Lauren: Buying the Imperfect Dress

It's my dress. Or is it?

I bought my wedding dress today. It was on sale at a local boutique, marked down from $1495 to $660. The saleswoman said I could have it for $550, if I bought it today. I felt the familiar clench in my chest, the one that comes when I am forced to make a Big Decision, one that involves parting with a stack of money.

“I’ll have to think about it,” I said. “Go home and look at the photos.”

She nodded. “No worries. We don’t pressure you here.”

Then she went and hung the dress in the front window, right behind the screaming red clearance sign.

I walked home, trying to make peace with spending a week and a half’s rent on a dress that I liked, but didn’t love. I thought about the frivolous things I could buy with $550, like the suspended egg chair that sits outside of the home store and taunts me with its promises of comfort. Or 110 coffees from Gloria Jean’s. Or half of a MacBook Air.

Or a wedding dress?

When I sat down in front of my computer, I immediately uploaded the photos from the shop and scrutinized them. The dress was everything I said I didn’t want. It was taffeta. It had fussy flowers on the bust. It was strapless. It had a big poufy bustle thing on the back. If I’d seen it in a photo I would have said absolutely not.

But it hugged and dipped in all the right places, rendering alterations unnecessary. For once I didn’t feel like the gown was wearing me, waiting to swallow me whole at the first opportunity. You look like a bride, my friend said.

And that, I realized, was the problem. I don’t want to look like a bride. I want to look like me, only better. Like me sprinkled in unicorn dust. Like me, getting married. I thought I’d gone into this wedding dress search without illusions. I’m not looking for the perfect dress, I told the shop assistants. Just one that’s flattering and comfortable. I congratulated myself on being a levelheaded woman who didn’t expect miracles from a dress.

But still. There was a tiny bit of disappointment when I decided to buy a dress that I didn’t full-on, choirs-of-angels love. If I bought the dress, my search would be over. The secret glimmer of hope that I’d magically find something perfect would be extinguished. People would start asking me what my dress looked like, and I’d have to say, “Strapless, with flowers on top and a big bustly thing on the back. But it looks really good on, I swear.”

I examined the pictures again, more times than I care to admit. When I removed my expectations about what I wanted from the dress, I did like what I saw. If it sold, I’d be disappointed. I compromised and reasoned that if I couldn’t get it for a price I was comfortable with, I wouldn’t buy it at all. The decision was out of my hands and up to fate. Well, really, the shop owner, but fate sounds better.

I went back to the store to make an offer. There was the dress, in the window. I felt relief tinged with misgivings, but thought about what would happen if I didn’t buy it. I’d frequent bridal stores and try on dress after dress until they all morphed together in my mind and I hated every one of them. Eurgh. That didn’t sound appealing.

“You came back,” the woman said. “Decided to get it?”

“Well,” I said. “I did the numbers, and I can only pay $400.”

A few minutes and one hushed phone call later, the dress was mine for $400, “because it’s Christmas.” Suddenly I was standing outside in the brilliant sunshine, wedding dress folded over my arm. My wedding dress. For the first time ever, I’d successfully negotiated a price in my favor. And now I had a dress.

But the wedding is still nine months away, I thought. What about all the other dresses out there, the ones that might be better? I focused on the negatives, like the fussy flowers and the taffeta. How can this dress express who I am when it has these features that are patently not me? When I look like a generic bride?

I hung the dress in my closet and sat on the bed. We faced off for a few minutes, the dress defiant in its carry bag, me mentally cycling through the negatives instead of the positives. For a moment, I wondered what would happen if I chose to see the good side. If I chose to remember how it fit perfectly and felt right.

I took the dress to my mother-in-law’s house, where there’s more closet space and I won’t be tempted to try it on incessantly. It will live there until September, when I hope that I unzip the cover and love what I see. In the meantime, I’m rehearsing what to say the next time someone asks if I’ve found a dress.

“Yes,” I’ll say. “It’s strapless and A-line with a big bustle on the back, and it looks awesome.”

There. That wasn’t so hard. If I say it enough times, I might start believing that it’s true.

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  • CJ

    I had a very similar experience, except add to that my mother being there giving me a look of, “You will pick this dress or else.” That sick feeling of being pressed to make a big decision when I’m naturally an over-thinker. It would be a normal a-line dress that suited my needs but looked nothing like I had wanted. But it was a $2200 dress for $470. How could I say no?

    Thank you for writing this. It’s the first time I’ve truly felt like it wasn’t just me.

  • Emma Klues

    I love practicing what to say! I think sometimes having the words at the ready can make all the difference. And kudos on negotiating, I somehow almost always forget that’s a thing and it’s a newfound goal of mine to practice it more.

  • Kat91314

    “I don’t want to look like a bride. I want to look like me, only better.
    Like me sprinkled in unicorn dust. Like me, getting married.” THIS!!! Can I “exactly” this about a million times? I don’t want lots of makeup (I never wear any on a normal day), I don’t want my hair done up impossibly (it’s down or pulled back in a ponytail most days). I just want to be me, a little dressed up, getting married to the man I love.

    • CH

      My wedding day hairstyle was a ponytail! We did a side ponytail, curled it a bit, and were done. It was simple and easy and didn’t give me a headache all day and I got a ton of compliments on it. I’m not a fancy-pants bride either, so I’m really glad that I went with a hairstyle that felt natural to me.

    • lady brett

      you know, that quote is really the reason i don’t (usually) have any regrets over the fact that my wedding dress didn’t fit quite right. i mean, i wanted to look like myself (plus unicorn dust, of course) and, well, i did – i looked like a girl that doesn’t quite know how all this fancy girl stuff works (did you know you can *fix* “doesn’t fit quite right”? huh.), but i felt totally glamorous anyhow.

