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Dress Shopping, The Generic Edition


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Dress Shopping, The Generic Edition | A Practical WeddingSo, I finally swallowed my pride, along with some past bad experiences, and waltzed in the door to David’s Bridal. I’m a bride trying to keep on a budget, after all, so pride is overrated. I was expecting everything in the store to be a sparkling, princess, A-line poof – and I was wrong. David’s Bridal is in the business of creating designer knockoffs, and business is booming. I told them I was looking for long and lace, and off they trotted. They came back with a few dresses priced from $250 on up. One of them (from their “couture” collection) was $1000 and perfectly lovely. In case I wasn’t picking up on the fact that this dress was COUTURE, it was called Monique Lou(huillier of course, was implied). I put on the dress, and I can absolutely tell you, it was a nice dress. Full stop. There was not a thing in the world wrong with it. I looked lovely in it, the lace was nice, I looked like a bride.

And yet, somehow, it left me with a empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I looked like A BRIDE, ie, a dress up doll of a bride. I looked like a bride, but I didn’t feel a thing like myself. My inner sass, I’m afraid, was completely muffled.

So here is the crux of the issue. I don’t believe in wedding perfection. I don’t think that you need to have some life changing transcendental “oh mommy” moment when you put on a dress. I have a great life, thanks, I don’t need to find my moment of zen in a wedding dress store. But I do think that we each deserve to feel fabulous on our wedding day, and on my wedding day I would like to feel fully, absolutely, and radically like myself. And I’d rather wear a amazing cocktail dress then a beautiful wedding dress that doesn’t feel a thing like me.

So, for gods sakes, you lucky brides with the dress in the closet, tell me there is hope (even if it does not live in David’s Bridal.) And if you don’t have a dress, you should try ye old David’s Bridal. My neurosis should not stop your bargain shopping!

Picture: this homemade dress, this dress has sass. via Our Labor Of Love.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03135388881785407614 phillyeditgrl

    I’m going to be going the cocktail/bridesmaid dress route myself because A. I can’t really afford the “typical wedding dress,” B. I want something in color, and C. I don’t like wedding dresses for me (they look lovely on other people, but like you said, I won’t feel like ME in one).

    So good luck, dig around in creative places, and you’ll find something awesome AND affordable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01105243612370591937 Jenn

    I really think you should consider having your dress made for you. You have posted some great dresses that were custom made and I think it would really fit your style.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09673896395330316583 Catherine

    I just checked, and unfortunately there are no Brides Against Breast Cancer gown sales in the San Fran area any time this year. I wanted to check because although I did feel pretty amazing in a San Patrick gown I tried on in a traditional bridal shop, the whole entire BABC event felt like “me.” I love the dress I got there, but I also loved the feeling of being there, spending my money there, etc. The whole package was fulfilling and fun. I doubt you want to drive 12 hours to attend one though… Maybe you have a friend near one of the scheduled gown sales that you’ve just been dying to see. You could kill two birds with one stone. Best of luck regardless!

  • Simone

    I got married in a garden and bought a Laundry sundress from Saks. I’ve worn it every year ever since. It had color, orange, purple, hot pink and it said me.

    i too, went to db and while the 2 piece ensemble i tried on was quite lovely, i felt heavy and mired in fabric and “sameness.” couldn’t do it. it spoke to my eyes but not my sense of me.

  • http://www.mingaling.net mingaling

    There is hope! I had the unfortunate experience of trying on wedding dresses and was totally disappointed. Then I found mine, on a clearance rack at Macy’s of all places. It’s a simple grecian style evening gown. $100!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05513352046552154656 danicalynn

    i got my jcrew wedding dress from ebay for $50. generic, maybe, but my guests will see my “inner” sass ’cause of all my visible tattoos. a generic wedding dress is the perfect excuse to get some major ink!

