The thing about having champagne taste on a beer budget is that the wedding industry is never really all that keen on showing you where the good beer is at. Which is why, last year, I was really excited to see David’s Bridal upping the ante in the affordable-yet-fashionable wedding dress game (you can see some of my favorites from last season right here). If you’ve been reading APW for a while, then you already know my feelings about David’s Bridal. Long story short: after I bought an off-the-rack dress for my own wedding that was so see-through my mom and sister staged a wedding dress intervention. I swallowed my pride and headed to the Manhattan David’s Bridal expecting to walk away with some poufy cupcake thing that didn’t feel like me at all. Except color me surprised when I walked away with a $500 dress that I really liked, that didn’t need to be altered, and was available in a petite. I literally carried it home on the Metro North that day. The bottom line: if you’re shopping with a sub-$1,000 budget or wear (god forbid) a plus size, then David’s Bridal is often the only place to find something that’s stylish, fits well, and has some structure to it. Plus, now they even have sequins.
So when David’s Bridal asked if we wanted to go in and shop their annual Summer sale (often known as the $99 sale, it’s their biggest sale of the season; a huge selection of dresses are $50 to $200 off, and a ton are just $99) I was like, “Show me the way to the tulle.” Because, you know, research.
I’ll be honest, though. As excited as I was to go inside the belly of the beast, I was also just as nervous. Because no amount of industry know-how or APW magic is going to make me any less of a size fourteen. Which, as you know, isn’t exactly the standard of the wedding industry. (Though at David’s Bridal, pretty much all of the dresses go up to a fourteen, and the plus-size selection is nothing to sneeze at. Related: if you’re shopping for wedding dresses and you’re curvy or plus size, this post is a good one to read before you head to the stores.) But they set me up with the folks at the Milpitas store, and my new friend Stephanie (aka the store manager) took really good care of me. If you’re in the Bay Area, I genuinely recommend checking out this location. It’s big and open and breathable and the people there were so nice. Stephanie kept saying to me, “How could I not love this? Look at what I get to do.” And then she’d run off and find me accessories or anything else I asked for.
Since my own wedding dress budget was $500, we challenged ourselves to find dresses that were close to that: $550 and under. The first was this $99 dress that actually reminded me a lot of more form-fitting version of the one I wore for my wedding:
Then I remembered that the first lesson in shopping at David’s Bridal is that the dresses really are true to size, which means if you’re normally an eight, you’re still an eight. Not a bridal thirty-two or whatever. The flip side is there isn’t much vanity sizing either, so sadly, that meant I had to put this awesome size twelve $99 gown back on the hanger. (Strapless A Line Gown with Ruched Bodice, $99. Also available in plus sizes.)
Since I was shopping for you guys and not actually for myself, I wanted to try on as many different kinds of dresses as possible. I usually have pretty clear idea of what looks good on me, so I was surprised by how many different dresses worked once I removed that presumption. If you’re going dress shopping for the first time, I recommend taking a page from Meg’s book, who suggests doing an “I’m shopping, but I’m not here to buy” trip to take the pressure off yourself. You may surprise yourself with what you end up liking. (Chiffon A-Line Gown with Beaded Waist, $349. Also available in plus sizes, petite sizes, tall sizes, plus size tall.)
Case in point: I never thought I’d want a short wedding dress, but as soon as I tried this one on with my leopard print shoes, I was like, “Oh hey Maddie, there you are!” Side note: this dress is a fortress for big boobs. They were not going anywhere. (Tea Length Gown with Floral Lace Appliques, $499)
I really wanted to try on one of the Zac Posen dresses (it’s basically the same as being on project runway, right?). Sadly this one didn’t look quite as Madonna-esque on me as it did on the hanger. Maybe this one will go on sale next year? A girl can dream. (Lace High Low Ball Gown, $499.)
Remember how I said my fear was that I would go into David’s Bridal and walk out with some cupcake-y thing that didn’t feel like me at all? Well that almost happened here, except not for the reason I expected. I always figured it would be the sales person who would pressure me into the big tulle dress, but I put this bad boy on and had a bona-fide Say Yes To The Dress moment, complete with “Oh my God, I’m a BRRIIIDDEE.” I made eye contact with Stephanie, who went and got me all the crystal accessories, and then I twirled around for a few minutes until I was tired and dizzy. If I’d had an entourage with me, I can see how easily I would have gotten swept up in that moment. But after about three minutes the adrenaline wore off, then I tripped over my tulle, and it was time to try on something with a little less volume. (Strapless Tulle Ball Gown with Lace Embellishments, $499. Also available in tall sizes.)
Game over. I had pulled this dress because it was part of our roundup from last year, and I’d loved it, but I half wrote it off, assuming that the column style and empire waist would look horrible on me. Whoops. Just goes to show you never know what’s going to look good on your body. This dress was so comfortable, and my boobs aren’t even doing their normal “Hey you, look at me!” thing. I would have bought this on the spot if I, you know, had somewhere to go that required me to wear a wedding dress. (Cap Sleeve Crepe Sheath Gown with Beaded Bodice, $399.)
If there’s a downside to the summer sale, it’s that it means there’s allllll kinds of new dresses just hanging out on display in the store (with sleeves!). So I broke the rules and tried this one on too (it’s from the new collection). Please buy it. If I can’t wear it, you should. I felt like a sex bomb and I’m not even wearing Spanx. (Long Sleeve Sheath with Beaded Lace, $1350.)
Coming out of my shopping experience, I was reminded of the three most important things I’ve learned about wedding dress shopping from APW:
1. The sales associate is your friend (and if they aren’t acting like it, you have my permission to request a new one). They should know their inventory like the back of their hand, so if you like a certain silhouette, but want a sleeve or a different neckline, ask for it. You are not an imposition.
2. Never go by the model in the picture. What looks good on your body is a whole different ballgame, and it’s nearly impossible to tell by looking at a mannequin or a model what’s going to flatter your shape and, well, just plain make you happy.
3. Finding the right dress can take time. After the first few dresses I tried on either didn’t fit or weren’t flattering, I was a little afraid I wasn’t going to find anything I liked. The good stuff came at the end after we got into our groove and started learning about what looked good and what didn’t. Patience is key. Rushing things will only increase your chances of getting a dress you only kind of like. And there’s too much pretty up in here to let that happen.
This post was sponsored by David’s Bridal. The David’s Bridal summer sale is happening until July 28th. And there are way more sale gowns than I could ever try on (as in, hundreds). Like this, this, this, and this, oh and this. And if you find something you love, but they don’t have your size in the store, there are tons of extra sale dresses online (and a surprising amount are available in twelve or fourteen). And of course, there’s always the standard collections (like DB Studio, which is normally under $500 even when it’s at full-price). So if you’re not doing anything this weekend, and you don’t have a dress yet, then I recommend making an appointment at your local David’s Bridal and playing dress up for an hour (or in my case, three). Thanks David’s Bridal for helping make the APW mission possible! (And for making dress shopping for this size fourteen not suck.)