    • Laura C

      So much. What I said to salespeople on my one day of trying on actual bridal dresses was “I want to look like myself in a great dress, not like I’m in a bride costume.” I’m going to get makeup done, because I’ve had it done enough times in the past to know I really benefit. But for my hair, just a blowout, because I have straight chin-length hair and over the past 15 years the times I’ve done anything with it beyond pulling it off my face to go to the gym could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    • Absofrigginglutely.

      I get the whole, “What will you do to look bridal?” thing occasionally. It’s only an occasional occurrence because most people know better than to annoy me about it. But the thing is, I don’t really want to look bridal, and I’m not really sure why it’s such an important thing.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I have to say, I have been to weddings where the bride did not look like anyone I recognized in any way, shape or form. Case in point with the makeup. I have one friend who never wears makeup, like not even so much as mascara or lip gloss. She had so much makeup caked on for her wedding and it just looked bizarre. When I saw that, I made a mental note that when I got married, I was going to look like me at the end of the day.

    • Katelyn

      On the flip side, I am so, so excited about getting my hair and makeup done and wearing a super fancy dress. Because that’s *ME* – I love that stuff and am so excited to take advantage of the opportunity to be pampered.

      I’m sure we’re both getting pressure – you to “care more” and me to “care less” about our appearances. It’s the impossible balance of the “cool girl” all over again – be glamorous, but effortlessly. Any effort shown means I’m a high-maintenance drama queen and any result less than dazzling means I’m lazy and sloppy.

      I love hearing people from all perspectives doing what makes them comfortable and owning the sh*t out of it.

  • Sarah

    To me, picking a dress that flattered me that didn’t cost too much and one that would effectively end my search IS and WAS the perfect dress. Mine was pretty generic and bridey but when I look at the pictures (just did my Shutterfly wedding album last night) it just looks like us. I looked like a bride AND I looked like me only better. I even wore a veil, something I’d sworn I would never do, but it took the pressure off me doing my own hair and it made me look like I was getting married and not like I’d just done my hair for the evening. I’m sure the dress is lovely and wonderful even if it’s not what you originally envisioned.

  • CH

    I just got married in a dress I liked but didn’t love. I bought it because I couldn’t imagine continuing the process of dress shopping, the dress was pretty, and it looked nice on me. Decision made, done, ring it up.

    On my wedding day, I felt like me, getting married. I never even looked in a mirror to see what the dress looked like with my hair and makeup and accessories. I didn’t care what I looked like; it didn’t matter. I was too excited to get to the church and see my husband-to-be and get our wedding started.

    I just saw the proofs of my wedding photos — my first real chance to scrutinize my wedding look. The truth is that I *still* didn’t even notice what the dress looked like on me. I was too busy reliving the experience of exchanging vows with my husband.

    I’m planning on selling that dress. I have no emotional connection to it. What I am keeping is far more valuable: the way I felt on my wedding day — like me, sprinkled in unicorn dust.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I had a very similar experience. I think I maybe looked kind of down and around at myself during some quiet moments in the church, but day-of and since the wedding, how I looked was not important to me or anyone else.

    • jashshea

      Curious: Have you gotten any push back from people when you say you’ll sell (or donate, which is what I was thinking of doing)? I had many people tell me I’d want the momento. But I have memories and pictures, I don’t really need a giant ball gown to remind me of the day. And I loved my dress.

      • CH

        No push back, although my family isn’t terribly sentimental, so that could be why. I don’t know that I ever saw my mom’s wedding gown, and I saw my grandmother’s once – and only for a few minutes before it went back into the box.

        I’ve had fleeting thoughts of, “What if I have a daughter someday who wants to wear it?” but that’s so hypothetical, whereas I *know* I can make a bride’s dream come true today if I sell it. I guess the reality of passing on this dress to another woman who really wants it means more to me than holding onto it as a memento.

        • Jacky Speck

          I’m planning to sell my dress too, after learning the whole “your wedding is not timeless” thing first-hand with my mom’s wedding dress. She preserved and stored it in case a future daughter (just me, as it turns out) wanted to wear it. At the time she thought it was a “timeless” look, but today, my mom’s dress just screams “’80’s.” It fit her 1980’s wedding perfectly, but would look really out of place in my 2014 wedding. If I have a daughter in the future, she’ll probably be thinking the same thing about my wedding dress.

      • Jen

        I absolutely love my dress, but I am selling it after my wedding. Some would see keeping the dress as a keepsake, I see it as clutter. But once our big day has come and gone I hope someone else can create some happy memories in it as well!

      • Jane

        I sold my dress the week I got back from my honeymoon. It was a JCrew gown, 100% polyester, and I washed it in the bathtub and air-dried it on a drying rack with a fan. I didn’t even have to iron it. Got back 50% of what I paid for it.

        I loved the dress and I loved my wedding and I cried when I put it in the mail–such a sad feeling of “done” for a fun, happy thing that I had so much invested in, emotionally. But we don’t have storage space for it and we live in a bad climate to preserve it. What really helped me get over the sentimental factor was earmarking the money from the dress for a fun trip for my husband and me. Life goes on! No need for the dress. I have beautiful pictures, a wonderful husband, and great memories. And an awesome camping trip to Maui!

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      While I had no emotional connection to my dress I would have liked to have parted with it on my own terms. Sadly, my mother lost it. I cried. I couldn’t believe I cried over a dress that I didn’t even care that much about.

