It’s simple, classic, sleeveless. There’s a corset underneath which makes it hard to breathe, but I like the feeling of being strapped in. Apart from being a little long, the dress fits perfectly. When I look at my reflection, I see my mother on her wedding day, standing next to my father in St Kilda gardens. I see their faces, plastered with identical smiles, their arms intertwined.
The date is the 24th of April, my parent’s 23rd wedding anniversary. Mum had pulled the dress out from a box in the shed, carefully folded inside a pillowcase. “Would you like to try it on?” she asked me, smiling shyly. I could see what the moment meant to her, her eldest daughter trying on her wedding dress. I was curious too. Curious to see how the dress would fit, how alike we were. She clapped when I zipped it up. “Beautiful!”
The dress did look nice. In it, I felt like a memory of my mother and a shadow of my future self. It was a weird feeling.
“Is it your style?” my mother asked me. I shrugged. My style consisted of jeans and jumpers and the occasional skirt. When it came to wedding dresses, I had no idea what I liked. “I just don’t want to keep it,” she explained, “unless you’re going to wear it one day.”
Wear it one day? I could barely picture myself waking up for work the next morning, let alone walking down the aisle. It’s not that I never pictured myself getting married- I’d always assumed that one day I’d meet The One and that would be it. But in that dress, I felt like I was cosplaying an older version of myself from a different dimension.
Society has begun to celebrate independent women. Women are lawyers and neurosurgeons and rocket scientists. They are encouraged to pursue an education and start a career of their own; told to get their own lives so they don’t have to depend on a man.
But underneath all this encouragement, is the lurking belief that these are things women are supposed to do in conjunction with marriage. You pursue your career during the day and come home at night to your husband. You almost certainly have children.
Suddenly, standing in front of my wardrobe mirror, this didn’t seem like something I wanted. When was I supposed to make the decision to stop putting myself first? For things like marriage and families undoubtedly come with cooperation and compromise. When do I decide that it would be okay for me to turn down that promotion or not take that new position in France because my husband is complaining that he never sees me? Decide that my life isn’t solely mine anymore, and that it needs to be shared amongst others, like lush slices of pie until I’m left with the smallest, driest piece?
One night when out in Melbourne with a few friends, we stumbled into a club. The music was so loud and the bass so deep that my heart throbbed in my chest, and I was deafened for an hour afterward. One of the guys dancing with me motioned something to his friends. It took me a while to realise he was holding two fingers up to his laughing friends. I was the second girl he’d leeched on to that night. I didn’t even know his name.
Eventually, these are the men that will be husbands and fathers. They’ll slip on a suit and get a job at an accounting firm and select a woman to marry; build bookshelves and grill steaks on the Weber in the backyard. Then once a month, they’ll go out with the boys and have a few. They’ll grab a different girl’s arm and make it number three.
Even so, looking at myself in the mirror, I can’t quite shake the part of me that still hopes for a fairy-tale ending. A perfect wedding, with the perfect guy. A dream job and a holiday house in Europe. I have to believe I can have it all.
“Keep the dress,” I tell my mother, and she smiles.
Just in case.
Article written by Maya Duggan
Header image courtesy Norman Parkinson
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