Classic APW: My Wedding Dress

When we were pondering talking about the idea of “Change of Plans” this week and how changing plans is somehow the very core of wedding planning (both its hell and its unexpected joy), I decided that I had to revisit my wedding dress search. For the handful of you who were around reading back when I was getting married, this is a three-years-later reflection on a story you know. But for the rest of you, I hope this encourages you through whatever your particular wedding trial is. And I do mean trial.

For me, finding a wedding dress was fraught right from the start. The wedding dress search somehow boiled down every single aspect of the wedding industry that I disliked into one compact package. Plus, I’ve had a very defined personal style since I was three, (when I flat-out refused to wear anything that wasn’t a skirt out of the house. My poor feminist mother thought she’d failed, but she’d really just gotten a very tiny, very femme feminist). Add to the fact that, I shit you not, when I got my first piggy bank at five, I told my mom I did not want to save for college, I wanted to save for my wedding dress (again, cut to distressed feminist mother). So I cared about the wedding dress, from the get-go. Plus I hated every single modern wedding dress trend. And I really hate the feeling of being ripped off.

For those of you who didn’t see it, just the other week, NPR’s Planet Money team came out with a investigative research video (a must watch, there) that proves without a shadow of a doubt what I suspected with every fiber of my being during wedding dress shopping: the whole thing is a shake down. It’s not that I wasn’t ready to spend good money on a wedding dress (Hello! I’d saved a little yellow piggy bank full of quarters! This is not a joke!) it’s that I wasn’t willing to pay more than twice what a dress was worth, just because it was white and poofy.

And then, everything that could go wrong started to go wrong. A short sum up of things I never shared at the time: I found a short vintage-style dress that I loved (that, funny enough, was basically a slightly less cool copy of the actual vintage dress I would get married in) at a shopping trip with our best man’s wife. I was all set! Then a month later, said wife left said best man, in step one of what would prove to be the world’s most painful divorce. I couldn’t think of the wedding dress without bursting into tears. This seemed like a bad sign. I had another dress shopping trip with amazing Kate (now APW editor) and a brand new close friend… who a few months before the wedding announced her new boyfriend didn’t like us, so she was out of our lives. Amazing. It started to feel like my wedding dress search was cursed. In retrospect, perhaps the universe was delaying me, so I could learn something useful (which is a damn life lesson, if you ask me, and one I always find particularly unpleasant no matter how many times it happens).

Let’s do a quick review of my wedding dress shopping:

Wedding Dress Shopping Round One:

Most of the dresses I saw looked like they were designed by a four-year-old girl. The little tiny designer clearly kept stamping her foot and saying “More ruffles! Longer train! Add some bows! Poofy-er! And I want a BIG tiara!”

And then they sent in a 13-year-old girl to bedazzle the dresses (and the veils, and the shoes).

The Dress Horrors, Highway Robbery Edition:

So I stopped by a wedding dress salon on my lunch break the other day, just to see if they had anything that fit the bill. You know: not strapless, not sparkly, not poofy. Since I’m not four, or going to prom, you’d think I’d be in luck. But nooo, of course not.

While I was in the store, I also saw the lovely new layered Vera Wang Dress that the bridal world has been buzzing about. And I can tell you, it’s really pretty, and clearly well crafted. The one problem is, it weighs about fifteen pounds, and it can stand up on its own. How on earth are you going to have fun and dance at your wedding reception while you are dragging around fifteen pounds of dress?

Oh, right. And it’s $11,000. Which is a good price. For a car.

Wedding Dress Shopping: The Generic Edition

So, I finally swallowed my pride, along with some past bad experiences, and waltzed in the door to a big box wedding store. I’m a bride trying to keep on a budget, after all, so pride is overrated. I was expecting everything in the store to be a sparkling, princess, A-line poof—and I was wrong. There were pretty things.

I put on the dress, and I can absolutely tell you, it was a nice dress. Full stop. There was not a thing in the world wrong with it. I looked lovely in it, the lace was nice, I looked like a bride.

And yet, somehow, it left me with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I looked like A BRIDE, i.e., a dress-up doll of a bride. I looked like a bride, but I didn’t feel a thing like myself. My inner-sass, I’m afraid, was completely muffled.

