What I Learned about Shopping for a Wedding Dress
One very important piece of planning a wedding is, of course, shopping for a wedding dress. Recently I had the honor of spending the day in Georgetown, DC with some of the most important women in my life while shopping for a gown. Now, obviously shopping is no stranger to me; it is essentially what I do for a living (or at least a major part of it). For some reason, however, I had felt extremely nervous about this part of wedding planning. The night before my appointments, I tossed and turned for hours in bed, and kept going back to the "tips for dress shopping" articles that I had already read a million times online. Essentially, I was combing through them for more information; looking for something that would put me at ease.
I was nervous that; A) I wouldn't love any dresses within my budget, B) I would criticize my body (that I'm not in my ideal wedding shape) while trying on dresses, C) The stylists would lecture me for waiting too long to start looking, and D) That I'd be too indecisive to actually pull the trigger on a dress and I'd wind up wasting everyone's time.
Honestly, I'm pleased to tell you that all of these stress points that I had been focused on couldn't have been more wrong.
Now, let me rewind a bit and tell you the story of my dress shopping experience from the beginning (if you don't care to read, just skip to the end for my tips for fellow brides):
This whole process started about 3 months ago when I decided that I should probably start looking for a wedding dress (we are getting married this Summer). I read that you're supposed to start shopping immediately once you get engaged, about 10-12 months in advance. But, just like everything else in my wedding planning process, I was doing things a bit unconventional. My first priority was of course finding a wedding venue and because that took quite some time, I didn't even consider a dress until months later when my calendar had filled itself up. We were working and traveling every possible date until the New Year, so I knew that I wouldn't be able to book a full day of shopping until January.
First, I did quite a bit of research on bridal boutiques in my area. Not to criticize the big warehouse stores (David's Bridal, etc), but I knew immediately that those were not for me. Mainly, I focused on brands through their social media pages to get an idea of the style of dresses they carry and their price points. I initially reached out to 5 boutiques, but only ended up booking appointments with 2. The 3rd store that I had on my list, planned for the last stop of the day, was a sample sale. Before my appointments, I spent time on each of their websites and Instagram's looking through the designers they carry and preparing myself for which dresses would work within my budget, and which would not.
I had my Mom, my future Mother-in-law, and my little sister go dress shopping with me. I decided not to do the popular "love it", "hate it" signs while shopping because I knew that would be distracting and I wanted their genuine reactions when they saw each dress. I also have a very strong opinion about clothes on myself, so I knew that my reaction would be what I followed in the end anyway.
We arrived in Georgetown on Saturday morning, grabbed coffee across the street, and wandered into my first appointment about 10 minutes early. The boutique was the gorgeous and ever-so-Instagrammable Lovely Bride DC. Once I met with my consultant and went over my vision, we headed straight toward the designer racks where I chose 5 dresses to try on. I only chose 5 dresses at the first store because everything else was over my budget and I had been upfront with my consultant that I would not be trying on anything over that number.
I have a strict and very detailed budget plan for our wedding and I knew that if I fell in love with a dress that was over my budget, I would be disappointed and unable to get it out of my head. Keep this in mind: Although it is your wedding dress, it is only a dress. Your day is going to be so much more than what you are wearing. Don't sacrifice things like quality of food, photography, or something that is important to you both as a couple in order to get into that Pnina Tornai gown you've seen on "Say Yes to the Dress" a million times. Don't try on anything you can't afford. If you get anything from this post, please let it be that.
The first dress that I tried on at Lovely Bride DC was amazing. It could have been my wedding dress. My future Mother-in-law was already wiping away tears as they were laying down the train. I felt sexy and sophisticated in it, like I was stepping onto the runway at a fancy event. I tried on the others after that which were still gorgeous dresses, but weren't so impressionable. At the end of my first appointment, I put the first dress back on, walked out to the front pedestal, and they put the veil on. Everyone was taking pictures and saying "This could be it. We might be back".
