The Perfect Wedding Dress Didn’t Immediately Make Me Happy


But dude, it has pockets

Bride putting on wedding dress

I bought a wedding dress today. It’s flattering as hell, fits like a glove, and was so ridiculously low-priced that I had to check the urge to ask the sales consultant if it was on discount because someone had been violently murdered while wearing it. When I tried it on, my friend applauded and started taking hundreds of pictures on her phone. My mother cried. The girl in the dressing room next to me nodded enthusiastically and her mother put a hand to her breast and sighed with longing. Everyone agreed—it was The Dress. And because of all that and because of the price (the price, it cannot be said enough, was insanely low), I plunked down the debit card and snatched up the dress. So why did I find myself, twenty minutes later, sighing glumly into my small cup of conciliatory fro-yo?

Even though I am embarrassed to admit it, I’ve had certain expectations of how I would look at my wedding. These were only compounded when I met my fiancé—I started to imagine the look on his face as I walked down the aisle. I wanted to knock his socks off. I wanted him to be speechless. I wanted to look totally different than how he sees me all the time. Not, like, bleached-blonde and biker tattoos level of different, but stunningly lovely, instead of practical and cute. My dress would be soft and romantic, vintage-style (I’m not so carried away that I for one moment entertained the notion that my giant boobs would fit into an actual vintage dress). I’d have flowers in my hair and I’d look, for once in my life, graceful and delicate and pretty, an ethereal woodland goddess floating in to marry my one true love.

Okay, okay, you can stop laughing. I know, it’s all a little Disney inspired and frankly nauseating. But I really did want that feeling of stunning my fiancé, not to mention the crowd of gathered friends and family. “Erin looks so… lovely,” they’d whisper to each other. “I never knew she could be so beautiful.”

what am i saying yes to?

And I thought I’d found that dress tonight. The perfect dress, a concoction of lace and organza—layered and beribboned and festooned, yet still simple and manageable. I was going to have to add some sort of sleeve, but that’s easy enough. It was a little heavy and it didn’t really do my figure any favors, but it certainly didn’t make me look bad. It was pretty and soft and everything I wanted. The price tag was reasonable, if not fantastic, and while wearing it, I was going to be that ethereal woodland goddess, damn it. Maybe not a floating one so much as a shuffling one (it really was heavy), but, hell, beauty is pain, right?

I sighed over the dress; I stroked it longingly; I thought about naming it Cassandra and consulting it as if it could talk back. This was the dress, the dress I wanted. The dress that would show everyone not who I was, but who I could be.

And then I tried on another dress, one tucked into the seemingly endless rack outside the dressing room. Its neckline was totally flattering to my “fall-back-career,” as I call my chest, and the wide-set straps (straps! Actual straps!) made my neck look slender. The lightweight chiffon and organza floated down to the floor and my waist—well! It made me look like I actually have a waist! In fact, as I was watching myself in the mirror, I said aloud, “You know what this dress needs? Pockets!” And while miming myself putting my hands in my pockets… there they were. The dress had mother-effin’ pockets, y’all.

Everyone flipped their collective shit over the sight of me in this dress. They loved it. And I did too—if that dress had been a sundress or cocktail dress and fit that well and was that cute and had pockets (they really cannot be oversold) and was that damn cheap, not only would I have immediately bought it, but I would have just as immediately emailed every single one of my friends and have them separately concoct an event that I could wear that dress to. It’s a good-looking dress, is what I’m saying.

nothing changed at all

But I just didn’t feel that wonderful, transcendent moment that I thought I was supposed to feel. Was this really the dress? Was it really this easy? Was it really so cheap that I could buy it without sweating the budget even a little? I wasn’t even looking to buy a dress yet—the wedding’s over a year away. I just wanted to try some on so that I could get an idea of what kind of silhouette and neckline worked on me! I haven’t even had one emotional breakdown about how I’ll never be able to afford my dream dress and briefly dabble with selling plasma for extra cash! I was being robbed my experience! I didn’t want to buy a dress yet! And I especially didn’t want to buy a dress that, damn it, looked so damn good on me already that I didn’t even need to lose those twenty pounds I’ve totally convinced myself I’m going to lose, just as soon as I finish this last glass of champagne. How dare this fucking dress validate me as a person? That’s not how wedding dress shopping is supposed to work!

