After more than a year of wearing stretchy pants and hoodies on repeat, the prospect of putting on a dress — much less a formal gown — seemed very far away to Sarah Studley.
“I hadn’t gotten gussied up in the past year, so I wanted to take this moment to celebrate for myself,” Studley, 39, said.
She entered the M&T Bank Stadium mass vaccination site in Baltimore on Sunday wearing her retro, white, A-line satin dress with polka-dot tulle. She paired it with peep-toe pumps.
It’s the outfit she would have worn to her wedding reception, she said, had it not been canceled because of the pandemic.
Studley and Brian Horlor, 39, got engaged in November 2019. They set a wedding date for a year later and planned an elegant, 100-person celebration in San Diego — where Horlor’s 94-year-old grandfather lives. Of course, plans changed.
“It became very clear that it was going to be a very bad idea for us to proceed,” Studley said.
The couple did, however, get married anyway in November. In an unglamorous civil ceremony — though they did wear traditional wedding attire — the couple tied the knot outside the San Diego County clerk’s office. That was followed by a small dinner with immediate family and a cake from Costco.
“It was not what I would have chosen,” Studley said. “But there were definitely things about it that were wonderful.”
Still, the couple wanted a larger reception to celebrate with extended family and friends. They started planning an event for June, and Studley bought a whimsical, polka-dot wedding gown to wear to the party.
When the vaccine rollout was lagging in January, though, they pulled the plug.
“It seemed like it was not going to be possible to have a reception that was both safe and fun, so we decided to call it off,” Studley, a lawyer at a D.C. nonprofit organization, said.
That meant the polka-dot dress would sadly hang in her closet indefinitely — or at least until there was a suitable occasion to wear it. For Studley, her first vaccination appointment seemed precisely that, she said.
She was inspired to whip out her wedding reception dress after stumbling upon a tweet of someone wearing a full-length sequin gown to a vaccine appointment in February, because getting vaccinated is the “EVENT OF MY YEAR,” the post said.
“It was an excellent idea,” Studley said. “It resonated with me so much because things have been really dark and the idea of getting a vaccine is such a bright moment.”
“It’s not a cure, it’s not the end of the pandemic, but it’s certainly an important turning point,” Studley said. “For me, personally, getting a vaccine means being able to hug my 81-year-old father without worrying, and going grocery shopping without worrying that I’m going to infect the workers.”
So on Sunday, Studley pulled her hair back into a bun and wore a pair of pearl earrings. She even applied eye liner, which, she said, she was glad she remembered how to do after spending months makeup-free. Then she zipped up the gown.
Before heading to the vaccine appointment, she showed off her bridal look to her husband.
“I was definitely surprised,” said Horlor, who had not yet seen his wife in the dress. “There she was, all dolled up.”
Horlor, a chemist, didn’t realize Studley was planning to wear her reception gown to her vaccine appointment, he said, but he’s glad she did.
“Our wedding was an occasion, and her getting vaccinated was an occasion, ” Horlor said. “Normally, those two things don’t go hand in hand, but why not?”
As soon as Studley got out of her car in the parking lot of the vaccination site — which is operated in a partnership between the state of Maryland and the University of Maryland Medical System — someone stopped her to ask where she was going.
Her response: “This is where I’m going,” she said, pointing to the converted football stadium. “I explained that this was my reception dress and we had to cancel the reception, so now it’s my vaccine reception dress.”
People at the vaccination site got a kick out of Studley’s bridal get-up, she said, especially the staff.
Julie Lefkowitz, a nurse at the vaccination site, waved Studley over to her station immediately when she spotted her at the entrance.
“Okay, please tell me the story,” Lefkowitz said to Studley as she approached her.
“She stood out. You don’t see many people come in with white frilly dresses,” Lefkowitz, 52, said. “I wanted to understand her story and be a part of it.”
Before Lefkowitz administered the shot, Studley explained why she was all dressed up.
“She just glowed. She was super upbeat and excited, and you could just tell that she was trying to do her part to get the world back to normal,” Lefkowitz said. “It definitely brought a lot of joy. We all need positive, and this is positive.”
Richie Stever, the operations section chief at the vaccination site, said that seeing Studley delighted him and countless others.
“We normally see people in athletic wear and casual clothes. Certainly not a wedding dress,” Stever said. “Everybody that was around that vaccination station had an extra big smile on.”
Although Studley’s main objective was to dress up for herself, she said, she’s thrilled she uplifted others in the process.
“It was really nice to have such positive interactions,” she said, adding that she encourages others to dress up for their vaccine appointments, too.
“Make a celebration of it. It doesn’t have to be fancy,” Studley said. “Seize the joy in the moment.”
She added: “I’m already brainstorming what I’m going to do for my second dose.”
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