Finding the right gown was the easy part as far as I was concerned. I tried it on. I went home. I dreamed about it. So I bought it.
But how, exactly, does one know when a dress is “the one”?
In my case, it was clear cut. I fell in love with a sample sale dress — a discontinued style I couldn’t go out and order at the next bridal salon. When I realized I’d cry if they sold my dress before I could whip out my credit card, I rushed back to buy it. And of course, being a sample sale, it was a steal.
It was the same case with one of my college friends, who also fell for a sample dress. Except Marybeth did cry, almost: when she returned to the salon after her initial shopping expedition, one of the employees promptly told her that her Paloma Blanca gown had been discontinued. Sorry, but they couldn’t order it for her. After fighting back tears for a moment, Marybeth found out she could purchase the very dress she’d tried on during her last visit — and for nearly half the original price of the gown.
Shedding miserable tears over a dress you think you can’t have is one (quite painful) way to decide on the dress you’ll wear during the happiest day of your life. Shedding joyful tears is probably more common.
One bride I’ve interviewed, Heather from Idaho, summed up her dress shopping process simply: “I almost cried when I put it on. I went to every store in town, found this one in a little tiny shop, and there it was.”
That’s how the story always goes — bride tries on dress; mother cries because her baby looks so beautiful; bride knows she’s found the right gown. I decided to test that theory with a bridalwear expert, Dawn, who sold me my dream dress.
“Do most brides find their wedding dresses when someone starts crying?” I asked as she cinched me into my gown one last time before I made the purchase.
Dawn shook her head. “No. Most brides go through something kind of like you: they’ll try on a dress, go home, and keep thinking about it. They’ll try the dress on again, and again. The dress they keep coming back to is usually the one.”
There are a few steps a bride can take to streamlining her dress shopping experience. It all comes down to doing your homework and keeping an open mind.
1. Know your Budget.
This one can be painful. See, I tried on an amazing Jim Hjelmtrumpet gown during my third dress shopping trip. Problem was, the dress cost roughly $4,000 — well exceeding what I could afford to spend for all my wedding clothes and accessories combined. But something good came of trying on that dress. Although it was a stunning gown, it didn’t flatter me as well as the dress I ended up buying for a fraction of the price. So decide what you’re willing to spend, factoring in alteration costs (which skyrocket if delicate beading needs to be re-sewn or lace needs to be moved) but don’t limit yourself to what dresses you try on. Idea shopping is free, as long as you hold to your resolve not to get heartsick over a dress that would break your budget.
2. Know your Style.
If you hate tulle, you’re never going to want a princess ballgown. If you’ve always dreamed of a fairy tale wedding, you won’t want a cocktail length bubble hem dress either.
That said, be willing to dry dresses you never would have envisioned yourself wearing. What they say is true: a dress doeslook completely different on your body than spilling off a hanger — and that can be a good thing or a very bad thing! Another Jim Hjelm dress I tried on, one I’d loved in catalog pictures, flattened my small curves and made me look like a malnourished child. On the flip side of that, one of my friends bought a dress that looked far too ornate for my taste in pictures, but looked sophisticated and demure when she slipped into it. You may find that a neckline or cut you’d never considered actually looks best on your figure. Just make sure you stick with a dress that feel right for you — not right for the supermodel on the cover of Vanity Fair, not right for your sister, not right for the way you always thought you’d look at your wedding. The dress needs to make you look and feel your best, regardless of what you’d always assumed your best must be.
3. Know your Needs.
Just as every bride’s wedding will be different, every girl has a different set dress requirements. A beach wedding bride needs a dress that won’t weigh her down in the sand; a cathedral-wed bride needs a grand gown that will make her stand out against even the most stunning backdrops; a bride busy with dancing and small children needs a gown that gives her freedom of movement; a bride who feels insecure about her body image needs a gown that disguises her concern spots and makes her feel fabulous.
Make a checklist of what you want in your gown — from functionality to fabric texture to fun-ness — and take it with you when you hit the salons.
And just remember: the right gown is out there, even if it takes what feels like forever to find. Some brides find “the one” the very first day they go shopping. For others, success is all the sweeter when they find their dream dress after months of searching.