And, besides, it’s not how I was supposed to look! It’s not old-fashioned; it doesn’t have lace and ribbons and frippery. No ethereal woodland goddess would be caught dead in this dress. It’s lovely, a little bit plain, unexpectedly whimsical, and it’s—that dreaded word that any girl with freckles hates hearing—cute. It’s a cute dress. But it isn’t overtly romantic, and it isn’t going to blow people away. No one is going to whisper at the ceremony, “Oh my goodness! Did you ever expect Erin to look like that?” Nah. They’re going to come up to me during the reception and say, “I love your dress; it looks so perfect on you!” Because that’s the kind of person I am—a little bit plain, unexpectedly whimsical, and, f*cking hell, cute.

embracing it all anyway

But maybe I should embrace who I actually am. Maybe I should just try to look like a slightly-more-dressed-up version of me on my wedding day. Maybe, instead of worrying about stunning my fiancé on the day of the wedding, I should instead focus on being the me that he loves so much. And maybe instead of shocking my friends and family with a heretofore-undiscovered romantic side, I should remember that who I really am is worthy of being celebrated too. And, hell, if nothing else, they’ll be shocked by how much money I saved, right?

This was originally published in 2012

Erin Callahan

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn’t drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she’s writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.

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  • stephforeigncountry

    This is EXACTLY how I felt. Although I fell in love immediately with my dress, it wasn’t the overblown moment I thought it would be. (For a start, I live abroad, so my friends/family weren’t there.)
    I wanted to feel what you said – that WOW she is more beautiful than she’s ever been, kind of thing – but I didn’t. I just felt like me. The dress was me. No one cried when I tried it on, but afterwards everyone agreed that, yup, that dress is ME. And that’s how I felt on my wedding day. 10 months after the wedding, I’m still so glad I picked it.

    Can we really organise a party where we all wear our old wedding dresses?? YES PLEASE!

    • Mjh

      Count me in for that party. The Field Museum (natural history museum in my city) had an event with an “everyone wear your wedding clothes” theme a few years before my wedding. I’d def go if they did that again. As I told my husband about it, he had a mini emotional rollercoaster ride from excitement (ooh, let’s go!) to disappointment (aww, it’s in the past, sadface).

  • Sarah Jane Tinnelly-Williams

    I had a similar experience – I found a dress on the David’s Bridal website. When I went to try it on, I grabbed 5 more random dresses, just to make sure…but when I put on that first dress, and walked out of the dressing room, everybody gasped. My mom burst into tears (even though she swore she wouldn’t make a scene), the mom of the girl in the room next to me started clapping, and that was it. It was the dress I first picked out, it was effing gorgeous and I loved it, ANNNNND it was on sale. But…the whole thing was over in 20 minutes. I even dragged it out for an hour just to try on more dresses and be absolutely sure that was the one. And it really was, it felt like me, it was flattering, and on saleeeeeee. And now, I’m so glad I picked it. It’s still hanging in my closet almost a year later, and I’m so tempted to put it on and flounce around the house (seriously, I’m so tempted. It would be completely ridiculous, but I’ve talked myself out of it a few times already). But there was definitely a sort of let down feeling during that celebratory lunch after I bought it.
    But, my husband still burst into tears when I walked down the aisle, and the sight of the dress bag makes me smile every morning, so…win!

  • Alli

    I’ve had weird feelings with my dress. I’m very weird about spending money on myself and others spending money on me. I’m totally fine spending $12k on my reception food, but spending more than $1000 on my dress made me so uncomfortable. When I went dress shopping there were a few absolutely gorgeous dresses that were around $1200. They would have been showstopper dresses. They made me look like the girls on pinterest when you look up wedding dresses.

    And yet I bought a $400 dress at David’s Bridal. It’s not a showstopper, but it’s lovely and the most comfortable and has pockets (POCKETS!) and it’s very me. And I mean..it was a third of the price of all the other dresses I tried. Sometimes I get sad and think about how I could have had a dress that would make all my friends jealous (Not that I want them to be jealous, just in a “wow THAT is a dress” kind of way) and that in the grand scheme of things, $800 isn’t that much money. But I will look beautiful, I will be comfortable in it, and I’ll keep some snacks in the pockets!

