I was never one of those girls who has her dream wedding dress planned by the time she turns 15. Truth be told, even when I started searching in earnest for my dress, I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted. That meant that the months between saying ‘yes’ to the man and ‘yes’ to the dress were quite the learning curve. So whilst I am no expert on wedding dress shopping, I have weathered a few glitches and learned my lessons.
We were living in London when he plucked up the courage to get down on one knee. Keen to embrace the opportunities afforded by London life, I Googled ‘best London bridal boutiques’. Two days later I set out for my first wedding dress shopping appointment at a store offering multiple brands. I went alone as I didn’t want to drag my mum and sister all the way from South Wales for what might be a futile trip. Wise move. Despite booking an hour-long slot, I discovered that I was I one of 50,000 brides-to-be all perusing and trying at the same time, and I was just one more female body to dress for my assistant. I left feeling deflated and vowed never again; I’d rather marry in jeans. The moral of the story? There are better ways to find that dress than any Top Ten list. Here’s what you should do instead…
Consider what you really want from the dress.
Some women want to feel like princesses for the day. Some want simple. Some, sustainability or fashion. Or maybe it’s affordability you’re after? Then again, maybe it’s lace, feathers, trousers, maxi, mini or something in-between. There are a countless options out there. Between established and new bridal brands, some superb high-street collections – here’s looking at you, Rixo and Kitri – designer collaborations, and plenty of boutiques offering to post-nuptial customisation, there is a dress, jumpsuit or tailored two-piece out there to suit everyone. Don’t rush in like I first did when wedding dress shopping; take your time to search through a variety of collections online and on social media.
Be wary of warrens
Nevertheless, you should beware of too much social media. I found Pinterest particularly unhelpful, but quickly learned to use Instagram effectively. Rather than simply searching brands or boutiques, I followed wedding photographers I admired, wedding planners, florists and magazine accounts. This way you get more than a model pouting in a dress and may happen upon inspiration for your bouquet or centrepieces simultaneously. My personal favourite is Vogue weddings, but as well as the bridal stores themselves, I’ve also had plenty of milage from others. Put simply, if you’re heart gives a flutter in a swoon, that’s great, but if it starts thump-thumping in anxiety as you delve deeper and deeper into a black and bottomless hashtagged pit, it’s time to stop. Afterall, it’s no replacement for seeing dresses with your own eyes and on your own body, so when you find three styles in a collection that you really like, commit to an appointment.
Keep an open mind.
By closely – but not too closely – vetting the collections online, you’ll find yourself surrounded by dresses that suit your style and personality. In fact, Insta may have left you thinking that you know exactly which will be your favourite. At that point, try to remain open minded. In fact, get carried away – it’s your chance to be utterly indulgent! Seeing the details on the dresses in the flesh when wedding dress shopping may change your mind or throw up unexpected changes of heart. I love lace, but otherwise I absolutely believed I wanted a simple dress. In the end, the two dresses I agonised over were neither simple nor fuss free.
Listen to the assistants.
A great bridal assistant will have the measure of your personality by the time she’s through with her initial tick-list, and the measure of your body shortly afterwards. You should trust her. You see, she will have seen lots of women dress and undress, deliberate, oscillate, and ultimately, say yes to the dress. That means, that she will know which styles in her collection will suit your body-shape. Truthfully, I would not have found my dress were it not for Tenecha. Remember what I said about keeping an open mind?
Wear good underwear.
Lovely as the assistants are, they are essentially strangers who will be dressing and undressing you, so have standards. Save the saggy for your duvet and Netflix days. Also, bear in mind that your public-facing layers should be easy to slip off, and your undies should not, unless you really have a burning desire to bare. Lastly, make sure that they are white or nude. It is sometimes difficult to imagine how a dress will look on your big day without your hair done or with clips and pins holding it in place. But trust me, it is always difficult to imagine yourself saying ‘I do’ in a dress when there’s a pink band encasing your botty and the flamingo stitched across your lady bits is winking at you through French lace. By the way, the same applies to sports bras, but that mistake is easier remedied through removal.
Don’t worry if your pants feel fresher than you do.
Halfway through the hunt, I slipped two discs in my neck. Although I had been signed off by my consultant, the last few fittings were nevertheless a painful affair and I dreaded them. Still, the best dresses elevated my mood. My point is, don’t worry if you don’t look and feel your best: it will be an excellent test to measure the true power of the dress. If suddenly you feel a million dollars when ten minutes previous you felt like a dirty fiver, you’re probably onto a winner.
Yes, it’s your time to be indulgent, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a considerate shopper. Maybe I’m fussy, but I really hated trying on dresses with lots of makeup around the neckline. In fact, it was pretty much an instant turn-off. Leave the dresses as you would want to find them; bear in mind that the dresses are valuable, and someone else may want to try them later. Like I said, it doesn’t matter if you don’t look your absolute best – make the dresses work a bit to find a true gem!
The special something.
I visited no less than nine boutiques and perused the rails of countless more online. Friends had told me that they instantly knew when they found the right dress. I envied them. True, I could have happily walked down the aisle in several beautiful dresses, but I hadn’t found THAT feeling. So, I kept hunting eyes and mind wide open until I felt something akin to what they described. There were still no tears or butterflies or even flurries of excitement, but I was absolutely sure that two dresses were a cut above the rest. Suddenly, others paled into insignificance. Keep going until you find that special je ne sais quoi, too.
Give yourself as much time as you can; dresses take an age to finish.
Most dresses have a lead time of between 6 and 8 months. My injury dictated that ultimately, my final decision was left to the very last minute. Had I deliberated longer, it would have been a very tight deadline. Bare this in mind and give yourself a little time to breathe if you can. Step away from it all and try to forget about dresses – especially if you’re a little torn – as the best ones have a funny habit of stitching themselves into the fabric of your memories.
Consider the opinions of those who know you best.
You are an exception if you complete the entire process of searching, fitting and purchasing completely independently. Most of us want the opinion of others. When torn between two dresses, I polled my mother and bridesmaids as they had seen both dresses either in the flesh or in images. All but Maggie – my sister – chose one, she chose the other. The problem is that if I had to trust one person to shop for me, it would be her. Two years on, the dress she chose is the one I remember most clearly, and because of this, I often wonder if I have made the right choice.
That said, you should also be true to yourself. One assistant joked that usually, when wedding dress shopping, it was mothers that chose the dresses and daughters that wore them. To her credit, my mother offered her opinions but ultimately, she was adamant that it must be my decision. She probably didn’t think that I would be stood at a crossing, completely befuddled and torn between two dresses when a London bus made my mind up for me. It was headed for Peckham and I believed it a sign: I went for the Packham dress. Rightly or wrongly, it was my choice that day, it will be my choice when eventually we marry, and it will be my choice I’ll look back on in photos somewhere in the future. No matter what else you take from what I have to say, make sure that when you look back on your wedding, you’re wearing your choice too.
For inspiration in abundance