After getting engaged in November 2019, Sarah Studley and Brian Horlor of Morrell Park in Southwest Baltimore began planning a 100-person wedding celebration in San Diego’s Balboa Park for the following fall.
The COVID-19 pandemic canceled those plans. They still got married in a small, eight-person ceremony but postponed the large reception to this summer. Then, they scrapped that, too, in January, amid a slow vaccine rollout that caused concerns about whether the event could be held safely.
So when it was Studley’s turn to get a vaccine on Sunday, the 39-year-old nonprofit attorney zipped up the polka-dot, tulle-over-satin dress she’d picked out — but hadn’t gotten to wear — for the party.
“I had this dress in my closet,” she said, “and I figured, ‘This seems like a good moment for celebration.’”
The dress turned plenty of heads at the state-run mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, the bride said. But none more than Horlor’s. He got his first look when Studley was leaving home for her appointment.
“He was like, ‘Whoa! OK!” she said.
“I was like, ‘Well, you’re all dolled up!” Horlor said. “You look good!”
Studley, a Michigan native who has lived in Baltimore since 2019, had gotten the idea after seeing someone post a photo of getting their vaccine in a cocktail dress. She made the seven-to-10-minute drive in the reception dress to the Ravens stadium for the appointment.
She hadn’t even left the parking lot on her way to the stadium when someone stopped her.
“Whoa,” the woman said. “Where are you going?”
“This is where I’m going!” the bride replied.
Studley explained the back story to her — then to tons of others who asked while she stood in line and made her way up to the suite-level clinic. The polka-dot reception dress had been the whimsical counterpart to the more traditional wedding ceremony dress.
“Everyone seemed really happy about it,” she said. “This is a moment for me to seize the celebration and seize a little joy in what has been a dark period. ”
Julie Lefkowitz, the nurse who administered her vaccine, was delighted, Studley said, and told her that patients like her were her favorite part of the job.
The warm welcome at the vaccine appointment from staff and total strangers was reminiscent of the couple’s half-mile walk through San Diego back to their hotel in their wedding attire after their “micro-wedding” and family-only dinner, they said.
“What was really heartwarming was the number of people who saw us and cheered, or honked their horn, or just took a moment to celebrate with us,” Studley said.
Studley described the reception she got from strangers, in California last fall and in Maryland this weekend, as a silver lining, “something that would never have happened in a non-pandemic world.”
The glowing reaction from the vaccinators when she arrived inside the clinic was an unexpected bonus, the bride said. The medical professionals who give the shots have been the backbone of Maryland’s efforts to fully vaccinate about 1.4 million people, as of Monday.
“I didn’t realize that it was going to have an effect on the people working there,” she said.
Both Studley and Horlor said they wished they could’ve hosted the big wedding with their friends and family. But they’ve seen firsthand how the pandemic, the isolation and the economic hardship of the past year have led people to grasp onto any form of joy — even the wedding of complete strangers.
“It felt like things have been so dark that everyone was really excited to have something to celebrate,” Studley said. “I think that would be my favorite part of the wedding we ended up having, because I could never have predicted that that would happen.”