I Bought a Wedding Dress—I’m Not Engaged and I’m Not Crazy

I just bought a wedding dress without being engaged or in the midst of wedding planning, and I am not crazy.

To be fair, my definition of “wedding dress” is simply “a dress I’d like to wear when I get married,” rather than “white gown designed specifically for brides.” What allowed this purchase, however, has little to do with the merits of the dress itself (though there are many), and more to do with how my partner and I have communicated about our eventual wedding. I’ve been addicted to APW for almost a year, admiring the sassy writers and intelligent, diverse points-of-view. So it’s no wonder, living with my committed partner, that weddings have been on my mind for a while. However, I never felt like they should be. I don’t hide my APW addiction or my Pinterest wedding board from my partner. We’ve been together for more than three years, have stated out loud to each other that we’re in it til the end. The first time I ever stayed the night at his place, he asked me what I was thinking, and I honestly replied that I was trying to decide where on earth to hang his tapestry in our future home. But I resigned myself to the hip, indie messaging that I shouldn’t be pining after a wedding when I had the important stuff right in front of me. While there’s lots of value in enjoying where we are in our relationship, I am an impatient person. I want the next thing. Now.

My impatience won out. As did the realization that marching along same as ever will end with us being…the same as ever. If we wanted to get married, it would take some concerted effort to get there. As a decisive, opinionated person who constantly reads smart things about weddings and marriages, I already had an arsenal of thoughts and feelings on the subject. Knowing my partner is a careful, quiet consideration kind of guy, I emailed him a list of things I wanted to discuss re: when are we getting married and how are we going to pay for it. (I was so proud of myself for that.) Our discussion was a good one. Is eloping an option? What do we expect of the event? How are we going to save for it?

The best decision of the evening was that we would start a joint savings account where we can both set aside a specific amount per month, and see how quickly that grows. It’s amazing the freedom I feel from this decision, even with no action taken yet. Even though we aren’t planning a wedding (yet) and don’t have any money saved (yet) and aren’t officially engaged (but don’t plan to be), I feel like the time I put into reading about weddings is more legitimate now. I can get a better idea of how much money we need to save in the first place, which gives us an idea for a savings timeline. I never thought I needed permission to feel things, but it turns out, I needed some kind of permission to truly feel comfortable talking about an eventual wedding that is not even close to being planned yet.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m casually browsing ModCloth. I come across a kick-ass party dress that fits my wedding dress criteria for only $63 and I am all over it. (I mean, after sending a picture to two friends for validation. Duh.) It felt a little strange, in an abstract way, to be making a significant purchase for a significant event without any significant feelings about said purchase, but that in itself is freeing. I didn’t feel like I was being crazy for making the purchase, and I didn’t feel like it had to be some big event. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the shopping experience. But you know what? Buying a wedding dress is not the only time I’ll ever get a chance to have a fun, bonding shopping trip with my mom. We have those kinds of trips on the regular.

I hate having expectations set for me, so it was really nice to shrug off any expectations surrounding making-a-freaking-purchase-for-heaven’s-sake. So I bought a dress. I plan to wear it when I get married. And I don’t have to feel anything at all about it, especially not crazy.

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  • This is lovely. I wish I had been this strong when I was pre-engaged. It’s really encouraging to think that you’re navigating this stage with such grace and clarity. I’m kind of jealous, actually. I was a bit of a hot mess.

    Congrats on your commitment, and the dress (I know, it’s not a thing, but congrats anyways. I’m a big fan of awesome dresses). And props to you for knowing what you want, where you want to go, and doing things to get there. Wishing you the best!

    • Thanks! Also, in the interest of full disclosure, grace and clarity in one aspect of life comes with days and nights spent sobbing about other aspects. Ah, adulthood.

      • Well, it sounds like I got one part right! Now to wait for the grace and clarity :D

  • Blimunda

    Thank you for stating out loud you’re not crazy! I considered buying a dress if i find a perfect one that’s an amazing deal. It’s very unlikely to happen but this is not a good reason not to think about it.

    • No problem- I HATE being called “crazy” when I make choices that align with my values. (Previous life examples include making extra efforts to recycle, use non-toxic cleaners, etc) We are not crazy for making thoughtful decisions. And whether you buy a dress sooner or later, best of luck on finding an amazing deal :-)

      • Great, great post. The last paragraph just nails it for me.
        Also, I cannot ‘exactly’ enough your statement about being called crazy (or in my case, extreme) for making choices that are right for you. I get this a LOT. We are authentic. Not crazy.