So here is the crux of the issue. I don’t believe in wedding perfection. I don’t think that you need to have some life changing transcendental “oh mommy” moment when you put on a dress. I have a great life, thanks, I don’t need to find my moment of zen in a wedding dress store. But I do think that we each deserve to feel fabulous on our wedding day, and on my wedding day I would like to feel fully, absolutely, and radically like myself. And I’d rather wear an amazing cocktail dress than a beautiful wedding dress that doesn’t feel a thing like me.

And then the economy fell apart. I was at an investment bank, so I was watching the Dow plummet 700 points a day while people around me were laid-off (and I was our sole breadwinner). I panicked. And in that ugly moment of panic, I hit a small ray of hope and decided to ask my sister to make my wedding dress. I said:

On Economic Uncertainty, Fear, and Changing

And for starters, I’m going to start asking for more help. So I talked to my sister, and we decided that we’re going to attempt a wedding dress together, with her in charge of the technical aspects and me in charge of the endless pleating. If nothing else, we won’t be bored over Christmas. And that’s a start. And we’re going to figure out the rest, somehow.

And at the very least, at the end, we’ll finally be married. Dealing with economic turmoil, like dealing with everything else, is so much better when there are two of you.

And then, finally we were three months out from the wedding. I had a dress that my sister made me, but something was wrong with it and I couldn’t figure out what (we call this willful blindness, kids). I was sending out increasingly frantic emails/ messages in a bottle to my friends that, “I have no idea what I am going to wear to the wedding! And no matter how laid-back other indie brides are, or how screwed up other people’s planning is, EVERYONE knows what they are going to wear to their wedding.” (I would later find out I was wrong, by the way. Maddie, for example, didn’t get her wedding dress until two weeks before the wedding, after she was informed that her BCBG dress showed her belly button clear as day.) But I was full-out, absolutely and completely panicked. And then in a flurry of tears and tulle, I made this decision:

My Wedding Dress: The Final Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

And my dress makes me feel like pure sass.

And the funny thing is? My wedding dress turned out to be one of the best things about the whole wedding. I mean, people gasped when I walked out (unexpected!). And I flipped it over my head to party. It was the dress I had imagined on day one of wedding planning, and it was perfect. When I think of my wedding day, the dress is the one object that sums the whole complex emotional roller-coaster of magic up.

That dress was the unexpected magic of learning to accept what the world has in store for you, instead of trying to gently cram your controlling ideas of what you’ve decided is obviously right, down the jaws of the world. That wedding dress was a life lesson. And a damn cute one.

And also, if you feel in your bones that the wedding industry is ripping you off, and everything about it feels wrong? Listen to yourself. And whatever disaster of wedding (or life) planning you’re currently having? Allow yourself to consider, if only for a second, the fact that this very disaster might be a tiny miracle in waiting.

Photo: Me on my wedding day, by One Love Photo

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  • mimi

    Your dress was absolutely gorgeous! Sometimes the universe just knows best and makes us crazy with the waiting…

    Also, according to my mom, 3-year-old me picked out all my own outfits and had to change any time I got a spot of anything on me, so I think we’re style sisters. I’m pre-engaged now, but definitely keeping this in mind for my dress shopping (and for whatever other wedding trials I may have).

    • meg

      Oh, I’ve NEVER cared about spots, but I have always cared about pretty clothes. (I wore pants under my dresses on cold days).

      • I wore a dress every day of kindergarten. I went off them for a while but i am firmly back in dress territory. No regrets, ladies, and NO SHAME.

      • I wore a dress every day in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, etc. I was a huge fan of leggings on the cold days. And, I was a miniature gymnast who liked to practice on the bars at recess. In case you haven’t made the connection: dress + upside down on bars = lots of panties on the playground. I wouldn’t budge on my dress-wearing habits, even when the teacher brought it up at parent-teacher conferences. :) “But mommy! My panties are pretty!”

  • Marisa-Andrea

    It’s funny how life works out because obviously I didn’t know the whole story behind your wedding dress search but when I saw your pictures, I thought you looked absolutely gorgeous AND absolutely Meg.

  • If there’s one thing I could do over, it would be my dress. I ordered it from Anthropologie in the mail and it didn’t fit very well. There was no time to get another one. Ah well. There’s aways our hypothetical vow renewal/citizenship party.

