Most girls go to a swanky boutique, sip beverages from shiny stemware, and try on piles upon piles of tulle and satin and lace and silk. Eventually, they either find the perfect dress…or they settle for an almost-perfect dress just to get out from under the watchful eyes and overly helpful hands of the bridal consultant.
I tried something different.
Two days after John proposed, I hopped onto an airplane for the longest flight of my life: Houston to Tokyo. Bleary eyed, I flew the final leg from Tokyo to Ho Chih Minh to shoot the Vietnamese wedding of Ben & Hien. We drove by car into the city, passed thousands upon thousands of motorbikes, risked our life to walk across the street at the end of the above pictured alleyway, and went to visit the exceptional talent of Hong Phu.
After browsing the one rack of partially finished dresses, we walked down another alleyway (below) to meet the tailor herself. Along the way, we were almost bowled over by an overly zealous motorbiker. We were watched — skeptically — by the neighborhood children, staring at us from their doorways; those big brown eyes melting anyone’s heart. I rounded one corner and almost fell into a wheelbarrow. But eventually we were there: time to start designing.
She sat on her bed, listening to me. I spoke slowly. Carefully.
She’d learned English by watching youtube videos (how do you DO THAT?!) and — for the most part — our communication was unhindered. Occasionally, I’d realize the enormity of the moment and make Hien translate into Vietnamese….just in case.
I described my dream dress.
I explained what I wanted.
I showed photos of the four options that exhibited similar traits.
And there it was: my dress.
Five days later, we went for the first fitting. (Hien was getting a dress, too.) It was magical. A mere five days before, my dress was a figment of my imagination, a concept in my head and on her paper.
Suddenly, I was wearing the dress. THE dress.
I wiped sweat away — air conditioning does not exist — and listened to the neighbor’s dogs. Occasionally, we’d have to stop talking to give the motorbike time to barrel past the open windows. It was so loud — and so close — we couldn’t talk over it.
She’d measured me.
And then I was wearing it.
My self-designed, custom-made wedding dress.
I requested a few changes.
She showed me how her hand-embroidered lace would be applied.
I marveled at her handiwork.
She made me promise to show her pictures.
Five days after that visit, we went back again.
This time, there was no room for error: I was boarding a flight to America eight hours later. I showed up at the tailor, hoping for the best…fearing the worst. If it didn’t fit, or wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t be able to take my dress home with me.
The assistant went upstairs. The tightly crammed shop, straight off the street, was no place for a finished dress. She carried it carefully. The spiral staircase barely had a railing. If she fell, it would not be pleasant. Balancing, she walked toward me. All I could see was the finished product. I have to admit it: I definitely teared up. Yup. I cried.
Ten days earlier. TEN. Just ten days earlier, the idea of a sweetheart neckline with lace overlay and a simple skirt (with pockets!) was just a dream. Yet there it was: reality.
I walked away, carrying my new suitcase with my custom dress. We wound through the alleyways, crossed the adrenaline-inducing thoroughfare, and climbed into the van. A completed wedding dress was ready to go home — with seven hours to spare.