Friday, December 11, 2015

A Tale of 12 Dresses (and 1 amazing friendship) Part 1: The Finding

"Hey, when you go back to the States this summer you need to find some cheap wedding dresses."

This was my friend, Britt, speaking. She's a kind-hearted, frugal, "blow with the wind where ever it takes me but it better be Hawaii" kind of lady. She's an idea person. She has a lot of crazy ideas. But she's not usually big on execution. But I am. And she knows it. So she bestowed her idea upon me.

"Yeah, you know that girl that was on the news that got jilted at the altar? I think we should trash some wedding dresses like that. Y'know, to celebrate our friendship," she continued.

Sure, it may not sound like a good way to celebrate friendship, but when you realize this bride's friends were the ones who stood by her and helped her turn a crappy thing in to a fun one, you realize that celebrating friendship in white dresses splattered with paint isn't necessarily a crazy idea. Well, not too crazy. Just sort of Britt-level crazy, which is excellent in small doses. (We love you, Britt.)

And when Britt said "our friendship," she does not mean just the two of us. She and I are incredibly fortunate to be a part of a tight knit group of 13 friends lovingly called the Awesome Wives of Iwakuni. Yes, we named ourselves. Yes, we think we are awesome. And yes, we are OK with that despite whatever haters might say because more women should have more confidence in themselves. Short story long, we all met while living in Iwakuni, Japan. We all come from different places in the world, both geographically and philosophically, but we have two major things in common: we love to have fun and we support each other rather than tear each other down. It took some of us 30-plus years to find a group of friends like this, so we know how rare and special it is when you get it. And we know this time together is fleeting because the majority of us are military spouses who will be "blown where the wind takes us," i.e., sent where ever our spouses get orders to next. We know we need to make the most of this time we have.

So, tasked with a mission to find 12 wedding dresses (one of us had already moved to Europe) I made my annual summer visit to California and Illinois to visit friends and family. I love antique and thrift store shopping, so my search was enjoyable. But, after a couple of weeks in July of searching diligently throughout Illinois, Missouri and Iowa, I was starting to get worried. I found a dress here and there, but they had price tags of $100 or more. Not that they weren't worth that much, but that was out of our price range. I was concerned that I may end up going back to Japan empty-handed and have to face The Wrath of Britt.

But then serendipity struck.

Not a half hour from my in-laws' rural Illinois home was The Attic in Jacksonville, IL, a thrift store that raises funds for Pathway Services Unlimited, which helps create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities and other physical and mental challenges. A fun store with a great cause.

And the source of said serendipity.

Because lo and behold, there were two wedding dresses hanging in the store window. One of them had a price tag of $50. I snapped a couple of pictures for Britt and sent it to the group chat we're all on.

Do you want this dress for $50?

With the time difference between Japan and Illinois, I did not hear from Britt until I had already left the store and headed back to my temporary home.

Yes, but see if they will take $30

Ah, yes, the ever-frugal Britt.

OK, I'll go back tomorrow and ask.


So, I went back the next day. And asked the first employee I saw there if the place would take $30 for the dress.

"Absolutely," she said. "I'll wrap it up for you."

Fantastic. I told her I was going to look around the store some more. I had my kids and mother-in-law in tow the day before, and while the MIL enjoys shopping most of the time, the kids... not so much. It's a good thing I did take another look around because I found a whole warehouse area I had missed the day prior. And there, on top of a huge cardboard box full of discarded hardback books, were four more wedding dresses. Brand new. With tags. Some in plastic wrap. The tags said $600, $800, etc. But I hoped that a thrift store wouldn't be looking for those kind of prices, so I went out and asked. And told the employee why I needed so many wedding dresses. And told her the story of the AWOI and our friendship, military spouses in Japan, etc. I even told her what we planned to do with these dresses: paint them all up.

She was a huge fan of the idea. And assured me that those were definitely NOT the prices. In fact, I got all five dresses for $60. It turns out that I was doing her a favor. A bank had foreclosed on a bridal store and once all of the proceedings were over they had dozens of wedding and bridesmaid dresses. They donated them to The Attic. While the bridesmaid dresses sold fast, the wedding dresses... not so much. So the dresses had been taking up space in the shop for months. She told me she had some plus-size dresses in a storage closet, if I was interested. I told her I was going to get these dresses back to the MIL's house and check with my friends to make sure they were still on board.

I should have just gotten the dresses then.

I had my MIL and husband's aunt model the dresses with me so I could take pictures to send to the chat group for approval. (Pictures of my MIL and aunt omitted to protect the innocent).

All of the dresses were approved. And I was sent back to the shop to find one of the plus-size dresses. No problem... thrift store shopping for the third time in three days. I am fine with that. So the next day I headed back to The Attic in search of a plus-size dress. I asked for the same employee (name omitted to protect the innocent, of course) and it turns out she was very happy to see me. She had forgotten she had more dresses stored in a closet behind her office... and wished she had had a way to contact me to let me know. Serendipity struck again.

In all, I ended up leaving The Attic with 7 more dresses, including the second one that was hanging in the shop window... all of them for $50. I had 12 gorgeous new dresses for $110, and the Awesome Wives were thrilled. Excited chatter from Awesome Wives in Germany, Texas, Japan, Bali and Maryland filtered in to the chat group. More trying on dresses for photos (yes, this was a lot of fun... more family members tried on the dresses, too)...

And some I couldn't fit in, they ranged in sizes, with most being 14s and 16s...

Everyone was ecstatic... now... how to get this mass of dresses back to Japan without it costing an arm and a leg...?

And that's when Cortney stepped in. Cortney is a problem solver. You present her with a problem, and she usually has a perfect solution. In this case, she came up with vacuum seal bags so we used as few boxes as possible. So, off to Bed, Bath and Beyond, I went. I had a coupon! (Britt was so proud!)

The dresses were sucked in to bags and shipped to my address in Japan... and everything cost a mere $24 per dress. I'd say that was pretty cheap, right Britt?

The saga continued in September as everyone returned to Iwakuni from their summertime adventures. We got together to try all of the dresses on to see who would fit best in which dress. Serendipity struck yet again because each lady found a dress that suited her personality and body shape. One of us, Chie, is tiny in stature... very petite, and she opted for a short, knee-length dress that I found in a Japanese RecycleMart (second hand store). Her dress cost about $8.

Yours truly

There were a few alterations that needed to be made on some of the dresses, but luckily, we had a seamstress in our midst, the lovely Amanda. She spent several hours altering layers and layers of dresses for the ladies, a volunteer effort I was soon to appreciate more than I would have ever guessed.

But that's in Part 2 (click here)...

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