Photography: Curtis Lehmkuhl
There once was a girl who watched wedding television shows endlessly. She dreamed of lace, pearls, diamonds and trying on dress after dress after dress until ultimately the perfect one brought her to tears. Flowers, diamonds and fresh linens danced through her head, and every imaginable moment was bursting with love and glitter…fast forward to me sitting in a conference room on my lunch break, practically getting hung up on by a bridal shop employee. She didn’t want to take the time to think of options for navigating around my polyester allergy. This is one of the most well known names in bridal store chains, by the way.
It was my very first phone call about wedding dresses, which I made sure to mention….I was so excited! I wanted them to know they were my very first choice. Yet, the excitement wasn’t echoed. I was rushed off the phone after being told “there’s polyester in every single dress.” She hadn’t even looked… or thought…and while most wedding dresses have a polyester lining, not all dresses are made of 100% polyester. If the only occurrence of polyester is in the lining, that’s an easy fix. I’ve had more than one lining replaced since developing this allergy (among many others).
So there I was, my allergies once again standing in my way…leering at me. This obstacle (my WEDDING) was one of my most daunting…but I knew it was time to put on my proverbial war paint and take care of business. I would NOT give up on our wedding. Giving yourself ample time to figure things out is of the utmost importance. I gave myself just under eight months and I managed to pull off an outdoor rustic bohemian wedding and reception with the help of a handful of staff people and a bunch of friends.
As I was on a budget, I narrowed the potential dress shops down to a handful of places. I figured I’d start out with one day of dress shopping and do two shops. If I didn’t find anything, I’d add a second day. I chose one dress shop that is well known in my area and another that I found online. The second one was supposed to be very budget friendly. A few of my bridesmaids met up with me and we headed out to the first shop. SO FUN! The first shop had been kind enough to email back and forth with me beforehand and send some options they thought could work.
The first dress I tried on was lace and while I love love love lace, there was too much polyester that couldn’t be covered up on the outside of the dress; a cotton lining wouldn’t help. When I put that dress on…tears! I absolutely loved it…seeing myself in a wedding dress was everything I thought it would be. I couldn’t wait to walk down the aisle toward my future husband.
I tried on a couple other dresses and they just didn’t do it for me. THEN… I tried on one more. This dress was included in the photos the shop had emailed me and didn’t think I’d like it at all. The amazing employee at the shop convinced me to try it on, though. Plus, it was backless which I DID want and it was 100% silk aside from the lining, which was perfect. I put it on and was so surprised that I loved it! It needed some adjusting to hide a section of one of my tattoos, but other than that, I knew it was the one. The view from the back was to die for and the silhouette was beautiful. It had a beautiful train that rippled along the floor as I moved.
The most important thing was that I knew I could wear it without being itchy and uncomfortable. Plus, the last thing I wanted was to head out on our honeymoon with allergic reactions all over my skin. After developing allergic contact dermatitis (a form of eczema) in 2010, my priorities have definitely shifted. They had to if I didn’t want my skin to be the giant oozing, painful mess that it once was.
So, I put the silk dress on hold while we headed over to the second shop. We walked into the second shop and knew instantly that it probably wasn’t going to work. Polyester was EVERYWHERE. After years of searching for 100% cotton clothing in stores, I’ve gotten pretty good at being able to tell which fabrics are synthetic just by looking at them. I always read the labels, though, just to be sure. I tried on a few dresses and there was one that I liked, but the whole thing was made of polyester. Besides, it was a bit more formal than what I was going for.
As expected, I ended up with some allergic reactions from my day of dress shopping, but after dreaming about that day for so long, it was worth it!
I had my makeup done by a friend of mine who owns her own salon, which was perfect. I knew I could trust her. She was very accommodating and did a bunch of emailing with me beforehand about my chemical allergies (check out TheAllergista.com for more details on my wedding day makeup!)
Next, we scheduled a trial run. I wanted to do this earlier than most brides because if I DID have a negative reaction, I needed time to heal and time to try something else after the healing was complete.
The thing we were most nervous about was the glue for the eyelashes. My skin HATES adhesive…band aids, tape, you name it, it’s a no-no. So, instead of taking the risk on my face, we put the glue (by Duo Adhesive) on my arm and left it on for about thirty minutes.