On our way to my second appointment, I was feeling so much more relaxed about the whole situation. Everyone was starting to get excited and I was gaining hope that I might actually go home with a dress. We arrived at BHLDN, a wedding brand designed by Anthropologie, about 30 minutes before my appointment. Immediately, I fell in love with their entire collection, from the beaded Gatsy-esq gowns, to the princess Ballroom styles, their two-piece sets, and more. I started a mental note of about 25 dresses that I needed to try on. The most lovely thing of all? They were all under my budget, some well under (think: $225).
My consultant came out and honestly looked a little frightened of the excitement showing on my face. I started pointing to all of the dresses I wanted to squeeze into this 1 hour appointment window. She hoisted them over her shoulder one by one, and we made our way to the bridal suite. What I didn't realize when we got in the room, is that I had already chosen 4 dresses to try on online in my initial appointment application. And then I saw the ONE. It was one that I had picked out online a few months prior. I immediately gravitated toward it, pushing aside all of the other dresses I had chosen upstairs. I wanted to try this one on first.
When I started to try it on, something shifted; it felt different. I felt like a bride. Not like I was in a styled shoot, not like I was attending a red carpet event. We went out to the pedestal to show it off and I could see in the mirror that I was absolutely beaming. It felt like the whole salon turned and looked at me, and my wedding party had giant smiles across their faces. We all kept saying, "This might be it. I think this is it".
I was still determined to try on the other dresses I had chosen upstairs before making my final decision, so back to the dressing room we went. I then tried on another 10 of my favorite gowns, each of them surprising me in new ways. I honestly wanted to wear at least 5 of them on my wedding day. They were each so uniquely gorgeous.
But you know how the story ends, don't you? Every time I was back in the dressing room, trying on these other gowns, I was looking at the ONE. I kept pointing out different details on it to the stylist, and confirming over and over again that it was within my budget. At the very end of my appointment, I put the first dress back on and I knew that it was unquestionably mine. I came out again to the pedestal with it on and both Sam's Mom and my Mom started to cry. We placed the veil on my head and I just stared at myself in the mirrors for a very long time. LOL. I did not want to go take it off. I felt so beautiful and so bridal and I was just imaging myself walking down the aisle to Sam. I stood there staring, smiling, and glowing until the champagne was passed out and we were signing the receipt.
We didn't even wind up going to the sample sale, which was probably a good choice considering we were all now full of champagne and coffee and nothing else. We grabbed lunch at a spot nearby and celebrated and relived the moment for the rest of the day.
P.S. My dress and veil were delivered to me in less than 1 week from when we ordered it. And they were able to order it so closely to my actual size that I only need the waist altered by 2 inches and the hem brought up. Moral of the story: I am one happy, happy soon-to-be bride!
10 Tips for wedding dress shopping:
1. Don't stress if you're not 10-12 months out from your wedding date. You CAN find a dress that you love within your timeline.
2. Do your research on bridal salons. Choose 2-3 stores to visit on the day, allotting about an hour for each appointment plus travel time so you're not rushing.
3. Get to your appointments early if you can. Look around the boutique at different dresses and price points to get an idea of what you like and can afford.
4. No budget is too small. If you find the right boutique or sample sale, you can make it work.
5. Know your budget well and be stern on what you are willing to spend. Don't try on dresses that are outside of this number unless you're prepared to be disappointed. Factor in a veil/headpiece, accessories, and alterations too.
6. Invite 2-4 people to your dress shopping appointments. Having too many people can be overwhelming and confuse how you feel about your dress choice.
7. Don't criticize yourself or your body while trying on dresses. It won't benefit you in any way and will only leave you feeling stressed and unhappy.
8. You're not there to make the stylist happy. Tell them what you genuinely like and dislike about each dress (it will make their job much easier). Remember you're the one walking down the aisle in it, not them.
9. Be practical in your choice of dress. Make sure that you factor in your specific needs on the day of. Can you move around freely? Is it comfortable? Can you do your signature swing dance in it? Are you going to be transporting it on a plane?
10. Your wedding day is going to be about SO much more than what dress you are wearing. Remember why you are celebrating to begin with and keep a positive mindset. Dress shopping is supposed to be fun!
Thanks for reading, babes!
xo Anna Elizabeth
Anna Smith is the stylist, content creator, and storyteller behind the blog, Lifestyle by Anna Elizabeth