Trying on wedding dresses: Lessons from a first-timer
I'm engaged! Which means I'm getting married! Which means the past month of my life has been consumed with the wild, untamed world of wedding planning!
Divas readers, this is no joke. Planning a wedding is cray. Even more so when you deign to have an 11-month engagement, which is my fiancee and I are attempting to pull off. Having been together for 5-plus years, we didn't want to push a wedding into 2017 territory, so that means less than a year to plan. I assumed that was PLENTY of time (and really, it is), but one Pinterest search will tell you that year-and-a-half to two-year engagements are common and even advised. (That explains why half the venues I called last month had zero availability left for 2016.)
This is all a long way of saying there is a lot of stuff that needs to get done, dates that need to be locked down and dresses that need to be ordered. And so I am doing as much as I can as quickly as I can. After securing my venue a few weeks ago, I have moved on to the other top-tier priorities: food and wedding dress.
This weekend, I ventured out for the first time to actually try on some dresses, after a lot of meticulously curated pinning of ones I like but will never be able to afford. (The goal was to get inspiration and to nail down a style so I wasn't stuck in a dressing room going "Uh, um, I don't know, taffeta is nice.") I made noncommittal trips to two places at either end of the wedding dress spectrum: David's Bridal in Clearwater and the Dressing Room in downtown St. Petersburg.
Both proved to be surprisingly pleasant experiences, and I learned a ton. Here are some key bits of knowledge I can now pass on:
1. Don't worry about undergarments. Let's start at the beginning. The morning of my first foray into trying on dresses, I started to get subconscious about my undergarments. Turns out, this was a non-issue. At David's I was fitted with a corset bra that I will henceforth wear under all my clothes, and a slip that held everything else in. At boutiques, the dresses are often built with bras and boning in them. So these places had me, um, covered.
2. Be prepared for a lot of questions about "what you want" and "how you want to look." If you're going to a store to try on a wedding dress, the people selling you the wedding dress assume you've been dreaming of your perfect gown since you were 10 years old. In my case, I had a pretty distinct look in mind that I had chronicled well enough on my Pinterest board. So I was able to throw out some key words that narrowed down the selection of dresses. Even so, I was still at a loss for some of the questions they threw at me. And when this happened, it slowed things down a bit. I would recommend never going into any of these stores (but especially not a place like David's) without some idea of what you want, even if it's just "sleeves" or "ivory" or "not mermaid." You don't want to end up trying on things you hate and waste everyone's time. That said...
3. Be flexible, and honest. I will write later on this blog about my deep distaste for strapless dresses and how they are ruining the wedding industry. (Okay, okay, really I just don't like how they look on me.) That didn't stop one dress expert from putting me in four strapless gowns, telling me I looked like Jessica Rabbit and almost changing my mind about exposing my entire shoulder region. Still, I am glad I tried them on. I am also glad I took a step back, realized that while the dress was beautiful I wasn't totally comfortable in it, and went with my heart.
4. Don't buy a white wedding dress. I mean, look, you can buy whatever kind of dress you want. But I was surprised by how much I gravitated toward darker shades of dress, like ivory or champagne. Some boutiques don't even carry white. In theory, I knew these colors often look better in photos and help show a dress's immaculate detail more clearly. But the difference was stark. Heck, by the end of the day, I was trying on a blush dress, something I never thought I would want.
5. Know your budget, or at least your limit. One thing that immediately narrows down a store's selection of dresses? Your budget. I have grown to hate this term, and the question that everyone involved with your wedding will ask you - What's your budget? - because I do not have a large lump sum of money guiding my every decision. If someone in your life is ready and willing to write you a $20,000 check, great! If not, you'll probably be piece-mealing the final sum together. That makes answering the budget question a little more difficult. So I recommend deciding on a limit; the most you want to spend on a dress. Try to do this before you look at anything, because it is very easy to go into a store with a figure in mind, see how much the dresses actually cost, and let your limit creep up through sheer force of what I will from this moment forward refer to as Wedding Brain. This is when dollar amounts you thought were high seem reasonable when you're swept up in wedding planning (i.e., when every dress in the store costs more than $2,000, a $3,000 dress isn't too bad!). This will inevitably happen with every facet of your wedding.
6. Dress sizes mean nothing. Whatever you do, do not get wrapped up in what size your wedding dress is. It will always be a larger number than your pant size, because dress sizes run small. A good rule of thumb: A size 6 in real life often translates to at least an 8 or 10 depending on the dress. One of the dresses I tried on was double my normal dress size. And if you're between sizes, it's usually best to err on the side of too big, so it can be altered down to fit you perfectly. And never, I repeat NEVER, buy a dress thinking it will fit if only you lost 10 pounds. (Sorry, but you probably won't.)
7. Shop around. My ultimate advice is to go to wide variety of stores and try on a lot of dresses. First of all, it's fun. Bring people who you love and who you can trust to be honest with you. Leave those people at home who have very strong opinions about what your dress should look like. They are not helpful. Second, even if you know the exact style you want, you have no clue how it will look on you, from store to store and from brand to brand, until you try it on. And finally, shopping around can help you save a lot of money. My favorite dress from Day 1 was marked down 50 percent off its original price.