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My Wedding Dress: The Final Chapter


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

So, there is one more story that I owe you before the wedding, and that is the final story of the wedding dress. I’ve talked extensively about my search for a wedding dress here (and if you are still in the land of looking for a dress, these are all posts worth reading):

My first foray into the bridal salon
My love of vintage dresses
No, you’re confused, I want a dress not a car
My lovely but can’t afford it brush with couture long and lace
My nice but homogenized trip to David’s Bridal
My decision to try to make a wedding dress
Making the wedding dress

Looking for a wedding dress was hard for me. I would go so far to say that at some points it was painful. What I wore on my body really mattered to me. It mattered to me more than I would have ever expected. And what was even stranger was that finding something a little off the beaten path (i.e., not strapless, poufy, bedazzled, with a monster train) was HARD. So, in the end, we decided to make the dress. And that’s where I left off telling the story.

Here is the rest: After we worked on the dress over Christmas, my sister took it to Michigan to finish putting it together. It was a long arduous process, and at some points it looked like she might not be able to finish it in time. But, she worked hard on it, and in April, it arrived. But there were problems. Every time I put on the dress, I felt happy and loved, but I didn’t feel pretty. I would show David, he would say I looked great, and then I would hang up the dress feeling confused and wondering if I should even care how the dress looked.

So over the Fourth of July weekend, I tried on the dress for my mom and sister. I asked my mom to zip up the dress…. and she couldn’t. She asked me how I’d been zipping it up. I told her I’d been holding my breath as much as I could and then yanking. What I’d been in denial about is that the dress didn’t fit. And as my friend Kate said, “It’s hard to feel pretty in in a dress that won’t zip up.” True. My options were limited. I could re-build the dress (something we didn’t have time or money to do), wear a girdle (I tried one on, couldn’t breathe, and realized this was not how I wanted to spend my wedding day), or wear a different dress. We were one month away from the wedding.

This should have been an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t. In the middle of the is-the-dress-going-to-be-finished-in-time?? period, I walked into a vintage store in the Haight to look at a red cocktail dress. And what I found was the wedding dress that I would have bought at the very beginning if I’d known about it, and it was only $250. I walked out of the store. I had a dress, I didn’t need this vintage dress. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Everyone told me to go try it on, there is no way it would fit, and then I could get it out of my head. So two weeks later I went back. The dress was still there, which was a strange miracle, and it fit like it had been made for me. So I bought it, just as a backup. I called it ‘understudy dress’ and put it in the back of my closet.

After we realized the dress we made didn’t fit, I pulled the vintage dress out again, and everyone agreed it was just right. It’s a white party dress from the 1950’s. My dad said that was perfect, because what I really want is a great party. It’s lace. It’s tea length. It’s vintage. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that I couldn’t wear the dress we made, but when I did, I realized that this vintage dress that came into my life unbidden, that insistently wouldn’t go away… it was the right dress.

My wedding dress experience was deeply imperfect, and it was at times painful. But on Sunday, I think it will seem just right. I know that all of the women in my family poured their love into my wedding dress, I know that sometimes big dreams don’t quite work out, and I know endings you would never expect are the best endings of all.

And my dress makes me feel like pure sass.

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.

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  • http://www.themaidenmetallurgist.com The Maiden Metallurgist

    Ach! I had a very similar experience, and I ended up finding, on the cheap, the perfect dress I didn't know I was looking for one week before our wedding. I loved my last minute dress, and I almost didn't mind that I inexplicably gained 10 pounds right before my wedding.

    I'm so happy for you, enjoy the dress and the day and congrats.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15899239356088557995 Amanda

    "I know that all of the women in my family poured their love into my wedding dress, I know that sometimes big dreams don't quite work out, and I know endings you would never expect are the best endings of all." Ohhhh, Meglet.

  • Anonymous

    Your last paragraph actually made me tear up (granted, I'm an emotional wreck lately, so lots of things make me tear up). NOTHING about FH's and my relationship has gone the way we expected, but that's okay. The unexpected quirks are what make us unique and the experiences memorable. :) So happy that you found a dress that makes you happy!