    • Caitlin

      I love how the pockets are so key for everyone – when I said to my seamstress (yes, my dressing is being made for me; yes, it’s costing money (though not as much as I originally thought); yes, I sometimes feel heartbreaking guilty about it; but I love my dress and I know I’ll feel comfortable in it which is really all I wanted) that I wanted pockets my Mum had a complete fit! “Why would you want pockets in your wedding dress?! What could you possible want to carry that you can’t fit in a bag or give to a friend?!?”. Well my lipstick, some money, possibly a sanitary product or two, and I really don’t want to have a bag I’m bound to leave lying around somewhere or have to go and find one of my bridesmaids every time I want to refresh my lipstick. So yes, my dress will have pockets.

      • Ashlah

        My hands. I want to put my hands in my pockets when I’m wearing a dress sometimes! Is that so ridiculous? Come on, Mom, pockets!

      • Jane

        My pockets will have my vows, a snack (more for my FH than me, he gets hangry), chapstick, handkerchief, etc. Pockets are the best!!!
        I literally found my dress because it was in a buzzfeed (or similar) listicle about wedding dresses with pockets and I fell in love. Bought it online and never even tried on any other dresses. So I didn’t end up having the moment when I was in a dress shop with friends or anything, but I did KNOW as soon as I put it on that I was done.

      • Fushigidane

        My mom doesn’t understand the pocket obsession either. “Why would you want pockets? That’s what clutches are for. Why would you carry anything at a wedding?” This is for everything, not just wedding dresses, including pants.

        • CMT

          But you have to hold a clutch!

      • GotMarried!

        I got married with my cell phone tucked into my non-visible cleavage. Classy I know. Pockets would have been so much better!

      • tempy13

        Why WOULDN’T you want pockets? It’s irritating enough that most clothes for women don’t have them. But on your wedding day? Hello, Burts Bees Chapstick much anyone?

  • Jess

    This was… pretty much my exact experience minus the other people fawning despite my mom being there. I tried on a ton of dresses, I wasn’t looking to buy but the price was too good to pass up and it was the only one left and I looked good. My mom retells this story with lots of false embellishment because she feels she was robbed of her experience but…

    In the end I looked and felt like myself. Practical and Cute and Simple.

  • theteenygirl

    I totally get this article! What I thought I wanted I simply could. not. find. in stores so I tried on any and every kind of dress over a few appointments. No one I brought was ever wowed or anything the only feedback I got was, “they’re all pretty white dresses I don’t know you look good in all of them” (yeah.. I didn’t bring the best entourage I know) and the dress I ended up getting is SUPER PRETTY but also SUPER FANCY and not at all what I had originally envisioned myself wearing. I keep having panicky moments that I bought the wrong dress because I bought something SO different from what I had originally wanted.

  • Jill_P

    I did not have my “yes, this is the one” moment either…but I’m an indecisive person and I don’t usually make decisions like that. But when my sister was like “it’s kind of Lord of the Rings” because of the way the lace on the back, that was a big hint that this might be the dress. I still went to 2 more stores before coming back when the original dress was on sale, ha!
    But what I wanted to add to this post…if you love your wedding dress and wish you could wear it to a fancy formal event without everyone being like hey, that’s a wedding dress…why not dye it? That’s what I did. My dress is now a green ombre (thanks to a company called Alteria who I really can’t recommend enough) and I wore it to a Valentine’s ball this year (after getting the train removed, of course). Nobody guessed it was a wedding dress!

  • Katie

    I had to realize that (as with street clothes, honestly) what looks good in my mind or what I admire on other people just does not work on my 5’4, short-waisted, hippy and booby frame. I looooved all these BHLDN gowns, but they just didn’t suit my body as much. I finally found a sample dress that fit me like a glove. It wasn’t like anything I’d thought I wanted- I was looking for sleeves, possibly some lace, something ethereal with a beautiful flowy skirt. This was strapless ruched satin in a mermaid style, but dang did it make me look (and feel) like a million bucks. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started realizing that it’s best to dress for me and my body rather than try to keep up with some unflattering trends, but I didn’t initially make that connection to a wedding gown- like there was going to be some kind of wedding day miracle where a dress that would look smashing on some tall, willowy woman would look just as phenomenal on me :)

