Here comes the gown

Friday June 7 2013

Nthenya Chigiti photographed in the Abraham and Sara honeymoon suite at the Fairmont Norfolk hotel. Pictures by Emma Nzioka

Nthenya Chigiti photographed in the Abraham and Sara honeymoon suite at the Fairmont Norfolk hotel. Pictures by Emma Nzioka 

By VIVIAN MUIA

Their wedding days may be long past, but the women that we speak to this week have kept their dresses as reminders of one of the most important days of their lives. What memories do the dresses evoke?

Nthenya Chigiti, Married: 14 years

“I bought the material for my wedding gown in Paris, where I was studying. I had been engaged for about a year to my teenage sweetheart, John, and we planned to get married as soon as we got back to Kenya from our respective learning institutions. We got married six years later, so I kept the fabric for a total of seven years.

“I had never, ever seen a bride in a dress like mine and thought I would look stunning in it. But I also wondered how people such as my parents would react because, being Catholics, I imagined they might think that I was “impure” since my dress was gold.  I wanted a gold gown because I wanted to be unique.

I believe I achieved my goal. My dress is covered entirely with glitter, which sheds at the slightest movement. I still get excited to see glitter all over the floor when I take the dress out of the closet.

“My main purpose for keeping my wedding gown was to keep it. I am the keeper type and nothing would make me mutilate my dress to use it in any other way. I have been rewarded, though, because both my daughters, aged 13 and nine, say they will wear it at their own weddings. I feel very flattered and hope they will not change their minds. I have accepted that they alter it a little to fit the style of their day."

“To me, marriage is very, very important. Usually, a wedding marks the beginning of marriage. It follows, then, that everything about the wedding is super important. A woman should, therefore, keep her gown as a rich souvenir of the important day on which she embarked on the journey of marriage. She should select it carefully, making sure not to be influenced by anything but her own feelings and wishes so that she is happy to keep it."

“I encourage couples to keep another souvenir of their weddings for as long as possible: that one tier of cake that they get to take home! My cake was baked long before any of our four children were conceived and I wanted them to sample it."

So, one month ago, they got to taste it. That is another dream come true and I thank God deeply for it. We only ate a bit of the cake and I am hoping that we can have the rest of it next year, on our 15th wedding anniversary. It is back in the freezer and, as you must have already noted, I lived to tell the story!”

Liz Mwania Married: 13 years

“When I went to my dressmaker for the first fitting of the dummy dress, I weighed 75kg. At the next fitting, my weight had come down to 70kg. The trend continued with every fitting and, as she did not want to be forced to make adjustments on the actual dress, we worked with the dummy until the last week. You can imagine how tense I was looking at the finished product for the first time on Friday, the eve of the wedding day. I thought, ‘My dear dress, you will just have to fit’. Thank God it did!

“My husband and I had wanted to have our wedding back upcountry. Our plans were firm until one-and-a-half months before that date when the roads became impassable due to heavy rains. We had to change the venue to Nairobi."

"That was a financial mess. Typically, when you plan for a wedding at home, you do not have to hire a church, the youth volunteer to do the decor, your relatives will cook the food ... we now had to pay for everything."

“In our days, you covered as much skin as possible, so I went for a long-sleeved gown. But I was very happy with it and looked good in it. Although it cost quite a fortune, I have no regrets. But I am yet to see the benefit of keeping my dress. I can’t wear it to any event.

“If you want to keep yours for the memories or to show it to your grandchildren, then it may be a good idea to buy one. But since you only wear the dress for one day, I would advise a bride-to-be to consider hiring a gown."

"I have actually imported a collection of beautiful gowns that brides can hire at reasonable prices. Hiring saves a considerable amount of money, and also spares you the disappointment of keeping a gown for your daughters as heirlooms, only to find that they have gone out of style.”

Gratia Muyu, Married: Six years 
“My wedding gown was ivory in colour. I attended many weddings prior to mine — even when I did not know the parties concerned — just to catch a glimpse of the bride. Almost all wore ivory, so I decided to follow the trend of the day. Who wants to be left behind?

So, when I saw one on display at a bridal place, I did not think twice. It was an A line gown so I was with it, or so I thought. But do I say. I also liked that it was within my mother’s budget — she had offered to buy my gown as a gift — and I did not want to burden her.

“The last time I saw my gown was last year when moving house. I used to look at my gown often, but now it has been overtaken by events. Things like admiring my beautiful princesses and homemaking have taken precedence.

“To be honest, I keep my gown because I have no idea what to do with it. What do people do with theirs? Anyway, I lend it to friends or relatives on tight wedding budgets. I guess that is my way of giving back to the community, haha! My two daughters will also get to compare their gowns with what their mother wore.

“I remember realising on the eve of my wedding day that there was no programme. My husband, George, drafted one on his laptop, printed it, and made copies, spelling mistakes and all, and in black and white. The “programmes” looked like lecture handouts. But this would not ruin my day. Walking down the aisle to meet my sweetheart was breathtaking.”

Anne Apunzah
Married: Two-and-a-half years

“When I look at my wedding gown, it reminds me of the desire that I had to marry a man who loved me more than I loved him. And it came to pass. As a young girl I always pictured myself walking down the aisle in a princess ball gown. And when the time finally came for me to look for my wedding gown, I was looking for something that was like what I had pictured.

“I used to look at my gown often, and it is not that I have forgotten about it, but as the years go by I find that I am too occupied with other things to start thinking of it. However, from time to time, and particularly on our anniversary, I get it out of the closet and try it on. I keep it in my closet because I want to see it every time I open the door.

“One of the main purposes for keeping my gown is for it to act as a reminder of the most important day of my life. I am also keeping it so my unborn daughter can wear it on her wedding day, if she so wishes.

“During a visit, a friend of mine who was getting married asked to try on my gown. I thought she wanted to hire it, but she actually wanted to borrow it. Because she was a dear friend and the dress looked lovely on her, I let her have it. It took seven months of chasing my friend to get the gown back; in fact, I only managed to collect it when she moved to my neighbourhood."

As if that was not bad enough, I found that my friend had altered the seams and beadwork on the bodice, thus spoiling its shape. She had also added straps to the dress. And she did not get it cleaned. I now have to pay a tailor to replace the entire bodice. I will not lend my gown to anybody again.

“After all is said and done, there are only three things that will remind you of your wedding: your gown, your video, and your photos. So keep your gown.”