Girl Talk: On Bridal Underwear

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There were a lot of things I knew I’d have to think about when we decided to get married. I don’t just mean the lofty “What is marriage for?” questions. I mean the practical questions about the ceremony and party. What I’d be wearing underneath my dress for the big day wasn’t, however, one of the things on my mind.

That is until I watched an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” in which a former beauty queen is lectured by her father about not wearing a thong to her dress fitting. “Thong” is not a word I would ever want to hear come out of my own father’s mouth, but I guess if that’s their relationship, who am I to judge? Prior to that, however, I wasn’t privy to the entire world that is bridal undergarments — a world wherein you’re not just expected to wear something stain-free and seamless, but sexy too. Indeed, “bridal underwear” is its own species in the genus of undergarments.

Now, my general approach to underwear is that if it fits and it doesn’t have holes that are big enough make it unusable, then it’s a go. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about underwear. Last week, I was wearing a pair for at least three hours before I realized it was inside-out. But like the Mormons’ temple garments, proper under-attire is apparently a prerequisite to marital heaven. That, or it’s a way to atone for the sins of never making it to the gym or always saying yes to happy hour. Either way, brides are given the distinct impression, through a variety of sources, that on no other day will her choice of panties be as important. There are practical reasons for this. Satin, lace, and tulle don’t make for the greatest of camouflage, nor are they particularly forgiving of love handles. Anything that doesn’t sort of match your skin tone is going to show through, and they offer little cover for anything that fits poorly.

Then there’s the ever-present question every bride finds herself asking: to Spanx or not to Spanx? Because even if you’re a keeping-your-last-name, body-positive feminist, you generally have some part you want to contain on the most-photographed day of your life. For me, it came down to a question of how I want to spend my time. Daily gym sessions to shave off a few pounds, after working I-don’t-want-to-say how many hours at my job and before going home to do wedding planning? No thanks. But I will take some extra-double-reinforced underwear that sucks everything in for a few hours.

I had no desire go into a store in which I might actually have to discuss shapewear with a stranger. So instead, I ordered something called the “In-Power Line Super Higher Power Power Panties” from Amazon.com. That sounded like an unprecedented amount of power in my pants. A friend-of-a-friend who works for in retail assures me they were just mislabeled on Amazon, combining the names of the “Super Higher Power Panties” and the “Super Power Panties”—two different products. I’m still not sure which one I actually purchased.

I ordered them on a Tuesday, and by Thursday, they were sitting in my mail pile in a pink cardboard box that read, “Live the Dream.” Which would be true, if my dream were to be crammed kielbasa-like into a sheer unitard. I couldn’t imagine spending an entire day stuffed into that contraption, and promptly shipped them back. This led to a frantic search for alternative panties on a few nights before I was supposed to meet with the dressmaker. I spent a few confusing minutes wandering the underwear department and fondling various fabrics before finding something beige, stretchy, and disinclined to chafe. I left feeling glad that the whole episode was behind me.

But then came the actual dress fitting, in which I was presented with the question of the bra. The back is open, so simply going strapless isn’t enough, and I hadn’t considered this conundrum, either. I was sent off to Nordstrom’s to find something sufficient — and if nothing existed, to find something she could cut up and sew in. There, I met Jacqueline, a gruff lingerie section staffer that I was apparently supposed to let feel me up to figure out what size bra I should actually be wearing. (Turns out I’ve been wearing the wrong size all these years.) She pulled a few off the racks and the two of us crammed into a fitting room. I stripped off my shirt. “Now,” she said, handing me a pushup—a concept I was not familiar with, either. “Put the girl up on the shelf.” It took me a few seconds to grasp that “the girl” she was referring to was my breast, and “the shelf” was the firm ridge of padding inside the bra meant to give your boobs some volume. I bought the first one, thanked Jackie, and got out of there, paying far more than I’ve ever paid for a bra in my life — especially for one that would be cut up and sewn into a dress I would never wear again.

Even as someone who tries not to spend too much time thinking about body image in a world that so desperately wants you to obsess over it, it’s hard not to avoid the anxiety that comes with this particular day. I’ve now spent more money on underwear than I spend on food and rent most weeks, and the Spanx ads still haven’t stopped following me around the internet like a spurned lover. But I’m fairly certainly that when I look back on my wedding day, my underwear won’t be what I’m thinking about. And if it is, then my problems are much larger than my love handles.

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