Photograph courtesy Heavenly Haven Productions
Cue the audio to a Justin Timberlake tune, minus the sexy lyrics. Only the song's backbone — an entrancing beat — remains. The overhead lights dim to sunset hues. A hush falls over the audience, save for the flashing of multiple cameras. An instant later, I step onto the runway. As satin grazes my thighs and shins with each pace, I sell the fantasy. A couple dozen bobby pins fasten my curls to my crown. A pound of powder dams the sweat that would otherwise run down my face. My feet, pinched into glittering heels, are howling.
This is not an audition for America's Next Top Model. This is the runway of a Virginia bridal show. And this is the real voice of a real bridal model working in the Richmond/Charlottesville area.
As a bride-to-be, you're likely familiar with bridal shows and wedding expos. They are true testaments to every wedding good and service that exists, from catering to tailoring, from cake design to photography. Every trunk, album, table and screen introduces you to yet another brand, product or talent. There is also, of course, the runway.
Practically speaking, wedding runway shows give brides the opportunity to see how gowns look and move on a real human being, not on a model in a magazine or on a mannequin. As a bridal model, I know my job is to sell the gown, no matter how much I dislike the style. Because the true reason brides come to expos is to dream.
Most bridal models, at least in this part of the country, lead lives outside the wedding industry. I've worked the runway with everyone from a broadcast-journalism student to the manager of a tanning salon to a software programmer. What we do have in common is that we love to play princess before hundreds of brides, bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-bride a few times every year.
To do this, we have to pamper ourselves like princesses first. This requires time, energy and commitment. Call time is always early in the morning, even though the shows generally happen in late afternoon. Such a timeline demands a good night's sleep because if we look tired in the morning, we'll look exhausted as the day drags on with hair, makeup and rehearsals. Before you see us on the runway, we've likely tripped at least once, smeared lipstick on white fabric, or maybe even ripped something worth thousands of dollars.
Depending on the model, we will wear Spanx, corsets, chicken cutlets (for some models with A-cups), support hose and/or a padded strapless bra. Heavy makeup, heavy hairspray and heavy tinkering are other necessities. Some ladies opt for spray tans and shimmer body lotion, too.
Since bridal shows are supposed to portray gowns in cuts and sizes that everyday women can wear, being a size double zero isn't especially marketable. As a size 4, I'm not always hired because I'm considered "too small." There are plenty of bridal models who wear size 12 or larger, exactly like average American women.
Regardless of this fact, I've heard a fair share of bridal models blab about dieting, exercising and even eating disorders. But outside of such topics, we talk about what all women discuss: work, family and life in general. I couldn't tell you anything about Vera Wang's collection last season.
Bridal models are just women — attractive, confident women who happen to spend hours practicing how to whip our trains.
Christine Stoddard is the executive editor of Quail Bell Magazine and the founder of Quail Bell Press & Productions.
Register here to attend Richmond Bride's Artful Wedding show on June 24 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.