The Mother of the Bride

My daughter did it her way—and I couldn’t be happier

By Patricia Volk
Photograph: Illustration: Juliette Borda

Standing outside the performance space, I wait for my girl. Limos pull up. One by one, they disgorge fashionistas. All of them wear black platform spikes and short crinolined skirts and carry logo bags as big as the Ritz. My daughter, my poody-tat-pie, is engaged. The Monique Lhuillier Enchanted Forest bridal show is about to begin.
When I was getting married, my mother came home with a dress. “Look,” she said. “Only $125!” It fit perfectly. My mother often bought clothes for me without me. She knew what was “becoming.” I treasured her cast-off Beenes and Blasses. But Polly’s taste has rarely matched mine. I love vintage; Polly loves cutting-edge. I love my grandmother’s hankies; Polly loves tomorrow. Founder and editor-in-chief of beautyblitz.com and a contributing editor at In Style, Polly wears clothes that aren’t in stores yet. “You’re lucky I didn’t give you Esther for a middle name,” I used to tease her.
We take our seats in the front row. Music swells. I lean over. “Squeeze my hand when you like something, and I’ll squeeze yours,” I say.
The models look like extras from Schindler’s List. All have white faces, gray circles around their eyes, frazzled hair and tragic lips. If you saw them walking toward you on the street, you’d call an ambulance. But the dresses are gorgeous. I’m squeezing Polly’s hand. I’m milking it. She squeezes once.
We meet at a loft that sells wedding gowns. Polly describes with economy what she wants: “Strapless, no froufrou, nothing Cinderella, no hoops, no poufs, matte fabric, not stiff. I want a goddess gown, free-flowing, like I just stepped off the boat from Greece.” Two sales associates return with armloads. My daughter strips down to her thong. I can count on two hands the people who have seen me naked. That includes the obstetrician.
How does it feel to see your daughter in a wedding dress for the first time? Cataclysmic. Yes, I see my girl in the gown. But I also see her in multitudes, morphing like a flip-book. I see her with front teeth missing, the braids phase, en route to the prom, in her cap and gown at Columbia. I see her the first time I held her and said to myself, “Patty, if you do your job right, someday she’ll leave you.” I see all of her, the panoply. It’s impossible to speak.
All that high emotion, even though I’m extraneous to the dress decision. I’m here only because Polly wants me to feel included. That’s OK. I decided from the day Mark proposed we wouldn’t have one argument over anything wedding. Polly’s 32. She’s extraordinarily competent. This is her day, not my idea of her day.
As it turns out, Polly will find the dress (Reem Acra) while shopping with her fiancé. At the fittings, seamstresses pin, tuck and nip. Polly swirls. “I want it to be as comfortable as my pajamas,” she tells them.
“Can you dye it blue and cut the hem after the wedding?” I ask, hoping to amortize the dress.
 This evokes the deadly eye roll and two-syllable “Ma-om.”
 Polly chooses the venue with Mark and lets me know the time and place.
 “I think I’m free that night,” I say.
 My mother scheduled meetings with banquet managers for my wedding. We checked out five fancy hotels, then went with the cheapest. “Anemones are my favorite flower,” Mom said, ordering the centerpieces. I had no bridesmaids, because she thought it was ridiculous to stick someone with an ugly dress, even though she had eight in gray chiffon with matching sun hats at hers.
 Polly picks a sage silk strapless dress for the bridesmaids. The mothers she tells to wear black.
 Hard to believe, but I can’t find a black dress I love. Six weeks before the wedding, I’m wailing to my chic friend Muriel about it. “Come on,” she says, taking my hand. She introduces me to her dressmaker, Akira Maki, formerly of Halston. Akira makes a sketch based on what I tell him combined with what he thinks will look good on me. Swooshy? I don’t swoosh. A cape? What am I, Batgirl?

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