  • Jessica

    I too tried to go the David’s Bridal route, because ‘you’re only going to wear it once, right?’ but I left disappointed the 3 seperate times I went. My budget was $350 for the dress and a friend mentioned that there was a dress shop in town that sold sample designer dresses as a huge discount. I went and found the perfect dress. It was a Pronovias dress for $750. After talking to the owner, she let it go for $500. Still over my price range, but significantly less than the original price tag, had I bought it new. The dress suits me, it suits our outdoor garden wedding, and it suits the processional music that my fiance compossed for me. My mom loved it, my future mother-in-law adored it. I thought that I was never going to find ‘my dress’ and got frustrated with the whole process of buying a wedding dress, some girls favorite part of the whole wedding. But your dress is still out there, waiting for you to find it. Don’t loose hope!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13389207093170329900 Elena

    I know what you mean. I haven’t even gone to a bridal shop but I’m very scared of those places and being pressured into a dress that’s too bridey for our plans.
    Yesterday I almost bought an Alberta Ferretti empire waist gown that was 50% off and a STEAL but although it was gorgeous and I’ve always loved her stuff it doesn’t suit the more casual day we’re aiming for.
    I’m also thinking of having one made -have found great patterns online.

  • Jessica

    Also, check out http://www.oncewed.com. They have some beautiful dresses, and they are all designers and all price ranges. I don’t know quite what style or price range, but these two are long and lacy:
    Monique Lhuillier: LOLA/used monique lhuillier lola
    &
    Marisa: Marisa wedding dress 504.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01820942114526229852 erin*carly

    i dread the day it’s time to start looking for a dress. a. i don’t know what i want, and b. i don’t want to spend too much money on something i’ll wear once. (whereas ‘too much’ = more than $100. i wouldn’t even spend than that on shoes i’d wear every day for a year.)

  • Kara

    There is definitely hope! I did the David’s Bridal thing too and had that same empty feeling. I looked like a little kid playing dress up! So I went online and found tons of options at Nordstrom.com, Macys.com, and Nicole Miller. I ended up with a $400 Nicole Miller dress that might be a tad “tarty” in my grandma’s eyes, but it made me feel like a beautiful, sexy woman. Now go forth and shop!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11371172824707301749 Cate Subrosa

    I have a great life, thanks, I don’t need to find my moment of zen in a wedding dress store. But I do think that we each deserve to feel fabulous on our wedding day, and on my wedding day I would like to feel fully, absolutely, and radically like myself.

    Oh, Meg, I love your blog. It’s like a really articulate version of my inner monologue.

    And you’ll find a fabulous dress that’s very you… you have just the right attitude to do so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12429394457073293580 Evie

    Oh dear bride-to-be, there is hope! The dress that you will be fantastically and radically yourself in will come to you. You don’t need bridal stores and taffeta or glitter and tiaras.

    I was so terrified of shopping for my dress for the very same reason. Every single dress I saw I hated. They weren’t me. They were cookie cutter. My mom talked me into looking on ebay and simply browsing pictures for ideas. I found a lovely simple gown with a crocheted lace overlay. Exactly what I would make for myself.

    Have hope! Chin up duckie!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12095127115348973647 Jessamyn Harris

    I’m so glad you asked! I photographed a friend’s wedding this weekend, and she had THE most loveliest of dresses (purchased somewhere in Mendocino, I can find out where if you need). It was kind of vintage looking, off white, filmy, a little lacey, and looked like a beautiful 1920s or 30s slip dress. Obviously I will post pictures soon. Anyway, it was great and suited her, and the location, perfectly. And when I complimented her on it she said, “yeah, I found a great deal on a really pretty poofy white dress, but I kept thinking, ‘oh… this is a great wedding dress.’ but it was totally not MY wedding dress!”. This one made much more sense for her.
    so don’t settle for something you feel you should have… you’ve come so far against the bridal tide already :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16324756600957480385 jamie and ben

