Classic APW: The Dress Horrors


by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief
This was my first dress post ever. It was every single thing I was feeling in one tiny paragraph. Little did I know this was step one in what would be an endless dress epic. And epic that would end, as all good epics do, in redemption.

Via Indie Bride thread

where did all the sleeves go?:

My grandmother and mother sat down together shortly after we announced our engagement and flipped through a bridal magazine to look at dresses. Grandma apparently spent the entire time talking about all the “nakedness” of the models in their strapless dresses. She kept asking my Mom where their jackets were. She even flipped to one designer’s page and commented to Mom that “those are lovely nightgowns.”

Indeed, Indie Bride. Indeed. And bedazzled, at that.

(First published here)

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.blogger.com/profile/09572086822325849480 A-L, from An Honorable Estate

    Ah, yes. Glad I'm not the only one. On my one day of wedding dress shopping so far I wanted to at least have straps (I want no concerns about exposing myself while dancing like a fool) and the attempt itself was a disaster. And the removable cap sleeves? It only changes the appearance to sleeveless, while not actually increasing the functionality to a sleeved dress (i.e., added support). Which means that if you're a larger-chested woman, it might as well be strapless.

  • http://manolobrides.com Christa Terry

    You're definitely not the only one! One of the most frequent comments I get from brides-to-be is that they would love to see more sleeve options on wedding dresses. Personally, I love strapless gowns and gowns with tiny straps, but I definitely think that sleeves need to come back!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02111123909212699733 April Elizabeth

    a good seamstress can add adorable sleeves (like those cute caps) to anything!

  • http://www.thesassykathy.com the sassy kathy

    OMG YES! yesyesyesyes! where are the freaking SLEEVES!? i'm sorry. but there are VERY few people who look good in strapless. when did that become the official wedding uniform????

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

    Ugh. The added sleeve. But the thing was, I didn't want one of those strapless dresses with added sleeves either. Prom! In white! With added sleeves!

    I think wedding dress fashions are *starting* to change, a tiny bit, thank the good lord.

    (Of course my dress ended up strapless, but in a 50's party dress way. Which I could live with, if only just ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06008386302876377978 Lyssachelle

    I ended up with cap sleeves that I loved, but I still cringe when I see pictures because I hate my arms. (I know, I know, it's not feminist or self-empowering or anything that good for me or the greater good of women/brides everywhere, but they are my arms and I hate them, OKAY??)

    But I am not super sad that I didn't find the Indie Bride's post on sleeve love when I was wedding dress shopping. Because even if I didn't hate my arms (HATE), there are some of us that have chests that don't like to be wrangled into strapless bras. And when they are, they either disappear completely due to lack support, or create cleavage that could eat a small child. Definitely not church appropriate. Or wedding appropriate. Unless, of course, you are getting married in an olde-time saloon.

  • C

    LOL Lyssachelle; cleavage that could eat a small child!

    @ both Sassy Kathy and Lyssachelle, I am actually large chested and I have to say that strapless actually looks best on me. Straight across my broad/toned shoulders is the only look that doesn't result in TOO MUCH SKIN (and not enough support)!

    My strapless gown has this totally INGENIOUS support sewn into it; therefore no squashy, child-eating cleavage producing bra needed. I wish all dresses had industrial strength elastic with multiple hooks sewn right into them. There is now way that sucker is going anywhere!

  • Julianna

    we were narrating by phone & text messages to my grandmother via my aunt long distance while I was trying on wedding dresses and I actually *was* looking for strapless (@lyssachelle – I too, hate my arms, and worry about child-devouring cleavage, but the boy put in a special request so I'm going for it) and my aunt and grandmother apparently kept coming back with "isn't she trying on anything with sleeves? have her try on something with sleeves!"
    which, unfortunately, wasn't because of generational differences in wedding trends but rather because they feel my arms are too fat and chest is too big and it all needs covering up.

    so in the end, we went with a patented Meg+ESB "F that!" and I have a beautiful strapless dress that I like a lot.*

    *which of course I am also having serious second thoughts about. this whole planning/ordering things SO far in advance aspect of weddings is really getting to me. too much time to fret and doubt and reimagine. sigh.

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

    @Julianna
    Did you tell your grandma "There IS nothing with sleeves!" (PS don't second guess your dress, it will be rad).

    I think my problem with it was how few effing options there were. Because, yeah, Lyassachelle you are SO RIGHT. Those dresses do not look good on everyone. I saw this woman getting strapped into one, and it was AWFUL, like someone needed to say, "Honey, this is not your dress, take it off now" and instead it was OH MY GOD YOU LOOK GREAT.

    Then I tried on a similar dress… they told me it was "slimming." I pointed out it made me look 20 pounds heavier… and they shrugged in a "you caught us" kind of way, and told me that was all they had. ARGH.