  • Martha

    I shouldn’t even comment on this post since I know the writer personally, but GO SARAH.

    • You just gave me the biggest smile <3

  • fermi

    I am one who also bought a dress in a pre engaged state. Similar to you, I bought an awesome vintage dress that was light pink (think from a prom/formal from the early 60s!) and it fit perfectly. Unfortunately my pre engaged state never went to fully engaged and we broke up. Now I have an awesome vintage dress that I will never wear (any takers?). I’m actually engaged now, and getting married in September, and I bought a dress that is so NOT similar at all to the dress I bought prior.
    I don’t know why I’m typing all of this, but basically it sounds like you are MUCH futher along in your pre engaged status than I ever was, and I wish you the best! And like Sonrisa said, congrats to both!!

    • I think you should just throw a party to wear dress 1 to. Considering past dress discussions- the ones we didn’t buy, when we end up buying multiples- I think we need to throw a wedding-themed party, maybe for New Year’s? All invitees get to wear a.) the dress they wish they wore b.) that brand new dress they wish was available when they got married c.) their actual wedding dress or d.) anything else utterly fabulous.

      At any rate, make up an excuse to wear it! Engagement party, rehearsal dinner, random Tuesday. . . That’s my two cents.

      • Fermi

        I like the way you think!

      • Love this idea. I am very pleased with my wedding dress but for me it was just a dress that worked with everything about the wedding: location, time of day, tone, location, convenience, and especially, BUDGET. I will wear it proudly and feel beautiful, but it is not what I would have chosen if I had no limits, and since I got it looking at this website and reading Offbeat Bride has given me so many other cool ideas. A Fabulous Dress party would be a great opportunity to shop for that one all important dress, again. (Think this is one of the reasons that I loved doing pageants in school, feminist travesties they may be. The recurring opportunities to shop for and wear all-important dresses-at least all important at the time)

        • Erin

          As a musician, I feel the same about playing recitals. The best part is picking out the pretty formal gown you’d have no business purchasing for any other reason!

          And I’m also totally in favor of a fancy-ass dress party.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for writing this. My boyfriend and I just bought an engagement ring that won’t be used for a while, and it’s nice to know that someone else has been through this. You’re amazing.

  • Caro

    Oh man, I totally understand and relate to the intro of this article regarding the period of pre-engagement…. “It’s lonely. It can make you feel crazy.” It was a really weird limbo period where me and my partner had thoroughly discussed engagement, just hadn’t formalized it. I felt off-kilter for a few months while waiting for it to become official – I knew he wanted to ask to make it official… it caused several little tiffs and fights in the relationship cuz I didn’t feel like I could talk or plan things for real. Now that we are officially engaged, it is so much easier. I wish there was some way I could go back and help myself chill out.

    • Kiera

      I concur, Meg’s preface is spot on (and is, in and of itself, a validation – thanks Meg!). And thank you, Caro. Your words are a beam of hope that’s helping me to chill out right where I am right now. :)

  • Barb

    I found my wedding dress while thrift shopping 4 years before I was engaged. I was with my now husband’s best friend and while we weren’t ‘girly girl’ type friends we had just been discussing the merits of marriage, what a wedding is, what it means and then of course what we would wear and what THAT would mean. We walked into a thrift store, found immediately what I described and we were both won over by the Universe moment of it all. I proudly wore that same dress (modified a little) 4 years later with that same friend standing by our side. Completely a solidifying moment, not crazy or indicative of desperation. Just amazing love!

  • I bought the main materials for my wedding dress shortly after meeting my husband, and about two years before he proposed. But a deal is a deal! I knew I wouldn’t have an employee discount at a fabric store forever. :) I had moments of thinking I was crazy, but I always find use for fabric. If it didn’t end up being a wedding dress it was going to be something fun.

  • The Manperson and I did something similar to you regarding saving for an as yet untitled wedding. The questions have been asked and answered (on both sides) and hisengagement ring selected. But while he’s all saving for a ring for me (which is all his doing) I felt kinda left out. So we decided the fair thing was for me to start the honeymoon savings pot. I love planning vacations so this is a perfect use of pre-engaged(secretly engaged?) energy. Now I get to send him notes saying: “Babe, we totally have enough money for TWO nights in a Holiday Inn in Tallahassee…if we take the motorcycle. Or one night at the Ritz-Carlton down the street…on a Tuesday. Making progress.”

    • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

      Those notes are too cute. I spent a chunk of this afternoon reassessing my money (ah, annual post-tax review) and am going to adopt this as a way of measuring my savings account. It’s so much happier than, “I think I have enough to cover if my computer dies and a rock cracks my windshield.”

      • I generally find that saving up to things is a less stressful way to save than to set a budget and then feel bad when I don’t reach it.

        So wedding planning will probably go something like this: “Sweet, now we have enough to have 50 people for a sit down dinner or 100 for cake and cocktails. Let’s see how many more people can get invited if we save for another month.” That way I’m constantly looking at what my money can do, rather than what it can’t.

        Also, imaginary vacation planning is one of my stress relievers. :)

        • What a great attitude!

        • Imaginary vacation planning is a brilliant stress reliever. Want to pretend go to London? (England, because it’s only pretend.)

        • Rebecca

          I swear I read a study somewhere that said that most of the enjoyment/ relaxation that people get from their vacations is the looking-forward to the vacation part, not the actual vacation.

          Vacation planning, you’re doing it right :D

  • Your second-to-last paragraph about the feelings you had when you bought the dress was exactly how I felt when I bought my WIC-approved wedding dress during my engagement. I liked it, so I bought it. I didn’t squeal or cry or jump up and down. I, too, didn’t feel like it had to be a big event. Too many people get too focused on having that “Say Yes to the Dress” feeling. It’s just a dress! Have you ever cried before when you bought a dress? Then why would you cry while buying this one?

    • One More Sara

      AH THANK YOU! I bought my (WIC approved) dress last Feb for our August ’13 wedding (international planning… ugh) without very much ado. I only went to 2 stores, and probably tried on less than 10 dresses. I was only stateside for a week, and I had set a deadline for myself that I WAS going to buy a dress on THAT trip. I was pretty happy with the dress, but it has been over a year since I tried on the sample, and I still haven’t seen the real one in person. I keep freaking out that it won’t be good enough or I must not like it enough bc as soon as I decided to buy it, I just wanted to put my jeans back on. So, thanks.

      • Oh, this feeling! I bought my dress only 6 months before our wedding, but it was a similar situation in that I took a trip exclusively for this purpose, didn’t stress too much about it, felt fine about the dress and then proceeded to slowly lose my mind between the purchase and the wedding. I have two nuggets of advice:
        1. Stop worrying. The dress will be lovely, you will look gorgeous and everything will be fine, whether you decide to stick with that dress or grab a different one last-minute somewhere else.
        Since that advice is really hard to actually execute…
        2. Plan the CRAP out of your first/only fitting – Really think it through. Think about what you eat the day or two before, think about the weather, think about your undergarmets, and bring at least one hopelessly optimistic person for every “honest” person with you. I was very calvalier about my fitting and it was the source of a lot of stress for me. (went on a really hot day straight off a flight, had a beer beforehand (BLOAT CITY), their AC was broken and I only brought my Mom, who can be a little “too honest” sometimes). On our wedding day, the dress was spactacular! I loved it – but I was somewhere just south of a total, blind panic searching for alternative dresses for the entire time between fitting and wedding.
        I guess my point is that it’s normal to be worried about this, but don’t miss your chance to create a really positive experience once you do get your hands on the dress.

        • LMN

          Great advice about planning your fitting appointment! I wholeheartedly second that. I bought my dress about seven months ago; we’re a little more than two months out from the wedding, and I’ve been getting increasingly anxious about whether the dress would still fit.

          I’ll go in for my fitting/alterations appointment at the end of this month, but I was feeling so anxious that I scheduled a try-on session last weekend. I needed to get a longline bra anyway, so that was my excuse for hauling a myself, dress, and all my accoutrements back to the store. I made a “courtesy appointment,” so they had an available dressing room and someone on hand to help me into/out of my dress, but no one was hovering to make a sale. And the verdict is….it’s snug, but all the zippers still zip, and the consultant was able to tell about what they could do in alterations. And I got to see myself in my dress again, plus all the accessories I’ve been slowly acquiring, and I remembered why I picked this dress in the first place.