    sorry if this is too long, but i feel compelled to get the whole story out…
    though from day one i planned on having my tailor making me a short sweet audrey hepburn style 50’s dress [i think you have mentioned something along this line before] i let my “BFF” talk me into dress shopping, just to see what’s out there. i had the EXACT same experience at david’s bridal. pretty sure i liked that exact 1000 dress lace. but aside from the fact that i was hoping for under 500, and despite the fact that it didn’t make me feel like i wanted to barf [i DO like wedding dresses, just not cheapy bad ones] it just felt too, applied. too costume-y. the friend got all teary eyed, and i um… so on we went to the mall.
    at nordstrom there was an AMAZING YSL dress [see above re: audrey] i had never felt such a wonderful fabric on my hands. i didn’t even try it on. it was 1500 and i was confident my tailor could make me just as happy for 500.
    then something unexpected happened. my friend grabbed this short, kind of sixties [i'm all about the vintage, my sweetie dresses very 60's too] style laundry dress. it was fair enough in color to be considered sort of off white, with sage toned floral embroidery, and very subtle rhinestones.
    [note: after we decided to hold our wedding in joshua tree my sweetie kept joking that he was going to wear a nudie suit when we got married. you know the ones made famous by elvis presley? they were also worn by this musician gram parsons who happened to die out in joshua tree, so they have music fests & stuff in his honor out there.]
    well, in a really subtle, really tasteful way this dress reminded me of a nudie suit. i realized that if i were still planning the urban wedding on a beach/in an old brick warehouse the YSL/tailor dress would be perfect. but for this desert affair, the laundry dress was it. it does not look like a wedding dress at all. it cost me 300 dollars. it is so me. it is so my fiance. it is so joshua tree. my mother in law was a little disappointed, i think. but she is respectful enough to keep it to herself.
    i did have a moment of freak out. i saw that THE local designer dress shop was having a sample sale, i went. i couldn’t shake this feeling that this was my wedding, my last chance to wear the most amazing dress in the world, and that it needed to be MORE somehow. i tried on all the dresses that i had seen and loved in adds and on blogs with the mindset, i don’t care if this send me an extra G into debt, it’s my f-ing wedding. but to my surprise they left me with the same feeling as the dresses at david’s bridal. i went home and tried on the laundry dress and was happy.
    i really don’t think i will regret it. i think it is going to look fricken awesome in photos. and i really don’t give an F what other people think. luckily most people in our lives are very open minded. good luck! and PLEASE go with whatever FEELS right. be it a grand gown or a short sweet tea length, which by the way, will never go go of style!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10933407474487393296 The Broke-Ass Bride

    Girlie, I promise there are dresses that will suit your sass and your practicality! Google around, try ETSY and local designers (Wai Ching, anyone?) and you’ll find your perfectly yours.

  • http://budgetsavvybride.wordpress.com/ budgetsavvybride

    I have not yet started the dreaded dress search. I’m not really looking forward to it. :(

    I kind of want to swear off david’s bridal just on principal. I know it’s cheap, but you pay for what you get. And you also get a plethora of spam phone calls and emails after you step into a david’s bridal- here’s a tip- don’t EVER give them your phone number, email, etc. It never stops!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03208244458086146065 Blablover5

    I went the bridesmaid dress route myself. It came out to about $200 in the end and no one can tell the difference between a bridal gown or not.

    I actually tried on a DB dress that was a lot like the one I got and cost over $500.

  • http://www.vignettephoto.com Elizabeth

    I knew I didn’t want the typical wedding dress either. No lace, no layers, no cupcake. I found mine at J. Crew and saved a bundle! It was absolutely perfect right out of the box!

  • http://laurenmonkey.livejournal.com/ laurenmonkey

    I’m making my dress. Sure, it’s going to be “all me”, but the thing is it’s going to be ridiculously expensive when I’m done. Sure, cheaper than buying the same dress made by a custom dressmaker, but if I had to do it again I would have bought the original vintage dress I was dying over- It was perfect in every way and the amount I’ve spent on lace equals the amount the dress was (which sounded very expensive at the time!).
    My very good friend is getting married two weeks before me and she’s got a great vintage 30’s dress for her wedding.
    I’m pretty anti-David’s bridal. From other friend’s bridal experience, they got a dress for a reasonable rate and they really screwed them on alteration charges.