    Except, of course, the dresses that looked like nighties. Pretty underwear, but still…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15082554090481175349 A Los Angeles Love

    For certain things, my mother is a fount of wedding insanity. And for others (favors, dresses, photos) she gets it right. This sort of right. It's like, from outside the WIC, the can see the naked Emperor. Or Bride, as the case may often be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06118368189622576399 nikki

    I think what bothers me about a strapless wedding dress is that it's essentially a tube top… and I don't want to get married in a tube top

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14380765313210226220 R.A.P.

    I agree it's unfortunate that strapless seems to be the official wedding style. it worked fine for me because that's what I was looking for, but I know it's not for everyone and it stinks that there isn't more variety out there! my dress was like C's, with the support and elastic straps built right in – definitely the way to go! I was in nothing but my skin and blue undies underneath my dress and it worked great!

    Lyssachelle I'm right there with you on hating my arms. I had aspired to acquire "guns" over the past few months but after a few lazy barbell lifts I gave up. eh. these are my arms! in the pictures that are coming in after our wedding this past weekend, I'm cringing at some of the photos but I think it's safe to say for both of us (and anyone else with arm hate!), nobody else noticed!

  • Anonymous

    In the past couple years I've been to a few friends' weddings where the bride had a dress with sleeves. I feel like they're out there?

    I am putting off beginning my dress search until as late as possible. Not looking forward to dress shopping. Any grads have advice/tips that will make it easier??

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01028611528963421348 Katelyn

    I definitely fall into this category of not wanting a strapless dress. I've had fairly good luck with v-neck dresses. If they cut down too deep they are super easy to fix, give the cleave plenty of support, and I think they look really classic. They're still sleeveless, and account for maybe 3% of the wedding dress universe, but I at least feel like I have a choice in the matter.

    I definitely think the strapless trend is fading, though- I see more and more different designs, particularly cocktail length dresses, in the mainstream every day.

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

    @Anon
    Skip bridal salons all together. Vintage, a regular white dress, a bridesmaids dress in white, a non-white dress, making a dress.

  • Your Mother

    I don't think it's possible to convey how radical strapless wedding dresses appear to someone who grew up in the seventies. Strapless was confined to formal parties and wasn't seen inside a church.

    We wore string bikinis to the beach, but got married in sleeves. LOL

    Strapless really got going about 10 years ago – started as a trickle and then became the main choice.

    When designers are asked about it, they say the only reason they make so many is because it's what brides want. Many of the big designers (Wang) say they'd love to do more sleeves and color.

    I think it's just beginning to change. Barely. ;)

  • Your Mother

    Oh … I don't mean I'm "Meg's mother". I'm old enough to be a mother of a bride. ;)

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

    I still can't figure out why anyone would want a 20lb strapless dress. It's just not sexy to be constantly pulling up your dress whether you're a bride or a random girl at a party.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00650933140736435170 Giggles

    Sleeves were the big reason I made my dress. I wanted one with sleeves, and not one that had some sleeves just tacked on to it as an after thought. And from what I'd seen in the stores, that just wasn't going to happen unless I also wanted a mass produced white prom dress.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06395803606683052002 Giovanna

    hahahahah, that's hilarious. it's true though- where have all the sleeves gone? sometimes i feel bad that i didn't wear my mom's long-sleeved wedding dress. it just isn't really me though.

  • Katie

    @Anonymous

    To add to Meg's suggestions: I had really good luck at places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Nordstrom Rack. Check back often because their stock turns over a lot. I tried on a lot of dresses that weren't white and planned to look for champagne or other light-colored versions of them online if I liked them (a personal preference, no reason not to go for a colorful dress). I actually ended up finding a beautiful white dress on super clearance at Nordstrom Rack – not strapless, either!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06008386302876377978 Lyssachelle

    @R.A.P. You are totally right. I notice now, but I need to remember is that day I felt beautiful and that's all the matters. Even if I didn't have Michelle Obama arms. (JEALOUS.)