  • Kaitlyn

    Oh my goodness, this could not be more timely. I’m going wedding dress shopping in a week and a half and I’m dreading it tbh. I’ve mentioned this before, but I do want to lose weight before the wedding (I’ve packed on 40 lbs since graduating college and have generally been dissatisfied with my appearance and hoped the wedding would motivate me). But after 6 months of tracking food and working out, I haven’t lost any weight. I also have been working out fairly intensely for the last three months to prep for wedding dress shopping and I have finally accepted that this is what I’m going to look like while dress shopping. I may have that sort of wedding dress moment, but I may not and I think I’ve accepted that.

    But what really got me was this line: “Maybe, instead of worrying about stunning my fiancé on the day of the wedding, I should instead focus on being the me that he loves so much.”

    Like J does not expect me to be some ethereal creature that glides down the aisle towards him. He expects me to be the one that’s ugly crying cuz I’m so happy we’re getting married and makes a joke as we walk up to the priest and that’s really all that matters.

    I think I’m going to have to bookmark this essay and come back to it often.

    • Alli

      >”J does not expect me to be some ethereal creature that glides down the aisle towards him.”

      This made me laugh. It’s so true! Why should I expect myself to be an angel floating down on a cloud to marry my fiance? He loves me in my soffe shorts and college t shirts, he’ll love me in a pretty dress and slightly tipsy already from pregaming the ceremony together.

      • Kaitlyn

        Exactly! He’ll be stunned even if I show up in a white bedazzled potato sack so I def think it’s time to remove that pressure from myself.

    • SJ

      I wasn’t the weight I feel most comfortable at when I got married (by about 40 pounds) or when I was dress shopping. The secret? When you go…make sure your hair is done. I have no idea why, but it makes all the difference.

      • Kaitlyn

        That’s what I was actually thinking of doing! I figure if I feel good before I go, I’ll feel good trying on dresses.

      • Alli

        I keep telling myself to take the time to put my hair up when I go do wedding dress stuff, and I keep forgetting to even brush my hair before running out the door. Don’t be me!

      • Laura

        ha – so true. the first time i went dress shopping it was winter and so i had a red nose from the cold and hat head from my toque, which i then put up into a ponytail. not good!

    • Nichole

      One thing that definitely helped me is…

      A fancy dress in a style that looks good on me and that’s been tailored to fit, it turns out, looks fantastic on me. I didn’t really have that moment while I was trying on things, but looking at myself in my tailored dress I felt…utterly and completely validated in my decision not to lose weight because damn did I look good in my dress. Clothing can be extremely flattering and I don’t usually get to wear stuff that is this much so.

  • Laura C

    I just want to say how much I enjoyed the writing in this post. It’s a point we’ve all read before, probably many times, but the execution here really makes it hit.

    • Agree. I love her writing so much.

  • Booknerd

    This is totally how I felt! I went into dress shopping convinced I was going to get a booty hugging fit and flare lace dress and wow everyone with my slim figure that I was going to have, and I almost pulled the trigger but for one dress my mom made me try that was a total princess dress, poufy and sparkly, and even though I wanted to do something unexpected, the ball gown was so much more me, and I felt way more comfortable in on the day of than I would have in an elegant tight fitted gown. And it was also so so so cheap. My dress may have not been THE dress but I still felt beautiful and that’s all that matters

  • Kara

    I had hoped that being a bride might make be “beautiful”. It didn’t.

    I was still me. The dress didn’t change that. I ended up choosing a white trumpet style bridesmaid’s dress that made me feel more elegant than normal, but it didn’t transform me. I loved the fact that it was really affordable, and it worked for my 5′ 2″ frame (many dresses just overwhelmed me due to my short height).

    While I felt good in my dress, I distinctly remember the look of disgust from another customer and her mother as I was parading around in an orange sample of my dress (again it was a bridesmaid’s dress). I didn’t care about them, I found my dress.

