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Bridesmaid revisited

A member of multiple wedding parties looks back at four dresses, chosen from a closet full of memories

Meredith Goldstein Meredith Goldstein wore a black, A-line, V-neck Jim Hjelm dress to a wedding in 2006.
By Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / March 10, 2011

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A few months ago, while cleaning my closet in my childhood home, I saw them: the polyester, taffeta, and strangely shaped gowns that have been gathering dust, some for more than a decade. I’m talking about the formalwear that’s meant to be worn once, despite what well-meaning brides may tell you. I’m talking about the many bridesmaids dresses I spent months preparing to wear and then shoved in the back of my closet as soon as the big day was over.

Back when I was forced to buy and wear those dresses, I resented them — or more specifically, the brides they represented. I’m a very loyal friend but a terrible lady in waiting. I don’t like wearing shoes with heels. I don’t like wearing a uniform, especially an expensive one.

But seeing the dresses again made me nostalgic. Sad. Strangely hopeful that at some point I’ll be ordered to wear something similar again.

There was a period in my 20s when my life resembled a bad Katherine Heigl movie. It seemed that almost every other weekend I was either getting fitted for someone’s nuptials or forced to flat-iron my hair. I squeezed into gowns meant for women with smaller breasts and thighs. And as my patient, now-married friends know, I rolled my eyes throughout the process.

But my dark secret is that I miss it. I miss all of it, especially the dresses. For all of my talk about hating the fake silk and big bows, that formalwear represented a phase of beginnings that’s now over. As 30-somethings, my friends are less interested in traditional weddings. The ones who are getting married now often don’t have bridesmaids. If they do, there’s often no special dress. No demand for bobby-pinned buns and matching necklaces.

So in the spirit of nostalgia, I would like to pay homage to my favorite bridesmaids dresses. I do this to celebrate them — and to let younger “always the bridesmaid’’-type women know that even though you think you don’t want to wear a bunch of weird dresses this wedding season, you really do. One day you will yearn to buy more of them. One day, you’ll find yourself dancing around your living room in them, remembering the days that you held a bouquet of flowers and crossed your fingers that the strange, overpriced strapless bra you had to buy for the dress would hold out for the entire reception.

My first bridesmaid dress: I was only about 20. My friend Andrea was 23. The dress was floor-length and navy to match the groom, a Naval Academy midshipman who would eventually become a Marine officer. I loved the gown (despite pretending to hate it) because it matched my eyes and because I could sweat in it without making armpit stains. Note to brides: Go dark, especially in summer.

The groomsmaid dress: I was a groomsmaid — meaning, I stood on the groom’s side in support of my male friend. Still, I matched the bridesmaids and wore a grass-green, polyester dress by Eden Bridals. The sleeves were a fluttery chiffon, resembling the costume of a Disney princess. Sounds ugly, but it worked. The bride and groom allowed us to buy the cut of dress that matched our bodies best, so I was able to go A-line while the less-hippy women went for a straight skirt. Note to brides (and grooms): Let us choose our fit.

The dress of reckoning: It was the wedding of Shalise Manza Young, now the Globe’s football writer. Back then, in the early 2000s, we were only a few years out of college. I was broke and eating Dunkin’ Donuts muffins for dinner. I barely squeezed into the size 14-ish lavender bridesmaid dress and tried to blame the bride. “Everyone looks bad in purple,’’ I said to myself, feeling a bit like Grimace. But when I looked in the mirror after inhaling just about every piece of food Shalise had offered her wonderful guests — my face pale from lack of sleep and my hair a mess — I had to admit to myself that the problem was me. The dress was actually quite nice. I hadn’t done it justice. Purple is lovely. I wasn’t. Note to brides: If the bridesmaid blames you for looking bad, it is not necessarily your fault.

The perfect dress: It was black, A-line, V-neck — a Jim Hjelm. It fit all of the bridesmaids, despite the differences in our weight, height, and breast size. It was classy despite revealing cleavage. I was seeing an ex at this wedding, so I dieted to prepare. That’s not usually my style — but the reunion felt larger than life. I wanted to look like the kind of bridesmaid I usually hated, the one who threw on the dress and looked perfect without having to wear Spanx, safety pins, and concealer. This dress made it easy. It was dignified when I had my hair down and almost sexy when I wore it up later in the night — after I’d had too much to drink and embarrassed myself in front of the ex. (That’s what we bridesmaids do, right?). I have no regrets when I see that one hanging in my closet. The bride, Paige, chose it because she really did think we’d make use of it again. And I could wear it — maybe to a ball, if I were ever invited to one. Even if it sits in my closet untouched forever, I’ll be happy I have it. It’s the last and best of an era. It’s the one that makes me miss it all. Note to brides: Think about what you’d want to wear.

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@globe.com. She is available for fittings and is open to wearing a corsage.

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