  • Celeste

    I may not have gone through as many dresses, but this rings so true to my experience as well! I thought it would be easy to find a dress, found a magnificent dress I couldn’t afford, found some acceptable alternatives at big box stores, and then had a replica of my “magnificent dress” made on Etsy. Which, 8 weeks and $800 later turned out to be a frightful meringue and left me scrambling 6 weeks before the wedding. Dolly Couture saved my life!

  • Katie

    I know this post was written just for me. :)

    I’m getting married next Friday, and last Wednesday the artist I hired to make my wedding ring called to say “your ring just came back from the casting company and it is not right, I’m sorry”. So I had a fifteen minuted freak-out, got on etsy and ordered a vintage ring from 1942. It arrived last Friday. It fit, and it fit perfectly with my Grandmother’s engagement ring (now my engagement ring). Sometimes the universe knows you should have something different than you planned, and the universe makes it happen.

  • Leanne

    I have total dress regret after not going with my gut and what I felt comfortble in, but rather caving to pressure to get something bride-ier. It makes me a little sad to see my pics of an eh dress, and then I feel stupid for caring about it either way. Still wishing for a do over!

    • Ake

      Aw, Leanne, I’m sorry.
      I think it’s something about how we feel the dress EXPRESSES us, but it doesn’t. You express you and I bet you do that in a million awesome ways every day – that’s your do over!
      Still, I’m sorry. :(

  • It is a beautiful dress! I’m glad you were able to find the perfect dress that was apparently just waiting for you to pick it up from the store.

    i’ll share a bit of my wedding dress story. Since I wasn’t interested in a white dress, I thought I would have an easier time buying a dress without paying extra just because it would be bridal, and I could do without the angst. I was wrong. Being overweight and on a budget was the hardest part… at the end I was perfectly willing to buy any dress that would fit and not make me look like I was twice my age, no matter the price. I had two secondhand sundresses that didn’t make me feel beautiful, but they fit and were dresses. I was set out to make do with them.

    At the end I bought my dress the day before flying out to my wedding. I walked past a store on my way home from an errand and I saw one of the full figured mannequins wearing a beautiful blue dress with a pleated skirt. I went into the store, tried it on, twirled in the minuscule dressing booth, liked what I saw and paid for it. It was love at first sight.

    Next month I’ll be wearing it again for a gala event, and couldn’t be happier :D

    • I love the idea of being able to wear your wedding dress again. I’m still a bit sad (ok, very) about my lovely wedding dress sitting on top of my mum’s wardrobe at home.

    • I also think it is wonderful you can wear yours again. It sounds like it turned out fabulously… :)

  • Kaitlin

    I remember reading your wedding dress saga just after I got engaged and thinking “Whoa. That’s a lot of dress drama.” And then…. I ended up buying three different dresses myself. I knew I wanted a short dress, so most traditional shops were out (but I did look at a couple, along with some bridesmaids dresses). First I bought a JCrew bridesmaids dress in white for $10 from a thrift store on a whim thinking “maybe…” Then I changed my mind and had one made for me for a couple hundred but, while it was a fine dress, it just didn’t make me feel pretty. So, I’m not even joking here, TWO WEEKS before the wedding, I stumbled upon the perfect champaign colored vintage dress on Etsy that looked like it would fit. It arrived a week before the wedding and I had to go to two tailors to get the hips altered because the first one screwed up. I picked it up the DAY BEFORE the wedding. Talk about cutting it close. I guess that’s what I get for being smug in the beginning!

    • meg

      To be fair, I only bought one dress, and 10 yards of fabric. I wasn’t a serial dress buyer, it was just HARD.

      • Kaitlin

        Oh, I didn’t mean to imply you bought several dresses. I did, but the three of them still ended up being under $500, so the penny pinching side of me didn’t care. But yeah, it ended up being a lot harder than I imagined it being at the start. But I’m glad I allowed myself to have my own “saga” (in part, I think, because I had read yours) and change my mind and be a little obsessive even though I wanted to be that totally laid-back indie bride. The dress I ended up with was absolutely perfect for me. I felt beautiful and sassy and stylish and unique. The two that came before wouldn’t have been right.