  • I had two dresses in mind: something super cute with pockets and sleeves, or something super floofy with clouds of organza for a skirt and sleeves. What I’ve got is a sparkly, sleeveless fishtail. I spent a lot of time switching between it and a mori lee dress and neither really shouted over the other, but the sparkly one fit better and I figured that if I can’t have floofy, at least I’m going to have sparkly. It took less than an hour, there wasn’t really a “this is it” moment, or any tears, or agonising over the money (it was 1/3 of my budget). And I can’t really remember what I look like in it, because we weren’t allowed to take photos and I need someone else to lace me into it, so it’s just slumped in the corner of my wardrobe (because it’s longer than the hanging rail is high) and every now and then i wonder if I should look at it, but keep forgetting to. I just have to trust past self to have made the right call.

  • Amanda L

    I would say I had the opposite experience…. I totally had ‘the moment’ in my dress, with my mom and sister there with tears in their eyes. And then a month later when I went to order the dress, I found another one that I wish I had changed to. But since I’d had ‘the moment’ with my mom and sister, I couldn’t bring myself to cheapen that moment for them and so, even five years later, I look lovingly at the picture of me in the dress I *should* have chosen and remind myself that it had absolutely no impact on my amazing wedding day.

    I think the WIC sells this image of ‘the moment’ and ‘the dress’ and ‘perfection’… it’s really about what you’re comfortable in, what makes you feel beautiful, what you can afford, and obviously, pockets!

  • rebecca

    This was lovely writing and was actually a perspective I hadn’t considered before. Dress shopping for me was a constant state of existential crisis because I never felt like “me”. It had actually never occurred to me that some women *want* to feel different on their wedding day. Thanks for sharing!

  • NolaJael

    “I thought about naming it Cassandra” = perfection.

  • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

    I had a Moment when I was figuring out my dress, and it was hard. I had fallen in love with a Dolly Couture dress, but I could not justify spending the $900 or so it would cost. I also didn’t visit any bridal stores to try any dresses on, and I felt like I was missing out on something.

    I ended up ordering six or seven white dresses from Modcloth and doing a mini fashion show with my two best friends, and I ended up keeping two dresses. I still feel a little bummed that I missed the whole experience, but one of my gals put it into perspective by pointing out that it wasn’t a rule that I had to be super excited about my dress, and that I was way more excited about the venue and other aspects.

  • NotMotherTheresa

    Before I went shopping, I had several competing ideas of what perfect Bride Me would look like. There was Ethereal Boho Goddess. There was British Royal Family Goddess. There was Perfect Southern Bride Goddess. There were a lot of goddesses, basically.
    And…my wedding dress sort of somehow achieved all three! It was wonderful! It was glorious! It was within my budget!
    It did not, however, have the magical power to keep from being a kind of weird, awkward loser, nor did it have the power to quadruple my wedding budget/solve all of my family problems/erase that weird bit of fat under my chin that just won’t go away/cure my nearsightedness.
    The bridal shows forget to mention that even when you do find The Absolute Perfect Dress, you’re still kind of stuck being you. Sure, I could picture Kate Middleton, a rebellious Kennedy, and my way classier than me-sorority sister all wearing the dress I wore, but unfortunately, it did not give me any of their magical powers. It just looked pretty. On me. The awkward person, with a double chin and parents who don’t really get along.

    • flashphase

      And getting married also will not solve all your problems! I wish me in my 20s had been more realistic about that.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Oh my gosh, yes!!!!
        In my case, we were engaged for FOREVER (as in, nearly ten years), so it wasn’t too shocking that walking down the aisle didn’t fix everything, but man, I wish newly-engaged 20 year old me would have known that a sparkling diamond ring wasn’t going to solve every problem! In fact, that’s why the engagement lasted so long…it took a decade for the two of us to accept that no, a ring on my hand was not magically going to transform us into the people who we wished we were!

      • GotMarried!

        I am still coming to terms with this. I honestly thought being married = adult in the eyes of my over-bearing parents and they’d finally treat me as such. No such luck.

  • Amy March

    Yes every time I buy a formal gown. No, just because it is fancy does not mean I will look like Nicole Kidman.

  • Jan

    Oof. I relate to this pretty hard, and your writing style is so lovely.

