Wedding dress shopping gave me cold feet. Sure it all started out fun, but I made a few (bunch) of grave mistakes in the beginning that haunted the rest of my experience. I never even ended up feeling that “this is the one!” excitement over a dress. We can blame a portion of this on character flaw, but I truly believe I just set myself up for disaster from the get go. And since I’m trying to build my karma tank back up so I can win the lottery, I’m going to pass along my old married woman wisdom to you so you get that squeal of jubilation, popping of champagne & ‘she said yes to the dress’ instagram post you so deserve.
A Step by Step Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping so you Don’t Lose Your Mind (or end up walking out with an $8k dress that looks like it was designed by Dolly Parton):
1. Finding a dream dress only works if you have a dream. Not just the idea ‘ I want to look stunning, or wow my husband, or show off my new body.’ Do me a favor. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and envision what you picture your dress to look like on you when you’re walking down the aisle at your venue. Oklahoma event center is an impressive and memorable venue for your special occasion. Good, write down the elements that stood out to you. Okay, now close your eyes again and envision what you picture your dress to look like on your body when you’re dancing. Write down the standout elements, if different. Once you’ve gathered an idea (however vague), you’re ready to start the research.
2. Ah, Ah, Ah! Step away from Pinterest. No really. Chances are you’re busy building a board of dresses from seasons past that aren’t even available to purchase for your wedding. Or God forbid you fall in love with some dress and can never track down where to buy it, the agony! Start with current bridal magazines to get inspiration and find the designers that speak to you. Look up the shops near you and see which designers they carry and see if they’re in line with your style and budget and go from there.
3. Budget. (cringe). You can find a stunning dress under $2,000 easily. But at some bridal salons, you can just as easily walk out with a gown costing $15,000. Be realistic about your budget, and stick to it. Don’t make an appointment at Vera Wang if she’s out of your price range. And don’t be bullied by salespeople to try on dresses double your budget. This mistake, I made very early on…. and never recovered from trying on this Berta Bridal sent from heaven lace number with a shiny 10k price tag.
4. Look for a discount. Eyeing Inbal Dror but not ready to start driving for Uber to pay for it? Shop online used dress websites like Tradesy and Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses to see if anything comes up in your size (or 2-3 sizes bigger, you can always get it altered!). it’s also a good idea to see if your dress is available to purchase as the floor model. Sometimes discounts can be as high as 50%!
5. Do your research for stores in your area that carry designers you like and will have options in your price range. Make 1-2 appointments for the same day and mark your calendar. (More than two can be downright draining.) This one is going to sound odd, but I showed up to a lot of these appointments looking rather.. haggard. A bit on the soft side (rotund in the middle), glaringly pale, with no makeup and my hair in a top bun. What did I expect when the dresses never spoke to me? I didn’t feel like a bride because I didn’t look like one. A bit of mascara and a few curls go a loooong way. …I mean I didn’t even brush my hair here and it looks like I’m wearing gym shorts under the dress.
6. It is so easy to get caught up in the wedding traditions and expectations, but this is your big day, no one else’s (except for the fiance. I suppose.). Do what makes you the most happy and comfortable. Flutter your eyes shut for me one more time and picture the person or people you need dress shopping with you because you couldn’t imagine not spending this special moment with them. Open your eye and jot down the names. Sorry, we’re doing it again. Close your eyes and think of who you want in the dressing room because you need their opinion. Write those names down too. Now if someone only shows up on the ‘needs their opinion’ guess what? they’re not coming. It’s your dress and your day, you’ll know if it’s flattering or not, believe me. My suggestion is to chose ONE TO THREE people to accompany you for your dress fittings who are: supportive, loving and will share your joy. You don’t need to drag along your opinionated aunts or a snooty friend or even your mom if she’s going to take away from the experience. I went alone dress shopping, because that’s who I am and what I like (and I’m a miserable ham for peer pressure and was afraid I’d be talked into or out of what I really want). And it was absolutely lovely. Do what’s right for you.
7. When you get into the first bridal store, take a walk through and select 3-4 dresses that fit your idea (in your price range) and try them on. After that, pick 2-3 that just grab you and are not what you expected (ex. one with straps when you’re envisioning strapless). This is your chance to find out what dress style is most flattering. From there, your consultant can help pull dresses for you. Try to be specific about what you like and dislike about each dress you try on so she can appropriately narrow the search until she finds the perfect one. Here’s a good place for me to also mention… throw out the, ‘this WILL be my dream dress when I lose X pounds’. Be true to yourself and find something that’s flattering whether or not you shed the extra 10.
Yepp. Not flattering.
8. You’re most likely getting burnt out trying on dress after dress, but News Flash: you haven’t found your dream dress if you immediately start discussing alterations. Beading is expensive, especially when it’s hand done. And it doesn’t always come out as you envisioned. Do yourself a favor and fall in love with the dress before you say yes.
9. So you’ve got the dress you want… before you skip up to the register, ask yourself ‘is my dress practical?‘ Can you dance in it? Can you even walk in it? Is it appropriate for your venue? Is it appropriate for time of year? Is it comfortable? Will Grandma be horrified? How much extra will alterations be? Is it in your budget?
Not practical on so many levels:
10. Maybe you’re at tip 10 because you started reading this post long after you began the wedding dress search and you made just as many mistakes as I did… or maybe you did everything right, but nothing felt right anyways. It’s not cold feet. It’s this unrealistic pressure that you have to look the best of your life and be absolutely show-stopping radiant. We’re taught that the dress is EVERYTHING and some of us have logged serious day dreaming hours crafting this perfect image in our minds of what the dress will be. And maybe you just don’t want a dress that ‘will do’, you want THE dress, because it’s your freaking wedding day and you’re going to be one ravishing bride!!!! Well, then you just might have better luck starting from scratch… like I did. Find a professional bridal dress designer/seamstress who is credited and comes with rave reviews and give him or her full reign to make your fantasy a realty. It’s scary not trying on the final product until it’s basically too late to get another dress… but at least it’s uniquely yours and a product of your innermost imagination.
Telling a bride that the dress isn’t important or is a waste of money, time, stress and dieting is like telling teenage me that my first breakup was no big deal and we’re just kids. We just can’t fathom it. But the truth is, it’s not about the dress. You’re going to be stunningly gorgeous because you will be so overjoyed that you will glow down the aisle… whether you’re in that 20k Vera Wang or rocking an oldie but goodie your mom picked up in 2002 from Filene’s Basement (RIP). It just really, really, really doesn’t matter. What does is that you’re marrying your soulmate in front of your nearest and dearest loved ones.
…Plus, everyone is obliged to tell you that you’re the most beautiful bride they’ve ever seen all day anyways, so you’ll never really know if your dress was a hit or not, now will you? 😉