    • Totally, totally planning to sell my dress. My sister was mildly horrified – “Who would want to wear someone else’s used wedding dress?!” – but I definitely considered secondhand dresses. If it’s still in good condition and I’m not emotionally tangled up in it (who knows how I’ll feel post-wedding), it’s going up for sale.

    • Bethany

      I was going to leave basically this exact comment. Would it have been great to LOVE my dress? Yes! But I liked my dress and LOVED our wedding, so I call that a win :)

  • Jana

    I also am wearing a dress that I like but don’t love. I had some very specific stipulations (domestically produced, but not over $300) that left me with very few choices. I had wanted something lace until I realized that lace clings in all the wrong places on my body and I would’ve spent months fretting that I needed to not be eating this piece of chocolate or that ice cream cone on a nice day. In the end I chose a simple satin strapless A-line bridesmaid dress. It’s very generic, but I like it. And honestly, it weirdly meant a lot to me to stick to my guns with respect to budget and manufacturing.

  • Sharon M.

    I got married in a strapless tiered lace gown I would probably never have picked off the rack myself. However, it just felt SO right when they slipped it on over my head and zipped up The dress hardly needed any alterations at all – no hemming needed, which was good because it’s a pain to hem lace dresses. After minor alterations to the bust (I’m small for a plus size woman, apparently), it fit like a glove, and was flattering. (I did get a chiffon 3/4 sleeve bolero because I hate my arms. Plus size + lost weight = supreme flab)

  • I went in to wedding dress shopping wanting a more classically bridal gown (and got one). But I still came out questioning my decision – I think, knowing you’re purchasing something SO FAR in advance can really mess with you, because it’s not like you can block out all the other dresses while continuing to plan your wedding. Sure, you stop actively shopping, but when you continue to look for other wedding things there are inevitably pictures of brides in dresses.

    Conclusion: I loved my dress three years before buying it when shopping for my sister’s wedding, I loved it the day I bought it, the day I wore it, and today, almost one year later. It was just that interim period where it was packed away in a dress bag when I questioned my choice.

    • JDrives

      I bought my dress 10 months in advance and was concerned I’d also be pining after “the dress(es) that could have been” – but now when I look at pics of other brides in kick-ass dresses, I have a greater appreciation somehow for the fact that they looked and looked for the “right” dress and picked THAT one that looks awesome on them.

    • K.

      My wedding dress was the first thing I bought for (well, my mom bought as an engagement gift), a little less than two years before our wedding date. It is also classically bridal; I absolutely love it and haven’t questioned my choice at all. I’m extremely decisive when it comes to pretty much everything in my life (I wrote in a journal that I was going to marry my fiance the same week I met him, 6+ years ago) and it would actually be extremely uncharacteristic of me to fall in love with a dress and then seriously question my choice.

      BUT I’ve found that I’m more paranoid about gaining or losing too much weight, or getting pregnant, or any kind of body change than I might have been if I had waited a more typical buying timeline. I won’t be doing alterations for another 8 months or so, and I think wedding planning can shine a light on how much really changes over the course of a year or so. Worrying about fitting into my dress or not has become the focal point for dealing with inevitable change and how the world doesn’t stop progressing just because you’re getting married.

      • Alyssa M

        Oh jeez. I’m wearing my Grandmother’s 60 year old dress and my FMIL is altering it to fit me. I’m only about 6 months out from the wedding but I’m STILL paranoid I’ll balloon up or shrink down before the day. I wanted to give her all the time she could possibly need but we’re trying my first fitting this weekend and I’m now wishing I’d waited another 3-4 months just in case :/

    • Rebekah

      I bought my dress on accident from craigslist 4 years ago because I was looking for a way to get cheap fabric for my mom to sew a Civil War-era dress for my sister. Turns out it fit me and I like it just fine (and they didn’t have polyester in the 1860s). I never did the wedding dress shopping, the entourage, the “moment” or any of that, but it turns out the dress doesn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would. Sometimes I’m torn, thinking of how much I would have loved to experience those emotions, but other times I am very glad that it all fell into place for me.

  • macrain

    The gown has been one of the hardest parts of all of this for me. I actually had to take dress photos off my phone to keep from obsessing over them and I had to stop showing them to people. My dress does not have a lot of bells and whistles- and people love that shit. They are a little confused when you’re just like- yep, it’s just a long ivory gown with a V neck and short sleeves.
    I would say after a lot of questioning I’m finally at peace with my dress decision. I do try on my dress from time to time to remember why I love it, but I try not to do that too much.
    For the record, I DO actually love my gown. I’m maybe not turning cartwheels over it all the time, but I do think I’ll feel beautiful in it.

    • Jess

      Um… just saying… Long, Ivory, V Neck, and Sleeves sounds kind of awesome to me. Something I would wear and still feel like myself and not so much like a cupcake.

      (Not that the people that love bells and whistles are wrong, they just aren’t me)

      • macrain

        Yes, you are right! It IS really lovely! Why am I so sheepish about it?! It’s like I haven’t fully given myself permission to love something others don’t consider as loveable.

  • Hannah B

    If it hugs and dips in all the right places, and you don’t need alterations, that alone is worth a chorus of angels! Pull up some hallelujah chorus on youtube and fake it til you make it :-) Also, lady, that was a serious deal. Less than wholesale. Good job!

  • Laura C

    APW is so sneaky running the “be happy with what you got and don’t obsess too much about the dress” post the morning after the “look at all the pretty dresses we found for you” post.

