When I was getting married, I only had a few must-haves for my wedding dress.
3. Wedding dress must not make me look like a giant cupcake and/or little girl playing dress up.
2. Wedding dress must be purple.
And my number 1 on my wedding dress list: The dress and I had to both sit comfortably in my wheelchair at the same time. I had to wear the dress, the dress could not wear me.
When I was growing up, it didn’t really bother me that the bridal shop window mannequins that I passed or the real brides that passed me were standing up in their dresses.
I figured, when the time came, I would find a standing wedding dress that I liked, and my Nana, who could make magic with ANYTHING, would make something I could sit in. Comfortably, and yes, beautifully.
Fast forward to when I was looking for my actual wedding dress, when I thought one of those dresses in the windows could be my dress. I started thinking these thoughts about a year before I proposed to my boyfriend, and then he proposed to me. I like to plan.
But they were dream dresses until I had a ring on my hand.
Looking for a dress when you’re engaged is different, because you must find your actual wedding dress. THE DRESS. MY DRESS.
None of the dresses I saw in bridal shop windows were my dress. Most were pretty, some were hideous, all were on standing displays.
How would that look sitting down?
That’s beautiful, but too much fabric.
It would get caught in the wheels.
That would fall in the wrong place.
It’ll look like a skirt.
I’ll look like a sausage.
Sadly, my Nana could not make earthly magic alterations to any dress. My Grandma could not tell me I’d look good in any dress I picked.
Brides in wheelchairs were not represented in bridal shop windows.
I honestly chickened out of making my own initial wedding dress appointments. I told my Maid of Awesome that it was her job.
Because I didn’t want to hear that I couldn’t even get in the door, or that the dresses were upstairs, or is the one in the wheelchair a bridesmaid?
We found one shop.
They gave us champagne and I asked if they had any purple dresses.
‘Red ones, maybe. But we’ll see what you like.’
I tried on four dresses, draped another two over myself.
I went to a department store, and found a purple dress off the rack. I was not a cupcake nor a sausage. I was in love.
However, I went back to the bridal shop. Bought the first one of the four I tried on. The traditional wedding dress I disliked the least.
Because maybe I wanted to look like an actual bride. Sitting down in my wheelchair getting married.
I’ve decided I’ll wear a purple dress when we hit ten years married, and get our vows renewed with the help of an Elvis impersonator in Vegas.
Back then, I talked to the alterations people about taking the hoop out of my very traditional wedding dress, so the whole thing would mostly fit in the chair, tapering the hem so the dress wouldn’t get caught in my front wheels, and I wouldn’t drive over it. Extra support for the boobs, because I’m sitting and THEY’RE RIGHT THERE, HI.
All of this, in the midst of standing mannequins, and the idea that I was a trailblazer because I found a man who wanted to marry me, wheelchair and all.
‘He isn’t marrying the chair,’ I said. ‘There’s this woman who uses it. Can I have more champagne?’
All and all I had a wonderful, if interesting, wedding dress experience. I loved the place I bought it, the people who fixed it, and the crew that put me in it on the day.
I was reminded of those times when I saw this article from the BBC on a bridal shop’s wheelchair window display.
I have thoughts on this, and they are generally good ones.
Disabled people do get married. Wheelchair users need wedding dresses. We need mainstream representation, that’s all good.
However, while I was initially excited about the display, the chair in it is old and undriveable and the dress looks uncomfortable to sit in.
I know the point of the display is to make wheelchair users see themselves as actual brides, because we are, and for other people to realize disabled people get married, too.
And to display a dress in general.
I showed Neil. ‘That’s good, but the dress is too big and you can’t drive the chair,’ he said.
YES, DUDE. THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU.
I appreciate the representation, and there should be more of it. We need to be seen. The kid I used to be needed that display, and kids today need it more.
But as an actual wheelchair user, the display doesn’t work. And I realize that part of advertizing is wish fulfilment and seeing yourself.
I enjoyed seeing a wheelchair user in the window, even in mannequin-form.
Perhaps the next display will include a chair we could actually use, and it won’t make the news.
(An essay on my wedding dress shopping experience as a wheelchair-user now appears on Stylist magazine.)
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Also published on Medium.