  • One Love Photo

    I wore a black lacy thing with color on the bottom half. I knew the minute I saw it. It was more than I would normally ever pay for a little dress but I told myself….this will be my wedding dress! It was still under $200.00. Have you considered a custom made dress? Two of my brides have had great luck with Chrissy Wai-Ching.

    http://www.wai-ching.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12395806822346018997 Beirne

    I saw this, and thought of you. I think you will find way better then “good enough”.
    http://www.weddingbee.com/2008/07/07/vintage-brides-take-notice/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04349394209890946701 Dubbs

    you already know i have NO advice for you since i went for the ‘feel good’ rather than the ‘feel fab’ route, but just wanna let you know i am sooo freaking rootin’ for ya woman!

  • caroline

    I had my dress made by Terri at OliviaLuca.com. It’s simple, but still bridal, and I hope I love it. Yes, it’ll turn me into a bridal version of myself, but I’m ok with it for this one day, and I’m pretty confident that this little dress won’t squelch my me-ness. (It looks much like Guilty’s dress, actually.)

    I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that will balance bride-ness with you-ness :)

    Have you been over to Soiree in Oakland? Or thefrock.com?

  • April

    OMG – every word of your dress shopping experience was like reading my own personal diary of MY dress shopping experience. To put it bluntly: It was hell.

    So many people told me “When you find it, you’ll just KNOW!” Heck, that mantra worked for the boy, I figured the pixie dust would sure as sh*t work for a mere dress. NOPE.

    I did buy a gown, but I feel like I settled. That is because the deliciously dreamy silk chiffon Alvina Valenta number I have dreams of nightly (and costs $5K) is unattainable. I’d love to wear something funky, something from Chrissy Wai-Ching’s rockin’ collection, but I fear my darling boy who is going the traditional route on this wedding path, would laugh at my choice. Or that my guests would wonder what I was wearing and what drug I’d been under the influence of when I bought it.

    So I have a nice, ivory, sheath gown with a bit of lace and a bit of sparkle. And it’s pretty and fits the bill. What more could a gal ask for, right?

    Good luck to you. You WILL find something spectacular, afforable, and unique.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15101505998299358265 Tara

    Have you looked at Nicole Miller and the Jenny Yoo bridal alternative dresses? Not sure if these are your style but they are generally speaking not horribly priced and in my opinion very pretty and not overthetop bridal.

    My sister wore a Jenny Yoo bridal alternative {essentially a bridesmaid dress in nicer fabric} and it looked amazing and simple.

    Good luck!

  • Tara

    I went to David’s Bridal yesterday (for the first time) and it was awful. I’ve heard lots of girls say they went in and found their dream dress, so I had high expectations. Yeah, they had plenty of perfectly nice wedding dresses, but I felt like I was playing wedding dress-up. So, I’m in the same boat. Still hunting for that dress that is “me”, but as a bride. Good luck with the search, I know you’ll find something that fits the bill perfectly!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15740542848396011582 dp

    I gotta say, I’ve had a very nice experience with DB – I found an awesome bridesmaid dress in the most gorgeous aqua color and got a super deal on clearance (plus a little extra discount) so it was … $39!!!! I love it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04790581333848017330 Anna

    There is hope, don’t despair! I got my gorgeous Nicole Miller dress for $400 on Bluefly.com, and I loved it (I also got my Stuart Weitzman sandals from Bluefly). And, um, I got my other dress for $600 – it was the floor sample at a bridal salon. Of course, there was a tiny but loud bride in my head who NEEDED to have a $5000 Amsale dress, but I told her no. There are so many gorgeous dresses out there for well under $1000. I second the recommendation of Jenny Yoo – I tried on some of their “wedding alternative” dresses and would have been thrilled to wear them. J. Crew and Nordstrom also have some great ones!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03021533905165085758 Nicole

