Madeline: What about the Dress?

What about the dress? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that I didn’t spend weeks scouring the internet for inspiration. Or hours wondering what the appropriate hemline was for a dress code we were pitching somewhere along the “casual—awesome” continuum. Or vital minutes on the day of our dinner celebration snapping pictures of my butt in different light, to make sure my panties didn’t show through. (Yes, at least one butt close-up made it into the photomontage that my mother shared with family and friends. Thanks Mum.)

I thought and I thought and I thought about it. But I didn’t really want to talk about it. Because really, what is there to say? “What about the dress?” was a question put to me at roughly five-minute intervals throughout the wedding preparation. “It’s, uh, short? Pink?” OMG, pink? “Well no, not pink. Peach? Sort of…translucent?” OMG, it’s see-through? “Well no, not see-through. Just, sort of papery. But with sequins.” For a long time, a number of people believed I would be wearing some sort of ice-dancing costume to my reception.

I almost envied women who’d taken the more traditional route and kept the dress hush-hush before rocking up at the door of the Church, to widespread gasps of amazement and admiration. Sure, as Meg points out in her book, they can’t pee alone. But then, I was wearing double Spanx. Peeing was no picnic for me either. And at least they could deflect questions beforehand on grounds that their particular version of the usual white dress would be a huge surprise.

I actually wanted to avoid surprises, and certainly to keep the moments when I was the center of attention to a minimum. No aisle strutting and no first dance for me, thank you! I just didn’t have the patience, or the vocabulary, to give people adequate dress detail in advance. I also felt embarrassed. I suppose I wanted to come off a little nonchalant about the whole affair. It felt important to look fabulous, but effortlessly so, ideally without ever having to learn about a substance like tulle.

In this, I was successful, since I still don’t know what the hell “tulle” actually is. And I felt stylish enough to justify the scrap of veil in my hairpiece that identified me as a bride. My modesty was preserved. My upper arms were covered. Plus, I don’t normally wear sequins. It was a special occasion win.

I bought it on my own, online, in a sale that allowed no returns. I didn’t get the “Oh, Mommy” moment bridal stores aim for in front of the dressing room mirror, according to Rebecca Mead’s riveting One Perfect Day. It was not a classic, easy to explain, or even advisable way of shopping for a wedding garment. But it worked for me.

Dress credit: Elizabeth Charles

Photo credit: Joe Lingeman

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  • I love this. Thank you for sharing your story and doing what was best for you, not what the WIC tells you to do. Last year I was the maid of honor in my best friend from high school’s wedding and The Dress shopping was such an ordeal. We went to this small boutique and there was a chalkboard outside with her name on it. After trying on 1500 dresses she picked a $2000 Maggie Sottero monolith that required all 7 of her bridesmaids to carry the train so it “won’t get dirty before I walk down the aisle”. The purchase was celebrated with champagne and crepes (in my head all I could think was “It’s a stupid dress. Really? We’re toasting a dress.”) and the same kind of celebrating ensued when we went back for a fitting, and then again when she picked up the final product.

    For me, at first I wanted to wear my grandmother’s dress. Then I realized how big and restricting it was and I wanted to be free. I thought about wearing the calf length ivory dress I wore to my high school graduation, but then thought it would be nice and fun to have a new dress. After browsing David’s Bridal online I found the perfect, tea length, fun, flirty little dress with the dreaded words “This item is available in stores only.” So I’ll have to face the stupid WIC beast. I’ve enlisted one of my best friends who wants to roll in wearing sunglasses and motorcycle jackets, get the dress and “tell them sales b*tches they can take their lies and go back to the part of hell reserved for people who try and convince women to spend more than they can afford on their wedding.”

    • Madeline

      That sounds like an amazing strategy–hope you report back!

    • Carrie

      Give David’s Bridal a fake name, address, email, and phone number. Not kidding. They will spam the heck out of you otherwise.

      Also, it’s fun to feel like you’re an undercover spy at the bridal shop. At least, it was for me. :)

    • Lauren

      I went in to David’s Bridal with a “eff it all, down with the man, I hate the WIC” mindset and I really wish I didn’t. The salespeople were actually less pushy than at the mom and pop stores I tried, since their customer volume is so large they can afford to let one or two (like me, or like you) slip away. So I suggest going in with an open mind!

      • Kara

        I had the same experience. And LOVED that they had dresses in sizes I could actually try on (unlike the size 10s at the mom and pop stores).

      • I advocate for a gentle, compassionate approach too. I was a retail associate for 5 years of my life, and I did not want to sell you what you didn’t need or convince you to open a credit card any more than you wanted to. But I had my bosses breathing down my neck (who didnt want to do it either but they had corporate breathing down THEIR necks)

        Not all people who work in the WIC believe in the WIC. they just have rent to pay, just like you and I. Be firm, but be compassionate, and I find you usually receive the same compassion back.