    And I have one thing in slight defense of massive bridal stores (i.e. David’s Bridal and the lot. Not boutique salons or small shops); if you have no idea what you want or are looking for, they're a good way to weed through a lot of crap. Vintage dresses are so adorable and unfortunately so not me. If only I was cool enough…. So I knew that wouldn’t work, but I also had no idea what would actually look good on me.
    Well, I thought I did, but my best friend/man of honor is a drag queen and former Miss Gay Texas. (Sorry, had to throw that in there. I'm like a proud mom…) He knows dresses like nobody’s business and convinced me that I had to at least try on different styles, because something awful on the rack may be a perfect shape for you. This helps narrow down your options or eliminate them altogether, that way you can look elsewhere with a clearer picture of what you want. Plus they also have bridal party dresses that you probably will be able to order in white or ivory. It's a less daunting experience if you're going in just to try stuff on and not to buy. (Supposedly. Those heifers with tape measures and pins looking to make a commission are scary…)

    Granted, crappy salespeople may not make it worth it, but if you're willing to brave that, it's a good way for you to go, "Hey! I thought I wanted a white A-line with sleeves, but I look smokin' in this form-fitted trumpet with cap sleeves and a train!" Which was my exact experience…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00379596904318935981 Liz

    dude. that just means you get to buy one of those cute shrugs that are all over etsy.

    it wasn't my bare arms that bugged me. it was the CLEAVAGE. oh, lord, the cleavage. and the seamstress insisted that i needed to pad the top of the dress. "why do i need to pad double d's you may ask?"

    that's a very good question.

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

    @Liz
    I could NOT find a shrug that worked with my dress. But my dress had stuff going ON (god bless it).

    @Lyassachelle
    I actually had really good experiences with sales people at bridal salons. My problem was with the *dresses.* When I said I didn't want 1) Poofy 2) Bedazzled 3) Strapless, one store told me to go home (nicely). The other kicker was the price to quality ratio. I could get a really nice dress for $5K (um), but for $1K I could only get horrible horrible polyester? WHAT? It made no sense. You can get a SILK dress for a grand if it's not white. With some beautiful hand beading too…

    General disclaimer is that for vintage to work, you need to be a vintage size, which is all wonky. On my (small end) of the scale that means tiny waist big bust. Which is great for me (fits me better than regular clothes), but yeah, if vintage doesn't match your shape, I'd look elsewhere. Also??? Look into getting one made. That can run between, say $200-$1000, but be SO MUCH BETTER than what you could buy for that amount..

  • AussieAndy

    Meg, you always seem to post about the things I'm thinking about right when I'm thinking about them… creepy, but also exceptionally convenient!

  • Anonymous

    Etsy does have a few people who make custom dresses. I think they are much better quality for less money. Some of them are beautiful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17656685309192458647 Kim

    SUGGESTION: Ladies, you MUST check out the custom dress maker I ended up using for my gown! Her vintage line is called Dolly Couture. She's super affordable (everything between $400- 1K), talented, and friendly with a real team practical attitude! Since she works from both her California shop and her online shop you can work with her from anywhere in the world! (I'm from NYC and all of our correspondence is via e-mail, phone, and facebook.) You can choose a dress from her line of short 50's dresses (and make any design changes/ material changes you want). Or you can do what I did which was design your gown and have her make it. (I designed a v-neck, all lace, trumpet style gown with lace illusion straps/cap sleeves.) Her website is http://www.DollyCouture.com. (Meg, hope it's okay that I'm plugging a vendor. She's just awesome and I know you'd give her a stamp of approval! You and Dolly have been such a source of support for me during my wedding planning.)

  • Nina

    I also went into wedding dress shopping insisting on NOT having strapless – however, I was eventually swayed. I realized it actually looked better on my small frame than a V-neck. And I realized it is far from your typical tube top/strapless dress that you are pulling up all night. My dress (not sure if this is typical or not) comes with an inner layer that supports you like a glove. That dress is not budging all night no matter how much I boogie down. So they are worth at least trying on to see if you like it!

  • Jean

    I’m pretty late to the party, but I just wanted to respond to Sera’s comment. My dress is strapless and weighs 45 lb. Yes, you read that right. It’s an epic dress that reminds me of late 19th century period pieces (minus the sleeves of course). The great thing about it, and a lot of the much lighter dresses I tried on, are that they come with crazy support and structure. They are made so that they stay right where you want them on your body. No one wearing any of the dresses I tried on would be tugging them up all night like a $30 tube dress from Forever XI. Dress designers aren’t dumb, they want brides to rave about their designs and have no complaints when they tell their newly engaged friends about their dress. Worrying that you’re going to fall out of your dress all night is a significant complaint. Therefore, the designers think ahead and make sure the boning/built-in cups/corset/etc. keeps everything where you put it to begin with. It’s really not a problem in all but the cheapest dresses. Obviously if there isn’t room in your budget for a $1k+ dress, you will want to look for only sleeved alternatives, but otherwise, strapless dresses can be perfectly comfortable (especially when you’re dancing and it’s getting all hot and sweaty…).

    • meg

      Jean, I’m leaving this up because I’m assuming you had good intentions. But please please do not make people who are paying less then a grand for their dress (and that’s most people) feel badly. “All but the cheapest dresses” are not good words, and “not room in your budget” makes people feel like charity cases.

      Besides, I tried on some heavy-ass Vera’s that would never have withstood the way I dance.