Ron and I took our Taiwanese engagement photos yesterday. Boy, was it a trip — literally and figuratively. We made our maiden voyage to Yehliu (野柳, yě liǔ, absolutely gorgeous), Ron wore his first (and last) white tux ever and I got to see what hiking in high heels and a strapless evening gown feels like (uncomfortable). I had a lot of fun, even though I’m a bit nervous about how the photos will turn out and won’t see them for another 10 days (they are ready for viewing within 5 to 7 days after a shoot, but Ron works in the evenings so we had a harder time making an appointment).

I know that for a lot of Taiwanese girls — and a lot of Taiwanese-American girls — taking these engagement photos is a lifelong dream, but it has never been one of mine. My attitude toward our Taiwanese engagement photos was and is that they are a cultural adventure that Ron and I will not be able to replicate when we are back in the United States. We are getting another set of engagement photos done by the same talented photographer who will be photographing our wedding and, on an emotional level, those are much, much more important to me.

As a result, I decided to send my inner control freak on a long needed vacation and keep an open mind toward the whole experience, including my outfit fitting two weeks ago. I was curious to see what my dresser would think looked good on me in photos. The only two requirements I had was that I wanted one sleek red evening gown and to be able to wear a vintage blue hand-embroidered Mexican wedding dress that I own in some of the photos.

My dresser pulled out a bunch of evening gowns and wedding dresses for me to try on from garment bags lining the walls all around the dressing rooms. The wardrobe/fitting area also has several gorgeous, elaborate dresses on display, but when I asked if I could try one on, I was told that those are the gowns that reserved for people to rent. In Taiwan, brides usually borrow dresses for their formal engagement parties and wedding banquets, which I think is a good practice. I don’t understand why in the United States there is so emotional weight attached to a dress you wear just once and people feel like they need to spend upwards of a thousand US dollars on it. Neither my mother nor I burst into tears when I finally found “the dress,” even though I had read in magazines that that is what you are supposed to do. But if I had started crying, it would have been tears of relief that I didn’t have to try another frickin’ gown on. I’m not saying that shopping with my mom was not a meaningful and fun experience or that I don’t like the dress I picked, but after going to three or four boutiques and trying on close to 20 gowns, some of which required frustrating undergarments, I was just glad to get one more task out of the way. You know what brought a tear of happiness to my eye though? When my mom e-mailed me and told me that she and my dad had found a baker who covers her wedding cakes in white chocolate instead of icing or fondant. I ran to tell Ron and we both just sat there holding each other in silence, too happy and excited for words.

But I digress. The gowns made for the photos had some stains, runs, wrinkles and fraying from previous shoots, none of which matter because they can be Photoshopped out. Before I started trying on gowns, my dresser asked me if I had brought a Nu-Bra, or one of those chicken cutlet-ish strapless, backless bras. I hadn’t, so I had to buy one from Catherine for about NT$1800. That is a reasonable price based on what I have seen in my admittedly limited experience with self-adhesive silicon underpinnings, and I would advise anyone doing one of these shoots to NOT skip wearing a Nu-Bra (or one of its competitors). The strapless evening gowns provided by studios are made to be easily alterable, so most of them don’t have the kind of bodice tailoring and corseting needed to shape your figure. If you don’t wear a Nu-Bra or something similar, you will end up with a flattened monoboob.

I tried on about 10 gowns in all, and I finally ended up with a strapless Baroque-style black ballgown with a large, ruffled skirt and beaded bodice, a sleek wine-red satin number, the Baroque-style black gown’s pink cousin, and two white wedding dresses (one for outdoor shoots and one for a more formal indoor shoot). Since our package only allowed for 5 outfit changes, I later had to swap out one of the gowns for my blue Mexican wedding dress. When I mentioned getting rid of one of the white bridal gowns, our saleswoman and the photographer both looked horrified and said “but it’s a wedding shoot!” At first I was going to argue the point with them, but the lure of being able to wear a pouffy white wedding dress in some incongruous location proved to be too much, and I swapped out the ruffled pink ballgown instead.

After the fitting, which only took about one hour, we headed to Catherine’s sales floor to meet with our photographer, Allen, and pick out locations. Our priority was Yehliu, so Allen said he would help us find other locations that were on the way there. We had to knock out Yangmingshan, a popular spots for wedding photos, because it wasn’t on the same route as Yehliu. I also choose a location with a white, adobe-like structure in the background. Ron wasn’t too hot about it because it didn’t look like a place you can only find in Taiwan, but I thought it matched my blue Mexican wedding dress well.

A week later, Ron and I went to Eve, the tailor/suit rental place that Catherine refers grooms to. Catherine’s packages come with two free suit rentals, but those choices are limited to two basic black and white tuxes, with the only difference being tails or no tails. We thought that none of the basic options looked good on Ron, so we spent an extra NT$7000 to rent two tuxes with different styling and better quality fabric. After all, Ron is more than six feet tall, so he is going to take up a lot of each frame, and we wanted to make sure he looked okay. Despite his previous reservations, Ron ended up choosing one white tuxedo. He said it’d give the photographer more options, which is true, but honestly I think he really loved rocking the albino penguin look. There was one tuxedo with a banded collar, almost like a Nehru suit, that I loved because I thought it made Ron look like Father Ralph from The Thornbirds, but he rejected it — probably because I told him it made him look like Father Ralph from The Thornbirds. Dammit.

I’ll write about the actual shoot itself in a separate post, but in the meantime, here is some advice if you plan to get Taiwanese engagement photos done, too:

*I decided to let my dresser pick my gowns for me because I figured Catherine’s employees have a better sense of how their dresses look on different body types in photographs than I do, but I wish I had taken in some color samples. I don’t know how to say kelly green in Mandarin and I couldn’t describe it accurately (WHY ARE THERE SO MANY SHADES OF GREEN?) so I didn’t end up with a kelly green gown.

*Buy a Nu-Bra or something similar and learn how to put it on yourself. Bring it to your fitting.

*If you have an outfit you want to wear, bring it to the fitting, too. If your dresser looks surprised or taken aback by it, cuddle it to your chest and stroke it tenderly while murmuring, “yes, it is very special, isn’t it?” They will get the hint. Fortunately, I had pretty positive reactions to my vintage blue Mexican wedding dress.

*Your locations all have to be relatively close to one another, so pick one place that you are really attached to, and keep an open mind about the rest.

*NT$7000 could have bought us (fine, me) two Blythe dolls, but we’re glad we rented nicer suits for Ron. I know that grooms are often considered just a prop for the bride in these pictures, but I think that the way they are styled really does determine the aesthetic of a photograph.