Last week, I took a “vacation” and went back to my homeland of Ohio for a week of good friends, a family crisis and a marathon of wedding dress shopping.
My week began in Columbus with lunch with a former professor, then to a small shop on the east side of the city with one of my bridesmaids for my first “official” venture in trying on dresses. My mom and I stopped at a bridal shop about a week after I was engaged while I was home for a visit, but we didn’t have an appointment. They don’t like that. Tip No. 1: Always call first. Even if it’s earlier the same day, bridal salons like to have a heads up so they can give you the best service and attention you deserve when trying on thousand-dollar dresses.
The shop in Columbus left much to be desired in selection, customer service and, um, cleanliness. Needless to say, five dresses and a half-hour later, I hadn’t even left the dressing room. On to the next stop.
One thing I can recommend before starting to dress shop is do your research before spending time and gas money on going to places where you probably won’t find a dress. For example, some high-end stores I found online looked glitzy and exciting, but their dresses started at $2,000, which is way out of my budget, so I didn’t waste my time there.
At David’s Bridal, I met my two more of my bridesmaids and began to dive in. Up to this point, I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. This made it a little difficult for the consultant to help me pick out dresses, but she wasn’t really all that enthusiastic about helping find out what I DID like.
We grabbed an armful and headed off to the dressing room. I’m not a fancy person, and I don’t get dressed up all that often, so trying on these beautiful, beaded, fluffy gowns made me feel very unlike, well, me. I did find one I liked that was on sale, but my friend, Kerri, gave me good advice when she said, “Don’t just look at the price. Sure, it’s on sale, but if you don’t love it, keep on looking.” She was right. I loved the price, not the dress.
After what seemed like an hour of taffeta, tulle, crinolin, satin and beads, I hadn’t really made much progress, but I had a better idea of what kind of dress I was looking for, what kind of dress I wasn’t looking for and where my budget should be set. Initially, I had been very naive thinking I could find a lace wedding dress for $500. Expectations had to be adjusted. Once you set your budget, don’t try on dresses you can’t afford. It’s like tasting the $500 bottle of champagne but only being able to afford Barefoot. Don’t do that to yourself, trust me.
The next week, I was back at my parents’ in Tiffin, Ohio, and my mom and I had made plans to shop for dresses. We started at the local wedding dress shop in my hometown, where I found two or three dresses I really liked.
Stay open minded when looking for your dream dress. My mom suggested I try on a lace dress, which I thought was going to look old-fashioned and possibly a lot like a doily, but it ended up being one of my favorites. By the same token, try to stay true to your style and find dresses that flatter your body shape. You don’t want to be uncomfortable and even more stressed out on the biggest day of your life just because everyone in your family or friends pressure into a dress you don’t want. You want to feel like yourself, so pick something that makes you feel beautiful and like a bride.
Also take people that support you and will give you honest opinions without putting you or your taste down. I liked going with my bridesmaids because we kind of made it into a fun event. I liked bringing my mom because she chose things I might pass right over. Limit yourself to one or two people who have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for, your goal and your bridal style and budget.
After several stores, my mom and I still hadn’t had that “ah-ha” moment where we both cried and hugged and whatever, so we decided to call it a day. It’s way different from how it seems on “Say Yes To the Dress.”
Day two yielded a couple more results. I returned to David’s Bridal with Mom, where she had me try on a tea-length dress, something I NEVER would have picked up. It’s super cute, totally my style and actually fit my wedding budget and venue and if I were going for a short dress, I’d totally pick it. I loved it, but I just didn’t feel like a bride in it.
Make sure you determine the dress code for your wedding before shopping. I’m getting married on what essentially used to be a farm, so I decided early that I didn’t want a huge dress with a great big train that I’d be dragging around outside. I also didn’t want a formal ball gown, either, because Christian is going to be wearing a dressy suit instead of a tux. Keep your location and what you want the rest of your wedding party to look like when picking out your dress.
Somewhere in the next four days, I tried on about 70 or dresses, finding about three I liked. Shopping on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was definitely smart because most of the stores were empty other than my mom and me, and we got much better attention than we would have on a weekend. One store had a great method for eliminating dresses as I tried them on: I could only have two favorite dresses at a time. If I tried a dress on, and I didn’t like it better than the last two, it went back on the rack. This made narrowing down my choice a LOT easier. They really do all start to look the same. I have to say, trying on the veil and the whole shebang really does complete the look, and it made me finally feel like a “bride.”
Another tip that I’m sure everyone has heard is “shop as early as you can!!” I don’t feel like this is completely necessary, especially if you think you’re going to try and lose weight or aren’t really sure what you want. I feel like committing to a wedding dress is more stressful than committing to my husband-to-be! What if I pay hundreds of dollars for a dress today and find a better one two months from now? (You should see me trying to buy a pair of shoes.) I also found some gorgeous and completely affordable dresses on Etsy, but I’m just worried about buying a dress I can’t try on. They make the dress specifically to your measurements, but it still seems so iffy to me. Check out our Pinterest page to some I picked out.
That said, I haven’t made that giant wedding dress leap just yet. I have a few I’m leaning toward, but you’ll just have to wait for the big day to see which one wins.
Other Rhoad to the Altar articles
Picking a wedding venue