          If you’re feeling worried and you have the option of going back to try your dress on again before your fitting–go ahead and do it!

      • I worried about the same thing. I only went to one store and tried on about ten dresses and was afraid I’d bought mine because I wanted the shopping over with more so than because I loved it. And I worried every time I saw a dress I liked in pictures that I’d made the wrong choice. In the end though, I did love my dress and it’s entirely possible that those other dresses I saw wouldn’t have looked good at all on me. Or it’s possible that they would have looked as good or better, but who cares? I looked great in what I wore and saved myself lots of time and stress trying on every dress in the metro area just to try to avoid some hypothetical future regret.

    • Yes! And let me tell you, I am a world-class shopper. Eight hour shopping trips are no sweat, and the women of my family have done some mean shopping together. So I assumed we would knock out wedding dress shopping as a unit, too. But APW has made really think about that: it’s a dress. If you’re not a shopper, then why force the experience? And if you are a shopper, like me, there are plenty more opportunities for retail-bonding! It’s the whole “This is your last chance to bond!” narrative all over again.

  • Juanita

    Love this post so much. And mod cloth is amazing just saying. But really the way you are doing pre-engaged is pretty awesome, because whether I like it or not I am very firmly in the pre-engaged stage because my boyfriend very much wants to be engaged and I am very much scared and not ready to be engaged (and he’s patient because he loves me and also because the majority of the reasons I don’t want to be engaged are valid). Anyway really kick-ass piece and congrats on the dress!!!

  • Emily

    Considering how difficult it is for me to find clothes that fit me–I’m short and curvy, with boobs that don’t really want to be contained by things–I would totally buy a wedding dress that I loved. Single, engaged, whatever. Because you never know!

  • Emilie

    This is exactly where I was pre-engagement, and I’m glad! Speaking from the other side, I’ve felt so much more prepared for dealing with the messy stuff that comes with planning a wedding and marriage.

  • Erin

    Thanks for writing about this little-talked-of issue!

    I just got engaged less than a month ago and am dreading buying my dress because I HATE to shop — but one of my very best friends bought her traditional wedding dress before she ever got engaged. I mean, her, her grandmother, her aunt, and I went to David’s Bridal, watched her try on and buy her dress, and went out to lunch. We had an appointment and everything :) She said she was about to engaged and we believed her and she was right — she was engaged a month later. None of us called her crazy.

    BUT . . . .

    As we were coming out of the store we ran into two of our girlfriends coming in (these two girlfriends were completely single at the time). We all said hi and parted ways; we didn’t think anything about it, who doesn’t like to look at wedding dresses, single or engaged? But they definitely thought it was strange and told everyone she had bought her dress and talked about how “crazy” she was — because obviously looking at dresses when you’re single is “okay” but buying one when you’re about to get engaged is “not okay.” I happen to think they’re both great if that’s what you want to do!

  • Kiera

    “I never thought I needed permission to feel things, but it turns out, I needed some kind of permission to truly feel comfortable talking about an eventual wedding that is not even close to being planned yet.”

    Hi Sarah, thank you so much for writing this piece. Also, are you my twin? A variation of your above statement regarding emotional permission has been scattered throughout my journal over the past few months. It really helps to know that I’m not the only one experiencing this. Thanks!

    • Right?! I think the whole being called “crazy” thing silences so many conversations that need to happen- talking to your partner about marriage, then talking to other people about “definitely someday” wedding with your partner, etc. It’s like I need eleventy-hundred caveats, footnotes, and explanations when the subject comes up so we’re NOT called “crazy.”

  • 39bride

    So glad to know I’m not the only person who did this. I walked into multiple bridal shops with no ring on my finger. I knew the engagement was coming, but I also knew that the only viable date if we wanted to get married in the next 18 months was about 5 months away. So, I didn’t have much time.

    Sales Clerk: (looking at my naked left hand–I didn’t own any kind of ring)

    Me: “I don’t have a ring, but we have talked about it and he needs to save another six+ weeks for the ring.”

    Sales Clerk: *Mmmhmmm. Dress-up Girl.* OR *Poor, delusional dear.*

    Me: “Trust me, HE’S not the one dragging feet on this–he’s had to bring me around to the possibility. I’m still in shock that I’m standing here in this store. We know what date it will have to be, and we don’t have a lot of time to plan a wedding.”