  • mandyrosy

    You're going to look beautiful – and be very very happy, which is much more important! I totally echo your feelings about the wedding dress search. The modern dresses were so so SO not me! I visited one bridal store for about 10 minutes and then started looking elsewhere. With some kind of magic voodoo good kharma wedding luck, I found the perfect vintage dress for $20. No joke – $20! And it fit! I am blessed.
    We are all blessed. This is going to be great! Happy wedding!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02157035018805533577 Laura

    Good for you, Meg! I can't wait to see pictures of your weddin1g and you in your perfect dress. You've got a universe of readers who will be rooting for you and your practical wedding :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    Um. Betty?
    I LOVE THOSE DRESSES. Also, I'm sorry, I think the lace dresses are the only ones actually worth the cash. French lace (which yes, you can tell the difference. Or I can. My expensive taste I can pick it out at 100 yards) Runs from $200-$900 a yard. No joke. So, yeah. Those lace dresses actually ARE worth the price tag. Whether you want to pay the price is of course a totally different topic of conversation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10323993039912422459 Kristie B

    You have this amazing way to writing that always makes me tear up. You are a truly lovely person – practical, sweet and evolving. Gorgeous.

  • Anonymous

    Betty, I like the lace dresses too. Sometimes you can find one that isn't so steep. But if I had to pay too much, I'd just plan to sell it afterward, then it wouldn't hurt so much and someone else would get to enjoy it too.

    Meg, I think your dress story sounds a lot like finding love.

    In the wrong relationship, all the effort in the world won't make it feel right . . . but in the right one, everythings feels so much more easy.

    I had a friend in the late 80's who had a three-month window of time to get married after her boyfriend proposed. He was moving to another state for a job and wouldn't have any time off for more than a year.

    She and her mom whipped up a beautiful formal wedding and everything was coming together except the dress. Most salons told her she didn't have enough time to order and the dresses that were available on the spot were all wrong.

    Finally in despair, they crawled into yet another salon and there she found a new dress that had been altered for a bride that had to cancel her wedding. It was the perfect style for her figure and her venue. My friend tried it on and it fit like a glove. Not one alteration was needed, not even hemming!

    Since she is short, it all seemed a miracle. Your story reminded me of that.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and I forgot . . . my friend only had to pay $150 for this perfectly altered dress.

  • Anonymous

    $150 for a dress that was originally quite expensive. The salon had despaired that no one else would ever fit into it, so they knocked the price down to bargain basement.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I just read one of your archive posts about a vintage wedding dress, and I was surprised that even on this blog there were a few people saying a tea-length dress isn't formal enough.

    They need some historical perspective here. My mother got married in 1957 in a church wedding. Her dress was tea-length with a very full tulle skirt, cinched in waist, sexy sweetheart bodice covered in a transparent shirtwaist with collar and long sleeves. And the whole thing was covered in beautiful lace. She wore a flowered wreath with a veil attached in the back.

    In the 1950's her dress was mainstream and gorgeous, and no one thought you had to wear a floor-length dress in a church wedding.

    She looked like a bride. In every decade since her wedding, anyone who saw her wedding photos was blown away by how beautiful she was that day.

    No one ever commented that she was out of style. They were too busy saying "Wow".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14370373471596236632 eLiZaBeTh

    YOU ARE SO AWESOME. I loved this post. I bought my dream dress… used. and it was hard to wrap my brain around that. but it is THE dress and I love it. It is just a dress, but not just a dress at the same time. but the one that I have was in my budget & the girl that I bought it from and I have a bond from Pittsburg to Denver. I wish you all the best and I am sending you good wishes from Colorado!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11973679581830235144 melissa

    Good for you. My wedding dress was also a bit of a disaster, ironically involving both my sister making it AND a vintage dress. haha My dress wasn't "finished" until 5 minutes before the wedding. 5 minutes. And it wasn't right– it didn't fit, and the vintage silk tore throughout the night leaving me almost– but not quite– as undressed as Cinderella was at the end of her night.