    This is exactly how I felt trying on dresses – they were waaaay too bridal, and I didn’t see myself wearing them, even though they were gorgeous. And then I tried on an $8500 Oscar de la Renta gown – which my very talented mother is totally copying. That’s right, she’s making me a designer knock-off for $200!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03021533905165085758 Nicole

    Oh, and I should say, the Oscar dress is much more like a fabulous classic party dress and less like a wedding dress. It just happens to be white.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17213039609669029436 Kimi Weart

    This may not help much, but if you have a creative artist around…. Here’s what I’m doing–I bought a Mizrahi sheath dress from Target (which was on sale for $68 for some reason), and I am decorating it with black velvet cutouts, leaves and vines and birds, all over. I’m going for very very me, this may not be for others. Other options were silk flowers, lace, and for punk rock aesthetic black laundry marker designs by a fab artist friend.

  • jennifer in sf

    My friend who’s getting married soon had this problem (ie anything she really loved was crazy expensive), so she bought a really simple dress from David’s in the shape she wanted and has been working with a dressmaker/seamstress type to make it all her own. She seems quite happy with how it’s going, and it’s been A LOT less than other options.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10567306554165246459 Rebecca Green

    I had the “oh mommy” moment when I tried on my sister’s wedding dress — my sister, mother, and I were in tears — but I’ve never felt that it was 100% me. So, although I’d love a dress that reflects my fashion style, borrowing my sister’s dress (she calls it “our dress”!) really reflects my personal style because I love my family. Do you have a good friend with great taste who wouldn’t mind making her dress an “our” dress?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17572133516556386284 *Michelle

    holy cow am I ever late in the comment posting to this one!
    And i might be pointing out something that others already have, but thats a risk im willing to take. Some people have the choir of angels, light from above “ah ha!” moment. And some of us just really like our dress and feel like its “us”. I dont think that everyone has a destined dress thats PERFECT for them. But I think there are enough dresses out there (at reasonable prices!) that should make you feel bridal, beautiful, and most importantly – YOU! (I am actually in the middle of posting about my dress hunt on my blog now.)

  • Evangeline

    one word…
    Seamstress

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07789429943242399554 professional daydreamer

    my wedding dress is a tea-length ivory party dress purchased for 70% off. pretty much the second i gave up on looking at wedding dresses, i wandered past this. seriously. same store. on my way to the door. wedged between similar dresses in other colors.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14893442520502947603 Jennifer

    Well, I just did the David Bridal’s thing this weekend. I was, like you, sort of surprised that the dresses weren’t all gaudy and ugly. I actually found a rather nice contender, but like you, it just didn’t feel like me. Everyone thought the dress was stunning on me, and it did look really nice, but eh.

    So I went to an amazing vintage shop here in Memphis, spent a couple of hours searching through the racks, and came out with a perfect, 1960’s ivory gown that fits me like a glove. For $60.

    So I agree with you – go with your gut, and buy something that suits you.

    • Sarahkay

      Oh, I miss vintage shopping /thrifting in Memphis. What a great deal you found!
      I love the dress Meg ended up with too.
      I walked into DB’s last week because it was the $99 sale, with an open mind, but I just didn’t even find anything to try on. My sister bought her dress there and it was pretty, but there’s just nothing there for me. It’s my 2nd wedding and I’m not a princess bride, and I want something simple, short, inexpensive, and flattering. But everything was just not me…nothing the right size, nothing soft, everything was scratchy or embellished, or just not right. All the ‘maybes’ were just out the second I saw them.
      So the hunt continues!

  • Carrie

    I just got married/eloped and found your site while starting to plan the celebration in July we are having for friends and family. I thought you would enjoy the fact that I got married in a three-tiered lace tube top, blue jeans and Harley boots. Everyone says I was beautiful and I was comfortable and totally me!