    I’m still not sure I convinced them, but at least I got some service. It worked better the times when my mom was with me and she could vouch for me.

    I did feel a bit crazy at first, but it wore off.

  • Thanks for the kind words, everyone! I truly appreciate the conversation :-)

  • Sarah

    Good for you for getting the ball rolling! I bought my dress pre-engaged as well before the ring came in because I’m a believer in the Paradox of Choice (Barry Schwartz, read it) and I’m a ‘satisfiecer’ — once I find something that meets my criteria, I get it and stop looking. It’s been a godsend in wedding planning. And mine was way under budget. In the end, it’s just a dress. The worst that can happen is you need to sell it and find something else.

  • I have never felt more insane in my life than I did when we were pre-engaged. (I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding this from my partner. HA. I now know how completely and totally aware he was.) I think what you’re doing with the savings plan is genius. Not only is it so very practical for the wedding itself, but I know something concrete like that would have gone a long way toward easing my crazy until the official engagement happened and went public.

  • Laura C

    My dress may end up being the last major decision I make about our wedding, but I am with you on the general concept and appreciate this post so much (I just wish it had gone up six months ago!)

    On a day that turned out to be, let me think, four months before we became formally engaged, I was talking to my now-fiance’s mother and when she commented that she hadn’t realized how close her son was to one of his friends, I said “oh, yes, M’s on the groomsman list.” Awkward! But we’d been discussing things like his groomsmen and his wedding priorities for a year or two at that point and it just slipped out. (His wedding priorities because he had a much more set wedding vision than I did, so mostly I wanted to know what he wanted so I could think about what we’d do that would work with his existing vision but reflect me too.)

  • Ren

    I’m hoping this doesn’t come off as offensive, and absolutely to each her own, and I won’t tell anyone how to something in their own life, but I have a question that I’m interested in hearing opinions on. Why don’t you consider yourself engaged? To me, engaged means “we’re planning to get married” just like married means “we’re committing to each other in a serious and indefinite way.” To me, engaged does not mean “I got a ring” or “we’re planning a wedding and have date picked,” or even that you’re telling other people — but just that you intend to get married to each other. It seems kind of binary to me, that you are or are not planning to get married — that it’s not a question any more. When I was what I might consider “pre-engaged” it was because we were talking about getting married but hadn’t decided yet that we definitely were going to do that. Can someone shed some light on this for me? I’m interested to hear another perspective.

    • I can’t answer for the original writer, but I can give you my perspective.

      Back before we ever got engaged, I didn’t know APW existed and would not have known that we were or were not pre-engaged (in hindsight, we never really were). We were engaged; I wore a ring, we had a party and we intended to marry each other, and told everyone so.
      Fast forward 10 months and we had separated, aka no longer engaged, let alone in a relationship. Fast forward another 6 months or so and we were back together, very SLOWLY building our relationship up brick by brick. Our intentions, although much less sturdy, were still the same. A year and a bit later, and we both finally felt ready for me to put my old ring back on and start thinking about a wedding. There was no party, no announcement, just quietly letting our immediate families know that a wedding was going to happen sometime.

      I guess for us, that period between engagements when we were both working hard on our relationship might be called pre-engaged, and the only reason I would tack the ‘pre’ part on is that we hadn’t taken the time to make that promise to each other yet. We knew each other’s intentions and we knew where we both wanted this to go, which nrmally would be enough for me to say we were engaged. But we were shaky, and not 100% sure we’d make it. 99% sure, but not 100%. It wasn’t until we took a leap of faith, sat cross-legged across from each other on our bed and purposefully and meaningfully declared our intentions to marry each other as a promise that I felt comfortable using the ‘e’ word to describe the state of our relationship. So, I know this probably may not help nut it out for you as our story is so atypical, but there you go :)

      • Ilora

        I can only speak for myself here but my guy and I are very firmly in the pre-engaged camp rather than full engagement. While we have agreed that we’re in it for the long haul, often talk about marriage/kids/distant future, and are definitely planning on getting married to each other, we’re not ready to actually get married. Marriage is a huge deal, we both view it that way (me because my parents have an awesome marriage, him because his parents have made many many poor relationship choices) and neither of us feel quite ready for it(ducks and such). Since we’re not ready to get married we’re not engaged, but we know that we will be eventually, so we’re pre-engaged.

