Now, as you might have noticed in the previous post I mentioned I am looking forward to schlepping five wedding-related dresses to Inner Mongolia for the wedding. Wait, what?! FIVE? How did that happen?!
First there was the Dirndl. The German folk dress, which I got “legally married” in, as in walked into the registrar office followed by a number of confused looks. I wanted to wear that dress as part of the ceremony, although I knew from the beginning it would quite certainly clash with the Old Shanghai scheme, but just as a little nod to my heritage.
Then of course there is the white wedding dress. Although the traditional colour for a bride’s garment in China is red, considered the colour of luck in the Middle Kingdom, it is becoming increasingly common for young Chinese women to also wear a white Western style wedding dress.
Then finally, since you simply have to wear red at a Chinese wedding, as we would not want to miss out on all that fortune, the third dress was going to be of the more vital colour family and in a more Chinese style as a nod to the Eastern part.
After all, this wedding is all about East meets West.
If you followed my logic, you will have noticed that I am two dresses short. But let’s back up first to the “wedding dress shop”.
Because Chinese people do not believe in the whole not seeing you bride in her wedding dress before the big day superstition, this puts Chinese men at a major disadvantage since they have to accompany their “with each dress slightly less beloved” to try on countless white chiffon and lace explosions that to these poor guys probably all look exactly the same. Oh, how many slightly anxious and depressed-looking men did I see sitting in the bridal stores that I was scouring through with a good friend of mine. Mr Li being in another city, he managed to escape this particular honour (or form of torture); instead I was going to do it Western style and shop with a girlfriend.
As luck would have it, the best place to purchase wedding dresses in the entire country is just a hop and a skip away in Suzhou, only an hour and a half on the high-speed train from Nanjing. To my great excitement, a good friend from Newcastle was at this point living in Suzhou, and so she had the unlucky task usually awarded to the Chinese groom. Major thanks to her at this point for being so patient!
Suzhou Wedding Dress Street – How to Shop for Dresses
In Suzhou, you will find the “Suzhou Wedding Dress Street” 婚纱一条街, and suffice it to say that most of the wedding dresses sold on Taobao come from exactly this little area on the outskirts of the city.
Major warning though, if you plan on going there on a public holiday, as we did, be prepared to get stuck in horrific traffic as the whole city tries to leave for weekend vacation – it’s like when two people simultaneously try to walk through a door and get stuck, except the two people are really thousands of cars. Suzhou is so small that there is only the one highway and yes, it will take you over an hour, rather than just the 20 minutes indicated on the map, to reach your destination.
In terms of prices, the taxi driver instructed us to halve the prices we were given for the dresses to get an accurate estimate of how much one should actually be paying. In the end, all of the choices I made were somewhere between 300RMB and 680RMB – so not too bad considering I had budgeted for 1000RMB for just one dress.
When arriving at the wedding dress street, the instructions online are not to buy on the main street but rather move into one of the plenty stores in one of the side alleys, as prices are literally three times higher on the main road.
Finally, an often heard suggestion was not to take the very first dress that fits well, even if you like it. Just have a browse to get a feel for all the different options that are out there, as you would not want to end up regretting your choice. As it were, a dress in the very first store we tried was among the dress purchases in the end, but because I was so paranoid I might miss out, I still continued to look for more. As it turns out, big mistake on my part.
What sped up the search process considerably for me were two things; a) gem stones and b) fish-tails. The local tastes vary quite strongly when it comes to the look of bridal gowns; where we might prefer simple elegance, it seems to Chinese, the more bling the better, and so about 80% of the dresses were plastered with huge, cheap silver gem stones that in my personal opinion made them look more like circus dresses than something for a sophisticated ceremony. But then, you can’t really argue about taste. The irony though is, that I am probably the most gaudy person I know back home in good old Europe, just ask my friends. Now, the fact that even I find this style too “out there” gives you an indication of how seriously bling these dresses are. Yet, there are gems to be found among the flood of outfits, many of which would not have been out of place in a Snoop video.
Second major time saver was the fact that I can not for the life of me get my backside into any of those amazing fishtail dresses, so I quickly gave up looking at any of those too. Ironically, in the end my first actual purchase was a lovely red fish tail dress, which was promised to me tailor-made. We managed to haggle her down to 300 RMB and she took my measurements, stating the dress would arrive in Nanjing in a bout a week’s time. Admittedly, it did arrive on time, however, she had been a bit too generous on the measurements of my backside and added too much room especially in my thigh area, which though quite huge, really were not quite as over top as this woman seems to have perceived them. There goes my ego…ouch!
This is of course the problem, with me being not physically in Suzhou, I could not send it back to get it altered for free, since I would not be there in person and she would probably mess it up again. Hence, my suggestion, unless you have a week’s vacation or can very easily return, do not get anything tailor made, simple buy off the rack those dresses you have tried on and know fit well. I am now going to have to get my dress redone locally and pay extra some time in July.
After about a four-hour stroll, we had narrowed down the white wedding dresses to two options; the very first one, a light and summery one, and an uber-Disney princess, glamour one. Hello, your royal highness. Now, here is where a little misunderstanding resulted in the purchase of three dresses. My friend had been in touch with Mr. Li and asked him which of the two he preferred, and his slightly out of character answer was “Just buy them both.” Well, being aware of the fact that many of the weddings I attended featured the bride wearing four dresses, and with the consideration that there would be a second wedding in Germany, Mr. Li’s suggestion was met on my part with a “Why the heck not?!” After all, I had ample opportunity for two white dresses, the summery light wedding dress for the morning groom pick up and the royal dress for the actual ceremony, leaving dirndl and red fish tail for the latter part of the ceremony.
Feeling rather naughty for going on the splurge like that, I sent Mr. Li a message as soon as we had purchased both white dresses and put in an order for the red. His reply: “Oh great, so you got the red and the white dress then?” Turns out, a certain someone had obviously not been reading their messages closely and assumed the choice to be between red or white, and not the two white dresses.
Bit of an awkward moment there, but then I like to think it was just meant to be, it’s “fate” as the Chinese often manage to non-chalantly explain away certain occurrences.
So, here I am now with three wedding dresses, oh and of course the dirndl, and finally an extra, phoenix-besequined, though slightly cheap-o red qipao, an add-on from the Nanjing wedding photography company, which I shall be using in the wedding display. I am curious to see how I will fit all of that into my suitcase.