    But you know what? It didn't matter. I looked beautiful not because I had the perfect dress but because I was truly happy that day. That's all that matters.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18182268757502634911 sera

    Oh! I can't wait to see your dress! As you know, I too am in the two dress bride club, and after reading this, I'm not entirely against stepping it into three, in case the tiny navy monster I pick up on Sunday is the wreck I'm worried it will be. sigh. I'm still on the fence about the possibility that I have or can have a dream dress, and now, once again you give me hope. Damn you! (just kidding of course!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15650652034813454379 Kate

    Can't wait to see it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04707441750165767852 Princess Christy

    Congrats on finding the perfect dress, although up a path you didn't expect. Perhaps your homemade dress can be remade for a special event – your first anniversary perhaps?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18209861350905135093 LPC

    At the end of the day, to me the gift your mother and sisters gave you was more than making the dress. It was allowing you to move on to wear the dress that is right for you, free from guilt, recrimination, obligations. Now that is a family.

  • Betty

    congrats meg.
    i can't wait to see the entire wedding, and i'm so happy you found the perfect dress.

    i have to admit that i was one of those brides that purchased one of those 5000 lace gowns. this is all before i found your blog. i had tried the dress on and fell in love with it but not the price tag. so i searched online and found a used one for half the price. i then told the store owner that i wouldn't be purchasing from them. they were so adamant about me wearing a new gown that they sold me the dress for 1000 more than the used one. i felt pretty lucky considering i'd have to pay that much for alterations once the "oncewed" dress arrived.

    congrats again. i feel like you've kept me sane in the last 6 months and this is just as exciting for me.

  • Desaray

    awesome.

  • April

    Awww…Welcome to the "2 dress bride" club, sister.

    Rock that vintage lacy number like you own it. Oh. Wait. You DO own it.

    Squeeeeeeeee!!!! I bet you look positively, smashingly sassy and gorgeous in it. Have a blast!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    I just have to chime back in to say I don't think my dress is perfect (I think the search for a perfect wedding dress will drive you MAD) I just think it was perfect for me, right now.

    One of the best things about it is that it was this last minute dress, so there is no fuss and bother about it. It's not sparkly, it's not new, it wasn't really expensive. And because of that, I feel like I can just throw it on and effing PARTY. It makes it feel a little like 'who give a sh*t, it's a fabby dress, it's a awesome party." It's last minute-ness and found it in a random vintage store-ness makes it really imperfect. And THAT is what makes it feel right.

    Meg

    PS
    LPC – Yes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15080583721005285729 the un-bride

    YOU. GO. GIRL. I can't imagine a more perfect story about a dress … but if I could, I'd be asking you to write it.

    GOOOOOOOO, August Brides!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06642594878817158380 loren weltsch

    So glad to hear that you found a dress that feels right. I wish you all the joy in the world for your wedding day. Enjoy the celebration with friends and family. I look forward to seeing the photos!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13016196445046472900 Mrs. Melberry

    I'm glad you will be wearing a dress you love on Sunday!

    I'm in the middle of a mess with my dress. The wedding is in 22 days and it still isn't here (for the full story, check out http://bassackwardsblog.blogspot.com/) so it is good to hear your dress story :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05750659066802561501 Erika

    It sounds like you got the dress that you needed to find all along. It was just a rather indirect path that led you to it. I'm so glad that it all worked out, you will look and feel fabulous!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06272654565469914998 sam

    I was SO glad to read that you tried on the dress for David.
    I am in the middle of restyling my mother's dress to be "me" and routinely run the changes by mg. Which has caused all the women in my life react in absolute horror that HE'S SEEN THE DRESS!?!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00174894872050076618 Marie-Ève

    Fabulous! Now I can vicariously live my dream of wearing a vintage tea length dress through you!!! (That's what I wanted, but then I found the so amazing for the price $65 Target dress and I couldn't pass it up). Although I don't know you in person, I think I'm not mistaken in saying that this is totally the dress for your personality. With the silver shoes! You're going to be such a delightful yet sassy bride… Can't wait to see it.

    And PS, as a sometime seamstress who's sewn two (simple) wedding dresses, I cannot help but have a little sympathy for your sis…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12245297960220355931 nc

    Meant to be indeed! Sounds fab and fun.