  • Granola

    Reading APW totally helped me get through dress angst. After trying on 40 of them, I just bought a sample dress that looked fine (how I felt at the time), fit like a glove, and was on sale. My mom, sister, and best friend said that it looked great, so I decided to trust them. But I was still so upset that I hadn’t had The Moment – mad at myself. So I decided “well, if I really hate it, I can always sell it on eBay” and I felt better. Fast forward several months after it’s been fitted and I’ve had some time to chill out, and oh how I love it. It’s beautiful and sexy and I look and feel great in it.

    I don’t think that’s a reaction I could have had at the beginning, it’s one that I only could develop into. And I’m so glad I just let it go and trust in my friends and family – I really think it was that realization that it would turn out OK that let it develop. So thank you Meg for busting the stereotype of “I have to sob with joy when I try on my dress,” because that it a painful one that’s really hard to let go of.

  • Maggie P.

    Thanks for this. This week’s topic is just what I need. I’m currently facing a maybe-life-disaster/maybe-good-but-difficult-thing, and typical me, I feel like I just need to make up my mind RIGHT NOW. But, maybe its best to just let the universe work its magic. Brides generally end up clothed on their wedding day and life generally ends up working itself out.

    • MDBethann

      Not to be glib, but if the bride ends up not being clothed for the wedding, it would certainly make for a memorable ceremony and reception ;-)

  • Oh Meg, your dress is absolutely breath-taking. I’m still working my way through the archives, and I think I’ve hit June of 2009, so I had NO idea making your dress didn’t work out.

    Oh, just so beautiful. I could gush about this for hours.

    Thank you for sharing :)

  • My wedding dress was hands down the most beautiful thing I’ve ever worn, especially compared to all the questionable dresses I tried on before it. But it was by no means perfect… when I say “not perfect” I mean the folds on the front, which we had asked to be fixed four or five times months before the wedding never really got fixed. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the folds didn’t happen to look quite so nipple-like…oh yes. That’s what every girl wants to accessorize her wedding dress. Perky nipples.

    I chose a mixture of ignoring this, crossing my arms a bit and finding it quite hilarious. And thank goodness it doesn’t show up in the pictures and I’m hoping that no one actually noticed. Even if they did – well ok I really hope they didn’t!

    I guess my point is that just because something’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s wrong – a lot of it is how you approach it, wedding dresses included.

    • meg

      My dress had tons of weird folds that couldn’t be fixed all across my front (vintage, last minute). I still think it was PERFECT.

  • PA

    I got what sounded like a very weird piece of advice before I went dress shopping: “Pick a dress that fits the story of your relationship.” It’s not that it’s a bizarre concept, I just had no idea how to execute it. How do you turn a relationship story into tulle?

    After two days of being stuffed and squeezed and prodded and laced into satin-y, bead-y, tulle-y, princess-y, sweaty, and HEAVY gowns… I finally said to my mother, “It’s just..all of these dresses feel like they go with a different wedding than the one I want.” When I admitted THAT, I found my dress the next day.

    In retrospect, I realized that the advice had been perfectly correct (it was from a book by the Say Yes to the Dress man, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised). The core of our relationship is sweet, calm, and comfortable – much like simple lace-covered sheath I’ll be wearing.* Not at all like the gowns the saleswomen were trying to sell me. At best, they wanted me to look like a pretty princess – which is nice and all, but that’s not who I am.

    So, cheers for getting the dress YOU wanted!

    * I … think. Lots of stories in here about changing dresses close to the wedding! But I really like the one I have!

    • My dresses I loved were like yours – they relate to my relationship with my now husband. Simple, understated and yet a little decadent. We have a very fun relationship, but its also nothing fancy, We just arent fancy people.
      I almost chose the most simple dress I tried on, because it was comfortable, simple and supportive… But there was something not quite right with it. Fell in love with a more decorative dress, but it wasn’t “me”…
      Found a dress that was right in the middle – not too fancy, a bit of decoration…

  • I think having read your dress saga helped me when it came time to pick my own dress. I kept saying, “I just don’t feel like myself – I feel like I’m playing dress-up” – until the one I tried on that felt right. I’m so glad I had that “filter.”

