How to find your wedding dress
First things first, if you're not sure if you want a wedding dress, that's absolutely fine. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Be You.
Regardless whether you're opting for a dress or not, have a read of my wedding dress story, it's a long one, but real, personal and hopefully will hold elements you'll be able to relate to....
Second, you have a few different options as to where to find your outfit. Today, this article is mainly focusing on the traditional dress, but watch this space for wedding dress alternatives, coming soon.
Often house a variety of dress designers and a range of styles in sample sizes - allowing brides to try on an array of gowns to find the style, shape, and colour to suit them.
Pro: Great if you want to try a variety of options in one place
Con: can often be very busy, particularly during peak season and weekends. Most will require you to book an appointment in advance.
Often independently run holding a smaller range of designers, occasionally with similar styles.
Pro: often a great one-to-one service, occasionally with lesser-known designer dresses
Con: If you're not 100% sure on the style/designer you like, this probably isn't the best option for you.
Off The Rack
Affordable, past season gowns in stores nationwide. Wed2b is the most popular store offering hundreds of gowns mostly under £600 and don't require an appointment.
Pro: incredibly affordable for brides on a budget - you can even take the dress home that very day!
Cons: unless you're one of the lucky few that fit perfectly in a gown, chances are you will have to have the dress altered to fit you, which can be pricey.
It can get ridiculously busy and there can often be a queue for the fitting room. Tip: go alone or with as few people as possible mid week. I went alone in between Christmas and New Year to the Camberley store (Surrey) and was the only person in the store for the whole time. I spent a good hour in there trying on gowns and had the most incredible service. I can imagine during peak season and weekends, I would have had a very different experience though.
If you have a good idea of what you want and your size, by all means search for your dream dress that has been worn previously/pre-loved.
Be aware of fakes - unfortunately the market is flooded with them, they can be badly made and aren't a patch on the real thing.
Make sure you try the dress on and check it for rips, stains and imperfections before committing. (And if you're selling, like anything, be careful accepting cash and cheques)
On a budget? Search online for charity wedding dress shops. Some of the major charities including Oxfam and The Red Cross have a fab selection of pre-loved dresses at very affordable prices. (Side note, not all of the stores have dresses in them, check the websites or give your local store a call beforehand)
Visit the designer yourself and have a dress/outfit made bespoke for you. I seriously considered this option as there are so many designers that I adore that live close to me. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted though, and decided to try on a few styles at a bridal store first.
Pro: one of a kind, designed especially for you, fits perfectly. You have input from the very beginning down to the fabric and design.
Con: can take longer to make, as they don't often have the luxury of a huge workforce.
Most designers will produce a sketch of the dress first, but these can sometimes differ from the finished product, by which time it can be too late to change your mind.
I dreaded wedding dress shopping. I love to get all dressed up, don't get me wrong but I just couldn't imagine myself in a big white dress.
My usual uniform, is skinny jeans, sparkly top and a blazer - but usually paired with awesome boots/shoes. I wanted my outfit to really represent me, so thought that maybe I could do something along those lines?
The next thing I knew, I was in a wedding dress shop in Hampshire!
Needless to say, my Mum is a tad traditional, and suggested that I at least try some dresses on to see what I would look and feel like. She was right, I had to try. So off we went, me and my entourage....My Mum, my sister-in-law, my sister (via Facetime in Australia!) and one of my Maids of Honour. (I have some fabulous ladies in my life and am blessed with two maids of honours, and three bridesmaids). At this stage, we hadn't booked the venue, had no idea of the date, and I wasn't sure if I even wanted a dress....recipe for disaster.
But you know what, it wasn't a disaster at all. In fact, the total opposite.
I walked in and was immediately in wedding dress heaven. There were SO many in there! How on earth would I ever find one?
The consultant made me feel at ease straight away. she asked a few questions and then suggested a couple of styles. I also asked the lovely ladies I was with to each pick a dress too as I respect their opinions and they know my usual style.
I tried on about 6 different styles of dress, including one that I wear quite frequently and secretly thought I might go for IF I had to choose a dress.
I hated 75% of the dresses I tried on. Mainly because I was stood in front of a mirror and a stranger in my underwear, not feeling particularly great about myself in an environment I was completely unfamiliar with. Side note: I suffer from anxiety, and don't deal well with being out of my comfort zone. I'm a creature of habit. The dresses themselves were all beautiful in their own right, but they were not right for me.
I tried one on that was a trumpet style gown. Now, I'm a curvy girl, but the curves aren't always in the right places! My consultant handed me over to a new member of staff who was in training whilst she attended another bride who was having a fitting of her wedding dress. I didn't mind at all, until I realised that the newbie was very nervous. Everyone has to start somewhere, and having worked in retail, I totally appreciate how hard it can be. However, once I'd modelled this trumpet gown to my entourage and we had all rapidly discounted it, the newbie couldn't quite get me out of the dress. It was a very hot summer's day and I suddenly had visions of being stuck in the dress forever....going to the supermarket....going to work.....going to bed...cue mini panic attack.
To cut a long story short, my MOH spotted that my anxiety started to bubble and literally burrowed under the endless layers of tulle until she found the problem. One teeny strap holding me in had alluded the newbie consultant and as soon as it was un-popped, the dress fell to the floor, and I could finally breathe. Much to the amusement of the entourage.
After I'd calmed down and cooled slightly, the main consultant returned and made me feel at ease again. She pulled out the final gown that I was yet to try on.
I LOVED it. I immediately felt like a BRIDE!
Scrap that. A PRINCESS!
