Fashion Fails From a Southern Belle

Watching Southern brides choose The Biggie might make you remember some fashion moments of your own.

Valerie Fraser Luesse
Bride Wedding Dress Shopping
Barry Austin/Getty Images

No need to deny it—I am addicted to Lori and company on Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, a reality show that regularly features Bridals by Lori near Atlanta. Emotional brides, bickering bridesmaids, and bossy mamas visit the sweet but feisty Lori and her team to find that perfect little number in satin, taffeta, lace, silk, or chiffon. (Will Leigh-Leigh go with pearls or rhinestones on her cathedral train? Who can say?!)

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There’s something about watching other women agonize over a fashion choice that makes us remember our own adventures in the fitting room. When prairie dresses made a comeback, I was about to reach for one on the sales rack when I stopped myself and thought: “You have a school picture wearing one of these in seventh grade. Back. Away.” And it’s not just dresses I remember—it’s everything from earth shoes to bubble blouses, smock tops to platform shoes. Herewith, one Southern girl’s journey down sartorial memory lane:

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Easter Dresses
These, of course, are in a class by themselves. I especially remember a pretty purple dotted Swiss that Aunt Vivian made for me when I was a child. Other Easter frocks included an unfortunate baby blue polyester number I couldn’t live without when I was 15. I was going through a Gunne Sax/Jessica McClintock phase, but I couldn’t quite pull it off with a tiered skirt, lace yolk, and puff sleeves. A few years later, I did a little better in a channeling-Jackie-Kennedy tailored shift (complete with coordinating pillbox hat) that I begged my mother to make for me when I was in college.

Desperately seeking Marcia Brady
Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! Miss Brady and her wardrobe inspired the first dress I remember just DYING for. It was made of what we called "crushed velvet" in the 70s. I was probably in the fourth grade or so, and to me this dress just screamed "Marcia Brady cool." It was purple, with rhinestone buttons, a scoop neck, and an attached choker. Don't breeze by that last part—an attached choker. I wore it with a chunky-heeled platform oxford. MAN! Talk about "kinda hey, kinda now, kinda Charlie!" (And if you're too young to remember Charlie cologne, ask somebody with a mood ring to explain that reference to you:)

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Dallas, Dynasty, and that time when all wore shoulder pads worthy of an SEC linebacker
Remember the power suits/dresses from back in the day? I think those shoulder pads are the reason I need a chiropractor today—the sheer weight of those things had to have caused some spinal compression. One of my most memorable outfits ever was a career-girl purchase. Right before I went on my first solo business trip to New York (I was terrified), I paid a visit to one of the last great family-owned department stores in Birmingham. Spotting a seasoned saleswoman, I explained my dilemma. She checked me over, nodded and said, "Come with me." Thanks to her, I set off for New York in a classic navy-and-white herringbone dress that made me feel ready to take my place at the table. And when I entered that conference room and felt my confidence falter, I just looked around and did a fashion assessment. Sure, that savvy sister to my left might have Manhattan on a string . . . but bless her heart, she needs bigger shoulder pads.

The BIGGIE
First, I shopped for my wedding dress on my own. (Nearly had a nervous breakdown.) Then I tried again with a girlfriend. (Much more fun.) Finally, the two of us teamed up with my parents and found a simple dress with beautiful lace that reminded me of my Aunt Vivian. The only dicey moment came when my impatient Southern father thought he could ignore the number system and cut in front of all those women waiting for a fitting room. “You don’t understand, Daddy,” I warned him. “Those women will hurt you.”