Last week we traveled to New York to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" exhibit at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We saw ball gowns designed with the highest standards of haute couture. Looking at the beautifully intricate gowns, I realized that wearing one would quickly teach a woman how to stand, move and perhaps even how to hold a glass of champagne, so sculpted were they. The gallery that housed the bulk of the collection was quite dim - only a roving beam from a camera shone on each garment. The little light searched and roamed the silks and taffetas to highlight breathtaking details such as dramatic drapes, layered tucks and swooping hems. Because of the darkness, the dresses seemed uncannily suspended like magical apparitions from a grand and gracious by-gone era. Charles James' time was ephemeral but he created astonishing ball gowns, remarkable for their majestic opulence and artistry.
Since the the exhibit was small, we had time to easily make our appointment at a midtown bridal salon. I assumed this was to be just a fact finding mission to narrow down the kind of wedding dress my tomboy daughter would most prefer. First up was a meringue confection that was all wrong for her body and her personality. The saleswoman cast a critical eye at the shop's offerings, realizing my daughter only wanted something simple with elegance as well as ease. Within minutes she found what she was looking for and the bride-to-be appeared in a dress with a gently ruched bodice and complete plainness straight to the floor. I was still skeptical until a dreamy net veil with imbedded lace appliques was pinned to the top of her pretty blond head. She turned to me just as a shop-worn bouquet of silk flowers was thrust into her hands. Our misty eyes met and we knew - this was the one. And although it's not sculptural with lavish folds and swathes of fabric, or a firm inner structure, it will be the dress she wears to the ball. It is as lovely and hushed as a mother's sentimental sigh.