 and has a passion for Christ, marketing, and the Oxford comma (in that order).