Donating my wedding dress was a chance to move on from previous wedded bliss

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Illustration by Chelsea O’Byrne

I dropped off a box of donations at my local thrift shop this morning and that simple errand has weighed heavily on my mind all day. My contribution of shoes, clothes and knick-knacks also included my wedding dress. More precisely, my second wedding dress. I’ve been to the altar twice.

At first, my thoughts returned to Wedding Dress No. 1, which could be described as elegant maternity. It was an off-white, high-necked, Asian-inspired silk gown, quickly handmade by a nice neighbour back in my Moose Jaw years. I may have looked like I was wearing half a set of heavy drapes walking down the aisle that day, but I felt pretty, comfortable and discreet. That dress was likely turned into a set of actual curtains by some crafty person, somewhere. It and my first husband have faded away into the early chapters of my life.

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Wedding Dress No. 2 is a lovely blush-pink lace concoction, bejewelled ever-so-daintily down its front bodice with sparkly gems. It has pretty capped sleeves and a silk under-slip. The calf-length style reminded me of a 1920s flapper girl on her way to tea at Buckingham Palace. I loved that dress. It was perfect for me.

Marriage No. 2 has been over for almost 10 years now. The dress is approaching its 34th season and was worn just that one time. Despite its lack of versatility, I have viewed it like my silverware or pearls. These are my personal belongings, resting in scattered treasure chests, tangibly connecting me to my own memories. I rarely use these things but I’m hesitant to give them away. I guess I’ve held onto that wedding dress for no other reason than it means something to me.

I stumble upon my keepsakes in the back of my cupboards, in the bottom of my jewellery box or inside an orphaned piece of luggage, and I always take a minute to reminisce. Touching them reminds me of happy and sad times in my life. When I hold my mom’s beaded evening bag, it reminds me of her and that rainy winter evening in Vancouver when she came with us to the Christmas symphony at the Orpheum. It kept our tickets safe and dry.

Lately, I’ve been noticing my wedding dress on its pink, puffy hanger under its dry-cleaner plastic at the far end of the clothes rail. It has hung in the closets of my life for the 25 years my second husband and I were together and nearly another decade after that. Why did I hold onto it? Did I think I could make something out of it? Would my daughter or hypothetical granddaughter some day walk down the aisle in it? The likelihood of either of those scenarios seems quite far-fetched. It’s an 80s style wedding dress. It’s not exactly vintage. And to be honest, even though it’s still hanging in there, the marriage it was involved in went decidedly off the rails.

Anyway, styles change, seasons come and go, life journeys take unexpected twists and turns and a wedding dress is just a moment in time. My pink piece of optimism was the outfit I wore the day our outdoor destination wedding ceremony was cancelled because of a sudden and dangerous thunderstorm in the Rocky Mountains. It was what I had on when we hastily moved our small wedding party and few guests up a flight of stone stairs to an unused, undecorated, cold, dark, event room at the Banff Springs Hotel. That’s the iconic Canadian hotel that looks a bit like a castle.

We were grateful the space was available, but it was a medieval chapel of sorts that had suits of armour hanging on its walls and thrones for chairs. The ornate stained glass windows, no doubt impressive on a sunny day, were more Hitchcock than da Vinci, being starved for light by that dark stormy sky.

It was the dress I wore to sign our marriage certificate, sitting in front of an unlit fireplace in a dark corner of that room. I had planned on that traditional moment to take place under our expensive floral arch on the lawn in front of the famous Rob Roy Dining Room with Mount Rundle towering up behind us. It was the dress that drew attention away from my stress-induced frown for the wedding photos, which were taken in a dreary granite corridor. It was the dress that I really loved because it was my second chance at love.

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Despite the harbingers of bad luck that lingered in the air that day, I believe I looked rather pretty and full of hope and joy in that dress. I had purchased it from a lovely store in Edmonton. I remember looking at myself in the change-room mirror, thinking I was Mary Tyler Moore and I was going to make it after all. Like the little crystals on the front of that pink confection of a dress, I was going to shine bright with love all around me.

That wedding dress is on its way to a display at the thrift store now. I have set it adrift on the Sea of Serendipity to perhaps give someone else that MTM feeling. These days, reuse, recycle and reinvent are very much on trend. I hope someone sees the possibilities in it. Maybe the next girl to wear it will feel the promise of its potential in those delicate threads. Or maybe she might think of something completely new to make with that lovely piece of lace. Something to hold onto and treasure for years to come.

Charlotte Phillips lives in White Rock, B.C.

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