The Dress That Wasn’t

Concerned that you can’t settle on just one perfect wedding gown? Don’t worry — plenty of us have been in that same situation. Here’s my own progression through dress after dream dress. . . .

Regrets about my wedding? There are a few things I'd change if I could do it over again. But I would never change my dress! Photo by Mark Stevenson Photography.

The dress I wore in my wedding is absolutely, unquestionably the dress I should have worn.  It was simply styled, fitting snugly around my waist and hugging my hips as it gradually flared into an impressive train.  I knew it was the dress when I realized I would cry if someone else bought it before I could (it was a sample sale, so there was no ordering it anew if another bride chose it, too).

But it wasn’t the first dress I dreamed about.  It was the fifth or sixth.

In high school, I sketched out what I wanted my wedding gown to look like, and for several years, I was certain I would have a dress custom made to look just like my quickly-penned design.  Then once I started looking at real gorgeous gowns, I stopped even imagining styling my own.  In the summer of 2006, I fell in love with Spanish design house La Sposa, and one gown in particular.  It had little lace sleeves popping up from a gently wrapped bodice, with a delicate sweetheart neckline and a flower detail at the hip.  But, as usually happens with young loves, I grew up and left it behind.

Sticking with the Spanish style, I hopped over to Pronovias, where I fell, hard, yet again.  And this dress, this time, I was sure it was the one.

Pronovias Nacar

It was simply too beautiful and too perfect not to be my dress — especially with the darling open back, something I’d wanted since the age of 16.  Nacar, I had my sights set on you long before I had a wedding date, or even a fiance!

The bow detail on the front was what really sealed the deal, though.  It was dainty and cute at the same time, and the perfect little embellishment on a minimally-detailed gown.  I was a little worried about a deep scoop neckline and cap sleeves had never been my ideal before.  Even my mother pointed out that it was considerably different from my previous favorites — the all-over lace, the form-fitting skirt.  But this dress changed my mind.  For sure and for good.

Until I stumbled upon another Pronovias gown that changed my mind, again and absolutely.

Meet Nepal.

Pronovias Nepal

Oh, Nepal! How perfect you looked on my computer screen! The straight-across strapless top looked so much safer than a swooping scooping neck, and the draped fabric on the skirt fit my idea of simple elegance. Silhouette, neckline, styling — all of it was exactly what I had wanted, I realized. Nacar had been a beautiful dream, but it wasn’t entirely my style.  At least not for my wedding day.   Maybe, in black, for a swanky formal party.

So I was set. I knew my dress and I envisioned it on myself every single day. This was before the proposal, I’m embarrassed to admit.

When the proposal came, I began happily calling bridal salons — I had to try on Nepal! But something terrible had happened. Pronovias had put out its 2009 collection. Nepal was gone.

It wasn’t all bad, though: without a dream dress in mind, I tried on so many beautiful gowns, in ranging in price from just a few hundred dollars to several thousand. On my first afternoon, the last lovely gown I tried on came from a company I’d never heard of, Joli Bridal. And it looked simply gorgeous, with its shirred and draped fabric, the form-fitting-to-flared skirt, the gently curving neckline.

Joli Bridal 4010

But being my first day shopping, I wasn’t ready to make my move.  So it was on to the next store on the next shopping trip, where I was introduced to my new pet, Jim Hjelm. And among all these gowns, two stood out — not on the hanger, but when I slipped into them, although for such different reasons.  The first was a laughable disaster, turning my small curves into a 12-year-old’s body.  And it was so astonishingly like my once-beloved Nacar!

Jim Hjelm 8859

In all fairness, the size-12 sample, even when pulled taught and pinned into place, certainly didn’t hug my size-0 body the way it was supposed to.  But all concerns about that melted away as I tried on the next dress, felt the silk satin shape to my body, the dramatic trumpet skirt twirling over my feet. The only words to describe this dress were simply stunning.

Jim Hjelm 8862

The Alencon lace detailing at the bottom of the silk satin trumpet skirt, yet another dainty bow at the bodice — this dress was a dream come true.  Except for two minor details:

1.) It cost $4,000 and my target price was $1,000 or less.
2.) I kept thinking about that dress I’d tried on just days before — the Joli Bridal gown that cost more than $3,000 less.

Because that dress was a little bit of everything I’d ever loved: a delicate neckline; a hip-hugging-but-widely-flaring skirt; asymmetrically draped fabric; minimal detailing; and that all-important ribbon and bow on the bodice.

And so it was that I finally made up my mind.  I’d hardly gotten into my car after I tried on the Jim Hjelm dress before I dialed the other bridal salon and asked them to hold the dress for me.  I promised I would be back the next day — because no matter how many times I’d been in love before, this time, things were different.  It was just like real love: I had been mildly disappointed when my La Sposa gown and the Nepal became unavailable, but losing this one would be a tragedy!

I did go back and try the gown on again.  I took it home that very afternoon.  And for months, every time I walked past the big white garment bag hanging on my closet, I had to pause, unzip it, and take a peek inside.

So if you’ve been in love a half dozen times, like me, how will you know when a dress is the dress?

You’ll know when you’re ready to cry — not necessarily at your reflection in it, but at the thought of losing it.

You’ll know when you realize you simply can’t get married in anything else.

~ Laura

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One response to “The Dress That Wasn’t

  1. All of the dresses you picked were beautiful, and I like how you described the process of falling in love with many dresses. That is the same problem I had when I went looking, and it’s a tough decision for many brides to pick just one!

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