    Also, the dresses I thought I liked ended up looking terrible on my body, and the strapless style I thought I disliked looked the best. Surprises!

    • MDBethann

      I felt that way too. I was really set on having a straight dress with a slightly A-line skirt, preferably made of lace. I tried a bunch of them on and they just didn’t feel right or look right. I too ended up with a strapless gown (ballgown, but not too pouffy) which I didn’t think I’d like, but I LOVE my dress and I hate taking it off each time I try it on. I can’t wait to wear it in 3 weeks!

    • Yes, that filter concept helped me too. My process had come down to two dresses: a beautiful dress from a bridal boutique and another that I found on a whim stop at a thrift store (the same day). The boutique one was what I had been imagining and the thrift store one was not what I had envisioned. But….the thrift store one felt like “me” from the moment I put it on. It fit perfectly, and I am petite, so this was weird. But it seemed made for me. We bought it on the spot. Then the next day, we went back to the boutique to re-try the other dress, just to compare. My fiancé was the one that pointed out the difference in the two. In the boutique one, the first thing you noticed was the dress. With the other one, it was more…me (in a wedding dress). So that confirmed it. (Plus my fiancé thought I looked much more attractive in the thrift store dress anyways.) And 2.5-ish years later, I am still happy with choosing the one I felt the most “me” in. :) Plus, I felt very relaxed in it and had no stress about “what if I spill something on it” or whatever. It was very freeing!

      • Susie

        “I am still happy with choosing the one I felt the most “me” in” – that sums up my dress shopping experience entirely. The big white pouffy ones were gorgeous but like Melissa says I felt like I was playing dress-up. The simple non-bridal one hit it perfectly. I looked like myself but on a good day. :o)

        • I am glad you found one that felt like you! I ended up feeling like me in a pretty traditional (sorta poofy) dress with no details/lace/sparkles. (Whereas I had envisioned more A-line vintage lace dress with maybe some sparkles/details.) Oh well…I loved it! :)

          And I will add this for anyone still trying to figure out the dress search and looking for something they feel “comfortable” in, or the most themselves in: any dress/outfit (nontraditional, sassy, very formal, ballgown, a pantsuit….whatever) might be what works for you. A friend of mine chose a very fancy, couture-y, beautiful dress. And yet, when I saw the wedding photos, I was stunned by how *comfortable* she was in it. She just looked like HERSELF in her (beautiful) dress and not like she was playing dress up (or like the dress was wearing her). I was actually surprised that she was so completely herself in her fancy dress. So that is possible too, for those who might discover that they feel the most comfortable in the more elaborate/fancy/traditional/whatever dresses. :)

  • Andrea

    I had pictured months of searching at unique dress shops and thrift stores with my friends. Planned my first shopping trip–a traditional bridal dress salon with my mom, sister and future MIL (for them, I said, of course I wouldn’t find anything I like there)…bought the SECOND DRESS I tried on.

    I gotta tell ya, APW certaintly gave me the right attitude to be able to accept that this was my dress shopping experience, and trust my instinct that this was the right dress for me. I adore the dress, and I know that day was a special memory for all of us.

    • meg

      We booked the second venue we looked at, so I feel you.

    • Diane

      Hahaha, I SO know what you mean. We wound up booking the first venue that we looked at, but I had to satisfy my own OCD tendencies by making appointments to look at five other places. On the upside, it was a different but fun way to get to know a new city. I also had plans of a leisurely dress shopping process involving at least one or two trips with my matron if honor and at least one with my mom and future mother-in-law. And then I found a dress that I loved the second time I walked into a bridal store, it was on sale that day due to a trunk sale (so I got to meet the designer too which wound up being very cool), and it was like the prettier version of what I’d tried to imagine. I guess it’s the opposite of Meg’s story (dress purchased 15 months before the wedding) but sort of proves the same point.

      • Maria-Andrea

        I bought the second dress I tried on too!!!

  • DNA

    I love this story and your reflections on it, especially since it includes the awesome Caitlin Kenney from Planet Money. During my dress search, I often felt this too:

    “And yet, somehow, it left me with a empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I looked like A BRIDE, i.e., a dress up doll of a bride. I looked like a bride, but I didn’t feel a thing like myself. My inner sass, I’m afraid, was completely muffled.”

