Oh, the dress.
Everyone offered their opinions… Brandon really wanted to come shopping too, but I vetoed that idea. He was picturing me in a short dress, actually… and I was thinking maybe. But I was also looking at long, flowy styles; ones he referred to as “nightgowns”. Not a good sign.
This was an early favorite, when I was focusing on short styles. By Alfred Angelo.
I looked and looked and looked online for dress inspiration pictures. I had two separate sections on pinterest; one for short dress pictures, and one for long ones. I resisted the temptation to go into bridal shops until I was ready to buy. Finally, this past fall, after being engaged for about 14 months, I made an appointment at each of the two bridal shops here in town.
My friend, and bridesmaid, was planning on coming into town that weekend, and had mentioned shopping. I checked with my mom and sister, and my future mother-in-law, and they were free. So, one Saturday, we all met here in Lethbridge for lunch, then started shopping.
I was not intending to buy my dress. I really was not. I thought I would have this fun experience with these lovely ladies, get some ideas, and then head into Calgary or something to try on some more, order one, wait for it to come in, get it altered…
But it did not happen like that.
My parents graciously offered to buy my dress for me. When my dad first offered, he gave me a $1000 ballpark figure, so that is what I went into the first shop with. I filled out the form, read all the “NO PICTURE TAKING” signs… and was promptly left alone to go through racks. I pulled a few “destination dresses”. They only had sizes 2 – 6. I am none of those sizes. But I figured, whatever… we can at least try a few on, get some ideas…
The saleslady would come by every once in a while. They sent us upstairs, where the bridesmaid dresses usually are. It was fine – larger couches and all, but the girl kept leaving, to be replaced by someone else. They were all converging downstairs, where a bride was thinking about buying a dress… A very expensive dress. She was twirling in the mirror, oohing and ahhing, while her mom dabbed at her eyes and her best friend squealed.
We were left to our own devices.
Every once in a while a worker would come upstairs, help me into a dress, and then leave again. Then I would wait for the next helper.
I tried on dresses. Quite a few, actually. Even a couple short ones, but they did not do much for me (I am short and would have to have the hemmed to see the full effect – obviously not an option.) One short one was “nice”, but even though I am a destination bride, I still wanted to feel special. That dress was not special.
The kicker came when the owner went into the room next to mine – where all the dresses I had pulled were – and took them out to put back. I heard her say to my entourage, through my closed dressing room door, “She is too big for all of these. She will just get discouraged. None of them will work.”
How am I supposed to want to order something, in my size, if I cannot try on the sample? That was what was discouraging.
At one point my mom spotted a tea-length dress and asked if we could try that one on. It was slightly over my budget, so the saleslady refused to bring it, even though my mom explained again and again that she was buying it and the price was still fine. Eventually the lady agreed and I tried it on. It was not the one.
There were a few dresses I liked. One I liked a little more. It was flattering and pretty. We were not allowed to take pictures, which is fairly standard I know, but we also were not allowed to know a style number or designer or anything. This was frustrating. I am a savvy shopper, and like to compare. How could I do that with no reference?
All in all, it was fun to try on dresses there, but it was not a great experience.
This second place was very busy, and squeezed us into a bridesmaid’s area too, but apologized profusely for doing so. We had clips we could pin to dresses we liked, and our “consultant” gave me a large handful of clips, and each lady who was with me got a few too. We had the same consultant the whole time. She showed us where the destination dresses were, where bridesmaid dresses were that would come in white, and where clearance dresses were. My mom told her that the budget was a “ballpark” amount, and a little flexible.
And then I got started.
Some dresses did not fit, but the consultant pinned together too big dresses, and held together too small ones. We asked if we could take pictures if we liked some. Her response? “Take pictures even if you don’t!” I tried on lots of dresses, in lots of styles. And I found a few I liked! One I tried on was $400, and was along the lines of what I had envisioned; halter, simple, a little flowy. The halter tie came down to the length of the dress, and I could picture that blowing in the Caribbean breeze. Very nice.
Then my mom and sister pulled a clearance dress. The consultant helped me into it and started lacing up the back. I started giggling and swooning. My entourage started asking me through the door what the fuss was about. I came out of the dressing room, grinning ear from ear. I twirled and ooohed and ahhed. They all waited quietly for my opinion first, then they all started exclaiming. My friend sniffled. My sister giggled. The moms smiled.
I did go back and try on the other one with the halter. They snapped pictures. Then I tried on the clearance dress again. It was the same thing. I did not cry or anything, but I loved the way I looked in it. I felt like a bride.
My dress was just under $900. I had a hard time saying no to a perfectly nice dress less than half the cost, but I did.
This other dress was a clearance dress; the only one left. If I wanted it, I would have to take it.
Let me reiterate. I did not intend to buy a dress that day.
The consultant explained a “hold” procedure they do. You put down $50, they hold a dress for you for one week. You think about it, come back, try it on again if you want, then decide. If you want the dress, the $50 goes towards it. If not, it was lost.
My mom put down the hold money while I was getting back into my regular clothes. No one wanted me to feel pressured, like I had to buy this dress because everyone was there and it was the last one like it.
I thought about it. We talked about it at dinner, when Brandon met us and we joked about me finding a pink jumpsuit to wear instead of a gown. I looked at pictures. I called my mom. I emailed my future mother-in-law. I even posted pictures of my two favorites (without my head) on a forum I frequent to ask for opinions. I went back and tried it on.
Every single time I looked at that picture, I knew that I would be looking at pictures of myself in that dress for years to come. I loved it. That was that. Why look more? In less than the week given I went and bought my dress. It has been hanging in a bag on the back of our bedroom door for months.
I really had a fabulous experience dress shopping, overall. The whole day was great, and probably my favorite wedding-planning moment. So here is what I learned:
1. Choose your group wisely. I was nervous about having so many people (It was recommended I have one or two… not four). But every single dress I tried on they waited patiently for my opinion before they said a word. (With the exception of a completely ridiculous one that my friend started choking back chuckles for when I came out of the dressing room.) My mom was a no-brainer to bring, and my friend was in town, and so supportive. My sister and I are very close, and she is my maid of honor anyway. Brandon’s mom and I get along very well and, since he is an only child, I wanted her to be able to experience it. They were such a great group.
2. Know your budget. Know your absolute limit.
3. Have an idea of what you want, but be open-minded. If I had seen the picture of the dress before I tried it on, I would have shrugged; it was pretty on the hanger, but nothing that would jump out at me. But on, it is fabulous. (At least I think so!) I never would have tried on certain dresses if I had not been open-minded. So I have no doubts about what does and does not look good on me.
4. Decide on a feeling for your day, dictated by you and your fiance, and your setting (aka: time and place). I have seen brides in full heavy ball gowns getting married on a beach. Sure it is pretty… but the sweat stains and fainting is not. I am too practical for that. I wanted pretty, and relaxed. Special, but understated. My friend and I named the look I was going for, “Understated Princess”. I am someone who likes camping and sweatpants, but also getting dressed up. I like DIY but also dreamed of being a Disney princess when I was a little girl. That convoluted description applies to me, to us, to our day… and to my dress. It all fits.
5. Have fun! These are great memories you are making. This is not a regular shopping trip… enjoy it!
As a side note, Brandon is still concerned about my dress, but is waiting patiently. He was disappointed when I told him it is not short, but is mostly coming to terms with it. Now he is just curious! Because he is so curious, I will not post pictures here of the dress itself… At least not until after July 18!
Was your dress shopping experience positive?
Favorite Wedding Dresses from BHLDN
Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more pandemic wedding resources here.