I will fully admit that I spend way too much time watching Say Yes to the Dress. Does it create unrealistic expectations of what a sane person should spend on a dress? Absolutely. ($35,000 for a wedding dress? Yep, let me just grab my checkbook.) It is healthy to have seen just about every episode, multiple times? Probably not. But who cares. For as non-dressy as I am most days (I don’t wear makeup unless it’s a special occasion and wayyy too much of my work wardrobe is made up of hand-me-downs from past roommates), I absolutely love looking at wedding dresses. I call it a good Friday if I can just stay home, order Indian food, and watch Say Yes to the Dress.
When it came time to start my dress search, I knew two things: I was not going to be purchasing anything even close in price to what is featured on Say Yes to the Dress, and I knew I needed my mom with me. She is my best friend, and my only wedding attendant. Tim and I have opted to have my mom and his sister stand for us during the ceremony, rather than having a traditional wedding party. Soon after I got engaged, we stopped in a David’s Bridal location near my mom’s home. We live about five hours apart, so we had to make good use of our time together. We both really had no idea what to expect, but the employees were actually very kind and helpful. To anyone with qualms about walking into a David’s Bridal or other big box bridal store, I say that it really can’t hurt to try. While I didn’t find my dress there, I was surprised by how many dresses there I did like, and how kind the consultants were. I can be pretty uncooperative when it comes to shopping, and they put up with my nonsense pretty well. When it comes to finding a dress that feels right for you, it's really best to consider all your options!
I knew I wanted a simple, flowy dress with cap sleeves, and I like lace and chiffon. Something fitting that description (particularly the cap sleeves part) was surprisingly hard to find. I am also super pale, and white did not look so fantastic on me. I tried a more traditional bridal shop near my mom, and was offered very little to try on, given my $600 price point. The consultant made it seem like I needed to hurry-up-and-buy-my-dress–right-now-before-it’s-too-late (even though we were nine months out from the wedding), and even went so far as to push my mom away from me when she was touching the dress, which we were not a big fan of. We weren’t sure where to look next, as I still hadn’t found the simple, questionably real dress I was obsessed with. A friend recommended that I look at a beautiful, unique new shop in Pittsburgh called Glitter and Grit. I took a couple of my friends and stopped in after work one evening. If you’re looking for a different kind of bridal experience in Pittsburgh, make sure that Glitter and Grit is on your list. I tried on anything that I liked, regardless of price, to see if what I was picturing was really what looked best on me. The shop’s dresses range from $750 to almost $4,000, but most of what I tried on was in the $900-2000 range (gorgeous, but still more than I wanted to spend). The experience really helped move my search along because it showed me that the type of dress I wanted really did exist, and I felt awesome in it. I left without buying a $2200 lace and chiffon dress that I liked a lot, staying true to my budget.
It occurred to me that there had to be dresses out there that looked like the kind of bridal gown I wanted, but weren’t actually labeled and sold as wedding dresses. I found a store online which was near my house called Bella Bridesmaid. Bella has locations throughout the United States. Bridget, the owner of the Pittsburgh location, was extremely helpful from my initial email onward. I described what I was looking for, and asked whether they had any bridesmaid dresses that could be ordered in ivory or white, or with lace. She immediately responded with enthusiasm, letting me know that most of their dresses were available in ivory or white, and suggested the Ceremony line by Joanna August, some of which have cap sleeves and are available in white or ivory lace. I was excited by the prospect of finding something that I felt bridal in, at a bridesmaid price point.
I made an appointment and took my mom with me when she was visiting for the weekend. The appointment was very low-key, which is my style, and we were free to look through the racks of beautifully organized bridesmaid dresses (and a few actual wedding dresses too) and try them on, without a sales pitch. The store itself is gorgeous and feels like an upscale boutique experience, without the price tag. I ended buying the first dress I tried on (not from the Joanna August line), and picked it up just the other day (only about two months after I ordered it!). We were able to snag it at a bargain (under $300!) and I am absolutely thrilled. I plan to personalize the dress by having a friend who can sew add a bit of lace or pearls here and there. Since Tim reads these articles, I can’t say much about the dress I chose, but I promise there will be plenty of pictures later!
Does anyone have other suggestions for where to shop when bridal store prices are simply not in the budget? Websites, department stores, your mom’s closet? I’d love to hear about your ideas in the comments.
Author’s note: I did not receive compensation from any of the shops I mention. I just like them!