    • Alyssa M

      I knooooow… I saw it and was like, “This is so fitting. Only APW would put dresses on sale and then encourage me to be happy with what I already have in the same week.”

    • Meg Keene

      Ha. We almost put them on the same day, and it wasn’t even that thought through. We were just like, “Lookie! Two posts about dresses that we like!”

      • Exactly. Another lesson in “it’s not about you.” What APW posts has nothing whatsoever to do with us as individuals. As individuals we get to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t. That’s life.

        • Meg Keene

          That’s probably a wise reminder for everyone, since about once a day the staff is trying to manage someone taking a post really personally, in a way we totally didn’t even see as a possibility (and we spend a lot of time thinking about all the possibilities).

          • If we as humans could learn the hardest lesson of all: it’s not personal *and* it’s not about you, the world would be a better place. So many fights and arguments stem from someone thinking something was about them but it really wasn’t. “My choice is my choice, it has nothing to do with you.”

  • I thought I wanted a super simple dress for our wedding, especially since it was outdoors in June, but I ended up with a big fluffy ballerina tulle gown and it was awesome. I didn’t want a veil because a veil said “bride” and not “me” but then in the end, I kind of wanted to feel like a bride anyway so I got the veil. I think the dress process can end up being so symbolic of the fact that it’s very, very strange to suddenly be THE BRIDE but I think in the end, you have to just go with your gut on it. It’s sort of like how “wife” can be a strange title to suddenly have or, I imagine, “mom”.

    • ART

      This reminds me, I am also having a “but, maybe I do want a veil?” moment, and I would love an APW round up of cool veils or veil alternatives (because I don’t honestly know the first thing about them). Or maybe that already exists…off to look!

      • Tell me about your dress! I want to vicariously shop for veils!

      • Jumping the gun to say please buy this immediately!

        • Alyssa M

          that is a very pretty veil

      • Meg Keene

        On it. We have some headpiece roundups in the archives over here: but on it!

        • ART

          Thanks! Also like…what do you DO with a veil like this, which i think is lovely – just keep it down for the ceremony or flip it up or…?? I am as clueless about this stuff as I realized I was the night I learned what a bustle is.

        • dearabbyp

          Yesterday I bought pink tulle for this
          Pink! Tulle!
          The Jo-Ann lady give me some side eye and pointed out the David’s Bridal across the street but I told her that just wouldn’t be as fun.

          • Caitlin_DD

            That sounds fabulous! And really making your own veil is bound to be cheaper and way more fun.

          • Aubry

            Absolutely! If I were to have a veil I would definitely make one. You want to charge me how many dollars for a plastic clip and $4 in tulle??

            I am also considering having one for some reason. I’m thinking it wont happen because I just have too many things to do and not enough time or energy for all of them!

          • Caitlin_DD

            Truly. They’re lovely, but I don’t have $200 extra for headpieces, alas… That doesn’t stop me from coveting tulle birdcage veils on Etsy though. Mayhaps you have a crafty friend who can whip one up for you.

          • kara

            My seamstress charged me 35. And it made me feel lovely.

  • Amber Smith

    Yep! I bought my dress quickly. There have been moments of “omg what was I thinking? There are so many options out there!” and then I look at the picture my mom took of me wearing it and remember how comfortable and happy it made me.

  • Meg

    Let’s just focus on what a great deal you got! good for you negotiating :)

  • Ann

    My solution to keeping my own happiness – not telling anyone about my dress. I can’t deal with the comments, the questions, the possibility of critiques. People look a little disappointed when I tell them I’m keeping the dress a secret, but it makes me so much happier. I can breathe easy knowing I’m happy with what I chose and no one can take it away from me!

    • Absolutely! Think of yourself as Princess Kate – keep it a surprise. No one needs to know. Set boundaries and make people honor them. No one owes anyone else an explanation.

    • ART

      This is my strategy as well, although I’m making my dress (almost done!) Mostly because I don’t sew (lol) so I think of the potentially horrified faces I might get and would rather just not tell anyone I made it until after they see how happy I am in it. It’s kind of burning a hole in my secrets pocket, but in two months everyone will see it on me and it will be a done deal :)

    • BB

      I did the same thing when it came to my wedding ring–a nontraditional braided band that my (now) husband and I designed. I didn’t want any negative (or luke warm, or misinterpreted) comments to mar just how much I love it. In reality though, I don’t think anyone really cares–it’s just a conversation topic.

    • Meg Keene

      That’s what we did with our kid’s name, by the way. Same reason, probably higher stakes in a way. Best decision ever.

      (And, for the record, people were ALL up in our faces trying to get the information and super annoyed that it wasn’t on offer. But among other things, I wanted to reserve the rights for us to change our minds.)

      • Huh. This is interesting to me. I thought parents mostly kept baby names a secret because they try to build it up into this BIG THING ending with a “reveal” (a la gender reveal parties). But keeping mum on a baby name to avoid comments, raised eyebrows, alternative “suggestions”, etc. makes total sense. And is not annoying at all. Thx for the new perspective.

        • Meg Keene

          True story: most of what you do after you get pregnant, people will judge as “annoying.” So, it’s very damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So I just did what I liked.

          The bottom line is, it ends with a big reveal anyway, but the reveal is the new human, not so much their name, which is just frosting. I mostly, end of the day, didn’t think it was anyone’s business, in that, I wasn’t going to tell anyone the baby’s name till I’d told him his own name. It just seemed rude. That was my actual logic.