I couldn't stop swirling and twirling and staring at myself in the mirror. All previous worries, concerns, body issues evaporated.
I absolutely loved it, but wasn't quite ready to commit until I knew what venue we were going for and the time of year.
Gown: Emma Hunt
That was Summer 2017. Fast forward to Autumn 2018. We've found and booked the venue, date and I'm now armed with a much better idea of what dresses I like and the designers that make the style of dress that suit my body shape. I no longer want to wear jeans and a blazer. (Yes, Mum, you were right, and now you have that fact in writing!!) I still want the killer statement shoes, but to accompany a beautiful dress. I want to feel like a princess on my wedding day.
I spent a lot of time researching the pros and cons of wedding dress stores vs having one bespoke made for me.
My honest opinion: I wanted options and choices in front of me. I opted to go to a bridal store rather than a designer as I was a bit apprehensive about conveying what I wanted properly and the prospect of having a dress made for me that I didn't like. I know this sounds silly, and it just MY opinion. My sister had her wedding dress made for her, and it couldn't have been more perfect for her.
So then I started researching stores that specialised in the one particular designer whose style seemed to suit me the best. (I still can't say, just in case a nosy future hubby starts researching!) I found one very close to my house in South London and set up an appointment with both of my Maid of Honours. (My Mum was out of town, but I decided to go ahead anyway as it was just a chance to try on different types of dresses by this particular designer).
Off I went to London Bride with my two besties.
Me and two of my besties/ MOH's
This time, I knew what sort of thing I wanted, and so did my girls. The shop also had the dress that I'd tried on last summer, so I couldn't wait to try that again.
On it went.
No wow factor. It wasn't as amazing as I remembered.
I wonder if I loved it originally because I'd figured out the STYLE and finally saw myself as a bride for the first time rather than a kid playing dress up.
Anyway, one of my besties had spotted a gown waiting to be hung on the racks as we had walked in. She insisted I tried it on because part of the dress looked like it had stars embroidered into it. I'm sure you've realised by now that I have a bit of an obsession with stars (Amore Star!).
I got in the dress, made my entrance out of the changing room and stood on the little stool in front of the two girls who arguably know me better than I realise!
"That's the one" they both say.
I know it too.
It is ME as a dress. It screams Gilly, my entire personality encapsulated in fabric. I love how I look in it, I love how it makes me feel, and I never want to take it off.
But I don't have the 'I have to say yes to the dress' moment because the most important woman in my life isn't here.
I suddenly become so overwhelmed with guilt that I've found the dress without my Mum.
I can't call her as she's out of town with friends, so I guess the dress will have to wait.
Once I'm back in my usual clothes, which now seem so boring and bland compared to the princess dress, my besties inform me that they've text my Mum on my behalf and she's going to call any moment.
See, they know me.
After explaining my predicament and guilt, she tells me not to be so silly and questions why her being there should change whether it's THE ONE? (I don't think it will ever matter how old I am, or experienced in life I become, I think I will always want my parents opinion! and approval!)
My Mum and I arrange to pop in and see the dress a couple of days later, this time with an even bigger entourage! My sister-in-law, two nephews and big bro all come along for the ride! Fortunately, they all have the same WOW factor and I finally say YES TO THE DRESS!
(Well, maybe not all of the entourage...my gorgeous nephews were busy reading magazines to understand that Aunty Gigi was in a wedding dress!)
Me and Mama Keat - not holding THE dress, just A dress... ;-)
My Top Tips:
Confirm a few details before you start your wedding dress shopping. Consider the time of year you're getting married, the venue, the logistics of being in one outfit for the whole day etc.
Think about your venue. If you opt for a wide ballgown style dress and are getting married in a chapel with a narrow aisle, or you're wearing a figure hugging fishtail gown with a venue with hundreds of steps....I think you get the picture!
Do some research about what may suit your body shape and style
Be open minded and listen to the consultant leading your appointment. They know what they're doing and are trained to assist in what suits a variety of body shapes
Leave enough time for your dress to be ordered/made if you're not buying off the rack.
If a white dress isn't your thing, or even a dress, there are so many other options out there. (Watch this space for an upcoming blog on wedding dress alternatives)
Whatever outfit you choose, remember to try and sit in it. You'll be sat down for at least a couple of hours during the wedding and it's important to be comfortable in it.
If you're opting for a wedding dress, bear in mind that the stores may only carry sample sizes. Some have an array of sizes, but not in every single style. Don't be afraid if your dress doesn't fit you perfectly. Once you've found the one. chances are is that the shop will order it in, in your size.
When you're trying on your outfit, dress or not, wear appropriate underwear. So if possible, nude/flesh colour if you're trying on white dresses. (I wore my staple black, and most dresses I tried on required me to go braless anyway as they had inbuilt support)
If you're ordering from a bridal store/boutique, most will ask for 50% payment upfront followed by 50% when the dress comes in. I put mine on my credit card which I collect air miles on, and then paid it off when I got paid. We're doing this for quite a lot of the large wedding purchases in the hope we'll be able to put some of our airmiles towards our honeymoon. (Reminder, don't get yourself into debt or rely on credit over a wedding, only use credit if you can afford to pay it off in full as soon as possible....do I sound like Martin Lewis?!)
Once you've found THE dress, commit to it. It's ok if you get a seed of doubt and want to make sure you've got the right one (I've been to a few stores since committing, mainly because I want to keep trying on dresses, but also just to make sure...no dress has come close to mine!) What do you do if you then confuse yourself and end up with more than one dress? That's fine too, consider donating the one/s you don't want to charity or selling and re-investing that money into the wedding
So I've found the dress, now to find the perfect shoes....