    I just didn’t really feel like myself in a traditional Chinese qipao or the Western white ballgown so I went with a red party dress, and I’m pretty happy about it.

    Hurray for finding ways to be true to oneself while also letting go of preconceived notions of How Things Ought To Be. And I kinda want to try wearing my wedding dress while riding a bike (with a helmet of course!).

  • I loved my dress from the moment I put it on. It was the last dress I tried on & my Mom picked it out, go figure. It was simple & lovely. But I started to doubt my decision when my dress alteration lady asked if I was getting married on the beach, based on the simplicity of the dress. NO, I was getting married in a formal church followed by a ballroom reception. It was the first comment of many similar to follow. I loved the dress so much & I couldn’t buy another one but I wondered if I made the right decision. & I did- the dress was perfect for me & for our wedding. Don’t listen when the wedding industry insists your wedding gown must match your wedding venue!!!

  • Beth C

    Of course you would put a APW Classic about dresses just when I am starting to fret about my own indecisiveness about wedding dresses. Perfect timing Meg.

    The question I am asking myself is, can one wedding dress shop alone? I shop alone quite a bit and the whole bring a group to watch you try on dresses thing seems odd to me. My mom and bridesmaids live across the country but my mom came with me for an initial shop at Easter just for the experience. I’m not sure if I want to take a friend or friends because no one seems to be able to keep their opinions to themselves … thoughts on going dress shopping by myself?

    • One More Sara

      on the trip that i picked (and purchased) my dress, i had my mom, my sister and a friend from college. i, too, am usually a solo shopper and i think i would have been much more efficient by myself. there was also a little bit of Mama Drama when i was actually committing to the dress (which obviously would have been absent had i been alone). listen to your gut!!!! if you are normally a better shopper by yourself, you’ll probably do better shopping for your wedding dress alone too. good luck!!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Of course you can go alone. Just be aware of the expectations. Remember that family and friends can be victims of the WIC as surely as brides can. They may be expecting the fairy-tale “oh mommy” moment, which can’t happen if Mommy’s not there. They may be hurt if you “refuse to give that to them.”

    • meg

      Oh, of course. Also that spares you some of the personal drama I went through… finding a dress, but have the experience totally colored by who I was with. I bought my dress in a fit of grumpy rage, one day after work at a vintage store with David there. NOT a lovely experience, but who cares?

    • Brittany

      I found my dress by myself. I had a random day off of school (gas leak=free day!), and I was wandering around at 9 am, when I thought, “You know what I bet no one does? Shop at the J Crew boutique for wedding dresses on a weekday morning.”. So, I went in as soon as it opened, tried on five or six dresses with the sales women gushing over me (being, literally, the only non-employee on the bridal floor) and loved one of them. I thought there was no way this could be my dress. After all, you’re supposed to buy a dress surrounded by ladies, and wouldn’t everyone be so disappointed (my ladies, I mean). Which, of course is when the sales lady informs me that J Crew is running a 20% off everything, ever sale. My thrifty senses started tingling, but I still wasn’t sold. Then the women who was helping me casually mentioned to her manager that I was a teacher, and the manager told me they would give me the 15% teacher discount on top of that. So, knowing I loved this dress, and knowing how I hate missing out on a deal, I bought it by myself. It took me awhile to get the courage to tell anyone. And even after I did, my mother and sister really still wanted to go to shopping with me, so we did. It actually made me glad I bought my dress by myself, without all sorts of outside pressures from family and the two friends who came. I felt more like a toy that was being dressed up than like I was actually shopping. So, shopping by myself turned out to be great for me.

    • Haley Y

      I’m the same way – I love shopping by myself, not so much with other people. I was living hundreds of miles from my mom, sister, friends, etc. when I was engaged, so I went dress shopping by myself. Apart from getting less attention from the salespeople (maybe they thought I wasn’t serious?), I had zero problems! I know my style better than anyone else, and I still think I made the right decision (now 2.5 years after my wedding). I did send progress emails to my mom, sister, and grandma, so they wouldn’t feel left out (salespeople were more okay with me taking pictures for this reason), but I think they would have been fine even if I didn’t. Good luck!