          • Alyssa M

            Pretty much everything you said here is exactly how I feel about a baby’s gender. Everybody wants to know and gets really weird about it, but it’s really not any of their business, especially before the poor kid is even born. It’s near on impossible to leave it to the kid to reveal when they’re ready(without turning your kid into a social experiment), but man it would be great if we could.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Before my baby sister was born, our parents and I discussed names, but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone because, like Meg says, people will try to change parents’ minds, be critical, etc. Very few people are rude enough to do that after they understand that the name belongs to an actual person. (My mother is an obstetrician, so I imagine she’s heard every expecting-a-baby story there is.)

      • H

        Meg, I know this isn’t the moral of the story at all, but I have always been super curious what your kid’s name is! (not expecting to be told, but curious nonetheless)

        • Meg Keene

          That’s his to share. If you meet him, give him a try! (Good luck, he has a lot of words, but that’s not one of them.)

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I second this. People don’t know how to behave and instead of saying “that sounds lovely” decide to say crap like “oh, I think BLANK dresses are soo ugly,” etc. I do not understand why people are like this.

    • jashshea

      Smart move! I’m usually in jeans/button downs with my hair pulled back, but my form fitting dress was simply to DAYUM to leave in the store. Several people (before the wedding and day of) said “That dress is amazing, but I never would have thought you’d have picked it.”

      At least 98% of those people didn’t mean it as a backhanded compliment :)

    • JSwen

      And the reality is, regardless of other people’s tastes and thoughts of what your dress should be, you will look beautiful in everyone’s eyes in your dress on your wedding day. Because you’re the bride. Boom.

  • Sarah E

    I have similar thoughts, with sentimentality thrown in. I bought a great party dress a year ago for the wedding, then was offered my grandma’s wedding dress, which my mom also wore. I assumed the dress wouldn’t fit ( my grandma was 5-foot-nothing and about 100lbs when she got married), but it does and when I tried it on, I felt. . .weird. Not myself, not particularly bridal-y. So now I have to decide if I want to wear the gown at all, or for the ceremony, or maybe just for some pictures. . .I don’t know. I love to dress up and the gown is beautiful, but for sharing intimate vows with my partner? I really want to feel like myself, not like I’m playing dress up.

    • Shelly VW

      Sarah, I ended up wearing my grandmother’s wedding dress after some alterations to let it out – she too was a tiny thing, and I am less so. I also ended up removing the train & modifying the long sleeves to short sleeves. In the end, it’s not that I regret wearing it, but I think that I also would have been happy wearing a dress of my choosing that was more to my taste. In the end, I don’t have a strong emotion, positive or negative, when I reflect on my wardrobe that day. I definitely felt more of a bride wearing it on my wedding day with hair, makeup, accessories, and…you know…a WEDDING, than I did when I tried it on earlier. I know what you mean about it feeling a bit like dress-up. Don’t make a rash decision, and just be gracious to your family and yourself whatever you end up deciding.

      • Sarah E

        I debated asking for alterations, as the train doesn’t bustle and the cap sleeves itch just a tiny bit. . .but I don’t think I’d be any more comfortable emotionally, just because the dress had different features, so it doesn’t seem worth it to change an heirloom like that.

        I’m very grateful I have the opportunity to wear it, as I’m very close to my grandma and my mom. My current idea is to wear it in my grandma’s garden for a few photos before our late evening ceremony. As my grandma may or may not be able to attend for health reasons, it becomes a more loaded question. And trying it on with a black sports bra under a flourescent light probably wasn’t helpful, you’re right.

    • Alyssa M

      I was in the exact same position! Except, the dress only kind of fits, and my FMIL is altering it.

      Maybe my solution would help you out… I was willing to pay for a dress, and this one was free, so to honor my family and the sentiment, I’ve decided to wear the heirloom dress for the ceremony only. I went out and found myself a cheap(ish) dress that’s more my style to change into for the reception. I never ever thought I’d be the “extravagant” bride with two wedding dresses, but I’m not breaking the bank and I get to have my cake and eat it too.

      • Sarah E

        I totally feel you on the “extravagance” of two dresses. Which is not reality, when I have a free dress and a $60 cocktail dress. I also don’t want to have to change, as it seems like one more thing to add to the schedule/pack list/possible stress points. In reality, it’s not a big logistical deal. It just feels like one.

        • Alyssa M

          I am kinda lucky on the changing part, because we have a nice big gap and a reception at a second location… I can imagine trying to get changed during the whole kerfuffle that is cocktail hour/pictures/reception starting could be more than you want to deal with.

    • Sharon M.

      I’d probably wear Grandma’s dress for the ceremony, as a nod to the traditional – and the party dress for the reception.

  • I loveeee this and can so relate. (first of all, i must say i always notice the symmetry in finding the wedding dress, aka “the one”, and choosing a partner to marry. the “wait, what if i pick this one and something else comes along/etc- and theres the same pressure that there is “the one” that is PERFECT and youll just know…) but ANYWAY I had the same experience with my dress. If I saw a picture of my dress online I would have never pinned it on my Pinterest boards- nope. and when I see pictures of other people wearing it online it still doesn’t look up my alley at all. It’s nothing like I thought my dress would look like…but having it ON me is so different from judging it on a model on my pinterest board. It fits me perfectly and what I loved the most about it was how it flowed off me and seemed to relax into my body – it seemed so showcase me instead of me showcasing it. i was very calm when i bought it, it was a easy, content, yes this is going to my dress type drooling or freaking out over it. and honestly, when i tried on the dresses that I thought would for sure be my type, I felt too casual, I didn’t feel “bridal” enough…and also, they didn’t really fit my body type – they didnt have the same effect that they did on the models.

