I said “yes” to the dress this weekend.
Thank god that’s over.
To me, wedding dress shopping is like shopping for needles. And not even in a haystack — that search would be much too confined and far too easy. I’m talking a Google search for needles. Like, what do you enter in the search bar?
“Silver needle, but not the super shiny silver. A little duller. And wide like that one needle I used in my high school Home-Ec class, but not like that big one my great-grandmother used to use. And not real long. Like, maybe as long as my cousin’s pinky finger. The one in Pennsylvania, not the one in Ohio.”
“Google has found 2,984,167,925 matches to your query”
As part of my job at the bridal magazine, I see wedding dresses every day. Truly, every day of my life. And I’ve tucked away pictures of ones I like. I also have a few on my Pinterest. So I had a pretty good idea of what wanted. Sorta.
But when it came time to actually start a serious search for a dress, my brain checked out. There are literally hundreds of thousands of dresses online. The options are endless and absolutely mind-numbing.
Where the hell do you start? That’s not a rhetorical question… I’m seriously asking your opinion.
I picked a handful of dresses that I’d saved and looked them up individually online. And I found that the prices were all over the place — anywhere from $799 to $2,000. There are cheaper and more expensive ones, of course, but mine teetered in this area. So then I dug a little deeper and found that the same gorgeous dress that’s $2,000 on one website, is $362 on a website for some company in California. Wait, what?
The image on both sites shows the same dress, the same model, the same description. Clearly, something’s not right. I mean, obviously the dress is worth more than $362, but who wants to pay $2k when you can pay just a few hundred? And how do you really know you’re getting the same dress?
And that’s just ONE of the confusing things I stumbled upon. Why is wedding dress shopping so hard?
Now that I kinda sorta had a semi-idea of what I might want in a dress, I decided to visit a local bridal boutique to try on a few. Which brought on a whole new list of questions: Do I need to make an appointment or do I just walk in? Do I have to already know what I want, or will I basically start my search from scratch? And, most importantly, who supplies the champagne?
I emailed the only local bridal shop I’d ever dealt with personally, and asked those same questions, because, I figured, I’m not the only first-time bride out there and it doesn’t hurt to be honest about the stuff I don’t know.
**My personal recommendation: If, in your online dress searches, you find a designer you are drawn to, find a shop that carries that line and schedule an appointment. In my case, I seemed to really be drawn to Maggie Sottero dresses, so I made sure Scher’s Bridal Shop carried that line before I scheduled my appointment. I also had a list of style numbers I loved so I could try them on.
If you’ve never been to a bridal shop, it’s overwhelming. There are dresses everywhere, and it’s very, very easy to feel claustrophobic in all that white and poof. They all look the same, and each rack is completely full. Don’t go in alone. You will get lost and you will die.
I took a few of my girlfriends. They scattered like rats as soon as Marc, the owner, greeted me and introduced me to my adorable stylist, Hailey. She and I chatted briefly about the style of dress I was looking for. I showed her the few dresses I had saved to my phone, and I told her all about Maggie, and then I remember her saying, “You’ll find most of her dresses right here,” as she sifted a few hangers on the rack next to us. I, too, sifted a few hangers, and I may have even pulled a dress from the rack — but then I got lost in the whirlwind of the day. Like, immediately.
By the time Hailey and I finished our brief exchange, and I was given the green light to look around, each of my friends had already pulled a few dresses EACH from the racks, so Hailey suggested hitting the dressing room.
In hindsight, I wish I’d had more time to look at dresses myself. But these are things you learn along the way. Almost every dress I tried on that day was chosen by my friends. Fortunately, my friends really know my style and my vision for the wedding. And as I tried them on, I figured out what I like and don’t like, and my stylist was then able to narrow my search to dresses that fit my criteria.
I had no intentions of walking away with a dress that day, and I stuck to my guns on that. As a first-time bride, I wanted to see how the whole thing worked before I made any major decisions. And I’m VERY glad I did it that way.
**My personal recommendation: Visit a local bridal shop first. Be honest about what you know, what you don’t know and what you want in a dress. Be completely open to trying on anything. The owners/stylists at those shops have done this for a long time, and they know their shop inside and out. Trust them. And be comfortable. Once you get the first experience out of the way, the search becomes much less daunting.
Also, have fun with it! Honestly, how often do you get to play dress-up? I don’t typically wear strapless tops, but I tried on a strapless gown for sh*its + giggles. Turns out, I liked it. I also tried on a birdcage veil, a Great Gatsby-style dress, a “Pretty Woman” dress that “looks like it came from the ’80s,” according to my cousin, and probably the biggest, heaviest, poofiest dress in Maryland.
This past weekend, I had two more appointments — each in Central Pennsylvania, the area my family still calls “home.” The first was at The Paisley Bride in Lewistown, a quaint little shop in a gorgeous old house near my old stomping grounds. I did a little homework first — I searched for dresses by each of the featured designers on the boutique’s website, and wrote down the style numbers of the specific dresses that caught my eye.
My family (as well as my soon-to-be MIL and step-daughter) joined me for this one. Here’s the thing about family: they’re not afraid to speak their minds. Here’s the other thing: they can, because there’s a chance they’re footing part of the bill.
Not everyone loved the same dresses as me. And they let me know that.
**My personal recommendation: YOU are the bride. This is YOUR wedding. Don’t let anything make you forget that. It’s very easy to become jaded by others’ opinions, but don’t allow the magic to fade. Kudos to Paisley owner, Morgan, for reminding me of this after every mini fashion show. Of course their opinions count, and they each have your best interests at heart, but if you’re not careful, their honesty could dissuade you from choosing a dress that makes you feel like the sexy, beautiful, breathtaking princess you’ll want to be on your wedding day.
My second appointment of the day, and third overall, was at a much larger, much more mainstream, bridal shop. And I cannot say this enough — THANK GOODNESS I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING. Had I not visited smaller bridal boutiques, or received the personal attention I did from those owners and stylists, or been given unlimited time to peruse their shops and sift through countless dresses, I think I may have “settled” for a dress at this last appointment.
Let me be clear — I received the BEST attention at this last store. I absolutely did! My stylists were amazing — very accommodating, sincere and knowledgeable. We laughed and cried and genuinely had a great time. But, because these types of stores are so big, their clientele base is massive, and they seem to be busy from open to close. As a result, appointments are strict, time is limited and everything seems regimented.
Because I’d done it a few times before and I knew what I wanted, what looked best and what options were available, it was MUCH easier for me to say, “No, I don’t like that. Put it back,” “Doesn’t matter what you think, this one stays in the ‘maybe pile,’” or “Let’s try this with a ivory sash and cap sleeves.”
In the end, the dress I fell in love with wasn’t one of the $2,000 dresses I’d saved to my phone or Pinterest. Even now, I couldn’t tell you whose name is on the label. It’s not one I imagined wearing on my big day, or one I’ve ever even seen before, for that matter. In fact, it was hidden on the mega sale rack, but it was one I plucked from the hanger as soon as I saw a portion of the lace. It’s not perfect, and it will take some work, but it’s absolutely perfect for me.
**My personal recommendation: Know your options. What you see doesn’t have to be what you get. Something as simple as a sash or belt could give you “shape” and absolutely change the look of a dress. Spaghetti straps can be replaced by cap sleeves. A strapless dress can be paired with a “shoulder necklace” or jewel cape to make it look like a completely different dress. In other words, a “mega sale rack dress” could be made to look like a $2,000 dress if you open your mind to it.
Wish me luck…