    I didn’t have a lot of Feelings wrapped up in finding a dress, but I did have thoughts about how it was a fun opportunity to wear something beautiful and different from my usual. I’m a reliably jeans-and-t-shirt kind of gal and I really expected to end up with one of those whimsical, fairy-like tulle gowns that I spent weeks obsessing over on Etsy. Instead I had my “aha” dress moment during a spur of the moment drop-in to a bridal shop on a Wednesday evening. It’s simple and beautiful, and when I put it on I actually teared up and thought, “this is what I’m going to marry A in.” But the dress, it’s… well, simple. There’s nothing whimsical or particularly noteworthy about it. It was just so very me, and I guess I’d expected to not be so “me” on my wedding day. Which now seems ridiculous. Isn’t it funny how our minds work?

  • Kelly

    This. This was my week. I bought my dress this morning and when I originally tried it on last week it was beautiful and fit me pretty well, and had pockets! Pockets! But it wasn’t the emotional state I expected. I didn’t cry, I just felt like myself.

    But when I went back and put it on today I realized that I looked like the most fancy version of myself and it’s me who my fiance is marrying. Not someone else. Me. And at least he’ll recognize me when I’m walking towards him.

  • AmandaBee

    You know, I could see this going either way. Do you feel unsettled about this dress because others love it more than you do? OR do you just feel like you should’ve had a stronger reaction?

    It’s totally okay to not want a dress that others love. Maybe this dress makes practical sense, maybe it’s flattering, and maybe it’s still not for you. My friends had “a moment” with one of the dresses I tried on – like audible gasps of “this is the one!” and “you look so pretty!” when I came out in it. And you know what? I didn’t like that dress. Not at all. Can’t explain why it was universally liked by everyone but me, but I just didn’t feel right in it.

    I ended up getting a dress that other people might’ve considered less flattering, but that was comfortable and felt right. And you know what? I’m not even sure that one was “the dress,” as I never really had a moment of LOVING my dress though I did like it a lot and I felt pretty so *shrug*.

    So, it’s also okay if you don’t feel “happy tears” in love with your dress. Some of us just don’t react that way, and that’s fine. We’re often told that we’ll be overblown by the right dress, and some people are, but it’s also normal to not have that reaction. So if it’s more about your reaction not lining up with what you’ve been told – and you still love the dress – I wouldn’t be worried about it.

  • Katie

    I think this parallels well with the “he’s THE ONE” sentiment. A lot of people don’t have that realization, they just love and feel loved, but their partner is not some magical creature sent from heaven especially for them. I think the same goes for wedding dresses – some people have the WOW moment, some people don’t.

    Personally, I always knew what kind of a dress I wanted, but when I saw my favorite singer wearing a British brand dress, I realized I had to be wearing it. I ordered it from the same brand, online, as a gift from my mother-in-law. It came and it was absolutely beautiful. I want to wear it all the time, it’s so comfortable, so simple but chic and I feel like a 30s Hollywood star. But you know what? I was sad I missed out on going dress shopping with my mom and friends. And if I went fake dress shopping, it would not feel the same. So, I guess, everyone has their own experience with wedding dresses (unless they don’t want a dress, period! which is awesome), and they’re all valid.

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  • Rachel

    Wait, are you me? I had the exact same reaction to my pocketed dress: “I only wish it had — OH SHIT POCKETS!” & for less money than I paid for my invites? Done. It’s not the dress I dreamed about, but it’s the one that made me feel the most comfortable. Kinda like my fiance.

    • ssha

      “It’s not the dress I dreamed about, but it’s the one that made me feel the most comfortable. Kinda like my fiancé.”
      I am usually weirded out when people use similar language when talking about finding their dress and finding their spouse (“THE ONE”, etc), but this. This analogy is perfect. <3

  • Erin C.

    Oh my goodness, for a minute I thought someone wrote out my dress-buying experience for me (my name also being Erin C., and my dress also having pockets!!) I had all the same experiences–it fit like a glove, I felt awesome in it, and it was actually the style I had been hoping for, it was cheap (for a wedding dress that is!)

    My mom still isn’t thrilled about it (it’s a short dress, not the long flowing gown she thinks I’ll look back on my day and wish I had), but it feels like exactly what I was looking for. I know I could rock a long gown, or hunt for months on end for what I think might be the perfect dress, but everyone I’ve shown the pictures to says “Oh that’s totally you!” or “I love it, it’s so cute!” so it makes me feel like I made the right decision.