Oh, the dress. I was so excited to start the process of wedding dress shopping. Not only do I love getting dressed up, but I couldn’t wait to slip into all of the designer gowns I write about on a daily basis – but that all changed when, months later with countless visits to bridal boutiques behind me, I still hadn’t found “The One.”
I’m fortunate enough to attend bridal market week in NYC, where I could see the gowns make their debut down the runway and during presentations. That definitely proved to be helpful, although I still had a hard time trying to select a dress that was weighted in such significance – no one ever wants to look back at their wedding photos and cringe like they were looking at photos from an 80s prom. After going to a few shows, showrooms, and talking to designers, I made appointments at three esteemed bridal salons.
While I’ve heard so many brides say it was the first gown they tried on or that they immediately knew when they saw it, I didn’t find myself in the same situation. I eventually narrowed it down to three dresses, but there were small things about each of them that kept holding me back. Monique Lhuillier designed one of my top two dresses, so I thought it best to go straight to her boutique. After trying on a few more gowns at the flagship store, it finally hit me: I wasn’t being (too) picky or indecisive – I just hadn’t found what I was looking for. Going straight to Monique also gave me the freedom to alter the dress and dream up exactly what I envisioned, which I’ll talk more about post-wedding. Hey, there’s a reason why brides-to-be don’t immediately upload a selfie of them in The Dress on Instagram upon making the decision.
Now, on to my dress advice: For starters, I’ve always been a firm believer of trying on different silhouettes and keeping an open mind when looking for an outfit, especially because it’s so easy to get stuck in a style rut – but beyond that, it is even more important when it comes to selecting your wedding gown. I’ve seen many brides-to-be wind up frustrated when the dress they envisioned for themselves doesn’t work out. There’s no reason to get yourself worked up in a fit of chiffon: Don’t marry yourself off to one silhouette before ever even trying on a dress! Most girls have a picture in their head of what they’ve always envisioned they would look like on their big day, and, often times, their body shape or style preferences aren’t taken into account at all – there’s such a disconnect. All eyes are going to be on you, and above all else you want to wear something you truly feel beautiful and confident in – don’t get too wrapped up in the trends. It’s important to find a dress that flatters your figure. When you love the way you look in an outfit, your confidence will be palpable – and you already have enough to stress about, don’t be the bride that’s constantly tugging at her hemline or her neckline.
Now since I’ve always been a firm believer in the above, I went in with an open mind – and that brings me to my second piece of advice: Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to completely shut down a dress, and don’t let someone else tell you what they think you want to wear. While I was open to a slew of styles, I knew the designers I wanted to see. This is literally my job, so when bridal consultants attempted to sway me in other directions or continuously brought out dresses I said I wasn’t interested in, they were wasting both of our time. I’m a bit of a people pleaser, (I blame the Libra in me), and I thoroughly enjoyed trying on one gorgeous gown after another, (at least in the beginning). While I might love getting dressed up, there was no reason for me to entertain a look if I knew it wasn’t for me. I also started to feel bad for the consultants that were helping me, nervous that I wouldn't select my dress from one of them – but you aren't here to make new friends. Don’t get distracted from the mission at hand.
That brings me to my next point: There's no reason for your entire bridal party or extended family to come watch you try on dresses. Save it for your first fitting. It's too chaotic for the store and it will only do you a disservice. When you go bathing suit shopping, who would you bring with you? If it doesn't usually include an entourage, then you don't need one for the beginning dress process. Of course it's a special time and your family and friends want to be involved – and bringing them to your fittings is a great way to do it without letting them confuse you. I recommend bringing along one to two people – especially if it’s the very first time. It can be overwhelming, and you don’t want to cloud your judgment. Clear your schedule and make sure you give yourself enough time to get to your appointment. You don’t want to be rushing around town and feeling preoccupied. I also recommend styling your hair and putting on a little makeup – you don’t have to go in looking like you’re hitting the red carpet at the Oscars, but running a brush through your hair and your go-to routine will definitely have you excited about the process.
My final tip: both fashion and function should come into play here. I tried on dresses that felt like they weighed more than toddlers, silhouettes so form-fitting I felt like I was playing dress up in Jennifer Lopez’s closet, and skirts so voluminous I didn’t know how I would fit through a doorway. While some were stunning and some felt like Sweet 16 dresses on steroids, that’s not the point – I realized early on I wanted to feel comfortable since I would be wearing the dress all day. If that’s the look you’re going for, by all means go all out – but remember if you aren’t planning an outfit change your dress might start to annoy you. For example, the dress I initially fell in love with, by Zuhair Murad, featured exquisite embroidered detailing and cap sleeves. Once they pinned the dress to fit my frame and I was able to see how the sleeve would fit, I felt constricted and could hardly raise my arms, (which would make dancing quite difficult). Sadly, it wasn’t the dress for me.
Going to a bridal boutique isn’t for everyone. While I was looking for a dress that was a little traditional and romantic, the options are truly endless. Do some research, keep an open mind, and have fun! Whether you shop online, go the traditional route, or even just pay a visit to your favorite retailer, you have to do what’s right for you.
Opening photos by Don Ashby