  • Vic Horsham

    I’m terrible at this. I never wanted to get married at all before the mister and I got engaged, so I’m more than a bit surprised at HOW MUCH I care about my dress being right for me. So much so that I’ve decided I’m making my own dress, and am now feeling caught between wanting to be prepared to buy a dress if my sewing plans end up going wrong and knowing that anything less than the dress I’ve ended up with in my head will leave me feeling disappointed.

    Why do I care so much about this? ARG!

    • Meg Keene

      Care about it. CARE ABOUT IT.

      My dress was the thing I cared most about, and thank god I was true to myself.

  • sara g

    I bought a dress that isn’t super traditional… there’s no real train, but it’s got these cool little fabric streamers hanging down the back. And I really loved it when I tried it on. But I keep having doubts that it’s not “bridal” enough or that I’ll find another dress I’ll like better. Or that it won’t fit when the order comes in. Urrghhhh.

    • ART

      it sounds super cool to me!

    • Meg Keene


      • sara g

        I keep telling myself this! The WIC has gotten in my head more than I thought. I’ve showed pictures of it to a few friends and the reaction I got was “wow… it’s so…you!” Which doesn’t feel too encouraging, but whatevs.

        Seriously tho, check out these cool streamer things.

        • ART

          gorgeous! that looks super bridal to me and is pretty freaking fabulous. and i hear you on the “it’s so…you!” not-really-compliment thing. but if that’s “you” – that’s a very good thing.

        • Sarah E

          What Meg said is right. But if that dress isn’t bridal, I don’t know what is.

        • Amanda

          That is beautiful! To me streamers give it a greek goddess vibe,

  • light0a0candle

    I totally agree with the sentiment that you want to look like the best version of yourself, not necessarily a bride version. That’s totally how I feel and is one of the reasons I held out for a coloured dress instead of white. Also, this might be besides the point, but I had my first dress fitting the other day and the seamstress easily removed a bunch of little flower applique that were tacked onto the bodice. Super easy, like, she did it right there while I was wearing it to see if I liked it better without, and I did! SO, even if it fits perfectly maybe alterations are still something to be considered. They can make straps as well if you don’t love strapless. ;)

  • Rora

    Oh gosh, thank you for writing this. I’m mentally sitting on a few dresses, all beautiful, all slightly above my prescribed budget, but not unaffordable. I wonder how much I’ve been lying to myself when I say I don’t care so much about the dress, so long as it’s pretty. I worry that pretending I don’t care about the dress will lead to regret. I worry that my mother won’t love the dress I pick. I try to balance the image I have of myself with the image my friends and family have of me, and ask myself why I’m even asking this question.

    I’ll try to remind myself that this dress is not The Dress To End All Dresses and that the dress I pick will not crystalize anything about myself, my personality, or how I’m perceived by the people who love me.

  • Jacky Speck

    The “one perfect dress” thing just didn’t work for me because there were multiple dresses that I LOVED, and that made me feel like a fancier, dare I say more “bridal,” version of myself. In the end I was torn between two that were equally gorgeous, and ended up going with the one that fit our venue better.

    I will say that what I THOUGHT would look good on me was very different from what I actually bought. In fact, I got to try many of the “dream dresses” from my Pinterest boards and NONE of them looked good or felt right. I was dead set on “NOT STRAPLESS” for some reason, probably because I wanted to look trendy or something… But then every strapless dress I tried on looked AMAZING and all the ones with straps/sleeves were just kind of “blah.” No point in fighting it :)

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I was also dead set on strapless for no other reason than I was sick to death of seeing strapless dresses in wedding. But I came across one that looked nice etc so I went with it.

      • Meg Keene

        ME TOO. And then the dress was strapless. It was excused because it was also 50’s vintage, but. You deal with the options you’ve got.

      • ART

        I was dead set against it because the thought of a boned bodice in 90+ degree heat (a real possibility) made me woozy. But now I’m looking at strapless bustier thing to go under my non-strapless but weird-shaped-straps dress, which sort of defeats that whole thing…

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Strapless bustiers in 90+ degree heat are the devil. Also: mine was a tad too small and I didn’t realize it until I saw the photos where my breasts were practically spilling out…

          • ART

            Yeah, I’m really trying to find another way! I ordered 6 bras from Macy’s to try on with it so hopefully one will work with my dress straps.

    • Amanda

      Yep, I went in wanting a not strapless, a-line, simple gown. What did I come out with? A strapless, fit and flare-ish gown with beading under the bust and a decent train. Totally not what I thought, but what looked awesome on and made me feel bridal!

    • This definitely happened to me too. I was so obsessed with lacy v-necks/boatnecks. It took many attempts in trying on those styles for me to accept that it’s just NOT my look, whereas strapless worked a lot better than I was willing to accept.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Reading the comments, it occurs to me I’ve spent more time in the last few months looking for a new purse than I spent seriously looking for a wedding dress. Maybe I was/am equally obsessed with “perfect” for both, since I ultimately had my dress custom-made, but I’m sure my family would say I’m more obsessed with the purse.

    • Meg Keene

      WHY NOT? I mean, you can keep using that purse for forever. Go crazy. Make it awesome.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Purses, to me, are like calendar software – A good one is life-changing. When I got iCal for the first time, it lifted so many burdens not having to remember appointments or wait to get home to write them on a paper calendar. When I have the perfect purse, I’m never without sunglasses or lip gloss or a pen, and I can always find them. It’s wonderful.

        I basically only have one purse at a time, and I usually only replace them after several years. Lifestyle-wise, it’s totally like buying a car, just a smaller financial investment.