      • Erin

        This was my experience too. I was theoretically in love with a dress I hadn’t tried on in a boutique that I would have had to make an appointment to enter. The smaller stores I was in with my mom and sister couldn’t get their heads around the idea of me not wanting something big and princess-looking (at one place I got such a look of horror when I asked if one of the bridesmaid dresses came in ivory that I just thanked them and left). We went into DB with extraordinarily low expectations, literally saying “why not? it’s on the way to the train station.” I felt a little like cattle as I filled out their info sheet (I left most of it blank) and waited to be assigned to a sales associate…but once Jenna took us towards the dresses and asked what I was looking for, she actually listened! I didn’t try on anything I’d indicated that I didn’t like, and she was super helpful in pulling other dresses that she thought I’d like – and I totally got one of the ones she pulled (on sale!).

  • PA

    Shopping and finding clothes is so personal–rock on for sticking to your ideals and not learning about strange cloths!

    As someone who has had lots of trouble finding clothes that fit, I realized that I was less worried when I came to the following three conclusions:

    1) There were dresses that looked nice on me, so no need to panic over any particular one
    2) The dress was not going to make me into someone else
    3) I was NOT going to go above my dress budget

    …then, of course, I got completely blindsided by getting teary in the shop where I got my dress. It just snuck up on me. I was going, “Oh, my goodness, yes, that looks wonderful, it was actually what I was looking for, I think I’ll get this one” when the sales assistant tucked a veil into my hair and I went all “BAWWWWWW *sob*” Did not see that coming.

    • Seren

      Ok, I could have written this comment, sans veil.

      For me the teary moment was when the sales lady covered the ugly pink sash at my waist with an indigo scarf that she pulled off another dress in the store. I realized then that I could buy the cheapy dress, and hack it/alter it to my specs, and it’d be perfect. At that moment I felt like a bride, and then felt very silly for crying in the store with my mom.

      • PA

        YES (re: altering). Winning stores, for me, are where the salespeople say, “Actually, you could just [take off this flower/add a sash/hem it up],” and encourage you to make the dress yours, instead of insisting that you should try on 34 nearly-identical dresses to find the one with exactly the right embellishments.

  • KB

    Wow, this post resonates with me because I WISH I could have acted nonchalant about picking my dress, although now I probably will be when it comes to actually wearing it. I really tried so hard to be zen about it or even indifferent, like “Meh, it’s a dress, whatever, I’m wearing it for like 8 hours maximum.” Or at least that’s what I told all of my friends who I made come with me to try on dresses (Mistake #1!) And then I came THISCLOSE to buying a dress that was perfectly nice, and all my friends liked (Mistake #2!). And then I started crying when the salesclerk gave me the bill – as in, not happy tears (whoa). I ended up literally RUNNING from that store and now I can never go back to that mall again, I’m so mortified (double whoa).

    What I didn’t want to admit was that I really wanted a specific dress in my head and I wasn’t finding it ANYWHERE and I thought, “If I spend one more god*&$% minute on looking for this nonexistent dress, I am going to be That Bride.” So I tried to talk myself into the “perfectly nice” dress because it was normal-looking. But lo and behold, a week later, after I recovered from my freak out, I went with just my mom to a random-ass boutique in the middle of nowhere and – you guessed it – found my effing dress. It’s funny because there was no “Oh, Mommy” moment because she initially said, “Eh, I’m not crazy about it” which then led to a debate about it – which is funny because it’s an actual bridal gown and not anything THAT outside of the box (which goes to show that EVERYONE has an opinion about ANY dress that is not plain white, long, and strapless :-p). But I ended up getting it and, reading this post, I now realize that I will totally not care what anyone thinks or says about it on my wedding day because I will feel fabulous.

  • Karyn

    On the note of peeing in the dress:

    My maid of honour and I laughed the entire time that she held my dress up while I peed.

    After marching me through the lounge/bar area of the restaurant where our reception was being held and the guests of the lounge gawking and ooh-ing/aah-ing (“Oh my gosh, look, it’s a bride!” and “Congratulations!” were plentiful from the partially intoxicated, oyster-slurping folks there), she got into the handicap stall with me and hoisted my dress up.

    She’s a nurse, so she knows no shame regarding bodily functions. She told me she’d help me wipe if I really needed help, but only if I peed. If I had to do… anything else… I’d be on my own. Which, you know, is super easy to deal with when you’re wearing a giant dress.

    Blessedly, she was joking again, but I ended up only having to pee and it was only the one time through the whole evening that I had to go. When my husband (EEEEEEEEEEKKKKKK, it’s been three and a half weeks and he’s my HUSBAND not my fiance anymore!) and I got home at the end of the evening, he unzipped my dress and I let it drop to the floor, then ran off to the bathroom to go again (for the first time in about 4 hours, which might be a record for me).

    Anyways. Best friend EVER for making me laugh when I thought I’d feel only total awkwardness.

