When I first started to look for a wedding dress — months before my wedding date — my mission was to find:
– An elegant dress that I could wear again and again
– And a dress that was within our clothing budget (less than $500 — which we could pull off since we were having a DIY backyard wedding at his parent’s home with a taco truck as our caterer)
So, off I went to my local bridal outlet to try on a number of grandiose white gowns. A few dresses into it, however, I just knew that your traditional wedding dress was NOT me. Next, I went to the mall after work, thinking I’d find a romantic dress in the petite department at Macy’s. But everything I tried on either looked like I was going to the prom… or to the office.
The clock was ticking. Eight weeks before our wedding date, I drove by a store in Berkeley, CA called Sala. That’s when I noticed some sexy dresses in the window — that had been made by a local self-taught designer named Cari Borja (pictured here).
I’d heard around town about this amazing woman — and mom of two, with her daughter above — so I got Cari’s number. She invited me to her studio to try on some dresses, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with Cari’s feminine, sexy style:
As I tried on sample dresses, I told Cari that I was getting married after having raised my daughter as a solo mom for a decade. And guess what Cari said? “I was raised by a single mom.”
“Everyone used to always say that I wouldn’t amount to much because I didn’t have a dad or a nuclear family,” she later told me. “But I think that growing up in a home where your mom is your confidante, your friend — and someone you truly admire for being able to raise a child alone — made me strong, willful, and motivated.”
Born in 1971 in Shirley, Massachusetts in an army hospital, Cari was raised by her solo mom. As a kid, Cari competed in roller skating regional championships in the Northeastern U.S., wearing costumes (mostly made by her mom) and winning trophies. She says that her costumes colors and designs — with layer upon layer of ruffles and edges — still influence her designs today.
Cari left home to travel the world, meet her husband — and earn her doctorate in anthropology from UC Berkeley. At her PhD graduation ceremony, Cari wore the first bias cut dress she’d made herself with the Bernina sewing machine she’d bought the previous year.
“My mom always made me believe that I could do anything if I just tried,” Cari tells me. “This is something she taught me without really teaching me, and it has influenced everything I have done in my life.”
After meeting Cari the first time, she helped me choose my dress material: a shimmering gray-blue polyester satin, aka peau de soie. Although there’s a peau de soie in silk, she told me that it’s difficult to get and costs more than $100 a yard. (Cari also likes to use non-traditional fabrics for bridal and evening wear.)
A couple of weeks later, I returned to try on my dress and LOVED it! Cari’s only instructions were to dry press — NOT dry clean — the dress before the big day. Why?
“One of the best things about synthetic fibers is that you can put them in water or wash them,” Cari explains. “But you CAN’T wet or try to wash one area. That’s how the fabric discolors.
Because my work schedule was so swamped right up until our wedding date, LG offered to take the dress to the cleaners. I gave him the strict instructions about pressing the dress, and he brought the wrinkle-free dress back a few days later to hang it in his closet.
That’s when I should have checked the dress like a good bride-to-be, right? Well, that didn’t cross my mind until 72 hours before the wedding. And when I did hold the dress up to the light, what did I see? There were a couple of faint brownish spots on the front of dress, which looked like iron burns.
I started to freak out. What–?? Did the cleaners do this? Help!! Twenty minutes later, LG came home, and I was frantic. In his calm, soothing way, he told me, “Everything will be fine, love.”
Yet I was frazzled, and on my way out to another meeting. My last words to him — which actually went out to the wind, I now believe — were: “Hon, just DON’T try anything! You can’t put water on that dress!”
To be continued….
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