        • jashshea

          This made me want to hug my 7 year old bag. It fits everything, including an extra pair of shoes. I love it so much, but the lining is tearing away. Breaks my heart.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Is it a name brand or a store brand? You might be able to get an exact replacement on eBay. It seems like everything eventually winds up there. It’s really quite fascinating. Some handbags will be 80% off what you’d pay in a department store. Others are actually more (making them literal “investment pieces”).

            As a teenager, I carried knock-offs and didn’t even know it. They were the most expensive brands I encountered. Now I look through eBay and see the designer versions of those purses, but for knock-off prices. You might even be able to upgrade.

          • jashshea

            Kate Spade – my first “grown-up” bag after I paid off my student loans. I’ve carried it most days since 2007 and it still looks fabulous (on the outside).

            They still make similar shapes (Example:,en_US,pd.html?dwvar_PXRU4911_color=452&cgid=ks-handbags-shoulder-bags#start=33&cgid=ks-handbags-shoulder-bags)

            Ebay is a great idea!

          • Perhaps it could be repaired by a cobbler, someone who sews, or someone who knows how to work with leather or similar materials….?

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    A different perspective on the perfect wedding dress or a wedding dress that one loves: neither of those was my goal. My requirements for my wedding day attire were as follows: I wanted to like it, I wanted it to fit well and I wanted to feel like myself in it. That’s pretty much my requirement for anything in my wardrobe. My wedding dress was no different. I know myself pretty well, I know what looks good on me and I know what should be admired on someone else, no matter how much I might like it. But that worked for ME. Know thyself. If you know that your wedding dress is important to you, if you know that you want your dress to invoke certain feelings, embrace your truth and settle for nothing less. Don’t try to talk yourself into a dress that you don’t love when you want to love your dress. Don’t try to talk yourself into caring when you really don’t. Know thyself and live in your truth.

    • Absolutely!!!! Know who you are, what makes you happy, and do that! No need to explain or justify.

    • Meg Keene

      True story. I tried to convince myself I didn’t care, which lead to me switching dresses six weeks out. (Nothing like not knowing what you’re wearing to your wedding 8 weeks out from the date after a 18 month engagement.) Switching is the best choice I ever made though, for realz.

    • MC

      YES. My list was a lot like yours: I wanted it to feel like me, I wanted it to be comfortable, and I definitely wanted to be able to move around and dance in it. Writing that list down & verbalizing it to my mom & bridesmaids during the planning has really helped me dismiss all outside messages about what I “should” be wearing.

  • NB

    I would just like to give you a high-five for the bad-assery of saying: “Yep, this is how many dollars this is worth to me. Wanna play ball?” I suspect that under similar circumstances, I might have just wandered off and gotten sucked into a second-guessing-spiral-of-doom. I’m inspired by you!

    • I usually DREAD negotiating but realized I had nothing to lose. I was still pretty shocked that she went for it! I think it helped that I wasn’t head-over-heels about the dress so there was less at stake.

  • H

    OH my gosh APW, how are you always so timely? I’ve been agonizing over the dress I bought for the past week. When I saw it online last fall, I really liked it. It was around seventy bucks (I don’t even remember at this point), vintage, and pretty close to my size, so I bought it thinking I could totally make it work. When it came and I tried it on, I actually really loved it. Not crying at my reflection levels of love, but enough love to strike a few poses and internally go “Dayum”. And now, several months later, I’ve started scrutinizing the pictures and seeing all these things I never took issue with before. For the past two days I’ve been researching diy alterations and making myself feel bad in general about the dress I bought. Thank you so much Lauren for reminding us that “our dress” isn’t some elusive creature hiding in the wilds of a bridal store. It’s the dress we wind up getting married in. The act of selecting it makes it ours more than anything.
    Woohoo! Yay for stern reminders!

  • JSwen

    Sprinkled in unicorn dust! Yes!

  • Erin E

    Ha – can we ever win with the dress thing? I bought “the one”… the dress I LOVED. I spent an arm and a leg to buy it and it looked wonderful and I was happy about it. But, still… there was a “but, still”! I wondered afterwards if I really should have spent the money I did. If I wouldn’t have looked just as bride-like in my second-choice dress that was half the price, etc. I envy the people who make a decision and sail forth knowing it was the perfect one for them, but I think most people have some regrets/what ifs no matter what they chose. In dress shopping AND in life :)

  • macrain

    You know what else is a big pain in the arse? SHOES. Another one of those things you try to tell yourself you don’t care about, because for those of us wearing long dresses, they will scarcely even make an appearance.
    But dammit, I DO care about my shoes. And I need them to comfortable because I want to last in them. And I want to wear heals because I feel more confident in them.

    • Ann

      My first wedding attire decision was the shoes. I wanted purple, a tall, wide heel (I’m short, husband is tall, but wedding was outdoors), and comfy. I found them! Not so much purple as a dark grape with red undertones, but they were tall and comfy and lovely. And then the wedding color scheme became reddish purple. My MIL and I spent weeks hunting for yarn for a shawl she made that I wanted to match. A la cinderella, she carried around one shoe, and I the other, until we found the perfect color match.
      I am 100% for caring about the shoes, even though I am not a shoe person. My wedding shoes are now my go to heels–I’ve gotten tons of use out of them.

