I hardly consider myself as an expert when it comes to choosing a wedding dress. However, I do have a few pieces of advice for brides-to-be like me who aren’t looking forward to spending hours in a bridal shop surrounded by measuring tape and enough beaded bodices to make your head spin. Sometimes, that’s par for the course — but ultimately, you just want to get married in something you love yourself in.
I chose the first dress I tried on at the first bridal boutique I visited, which is not something I particularly recommend, but that’s just how it happened for me. I only spent about an hour-and-a-half there, partly because I got lucky and partly because I already had an idea, almost exact, including pictures, of what I wanted.
Thankfully so, because the particular bridal shop I visited (which will remain anonymous) was fully equipped with no air-conditioning on an 80-degree day and an extremely overbearing shop owner who I can only describe with the anecdote that, upon my mentioning that certain scratchy materials made my skin red, proclaimed with all certainly that I must have lupus. Because that’s really what you want to hear when you’re sweating your eyeballs out on a boutique runway. Stuck with pins and the knowledge that this shop is most definitely going to upcharge you a couple hundred dollars from what you initially saw this dress priced at online, and you might have lupus, too.
But I’m not here to complain — just to relay my own dress shopping experience and do what I can to ensure that yours is much better! That being said, my first piece of advice is:
1. Read reviews of bridal boutiques before you visit one.
Better yet, get recommendations from friends and family members who have already gone through the whole dress-shopping process.
You don’t need to do what I did and visit only one boutique, but it is nice to know that the shop you’re walking into has an average of, say, 4.8 stars on Facebook and approximately 0 reviews that include the words “evil wench” and “fat-shaming.” The former is only a slight exaggeration. As for the latter, my sister showed me reviews of this boutique after our visit, and we found that this boutique owner has an unforgivable history of body-shaming her customers. I was lucky enough to not experience this, unless you count her weird and inappropriate comments about my having lupus, but I can only imagine how any further body-related jabs would ruin a bride’s day and, potentially, her dress shopping experience altogether. No one should have to deal with that, especially when they’re preparing for a major life event where so much emphasis is placed on how you look during said event. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look beautiful — Meghan Markle-esque, even — on your wedding day, and there’s everything wrong with telling a bride, “yeah, you won’t want to wear that one, you’ll look fat.”
Despite the overall experience, which was almost as hellacious as I imagined it might be, I really can’t complain too much because I did find the dress of my dreams, and my attendant — not the shop owner, but a very kind, young and genuinely helpful attendant — was incredible. She was sweet and nonjudgmental and seemed to really care about what I wanted, even if that meant trying on 200 dresses that afternoon and still walking away empty-handed. Luckily, that wasn’t my case.
“The average bride tries on five dresses and usually ends up picking the first one they tried on,” she said. I’d entered the boutique with a photo of a dress I saw online, from a line I knew this shop carried. They didn’t have the specific dress I wanted, but they did have a very similar one from the same line, and as soon as I saw it, I knew it’d be my dress — because I liked it even more than the one I initially fell in love with. It didn’t hurt that this one was within my price range. I know I mostly just got lucky, but the fact that I only had to try on one dress brings me to my second piece of advice.
2. Come prepared with pictures.
Even if the boutique doesn’t carry the specific dress you saw online that you fell head-over-heels for, bring in a picture and they might just pull out something even better.
That was my experience. The dress that I showed my attendant was an ivory-colored lace number, and the one she found in the shop for me was similarly ivory and lace, but with a slightly different top half that will soon be altered so it’s not quite as low-cut.
Even if you’ve shopped around online for a bit and haven’t found something you’re absolutely in love with, don’t get discouraged. That’s how I felt when I was just beginning the process: everything I saw was either too fancy, too modern, too Pinterest-y or just not me. I wanted something simple, but timeless and elegant, and it was a total fluke (or, I guess, a good marketing strategy) that I just happened to come across an Instagram ad for the bridal line of my dreams in the very moment that I was actively searching for a dress online (while intermittently scrolling through Instagram). By the way, that particular dress line is here. I wish I could post pictures of the specific dress I chose, but that’ll have to wait for the big day.
Just browse around for what you might like, pin dresses you’re even somewhat into on your Pinterest board or do it the old fashioned way, printing them out and sticking them in a wedding notebook, noting what it is specifically that you like about each dress. Maybe even write down a few words that would describe your dream dress — romantic, A-line, lightweight, vintage, trendy, etc., etc., etc. — then when visiting your first bridal boutique, show them everything you’ve dreamed up.
3. Stay open-minded.
I know that not everyone’s going to be like me and end up getting married in the first dress they try on. In fact, I wish I could say I tried on hundreds upon hundreds of dresses before actually saying yes to a dress, because “the more, the merrier” is much better advice than, “just go with the first one!” That is terrible advice, and absolutely not what I’m endorsing. I just got lucky.
Seriously, if you’re unsure, try on hundreds more dresses. If you really love a dress and can envision yourself standing at the altar with your partner while wearing it, then that’s probably “the one.” You don’t have to cry. You don’t have to shriek “this is it!” And you certainly don’t have to jump up and down next to a sign that says “I said yes to the dress” at the boutique owner’s request for a Boomerang that will then immediately go on the shop’s Instagram (again, I beg you to please follow tip #1). You just have to love it, and love yourself in it.
I know I found the right dress because I love it, I love myself in it, and whenever I show people pictures, their first response is usually “that’s so you!” And then I’m like, thank you — because if this dress that I love so much is so me, then style-wise, I must be doing something right.
Stay true to yourself!