Some girls dream of the perfect wedding dress since infancy, and they even go on TV shows to chronicle the intensity of this decision. I am not one of those girls.
Finding the right wedding dress is important, don’t get me wrong. It’s the one detail everyone notices, unlike which shade of pink you ultimately, painstakingly choose for the pocket squares. The dress ends up in almost every photo, and since you’ll have to look at it in picture frames for the rest of your life, it really should be something you love or strongly like. Even if you aren’t completely onboard with the hysteria that surrounds the selection process… you definitely don’t want to mess up the decision. There’s pressure to get it right, whether you’re a fashion plate or ensembly challenged.
That said, if Target had a wedding collection, I would’ve bought my dress from it while picking up burlap table runners and chalkboard signs for the reception. I very specifically did not want to look like a frou-frou princess, wear a tiara, spend my life savings or make a huge fuss over finding THE DRESS.
As far as the wedding was concerned, my priority was choosing the perfect beach venue to spend our special day and making sure everyone we loved was able to make it. (Lolz. You all know how that turned out!
Between researching the venue and frankly just finding THE ONE, I was overwhelmed with wedding planning and thus, I intended that the gown selection process would be a quick, simple endeavor. I come from practical, frugal stock, so it never crossed my mind to spend mucho budget on a one-time use garment. On the other hand, I’m also vehemently opposed to excessive shopping even if there are good deals to be had. You’d never find me at Filene’s scratching some other bride’s eyes out over a gown.
I knew what I wanted: a comfortable, lightweight dress that was beach appropriate and relatively inexpensive. And if I’m being honest, I wanted it to be the first dress I tried on.
So if I learned anything during the engagement season, it’s that even frugal, simplistic wedding dreams don’t always come true. Real life is not always like Say Yes to the Dress or one of those romantic comedies where Jennifer Lopez bumbles around adorably until Matthew McConnaughey comes to her rescue.
Sometimes your destination wedding venue defrauds you and at least for me, the perfect wedding dress doesn’t just fall in your lap and make you cry happy tears while friends shriek and twirl around with overflowing glasses of bubbly.
My wedding dress purchase experience went like this: (1) pre-entourage session with just my Maid of Honor, (2) entourage session, (3) solo shopping, (4) solo shopping, (5) solo shopping, (6) solo shopping and hesitant purchase.
I couldn’t believe it, but finding THE ONE was extra tough because I found SO MANY. I tried on at least 30-40 gowns at three different stores over the course of all those visits, and while there were some outliers that were just awful, almost all of them looked the same to me.
Having now been through this bizarre process of shopping for THE DRESS, here are a few suggestions and lessons I learned. Enjoy!
1. Prioritize fun over finding THE ONE
Most brides don’t have a hard time making a big deal out of everything during engagement season, but I downplayed a lot of big moments. I never wanted to coerce loved ones into celebrations or money-spending or fawning over me/us, so our fiestas were few and far between, or just outright surprises.
But choosing a wedding dress, if a bit of a dog and pony show, can be a really fun outing for a group if you go into it with low expectations. It’s a great way to involve loved ones – even if ultimately you’re going to pick whatever you want. Forget about finding THE DRESS on the big group visit, and lose those expectations for taffeta-induced tears streaming down grandma’s face.
Just enjoy playing dress up with your crew and don’t plan to make any big decisions on the first outing. It’ll take all the weight off your shoulders and you’ll make much happier memories.
2. Keep your entourage small and choose wisely
I brought my sister, mom, grandma, aunt and friend. With those five women, there were five very, very different opinions. One said a ball gown was the way to go, another wanted intricate beading. Which leads me to…
3. Do a secret pre-fitting before you go with the entourage
This will help you go into the fun group fitting with a more secure idea of what you like. You can try on your favorites from the first fitting with confidence about shapes and necklines that YOU like, and you can avoid trying on sparkly Cinderella ball gowns that Great Aunt Maude will insist you buy. “Honey, you look like a princess!” Ack.