    • Aubry

      Ug, yes, shoes! I found a pair after sooooo much searching only to fail to order them soon enough (US po box problems) and then they were out of my size! Many more hours of searching and my friend sent me a link to a pair that I totally love! Not at all like I originally planned – I wanted purple retro-ish and these are stylized ivory lace – but I’m super excited to get them! I’ll report back if they are comfortable next week when they will probably arrive!
      In case you are curious

  • macaroni

    I decided on my dress over 11 months before our wedding. It hasn’t happened yet (October 4th!), but I know I made the right decision. It was my first shopping trip, and everyone kept asking “Are you SURE?” “Don’t you want to try on more dresses first?” and I just KNEW. Like you know a good melon. I mean, I knew after less than 3 months that I was going to marry my fiancé. Why not trust my intuition about a dress? That being said, very few people have seen pictures of it, because I don’t want their opinions to influence my feelings about it. I don’t want there to be any room for doubt. And because I went into dress shopping so damn nervous I made myself literally sick. Don’t want to be back there again.

  • BeeAssassin

    I can totally relate to “not wanting to look like a bride.” I’ve never thought much about my wedding day (other than, strangely, the stationery), and I’m not very girly. I approached it thinking, it’s my fiancee, family, and friends looking at me/having an emotional reaction to me (how often am I going to be looking in a full length mirror on my wedding day?), so I felt a little divorced from how I personally felt about the dress and analyzed how I looked from the perspective of, “Will this make people feel like they’re at a wedding?” and “Will this photograph well since that’s the way I’ll be looking at me in the dress?”

    I chose the dress in one day, and it came down to two: one of them was very “me” according to my mom – lightweight, sort of modern, beautiful in person; but it didn’t photograph great, not even in the catalog, and didn’t scream “bride”. The other was a DB dress that, in person wasn’t as great, definitely was not as much my style with the beads and lace and a slight train, but photographed wonderfully and said “bride” in a really nice, non-strapless-ballgown way. I went with the latter, and even cracked a joke at the store about the “added value” with that dress since it would likely elicit more emotion and better photographs.

    I did, however, go crazy with the reception dress two months later and bought something way less “bridal”. :)

  • EmilyRose

    I’m really glad this article ended with you keeping the dress! I’m in a similar situation, I bought my dress last November and the wedding isn’t till September so I keep second-guessing myself and wondering if it’s really The Dress. I can’t help but feel I could have found something more representative of my style – I thought I wanted something quite sleek and understated, whereas this dress is very frothy and ruffly and pretty-pretty, which I feel a bit nervous about (if it were a wedding blog, it would be of the Style Me Pretty variety, rather than the APW vibe I wanted to go for!)
    I’m going to stick with it because I think on the day, with my veil, flowers, hair done etc I will feel exactly like the bride I always wanted to be, but it’s so easy to doubt my decision especially when there are so many gorgeously chic dresses around. It is objectively a really pretty dress, and I look pretty fantastic in it, I think I only doubt it because I feel like I could have done better. I have to keep reminding myself that it is the dress I will be wearing to my wedding, and that’s all it needs to be special.

    Basically, thanks for this, I found it really helpful!

  • This is EXACTLY what happened to me. Like, Last week. My Maid of Honor and Mother were so aggravated with me. Its everything I didn’t want in a dress, but I went into it without any expectations. I went into the salon saying “Mud, dancing, Babies, hayride.” And they would put me in these HUGE ballgowns. After many frustrating shops later, I found this satin (yuck!) pure white (double yuck!) ‘ruched’ Dress (hate ruching!) but boy did it look good on me! And it didn’t have a train which was a total plus, and it was also in my price range. I ended up getting the dress lower then my budget, for $150. Everyone kept asking me, “its not the one, you don’t LOVE it” and my kept replying, “I don’t love it, I love my future husband. I’ll be wearing this dress for 6+ hours, and that’s it. I want to focus on the rest of my life, not put a mortgage on a piece of fabric. Long story short, Im very happy with my dress, its everything I didn’t want, and that makes it perfect for my imperfect wedding!

  • It is so hard to get out of that mindset that what you are buying for your day has to be what someone ELSE expects or needs some other approval. I chose a silk crepe light light silvery grey sweetheart maxi that im wearing as my wedding dress. I think ill be glad I went with what I actually want instead of what I’m expected to want! Great article!

  • EmilyRose

    Since my dress is quite “floofy” and I’m not sure I’m totally enamoured with it… I’m considering getting another, less fancy dress for the evening, has anyone else done this? I do want to look quite fancy for the ceremony but would love to be able to dance and eat at the reception, which my current dress prohibits. Will everyone think I’m shallow and frivolous for having two dresses? I sort of feel like, as it has a giant train I’ll have to have it all bustled for the evening anyway, so I may as well just change into a less restrictive dress… I’m just looking for some validation!

    • C_Gold

      My sister did this. She had a beautiful huge gown for the ceremony and the beginning of the reception, and then this amazing sparkly mini-dress to dance in the rest of the night. It was awesome. Do it.

      (Also, in college when I attended a friend’s wedding, me and my best friend each had one dress we wore to the ceremony and one for the reception. We weren’t in the wedding or anything. We just thought it would be fun, and each had two dresses we loved. More dresses=more awesomeness. So if we did that as guests, you could certainly do it as the bride!)

  • Rachel M

    I went wedding dress shopping for the first time with my mom and my bridesmaids. I wanted it to be everything like I had seen on “Say Yes to the Dress”… and it wasn’t. The “boutique” was small and warm. I was on my period and felt fat and ugly in everything (terrible start). I tried on a slew of dresses all of which were just kind of okay. I was between a few of my top “favorites” and tried on this ivory full – large lace – gown. My mom fell in love. Tears and all. She came over and eyed me up and told me that it was perfect. I bought that dress and plan to wear it in 8 days for my wedding and I really am not that fond of it at all…