    • LMN

      Love this story! We’re not having a formal bridal party, but a few of my closest friends have stepped up to every aspect of dress-shopping with enthusiasm, and I feel so lucky. One friend in particular–I got trapped in one of those crazy longline bra contraptions and ended up shouting for her from the dressing room. She came in and undid all the millions of hooks with ONE HAND, then said, “Also, I can do this with my teeth. Just in case. Seriously. I made a boyfriend teach me in college.” A possibly awkward moment became a completely hysterical one. She’s my honorary maid of honor, and I know she’ll be there helping me with my dress in the bathroom on my wedding day if needed. And making me laugh the whole time. :)

  • Elena

    I did the same thing! I picked a dress online, where the total cost of the dress + shipping was just over $100 :) I love my dress! I do need to lose maybe 5 pounds to fit in it properly though :)

  • Jess

    Love this post! Even with a fairly “traditional” white “poufy” dress when asked I stumbled… “Uh… it’s white? It’s sort of poufy and it sort of reminds me of the white dress from Gigi only without the blackbirds…” Mortifying, but happy to know I’m not alone. :)

  • Rose

    YES!!! I ordered a zillion dresses online, and had pretty much given up. Then suddenly saw IT in a catalog – GOLD SEQUINS. Knee-length. Ended up costing $50. And I love it and have worn it multiple times since then. Doesn’t get old! “Oh, this? It’s my wedding dress. No big deal.”

    So, LOVE.

    • Madeline

      My mum rocked a gold wedding dress in the 70s. Non-traditional is the new tradition!

    • Yes! That sounds awesome. I’m trying to find a dress that I can re-wear it multiple times so I can shout that same thing

    • Teagan

      I have a red wedding dress that I am totally going to wear to all my future formal occasions. I am so looking forward to telling people that I am wearing my wedding dress!

  • Kudos for the non-traditional dress wearing girls who have re-worn their wedding dresses to other events! I have done that once, and it was priceless :)

  • KM

    Yes! My now-wife (14 days of being married! hells yes!) found a traditional, gorgeous lacy dress that was stunning on her and I totally had that “this is THE dress for you” moment when she first tried it on. But I knew a traditional long white dress would do my short curvy body no favors. I had my moments of doubt, thanks to others’ reaction to my description before the wedding, but I am ultimately so glad that I stuck with the first (of many) short cocktail-style dresses that I ordered online. It felt like me, but dressy, party-time me. And I got a million compliments, even from those people who couldn’t imagine it before the wedding day. I do think there’s something about all that joy on your face that makes you look like a “bride” no matter what your dress looks like.

  • Kara

    You look lovely and happy. Congratulations!

  • Amy

    I completely understand… I purchased my dress while on a short vacation with my mom. We were just taking a walk through a shopping area when we passed by a boutique store for women’s clothing. I saw my dress in the window – short, beige with sequins and feathers(!) – and thought to myself “that would make a gorgeous wedding dress.” Half an hour later, I had purchased it and arranged for it to be shipped home. No fittings, no alterations, no excursions to every dress shop in town. Simple and decisive.

    As my own wedding is still a year away, I haven’t decided exactly how I will answer questions about the dress. Part of me would love to surprise everyone with the short, sparkly dress. The other part thinks that my family might need some warning that I won’t be wearing a long, white, poufy gown. Either way, I’m looking forward to wearing my beautiful little dress on the day!


  • I just took a quick break from my hours of online dress shopping to check up on APW and YES!

    I love your dress choice and how you came about choosing it. I’m going to try to follow your lead and just pick one that works for me.

  • Oh, right. The dress.

    Everybody kept asking about the dress. Me: “I’m not wearing a dress. I’m wearing pants.”

    Even my mom kept going on and on about the dress this the dress that.. and me: “It’s pants.. not a dress. Pants.” In the end I got tired of explaining what I was wearing and just said “outfit” every time it came up. Apparently, if you’re remotely female-identified the idea is you _have_ to go for something unbifurcated for some reason. Especially if you’re marrying someone remotely male-identified, I think.

    I recommend pants. It was plenty bridal, and fancy and chic and all that jazz, but it was also intensely, insanely easy and.. dare I say.. pratical. Except for a pair of pantyhose under them I just went commando, despite having bought fancy, shmancy underwear that was supposed to not-show (but did). Easy access in case of toilet-necessities and so much less risk for tripping, stumbling and stepping on them (this is good: I am about as graceful as a manatee on rollerskates).

    Eh. *yay* pants!

  • Amy

    I just picked up my dress yesterday for my wedding on (eeps!) next Saturday. For me, I went in with a clear idea of what I wanted (tea length Justin Alexander) and found it. It was a really easy decision for me and it is a dusty champagne (ivory and latte in the description) and I felt because it wasn’t traditional (white, long, cupcake-y) that people would freak. Instead they all loved it because it suits me.
    That being said, I never cried at any of my dress stuff. NOT ONCE. I cried when my sister put on what was to become her wedding dress but I didn’t cry at mine. I think because it is “just a dress” albeit a beautiful one that makes me feel great. But in the end it is pretty fabric.
    Anyway, well written and way to wear what made you feel good and like you should on your wedding day. The dress is lovely!