4. Go in with a game plan
Who knew 10,000 white gowns can fit into one tiny store? They’re all smooshed onto racks and covered in plastic so you can’t tell what is what. You certainly can’t just stroll in and browse willy-nilly. Unless you factor in extra time for a Carrie Bradshaw meltdown (oh yeah, I had one), do your research in advance.
Figure out what necklines and silhouettes are most flattering for your shape. Not everyone looks great in a silk sheath; not all venues are appropriate for plunging necklines; the beach is no place for a 20-foot long train. If you show up to bridal boutique without doing any research, you’re at the mercy of your saleswoman, and that can go really wrong, really quickly.
I don’t recommend over-using Pinterest during wedding planning, but it’s absolutely ok to have a board where you pin dresses you like. Then you can show it to your saleswoman at the beginning and have a great place to start the search.
5. Stick to your budget
Be assertive about your financial decisions and don’t try anything on that’s out of your price range. You don’t want to agree on $1,000 with your fiancé and then change your mind when you “accidentally” fall in love with a $4,000 gown. Stick to your guns. There are gorgeous gowns in every price range, and spending less on THE DRESS means you can spend more on your honeymoon!
And don’t let the saleswoman (or entourage) pressure you into buying RIGHT NOW. Sometimes you need to sleep on a decision, so see if they’ll hold a gown for you for 24 hours so you can make absolutely sure it’s THE DRESS.
6. Research store policies before show up
Depending on the boutique, you may or may not be able to bring Champagne, or any beverages at all. For our 9 a.m. appointment, we had to leave our Starbucks at the front of the store on a shelf. Just know what you’re getting into before you go so you aren’t let down when you don’t get the full rom-com experience.
7. Be polite but don’t get pushed around
I wasted a good deal of time at one store because the saleswoman clearly wasn’t listening to me. She brought me all sorts of dresses that were in no way what I asked to see, and because I’m polite, I acquiesced. It was a time waster though, and I got out of there quickly and took my business elsewhere.
I ended up purchasing my dress at Alfred Angelo, which was a wonderful experience from start to finish. My saleswoman Alyse was so sweet and so patient with me. She never pushed me into a purchase and her opinions were always spot-on. Her salesmanship really was the key for me in the end. They handled my alterations and I bought my veil there last-minute. too. (And no, I didn’t get a discount for saying this. Just an opinion on a business that’s doing a great job!)
8. Keep an open mind
I was adamant from the beginning that a mermaid silhouette was all wrong for me. I’m all hips and I thought accentuating them would just make me look enormous. Once I tried on my first mermaid gown though, I never went back – it was perfect! So don’t rule anything out – especially if you trust your saleswoman to make a few suggestions outside your comfort zone.
9. Stop looking at dresses once you buy
Once you’ve plopped your credit card down, don’t ever look at wedding dresses again. You will second guess yourself to death and that’s one thing you don’t need to do when you have make a million other wedding-related decisions.
10. Don’t forget to factor in extra budget for alterations
If you’re short, wide, thin – whatever – you’re going to need some nips, tucks and maybe some sewn in boobs. I really liked everything about the dress I chose except that it was a corset. When I found out I could take that out and add a simple zipper, it made the dress much more attractive to me!
11. You might never find THE DRESS
Don’t think you’ve done something wrong if you don’t feel butterflies or sob hysterically when you try on THE DRESS. The wedding industry is worth $50 billion+ per year and why do you think that is? Because they do a fabulous job of selling us all on the perfect wedding experience — something that is about as real as J. Lo rom-coms and reality TV.
Eventually, I did make a hesitant choice and though I worried about it way too much, I stuck within my budget and ended up very, very happy with THE DRESS on the big day. It was one of the few things that went right!
What do you think of the final choice out of all the options?
So even though I was a pretty low-key wedding dress shopper, I still worried and stressed and fretted over the thing… and where’s my all-important perfect wedding dress now?
Don’t tell anyone, but it’s crumpled in the trunk of my car!
Make me feel better… tell me your wedding dress is stuffed in a suitcase somewhere! (If not, tell me a fun wedding dress story!)