What you can learn from my biggest bridal regret

Angela Barnett hails from Taradale and her tūrangawaewae is Piha. She’s a writer, body image activist, mother, and lover of wigs.

OPINION: The bundles of ivory tulle put me off immediately. Too soft, too marshmallowy, too princess-like.

“I want to wear red,” I say, folding my arms.

The designer raises an eyebrow. Oh yes. “Any particular style?”

“Halter-neck. Morticia Addams long. Painted around the bottom by a local artist.”

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She looks at me as if she’s never heard of the red-Morticia-halter-neck-painted category of wedding dress before. I knew what I wanted, or thought I did until I tried it on three weeks later. I look like I was wrapped up in a gigantic Turkish red carpet. Just lay me sideways and I’d unravel down the hallway.

That designer is intuitive – like horses are when they know not to cross a broken bridge–so she says nothing, and then calls two days later. “You can’t do it can you?”

“Do what?”

“Wear red.”

Tears brim. I want to be the kind of woman who struts boldly down the stairs to meet her groom in head-to-toe screw-you tradition but I’m not. I’m not sure what I am.

White was never the traditional colour for brides. Originally it was blue in honour of the mysterious Mary who had a son yet remained a virgin. After the Dark Ages, red was a popular choice.

It was also a common belief that an evil spirit could possess the bride at any moment before the nuptials but fortunately, those evil spirits were colour blind so they used to dress the bridesmaids in the same style frock but different colour, hoping the spirits might possess the bridesmaids instead.

We’ve all been to weddings where this has happened. They’re usually the best, especially when evil spirits have also entered the groom’s people.

Later, when the designer has me in a silver halter-neck, not painted (and not enough Morticia in my opinion) she tells me that every single bride who walks through her door wanting to get married in bright orange, red, pink or yellow hasn’t made it to the altar or the dress didn’t make it to the wedding.

Angela Barnett hails from Taradale and her tūrangawaewae is Piha. She’s a writer, body image activist, mother, and lover of wigs.

Victor Huang/supplied

Angela Barnett hails from Taradale and her tūrangawaewae is Piha. She’s a writer, body image activist, mother, and lover of wigs.

“It’s a sign,” she says, “they’re not ready.”

That red dress never made it to the altar and the marriage never made it to the wooden anniversary. Turns out I wasn’t ready.

For the second wedding, which I was absolutely ready for, we didn’t have time to get a dress made because we got married in a week so we could move to a forest in Northern California.

Everything was borrowed including the ring from my late Grandmother Ivy. The dress, by Nicholas Blanchet, has an interesting back but the front, upon reflection in the photos, is like a sack. A nice cream one but a sack nonetheless. And I don’t even like cream.

I have photos of me in silver getting married to the not-quite-right guy, as well as photos of me marrying the right guy in a sack that was all wrong.

I don’t know why this disappoints me but it does. I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t think about what I want until I discover, after, that wasn’t what I want – I can’t choose a duvet cover let alone a whole outfit that I will forever be framed on the bookshelf–or I don’t let myself have what I really want. I’m scared to ask for it.

It’s not a good strategy because what’s the worst that can happen? I get what I want.

After pondering this one day when we lived in the forest, it struck me what I want.

I want a bride photo I like. Something to pass down the line that my great-grandchildren would have one day and go “there she was, that was her”. Traditionally, the wedding photo gets handed down, assumed to be the moment when a girl becomes a woman (really it should be the photo after we’ve given birth but that’s less popular on bookshelves).

And so a beautiful white frock was borrowed, with a fitted bodice and not-too-flouncy bottom half with a touch of Morticia. Three girlfriends come over to work on hair and makeup, they also bring their partners, one of whom happens to be a talented photographer.

Slowly they create something out of nothing. Preening, primping, curling, straightening, smoothing, and laughing, they prepare me. We have so much fun nobody notices the minutes slipping past so by the time we go out to get the shot, sunset was upon us.

Unfortunately, the mozzies are also upon us. Every time I look at the photographer his shaved head is covered in blood-sucking mites and it is impossible for either of us to stand still.

We end up sprinting away from them.

This is my favourite bride photo, the one I will pass down to the great-grandchildren. Dress hitched up, legging it through the trees running away from tradition.

Because I’ve figured out that’s who I am.