    Enjoy this weekend! And take a moment on Monday to jot down your thoughts on the day before you see your photos. I did this- made a list of the moments and feelings of the day. The things you remember immediately afterwards are quickly replaced by the photo moments, so just a quick list afterwards is a sweet thing to have.

    Oh, and you inspired me to write a bit on my thoughts on marriage, 11 months in.
    http://itsloverly.blogspot.com/2009/08/thoughts-on-marriage.html

    Much love and happiness to you and those celebrating with you! (We'll be celebrating in blog land, for sure.)

    -Nicole
    Formerly of Prom to Altar
    Currently of ItsLoverly

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12997875522614810785 Mouse

    Aww. It's amazing how many loving, supportive people you have around you! xo

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08842191847941847564 Bride in Exile

    LPC said it beautifully — you have a wonderful family!

    I think one of the hard things about wedding planning is that you (or your family members) can work hard on something, and put a lot of love and thought into it, and on the day of the wedding it still might not turn out the way you want. We definitely had a couple of those hiccups at our wedding. You're right, big dreams sometimes don't work out, but when that happens it shouldn't ruin the joy of the occasion!

  • Cate Subrosa

    Oh, what LPC said. Yes.

    And I know the sass dress is perfect for you. And fabulous with the silver shoes, right? It all comes together.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    HECK YES David's seen the dress. I mean, who else do I care about liking it?!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09526722516550185150 Meg

    And we're getting ready together anyway…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00862681475383911164 Jules

    See! You had absolutely nothing to worry about. Love, love, love.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06206689296805893265 east side bride

    HOORAY!

  • Maria H.

    Just a note to say Congratulations on your upcoming wedding weekend! I have really enjoyed reading your blog. At times you have really put into perspective some of the things I was thinking about, but couldn't articulate. Thank you and have a wonderful, loving, and SASSY wedding!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00811942860512021126 kahlia

    LPC has a very good point.
    Happy wedding!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11597736474722027874 Ms. Green

    Wait — you weren't going to starve yourself until the dress fit?! Pshaw! :)

    I totally agree that the search for the perfect wedding dress will truly drive one mad … the only thing that must be perfect for you at your wedding is your partner!

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Aw Meg, honey, I had a similar experience as well. The dress I originally wanted was not to be for a variety of reasons I will not get into. And actually, the funny thing is, the dress that I actually ended up buying was not a dress I was crazy about in the beginning. I liked that it was simple (sans lace, beads, sequins, etc), but I wasn't crazy about it. My heart had been set on the other dress. But three months later as Chris and I walked into our hotel room together, I realized that I did not want to take the dress off. And as I later reflected, I realized that the dress was fit our affair perfectly. The dress itself was not perfect (I agree, that there is no such thing) but it was perfect for me and our wedding. I really have to tell you about our wedding sometime, because girlfriend, there was so many near disasters I almost get stressed out thinking about it. But really, everything turned out beautifully and looking back I see now, that what makes a wedding beautiful is not the dress, what your hair looks like, if you're wearing the right shade of lipstick. What makes it beautiful is a joy and love-filled day. Love really is a rose-colored lens :-)

  • http://downtomysoul.wordpress.com/ downtomysoul

    You are going to look and feel amazing regardless. And what wedding (even a practical wedding) is without a hiccup or two? The vintage dress sounds beautiful I can't wait to see the photos!

  • http://www.tasterspoon.com tasterspoon

    I am DYING to see Meg's dress!

    I'm in the two-dress club, but in a different way. I don't like shopping in general, and bridal gown shopping sounded like the worst time in the world (I don't like people fussing and selling at me, plus I'm v. cheap).

    So I went to the mall just before prom thinking I'd find a white prom dress. I loved this one bright blue number, but the Incredible Hunk is v. traditional so I went home to check in with him. He said "whatever you want" but it was clear he would be sad if he didn't marry a girl in white. I was sad about not wearing Old Bluey, but you know, I'm not marrying the dress.

