After two years of pandemic delays, weddings have started again

In a spacious studio on the west side, the clatter of velvet-lined hangers feels frantic and hopeful as women search for the perfect dress.

Friendly chatter booms under the sound system, where Florence and the Machine advise that the dog days are over. COVID is still spreading, but after two years of canceled proms and postponed weddings, most public health restrictions are gone, and at clothing rental store The Fitzroy, that means the most frequent customer in 2022 will be the wedding guest.

“Is this too much for a black tie wedding?” asks a woman, with a waterfall of slate-blue dress in her arms. “It’s not,” a stranger tells her, looking up from her phone. “It’s elegant,” another confirms. “So beautiful”, they agree.

The pent-up demand for a glitzy night out can be measured by the row of dresses and the procession of women transforming themselves with bright colours, plunging necklines and cloud sleeves, imagining a future beyond sweatpants. “I haven’t worn a dress in a long time,” says Anna Snyder, her arms full of white dresses for her backyard wedding.

Some wear masks, others don’t. Some are ready to jump back to galas, others are more cautious. Many strive for something magical to break with the past, says Julie Kalinowski, the co-owner of The Fitzroy.

“I call this the comeback season,” says Erica Farid. “I feel like we’re all coming back from these very difficult two years.” She estimates her reflection in a dress the same icy fuchsia color as a Barbie convertible. She tries on a bright red number with a pronounced ’80s shoulder profile.

Farid, a mother of three, gave birth to her youngest daughter in the early days of the lockdown. A few months later, an unrelenting pain at the base of her skull began to radiate through her neck and through her head. It felt like a never-ending vise. Virtual doctors prescribed migraine relief, but it didn’t help.

Farid is a former radiation oncologist and she had a feeling that something was not right. So she nursed her baby and went to the nearest emergency room. Scans revealed a paraganglioma, a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer. Hers grew in her vagus nerve, nestled between the vital connections of her body. If one of those cranial nerves is damaged, she can lose vital functions. Too risky, the doctors thought. unusable.

But Farid found Dr. James Liu at the Rutgers Neurological Institute. He was known for his work in hard-to-reach places. He was compassionate and confident he could help, but candid about the risks.

Last year around this time, she was preparing for surgery and her husband was preparing for a reality where she would never come back. In New Jersey, she underwent two complicated surgeries with a team of six people. They were a success. The tumor was removed without major nerve damage.

In the summer of 2021, she rented the prettiest dress she could find for a wedding and styled her hair to show off her scar. Weddings felt in between last summer. There were rules, but not everyone followed them, especially as the wine bottles ran out. Rainbow Chan from Rainbow Chan Weddings said it was hard for family and friends to hold back when they were so excited to be together. “It’s almost as if at that time COVID was over, but it really isn’t,” she says. At the Fitzroy, they had a busy summer wedding season in 2021, but it was more intimate affairs with fewer guests.

Fitzroy co-owners Angela Pastor, left, and Julie Kalinowski can be seen among the dresses.  Many in the store are reaching for something magical to break with the past, Kalinowski says.

This year, despite a sixth wave of the pandemic, there are no provincial limits on number of guests or distance on the dance floor, although some venues may have their own rules. A wedding Chan hosted in April felt completely normal. “So that’s why there’s a copious and sudden increase in people booking who are comfortable with depositing deposits,” she says. She hired more staff. She has multiple weddings almost every weekend.

Inflation and supply problems cause the costs for pairs to rise. When signing contracts, most people are more aware of flexibility, in case restrictions come again, she says. Couples trying to close caterers or venues to get married in 2022 will face a challenge. Chan is already booking in 2023 and 2024.

On a holiday Monday, the Fitzroy’s staff march briskly to meet demand, calling out names like this is a restaurant. “Jasmine? Jasmine?” No one answers “Last call for Jasmeena!”

Jasmeena didn’t stay close. Farid didn’t mind the wait. As she sat outside the locker room, watching women try on dresses, she felt hope.

In the end, Farid went with the red for an upcoming wedding. It felt like the kind of dress she could dance in all night.

She comes back for the pink. She’s already planning the party in her head. She wants to celebrate all the things she missed.

“We’re supposed to grow up in villages with people helping each other, and we haven’t had that,” she says. “It will be challenging and uncomfortable I think for us to get back together.”

She’s ready to celebrate survival: “I can’t wait to get to know people again.”

Katie Daubs is a star reporter and feature film writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs

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