    • Brenda

      I think “engaged” for most people does generally mean “we have had an official discussion that we will definitely be getting married” (whether this comes as a traditional proposal from one party or not) and “we are actively planning a wedding”. My husband and I knew we would be getting married and talked about it vaguely for about a year, and also had a defined time that it had to happen by or I’d be kicked out of his country. But we still didn’t consider ourselves “engaged” until we had the “yes we are getting married and we will start planning it now” conversation. It was also important to him that he ask and that he buy me a ring.

      Engaged, for many of us, is not the feeling of knowing we’re getting married, but the start of the formal process of declaring it publicly and planning a wedding.

    • That’s a really great question, Ren, and it IS one that I’ve thought of, especially since I’ve grown out of calling him my “boyfriend.” Why not just call him my fiance? I think Brenda hit on it pretty well: I do consider being engaged as a public declaration of definite wedding planning. You’re absolutely right that “engaged” can mean whatever you want though, and I wouldn’t be offended and probably wouldn’t correct anybody who called us engaged.

      I think the other side is dealing with all the assumptions that surround the word “engagement” or “fiance.” I feel like if I were to start using those words, even in casual conversation, I’d have to pause my train of thought just to explain “but we didn’t have a proposal” “but I don’t want a ring” “but we aren’t planning yet” etc. Again, adding tons of footnotes, rather than just sticking with “partner.”

      The added benefit I see is that if we don’t have a formal proposal or engagement, then we can sneakily start wedding planning whenever we’re ready, then have the important decisions made and a strategy concocted before the rest of the world starts weighing in on how it should be done.

      To each her own, though!

  • I think talking about the pre-engaged state is difficult, particularly for women who would like to feel that we are evolved, because a lot of us, (I know not all of us) are pre-engaged because we are waiting for proposal. I thought about the contradictions and problematics of this while I waited. At one period of time we talked about it and decided that we were in a “mutually agreed upon going to get married in a certain year” state, but I just found that confusing and we went back to being incredibly in love, live in, planning for the future partners. I thought about proposing and asked him what he would say and he said yes, so I guess I could have shut it all down and done it. But I wanted to him to truly be ready, and he wanted to be truly ready, and he wanted to signify that readiness by doing the creative proposal and one knee ring thing. And when he actually did it, I suddenly felt silly about being impatient for it, by maybe, deep down, doubting that it was going to happen. The wedding planning has been very rocky, and now I am a little mad at myself for not putting more thought into it before we got engaged, before we announced that we were having a wedding to the whole world and all these opinions and other desires got involved. I daydreamed a bit, but I would not let myself actually plan or budget or really figure out what I wanted and we could afford, because I thought that would be jumping the gun, and was not something I “deserved” to do yet because it wasn’t “official”. So I think that the same way that we have to separate marriage from weddings in evaluating our actual readiness, we have to separate the status implications of engagement from what actually makes sense for a couple of people that is likely to be planning a large and major life event involving family and money and tradition and other awful stuff in the near future. Some people may interpret starting to work on things before actually getting engaged as you caring more about the wedding than the actual person. But a little head start might actually turn out to save you a lot of stress and let you focus more on actually being engaged to a great person in those months leading up to the wedding.

    • Yes! I hate the narrative that just because you care about, are interested in, or have opinions about a major life event, that you’re “crazy” or “wedding obsessed.” For starters, even if you are obsessed with weddings as events, what’s that matter as long as your relationships are okay. And secondly, of course you want to be prepared for it! Didn’t you also dream about other major life events? Learning to drive, graduating, becoming a homeowner, starting a career, living abroad. . .all things that daydreaming can actually HELP by helping you become more prepared. But because you’re “crazy” if you start considering options for your own wedding before officially starting to plan, you and your partner are suddenly on a timeline to review options, form an opinion about them, figure how to enact them, and then get the logistics hammered out. All while also prepping emotionally for marriage.

      Again, yay APW for recognizing the difference between a wedding and getting married!

