I love weddings. Some of my first bylines out of school were for wedding magazines. So, if anyone knows how staged and excessive the wedding industry can be, it’s me. And, yet, when shopping for my own wedding dress, I still got sucked into the Upside Down that is bridal shops and materialism and insecurity.
There is so much “expectation vs. reality” when it comes to wedding dress shopping. It”s not like those TV shows where you cry and someone rings a bell. And if you did cry, great. Good for you. But I didn’t. And that doesn’t make my experience less valid or real. Shopping for a wedding dress can be fun. It should be fun. But there’s some know-how I really wish I knew before I started my search. Here’s my parting wisdom to this season’s brides.
You Don’t Need an Entourage
Say Yes to the Dress makes you think you need to shop with twenty of your closest friends and family. It creates this fake rule that your personal opinion isn’t good enough and that you need official sign-off by a committee of people. But who knows you better than yourself? This idea that if your mom doesn’t cry when you walk out in a dress means it’s not “the one” is bullshit.
I didn’t shop with my mom and I live thousands of miles away from my closest friends so most of my shopping was solo and that’s OK because I’m a grown-ass woman and I can make my own decisions. No pack of people. No champagne. Just lowkey. I found that helped me concentrate on how different dresses made me feel.
Now, I did do a celebratory weekend in Nashville, TN with my matron of honor where we visited several bridal shops. But that trip wasn’t about finding “the one.” It was merely researching types of silhouettes and fabric that I liked and trying things on just for fun. We didn’t do champagne and we didn’t make the weekend just about a dress. It was focused on BFF time and we just so happened to do some dress shopping and talk about wedding plans.
Street Sizes Mean Nothing
The most irritating thing about shopping for a wedding dress is that the sizing is totally off. Gowns are typically 3-4 sizes larger than street size, especially in couture gowns. So, if I’m a 6/8 in the real world, I’m actually a 10/12 in the bridal world. I wasn’t hung up on the sizing but it’s a little frustrating that in a fashion world where so many women feel like they’re already too big, the bridal industry amplifies these bogus standards even more.
Dresses Aren’t Boob Friendly
Another irritating thing about dress sizes–and this one really stung for me–is that bridal gowns are designed for small chests. Any sample you try on at a store is likely made for an A or B cup. If you have a larger cup size, you can ask to “open the bust” but not all designers and stores offer that customization.
I’m 5’2″ and I’m a 32DDD. I fell in love with an Art Deco-inspired dress at Anthropologie’s BHLDN, but they don’t open the bust. If you have big boobs, too bad. You don’t fit their look. It was definitely a trigger for me. And there were lots of dresses I loved that just weren’t designed for busty people. Admittedly, I teared up in a couple of dressing rooms because, by not offering larger cup sizes, I felt like the bridal world was telling me I don’t belong.
That Dress You Love on Pinterest Probably Won’t Look Good on You
I don’t know anyone who bought the same type of dress silhouette that they filled their Pinterest boards with. People have different shapes and something that looks amazing on a six-foot model won’t look the same on you. I went into this experience thinking I would wear an A-line ball gown because I love Disney and I wanted to feel like a pretty, pretty princess. But those puffy dresses made me look like a cupcake. I’m so petite, I got lost in the dress. And, I love tulle, but I couldn’t even hug people because there were so many layers of fabric between me and other humans.
In the end, what I did wear on my wedding day was a fitted sheath a la 1940s Hollywood. It was something I never thought would look good on me because in my mind I associated “fitted” with drawing attention to parts and curves I was self conscious about. And in fact, I was literally making myself look bigger by trying to hide my curves in boxy silhouettes. But fitted clothing can actually do you favors and create a slimming look. Read: Not bodycon. But tailored.
Alterations Cost $$$ But Are Worth It
You know how in those bridal TV shows they always ask the bride for a budget? And then they always celebrate when a bride goes “under budget” or right at budget? Well, those shows are missing a couple of fees. For starters, taxes. I had about $250 in taxes for my dress. And then there’s alterations, which can cost even more than your dress depending on what changes you need. My dress was $2,000 (plus taxes) and my alterations were nearly $900 more. My budget for a dress was $3,000 so really I shopped for dresses that were $2,000.
Alterations were worth every penny. I made changes to my dress that were totally unique to me. The dress I bought had illusion up top and I was adamant I wanted to wear a real bra. You can have a seamstress sew in or “build-in” a bra. But, as mentioned above, I need support. So I had the top of my dress lined and a V-neck created for a more slimming look. It was expensive and took numerous fittings and appointments to get it right, but it was worth it. Having a customized dress that no one else on the planet has or will ever have made me feel special and glamorous and happy in my own body on my wedding day. It was the best money I spent on my wedding besides buying my wife’s wedding band.
You Can Buy a Sample for Cheap
My wedding dress was a hand-beaded ivory gown by Jenny Packham. And there is absolutely no way I could have afforded a brand new JP dress. I bought what’s called a sample. It’s the dress brides try on in the store before ordering a new gown to their measurements. The dress was last season so the shop didn’t need it for brides anymore as the dress was discontinued. It was a couple of sizes larger than what I needed–perfect for altering down specifically to my size.
Not all samples are a good deal as some are in poor condition but my dress had minimal wear and tear. Just a couple of tears in the tulle and some beading that needed to be replaced. All in all, I scored a designer dress for a third of the cost and all it needed was a quick trip to the dry cleaners.