    • Daynya

      I am all for solo dress shopping. The first 2 times, I went alone. No one could go with me, and I wanted to start the process. Then I went with 2 friends. They were super helpful, but it was such an exhausting day, having to explain ‘No, I don’t want ruffles. No, I don’t want sequins. No!’. Finally, I went alone again. The first dress I tried on was amazing. It was not exactly what I envisioned for myself. I wanted a dress that fit my personality, and our relationship, and our wedding (tiny ceremony, immediate family only, in a local park). This dress was not my style, and was pretty pricey, but I felt like a magical princess in it. So I sent a picture of it to about 5 friends, and they all freaked out, and said THAT’S the one!! So I took a deep breath, and bought it. Now, I still feel weird spending more than I wanted, and being more dressy than I anticipated, but I look forward to feeling so pretty. Anyway, my whole point is, even if you shop better alone – like me – you can always share the photos with people before pulling the trigger!

  • Flamingo

    The part of your story that grabbed me was “new close friend… she was out of our lives. Amazing.” Usually I would’ve just glanced over that, but I’m going through something similar right now where a friend is pulling away, and it hurts a lot. There’s something about losing friends when you’re an adult and know how hard good friends are to come by that makes it that much more difficult.

    And I love that picture of you and your husband dancing. It screams out joy!

    • meg

      Hands down, one of the most painful parts of wedding planning, right there. She opted out of coming to our wedding over a lunch, which is how we learned she didn’t want to be friends anymore. OUCH.

  • I always love reading about your dress story. :)

    I sort of fell into my dress. It’s completely not what I expected I would wear, but it quite literally fell into my lap. I’m still wrapping my head around it a little bit. It almost feels too easy.

  • Class of 1980

    “Plus I hated every single modern wedding dress trend.”

    THIS. I don’t hate everything, but I think designers are missing the boat in general. Would like to see more softness, interesting details, and more individuality.

    And some color mixed in wouldn’t hurt.

  • Thank you for this line:

    “That dress was the unexpected magic of learning to accept what the world has in store for you, instead of trying to gently cram your controlling ideas of what you’ve decided is obviously right, down the jaws of the world.”

    That’s such a profound and important idea. How great that the lesson came to you through such an amazing dress.

  • I bought the third dress I put on. I couldn’t stop looking at myself in the mirror. I felt like a bride. It’s funny, though, because I got what I thought I didn’t want: a long, white satin gown with a cathedral train, for my informal, hipster-ish wedding. I thought, ya know, it works. It’s simple enough, poufy enough, with gorgeous embellishment, and I cannot wait for the day to come where I get to wear it.

  • Laura

    Yes, yes and yes.

    I felt horrible in all those traditional bridal dresses. I felt like ME was hidden under all that fabric (admittedly gorgeous fabric, but…).

    And then I found a gorgeous dress from the 1950’s, and every time I put it on I can’t stop smiling. Because it’s me. And? AND?? $300 bucks. Yesss.

    Of course, I did have to remind myself, “It’s ok to wear a strapless dress.” Because I’ve always had a hang-up on “I WILL NOT WEAR A STRAPLESS DRESS TO MY WEDDING.” But this strapless dress looks hot on me, so who cares? Get over it, myself! ;)

  • Kara

    Wedding dress shopping brought out all the body issues that I spent most of the last 20 years putting behind me (I’m now 34)–too tall, too big, too many curves. Not to mention that I’m just too frugal. In the end, I bought something found through kismet that I more or less liked and worked with an angel of a seamstress to make something that fit me and made me feel like the beautiful woman that my fiance (now husband of 15 days!!!!!) saw me as.

  • I still thank my lucky stars for the sisterhood of the traveling dress. My dress wasn’t 100% perfect — turns out I’m just as tall as Sarah and a little bit wider, so the dress was an eensy bit short. But it only shows in a few pictures, and no one noticed. And the way the dress made me feel? *awesome*

    I am not sure I could have done the dress shopping thing. I have some body issues, and I hate going clothes shopping. Having this dress, and the connection to Sarah, simplified my life and really made my wedding better in a substantial (to me) way.