  • Rebecca

    I lived in pre-engagement land for about three years, and I never knew what to call it. Our parents had a difficult time introducing us to others (boyfriend doesn’t sound right after a certain age and # of years together). We lived together and had talked about getting married (that conversation was a definite prerequisite for that particular move), but we had made no real and solid plans to do so. If I had known about APW back then, I would have called us pre-engaged. In some ways I think that being able to name that state that drove me nuts sometimes would have helped. Like others, I felt like it would be a little bit crazy or wrong to buy the dress ahead of a formal engagement. I’m sorry that I let the WIC get in my head and missed out on some beautiful dresses at sale prices, so I am glad that OP went for it. However, the special day of trying on dresses with my step-mom was totally worth it because it gave us something very positive to do while my dad recovering from chemo. She was able to send him pictures of me in various dresses and that cheered him up.

    • That sounds like an awesome shopping experience! I love retail bonding. I hear you on the introductions, though. Occasionally I’ll explicitly say “partner,” but more often than not, I just duck a label completely and say “This is P, P this is so-and-so” and trust that the other person will figure it out. I had to do that when I introduced some other family members to my partner’s family: “This is Susie, my relative, [Hi, Susie! handshake], and this is Johnny.” And 99% of the time, people get it. Or will ask me later, more discreetly, so are Susie and Johnny married? And it’s polite for everyone and there’s very little confusion that Susie and Johnny go together.

      That became a longer example than intended, but: YES introductions can be tricky.

  • Lauren

    I want to exactly this whole post, both for similarities (wedding Pinterest! APW addiction!) and for the brilliance within (joint savings account!)

    I have also come to realize that the way the majority guys approach weddings and marriage is extremely and vastly different than how the majority of gals do. For example, while Chris and I had talked about marriage from approximately our first year of dating onward, he was laboring under the belief that the “right” time to propose was exactly one year before the wedding date. As in, precisely 365 days before. I talked him down from that ledge because, as a worrier, I need WAY more time than that to be officially engaged and talk to vendors (I didn’t want the snide looks associated with being “crazy”). My BFF’s FH proposed to her precisely at their 6-month dating anniversary because he thought that was how it’s done. Luckily, they also had been seriously talking marriage and she had no problems saying yes.

    • THIS is exactly why more of us need to email APW links to our partners and guy friends :-) Then they can feel free from societal pressure, too! Everyone wins!

    • Having those conversations are sooo important. It was the same with my sweetheart but then through discussion (with me and others) he decided that the arbitrary one-year timeline or whatever was simply that, arbitrary. And right now he really really really wants to be engaged, and we have his grandmother’s engagement ring, and we have enough money to resize it but not to reset it. And he doesn’t want to wait so it’s at the jeweler right now. It’s funny how much easier and calmer things become when you toss the idea of “right” right out the window :)

    • Brenda

      How would he know what the wedding date is if he hasn’t proposed yet?!

      • Lauren

        We picked out the date about two years into our relationship, but the time wasn’t quite right to get officially engaged yet :) It falls one day after our six-year dating anniversary. I was ok waiting for the date to be exactly on out seven-year anniversary, but he didn’t want to wait, and I’m not complaining.

    • Erin

      That’s hilarious! (And I had the same question as Brenda, so I’m glad you elaborated.) It’s funny to see how guys get these little ideas that just stick in their brains about how weddings/engagements are “supposed” to be, just like we girls do. It’s a shame there aren’t more resources out there like APW for them–I feel like every site about proposals and how to get the marriage ball rolling aimed at guys is incredibly WIC. (Hire a proposal planner! Choreograph a flash mob and watch the video go viral! And make sure to have a diamond so big it nearly bankrupts you, or else you don’t really love her!)

  • ferrous

    This is timely. I’m not sure what to call it: we have a date set, but no ring yet. (I know it’s not necessary, the ring, but I’ve been married before, didn’t have one. Not having it made me realize how much I actually wanted one. Silly emotions.)

    Anyway, I’ve been planning an outfit for the wedding, involving a certain kind of jacket. Yesterday we went shopping, and I looked over and the exact jacket I’d been imagining was sitting there. ON SALE. I immediately confessed to him why I wanted THAT jacket, and fervently hoped he wouldn’t think I was crazy. He didn’t think I was crazy (or he was smart enough not to say so). So I bought the jacket. It felt kind of amazing. Plus, total shopping score.

    • That’s awesome! I hope you submit pics with your wedding outfit, because it sounds out-of-the-norm and I’d love to see it!

      (Also, reminder: emotions aren’t silly. They just are.)