With no reaction, I was willing to go for it and she applied the lashes by La Femme Cosmetics. So cool! And so weird-feeling. They take a few minutes to get used to, but then you forget they’re even there. I left the lashes on until I went to bed and was still without an allergic reaction. I. Was. Thrilled. The lashes ended up looking GREAT in the photos, by the way.
I wanted to do something simple with my hair since we were going for a more casual theme. I wanted it to be down with some loose curls. I bought a great flower crown off Etsy as opposed to going for the more traditional veil. The night before the wedding, I washed and braided my hair and made sure to use zero product as my stylist instructed. The day of, my maid of honor and I headed to the salon. All I brought with was my hair spray that was literally the only product we used. But even though I can control what products I bring, I can’t control what they use on other people in the salon…and oh my gosh do those hair dryers blow EVERYTHING around.
My old stylist recently left the company and her chair happened to be more toward their nice big open entryway. Now, I’m closer to the back of the salon. I end up having coughing fits that can only be helped by slugging down some water and trying not to take deep breaths of hair spray-filled air. I know that hair stylists have their designated chairs, so I’m kind of afraid to make waves by asking her to move her chair just for when I come in. Maybe I’ll try next time!
Aaaaah the jewelry. With my nickel allergy to take into consideration, I think my poor husband must have been terrified! There is often nickel in gold as gold is soft and when nickel is added, the gold gets a little more tough. The other option is platinum and let’s not even get on the subject of how expensive that is! I’d rather have more sparkle than a platinum setting. I ended up with a white gold ring which is coated in rhodium. The jeweler warned me that I may have to get it re-dipped more than once a year, depending on how sensitive I was. With the whirlwind that our engagement and wedding was, I don’t even know if they tested the gold for nickel, but the coating was put on just in case. I’ve had the engagement ring since December and have been anxiously waiting for my ring finger to get incredibly itchy but it hasn’t happened! I don’t know about you, but I’m not taking extra maintenance trips to ANY store if I don’t have to!
The earrings I wore were a pearl-drop style and made out of sterling silver. My bracelet was loaned to me by my lovely bridesmaid and was made of sterling silver and pearls. For our outdoor wedding, something more natural like pearls was PERFECT.
We went with a more affordable caterer who specializes in BBQ and comfort food. I pretty much couldn’t eat any of their normal items, but I WAS able to have their roasted chicken. That was the only entree that didn’t have the various chemicals I’m allergic to, or lactose.
Not only do my food additive allergies/intolerance give me digestive issues, but they can wreak havoc on my skin as well. It’s more of a cumulative thing. If I eat five string cheeses a day every day (which I’d love to do and maybe have done in my past), I get a bit itchy all over. The same seems to go for my food additive allergies.
My dinner consisted of roasted chicken, a plain baked potato and a salad which I drizzled extra virgin olive oil on. For dessert, we had cupcakes. I wanted them from a local bakery which is famous in our area and makes such yummy things. They don’t do cupcakes without dairy and frankly I didn’t feel like tracking down a baker who would. I knew I wouldn’t be horfing down cupcakes at my wedding, so I wasn’t concerned. I had the tiniest bite out of my cupcake, but we didn’t do a cake cutting ceremony, so nobody was the wiser…and they loved their cupcakes! I barely even ate my dinner because I was so excited, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out at all.
With food comes…drinks! There was no champagne toast because I’m allergic to champagne. No biggie, though! Everybody had drinks in their hand the whole time anyways. We had more than one successful toast that was in no way tarnished by the absence of champagne. Beer kegs were ordered from a local brewery and their beer is the GOOD stuff — no yucky chemicals that bring on my allergic reactions.
All in all, our wedding was special beyond words. I will never ever forget it and will always cherish it. Starting this new chapter of my life with my unbelievably awesome husband is a dream. I may have had to make sacrifices for my allergies regarding the dress, but I still love my dress more than I could love any dress in the world. I plan to save it and one day, I will have it hung in a box frame in my dream walk-in closet.
It may be a struggle, but the bit of extra work was worth it! I was able to live my dream and you can too! You will probably have to make some compromises, but so what? The most important things are that you’re alive, loved, and happy. Learning to be ok with these compromises will make you a better and more patient person. It will make you focus less on yourself and more on the important things…and I think we could all use that, couldn’t we?
Photography: Curtis Lehmkuhl