  • Ashley

    I’m in this process now and could only wish to find such a great deal on a unique vintage dress but I’m less hopeful as a plus size bride to find it. But I’m still going to look.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • meg

      I don’t want to give people unrealistic ideas, here. I’m a perfect vintage size: small rib cage, big bust, so I fit into vintage dresses without alteration. That is UNUSUAL, to say the least. It’s less about my size and more about my proportions, so yes. It’s not always a realistic option, but worth a try.

    • Kara

      Ashely – DON’T give up. Just be patient and gave yourself some grace/space in it. I’m 5’9″ and almost 200 and I actually found some dresses with a vintagy flair that more less fit, though that were actually vintage (just second hand). None looked right on me (I’m really broad/broad shouldered), but there are dresses out there.

  • Oh, this brings back so many memories. I saw all my friends get married in what seemed like the exact same strapless dress. I wanted something old-fashioned and maybe Victorian-looking and unique and… the thing was, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. But I knew what I didn’t want, and I knew I would know what I wanted when I saw it.

    And then at work one morning, I was on Etsy and I found it. $350 secondhand. I just went, “THAT. THAT’S IT.” It had been custom made for another bride. But it was teeny… I whipped out my measuring tape and realized I matched the measurements. But it wasn’t returnable and had a couple stains I didn’t know if I could remove (I did– we replaced the lining). I debated really hard about it, but I knew I couldn’t debate long or it would be gone.

    I bought it that day and I think I held my breath all week… It arrived in the mail and fit perfectly. I never walked into a bridal store. It was the only dress I ever tried on.

    It still makes me happy thinking about it. This is it, here:

  • heather


    Where did you get married? I’m stuck at work trying to figure this out and I can’t seem to find any reference to it.



  • Thanks for including the link to the Planet Money piece. I love their segments and this was no exception…especially now that I’m slowly starting a dress search :)

  • Not Sarah

    I think we were pretty much opposite kids – I decided I hated wearing dresses pretty young and never wanted to have a wedding, saving my money for college. I have no idea how feminist my mom is, but I certainly never noticed gender differences until I was in college, which is pretty freaking strange.

  • My wedding outfit (I didn’t have a dress) was quite the story as well. I didn’t want a white dress, or anything traditional and definitely not something overpriced. I was living in Africa at the moment and had 10 days for shopping in Italy prior to the wedding (we got married in Florence). I had NO IDEA what I wanted to wear, but I knew it was something I wanted to be able to wear again. Since we were having a civil wedding with only 5 attendees, it should be easy, I thought. I was wrong, it wasn’t. I ended up buying my outfit 36 hs before the wedding in a “Pretty woman when Julia Roberts finds the nice saleswoman” kind of situation. This ADORABLE lady from the Max Mara shop (which was on sale!) saw me browsing the racks, asked if I needed help and, when she heard I was getting married and had no idea what to wear, asked if she could make a few suggestions. Next thing I knew, she started bringing hangers and hangers of clothes (all within my price range), together with sample shoes and bijou for me to “get the feeling”. It was magical. I left the store past the closing time (it was night outside), completely happy, with a black suit I have worn to cocktails since then, and a hat for my daughter to play with one day.

  • Tara

    I found a dress randomly at a thrift shop shortly before getting engaged. It’s a white vintage cocktail dress that I bought just to wear for parties and things like that. When my fiancee proposed soon after, I thought it’d be great wedding dress, too. The only trouble I’ve had has been looking for a slip. I wanted to try things on with the dress rather than buying 10 options online and returning the 9 that didn’t work. I tried the department stores near me, but they don’t carry a big selection and I didn’t find anything that worked with the dress, so my sister suggested I try looking at bridal shops since they carry lots of dresses and accessories. I got flak from employees at both stores I went to – they said things like “Well, you can try these on, but they may not work out. We only carry slips for real wedding dresses.” Ouch. Luckily, one of them had the perfect thing, so at least it worked out in the end.

    • I can’t believe they said that! (And a real wedding dress is a dress worn to get married in.) Have fun in your white vintage cocktail dress; it sounds great!

      • Tara

        Thanks so much! I was super surprised by the comments, too. I’m trying to chalk them up to the sales people just not thinking before they spoke.

  • Your dress saga is what first brought me to this site. I believe I searched for “vintage” and “tea length” – and here we are. Yay dress saga!!

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