There's a reality television show on TLC called Say Yes to the Dress that allows the audience to virtually accompany brides and their entourages as they shop for wedding dresses in a high-end Manhattan bridal salon. This is serious stuff. One gets the feeling that this particular decision is the weightiest the prospective bride has ever -- perhaps will ever -- face. After much deliberation, doubt and drama, the bridal consultant asks the bride, "Are you saying 'yes' to this dress?" All action stops as everyone breathlessly awaits the bride's answer. Sometimes the pressure and the gravity of the decision are just too much, and the woman simply cannot commit to a frock. She leaves the shop crestfallen and empty-handed, terrified that her ideal gown (and so, happiness), will elude her forever.
Why is the decision around what to wear at one's wedding such a big deal for women? I suspect it took on such importance long ago, before the women's movement allowed women to be successful outside of the home. For many of our foremothers, their wedding day was the only day that was considered truly theirs, allowing the woman, who was about to take on someone else's name and take her place as second banana in the household, one chance to make major decisions and to shine as the center of attention.
Even in today's more enlightened times, looking beautiful remains job one for a bride. A wedding is, after all (love and vows aside), a theatrical performance. The chosen players make their entrances, dressed in costume, and then proceed to recite their lines. (There is even a "rehearsal"). Because all eyes are on the stars -- the bride and groom -- looking fabulous is a priority. This is especially true for a woman, since her fashion choices for the occasion are unlimited, especially compared to those of a man. So every woman, no matter how educated, accomplished and down to earth, obsesses about what she'll wear on her "special day."
When I became engaged, back in the middle Pleistocene Era (more specifically, August, 1985 in New York City), I was positively giddy with joy. Since these were pre-Internet, pre-Facebook days, I could not share my news via a few clicks. So I closed the door to my office (remember when offices had actual doors?), blew off all of my work and phoned absolutely everyone I knew. Having accomplished that, I turned my attention to setting a date, choosing a venue and mostly crucially, finding a dress.
All of this talk about the time, effort and consequence involved in choosing the perfect wedding dress is preamble to my true concern here: what should I wear to my divorce? That query was the first thing out of my mouth recently when my young divorce attorney explained the time frame of my divorce. I was stunned to hear that after a year of trying to save the marriage, followed by another year of hammering out a settlement agreement, once we received a court date and appeared before a judge, my husband and I would actually walk out of the court house divorced. Just like that! Like going to Motor Vehicles, submitting the paperwork and leaving with your driver's license in hand. Of course my wise ass response was really just a lame attempt to mask my shock and anxiety when I realized that after two years of prelude, this divorce was really happening, and soon.
However, once I asked the question, I couldn't shake it. What does one wear to one's divorce? Should I put together an entourage to shop for the perfect outfit, like the brides on Say Yes to the Dress? I turned to Google: "What to wear to divorce?" I found lots of advice (mostly from divorce lawyers) about what not to wear to court when pleading one's case in front of a judge. No torn jeans, T-shirts adorned with obscene sayings or dirty clothes. Nothing sexy or revealing, no shorts, no halter tops. Also, cover up the tattoos and piercings and lose the sunglasses. However, since I've already signed off on a marital settlement agreement, I'm not going to court to persuade a judge to give me what I want. My husband and I are legally required merely to show up and sign on the dotted line. So technically, I guess I could show up wearing any or all of the items described above. But torn, dirty and revealing clothing really aren't my style. I do want to wear sunglasses, though, for a mysterious European vibe. (And to hide my inevitable tears).
Since the Internet wasn't helping me, I decided to consult my trusty Emily Post on etiquette. Again, no help. Although I'm happy to hear it's now perfectly OK to wear white after Labor Day. Also, a woman does not have to remove her hat at a religious service or when the National Anthem is played. Who knew? So I learned something here, but not the information I'm seeking. Emily does cover some divorce dos and don'ts: whom to notify when separated or divorced, which name to use and how to address social invitations. But alas, nothing about what to wear to one's divorce.
Here's what I already know: When I walk into that courtroom, I want to look really fabulous. Not to make my husband have second thoughts about the divorce (That's just silly; I've been in his rear view mirror for a long time now), but rather to make myself feel good. I may go shopping for a new outfit, but I won't require an entourage to give me advice. I have only myself to please. As a long-time New Yorker, I'm sure I'll choose something black, which works both as a fashion statement and as a symbolic, anti-bridal one. I'll also time my visit to the hair salon to ensure my roots don't show. I will wear sunglasses and I'll hope that the judge won't ask me to remove them.
On July 11, I'll co-star, along with my husband, in a "one night only" theatrical performance. In Act I, I'll play a wife in a 30-year marriage; in Act II, a divorced woman starting over. I've had plenty of time to rehearse, but I'm still nervous. I hope the critics will be kind.