My deep, dark, and dirty secret: I’m not a wedding dress virgin

I’ve already worn a wedding dress. And Mr. S was there — in a tux. No, I wasn’t a runaway bride – I was a Sweet 16 debutante.Mr. S and I started dating in the year 2000, coincidentally also the year of my 16th birthday. Sweet 16 parties are (or were?) pretty normal where we’re from, ranging the full spectrum from Knights of Columbus halls to hotel ballrooms. Guess where I fell on that spectrum.I fully own up to this. My parents graciously offered me a trip to Europe, a new car, or a Sweet 16 party. I chose the party. Looking back at my high school self, I have to admit I was pretty savvy. I knew that Europe would always be there. I knew that even if a new car wasn’t in the works, a used one would be, and I could deal with that (my dad was the sole driver in our household before I got my license. He couldn’t wait to get me on the road). But a Sweet 16?? A girl only turns 16 once in her lifetime. To me, the choice was obvious.

Things moved quickly from there (with the help of my mother who has an inclination towards the extravagant). We had a family friend at the Sheraton who could give us a deal on the ballroom and catering. We hired a balloon guy to do gorgeous balloon centerpieces. My uncles wanted an excuse to wear their tuxedos. There was talk of family flying in from the Philippines to attend. We hired a choreographer for the group dance. Wait, what?

The Filipino equivalent of a Sweet 16 is called a “Debut” (pronounced “deh-boo”) and occurs on the celebrant’s 18th birthday. Part of a traditional debut is a group dance – a complicated choreographed dance of classical styles (waltz, cha-cha, etc.) performed by the celebrant, her chosen partner, and as many couples of her friends that her little heart desires. I chose 8 couples. 8 x 2 = 16, duh. And guess who was in that group of poor souls forced to rehearse the waltz for 3 weeks straight in my uncle’s basement? Mr. S!!! Actually, those rehearsals happened very early on in our relationship — our first dates if you will. My other deep, dark, and dirty secret: I forced Mr. S to date me by enslaving him to my Sweet 16 ensemble. Don’t feel bad for him because he loved it.

So you can see where this is going: big ballroom Sweet 16 gala. What’s a girl to wear? My aunt called my mom from the Philippines with the news that she could have my dress made in the Philippines. Awesome! Not awesome. The dress arrived and it didn’t fit. And it was too short. I am only 4’11” and three-quarters – how can anything be too short on me?? So the dress was deported back to the Philippines and my mom and I shopped for a dress Stateside. I really don’t know how it happened…but one day we found ourselves in the bridal section of an evening wear store, and somehow I put on an ivory ball gown with floral detailing, and then we bought it, and then I owned a wedding dress at 15 years old. To our credit, we didn’t buy a veil. Not to our credit, we did buy a tiara.

But the story doesn’t end there…no, no, no! Because that Philippines dress came back with a vengeance. Serious alterations were made and the dress came back, fit like a glove, and looked like a million bucks. It was pink and gold (fitting with our theme – major plus), poufy, and custom. So I’d be a two dress Sweet 16er, no big deal. …Or would I be a three dress Sweet 16er? Because that wedding dress and that pink cupcake dress were really big, and how was I supposed to dance all night in that?? And so a third dress was bought – a simple light pink column sheath dress with pink beading.

My Sweet 16 was everything I could have imagined it to be and more…it was pink and gold and over the top with 140 guests, singing and dancing DJs, photographer and videographer*, sky-high balloon arrangements, plated dinners in the main hotel ballroom, three dress changes, and 30 minutes of choreographed dancing entertainment. And it is not what I want for our wedding. When we set out on this wedding planning adventure, I knew only two things: no hotel ballroom and no poufy dress. Something about it reminds me of being a kid and of our relationship when we were kids. And we’re not kids anymore, we’re full-fledged almost-but-not-yet 30 year old grown-ups.

When I think about it now, it’s crazy how long Mr. S and I have been together…how we have been able to grow up but not grow apart over 13 years.

So there you have it. My deep, dark, and dirty secret. I’m not a wedding dress virgin. Mr. S has assured me he will still marry me despite my indiscretion.

* One thing I learned from my Sweet 16 – the value of a videographer. We watched that video over and over so many times that my mother memorized it.

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