    So I went back to the mall and found a white dress. It's not the greatest, but I figure once I accessorize with veil and what-have-you it'll get the point across. And then I went to try on "my" blue dress again. By now they had only one left, one size too small for me – I could get the zipper up, but I couldn't really bend over or sit down. But in a passion I snapped it up, too. (Each was under $150.) I decided I'd wear the white to get wed, and the blue to the party. Incredible Hunk is fully behind that plan. Except that for the past six months I've been dieting my way into the small blue dress and let me tell you ladies, it hasn't been fun AT ALL. Meg, you are definitely doing the right thing by not forcing the issue. Moreover, I tried on Old Bluey recently, and I can sit down in it now – but I don't have the boobs to hold it up anymore. Time for the Gay Deceivers.

    Anyway, my dad sent me the newspaper clipping from my grandmother's wedding, of which I've never seen pictures. She is my life hero and constant inspiration. No picture with the article, but here is the description of her attire: "The bride wore a gown of Chanel blue velvet with a fish-tail train. She wore a small turban with a shoulder veil and her flowers consisted of a corsage of gardenias." My dad has no idea how happy this made me.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, thank you. You have no idea how much I needed to hear a story just like this right now.

  • http://www.stalkingsarah.com Stalking Sarah

    Still resonates for me, over two years later. I hadn’t cried AT ALL during the wedding process, and I just cried three times in two days about the dress I made a deposit on. So I’m canceling it. I will find something that I feel better about. THE WORLD WILL NOT END!

  • ohno oto

    These posts helped me figure out why I was so upset after my experience at DB’s yesterday. Granted, I walked in without an appointment (I really should know better after watching Bridesmaids), but I was made to feel like less of a bride because I came in jeans straight from work, without a bevy of bridesmaids and a tearful mother, and looking for a dress on sale.

    I love the dress, though, and will most likely buy it online and have a trusted tailor help me by adding a few details to make it my own.

  • Tess

    I’m way late on this post, but I have to say that I had such a similar experience!!!! Debating with a friend who was going to make the dress for me, feeling like she was pressured into it and not having enough time for it (PS. She just had a baby!) and also I was having such a hard time envisioning this perfect dress in a way that we could design it together… i’ve never been a big fashion person either and don’t think i’ve ever spent more than $100 on any piece of clothing….
    finally, we had the conversation that set her free from the responsibility of making my dress, and I went crazy going to bridal salons before deciding to eliminate them from my search all together. I moved on to local designers and boutiques that just might have a white dress among their selection…. this did not prove successful either.
    I reached the point of “i dont care what I wear, I will just go naked, I will not spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a dress I will only wear once, and I just can’t imagine myself as a bride!”
    Within 3 days of reaching this lowest point in bridal dress shopping, I went to go check out an apartment from airbnb that my uncle and his family want to stay in while they are here for the wedding. As I’m waiting outside the apartment, i notice a vintage shop across the street that I’ve never seen before… right in my own neighborhood!!!
    I went in just to have a look, and BOOM there it was!!!! straight from the 70’s an amazing, perfect, casual but bridal, long but not touching the floor, white cotton dress with crotchet detailing….
    within 15 minutes I had my dress… only $110 INCLUDING ALTERATIONS!!!! I had the sleeves taken off and the back opened up, and it was ready to go in less than a week!!!! now less than 3 months out from the wedding, I have my perfect dream dress waiting in my closet, at a price I can live with, from a small vintage shop in my neighborhood that I’m happy to support, and I can actually picture myself as a bride…
    Plus, afterwards, I just might dye it some shade of deep purple and go on wearing it for many other happy occasions!!!

  • http://www.healthyrecipeecstasy.com Michelle

    My fiance just found your post and forwarded it to me because, like you, I am having the wedding dress experience from hell. My wedding is exactly one month away and I have not less than 4 dress options sitting in my closet and 4 more being ovenighted to me. These dresses range from more expensive and flashy (BHLDN) to cheaper and casual (Anthropologie). Every dress is great in its own way but none of them make me feel great. The one that comes closest is the BHLDN dress which is 6 inches too long and any alterations to the hem would likely ruin the beautiful beading and design at the bottom. I knew I wanted a vintage-y, untraditional wedding dress, but I never expected to be this obsessed/crazed/anxiety-ridden over finding it. I was beginning to think I was losing mind. Thank you for your post. It’s like a breath of fresh air in this smoggy wedding-obsessed world I’m living in.