  • Jenny Wren

    This was an incredibly interesting read, thank you! I’m also a member of the “Dress but No Ring” tribe, and have been going back and forth on how I feel about it. Like you, I went for a non-traditional wedding dress (vintage, though it is full-length and white) and when I saw it at the right price I just had to go for it (after spending about ten minutes swearing and sweating at the computer screen!).
    I personally wouldn’t describe myself as pre-engaged; my partner and I got pretty deeply into discussing getting married at the beginning of the year (which is when I saw/bought the dress), but I suspect things moved a bit too fast for himself and he subsequently freaked entirely out. Cue a bereavement and a hellish month or two with work issues for me, because the universe never gives you just one thing to deal with. So now we’ve put off any decision making till the end of the year. This is good as it’s given us time to just have fun as a couple again, but I won’t lie and say I don’t sometimes panic about the future. Having the dress neatly tucked away in my closet sometimes feels like having an unexploded bomb in the house (and I’ll admit the morning after I bought it I was about ready to institutionalize myself), but ultimately it’s just a dress. If the worst comes to the worst I can sell it, and if things turn out the way I hope it’s one less thing to have to think about.

  • lynn allen

    Just found this website. My boyfriend, since we are in our forties, discuss everyday getting engaged but still no ring. In last last two month I have purchased the same wedding dress online and returend it three hoping each time I would have a reason to keep it. Maybe this time I can with out regets.

  • Nicole

    I know this post is a few months old by now, but the fact that it showed up as a result to “buying a wedding dress before engaged” on Google made my day. I love APW, I am not engaged, and I just made a bridal appointment for a month from now because I will be traveling home (and don’t often have the opportunity to do so) and it will be one of the few opportunities to have the whole “try on dresses with grandmother, mother, and sister” experience. I felt so “crazy” when the girl on the phone asked my wedding date and I told her the truth. And the truth is that my partner and I have already looked at rings together, he has asked my parents in person, and I know that it’s going to happen eventually. However, I am totally apprehensive of actually following through with the appointment if I’m not engaged when I arrive home, yet I am also worried about directing unwarranted frustration at my boyfriend if he doesn’t ask “in-time” and I feel obliged to cancel the appointment. My mom is encouraging me to keep it (does she know something I don’t?!) because “you’re getting married eventually and you’ll want to know what looks good on you.” But is she just a little crazy too?

    • Erin

      I’d be afraid the salespeople would be rude because they might assume I’m wasting their time, trying things on just for fun before the REAL shopping begins. (Because you can’t possibly *know* you’re going to be engaged–nothing’s for sure until you have a ring on your finger. /sarcasm) Is that what you’re worried about too? Because, if you haven’t already had it/missed it yet, I would still definitely keep the appointment! Just make sure they know you’re serious about possibly buying a dress even though you’re not quite officially engaged yet. You know the status of your relationship better than they do–all they should be interested in is that you want to give them money, with or without the magical golden ticket of a ring. (Gilmore Girls reference, anybody?) And if they still give you crap for it, leave!

  • Candy

    I’m with Erin. I’m not engaged, yet I bought my wedding dress yesterday.
    Albeit, my circumstances were a bit different, but not by much. My guy and I have looked at rings and have a date picked. (Our parents were married 4 days apart. In 2 years he’ll be almost done with his masters and the date halfway between our parents’ weddings will be a Friday, in 3 years it’ll be a Saturday.)
    I saw on Groupon wedding dresses made by Kirstie Kelly. I’ve liked her dresses for YEARS and one of the gowns I have admired for months. It retailed for $1250 and I bought it for $175.
    Because I know many people who wouldn’t understand buying a dress when I’m not engaged, I’ve purposefully kept it a secret from non-family members. You do what’s right for you, your relationships with your guy and the women in your family, and your pocket-book. Have a wonderful experience! If it’s not wonderful, find a place that will make it wonderful! ;)

  • Ashley

    I know this is SO late but I too just googled ‘wedding dress before engagement” and found this article. I bought a wedding dress yesterday. Its beautiful! And I got it for 10% of the ticket price (reg 950 for 99!). My boyfriend and I have been together for a year this week and we know we will be married just don’t know when. I felt like I should have felt crazy buying a dress without a certain date, ring, etc. Instead I felt completely natural. Thank you! And to anyone else finding this late you are NOT crazy!