A Girl’s Dream to a Bride’s Reality - Picking the Perfect Wedding Dress?
Updated: May 19
Growing up I was the cliché. I wrapped myself in white bedsheets and dreamed of the prince on a white horse marrying me in a castle and sweeping me away to my happily ever after. Sadly, fast forward two decades to my real-life nine-month engagement - I wished I’d put as much thought into picking my real-life wedding dress as I had designed my make-believe gown as a kid: adding butterfly clips to hold the blanket up at the center of my back and stuffing tube socks with my kid brothers wooden blocks to create “designer” high heels to match.
Buying my real-life wedding dress was more of a thoughtless, pressure-filled fiasco. While I’m embarrassed by the story, it does have a happy ending and I thought writing it out might help other brides to avoid the same situation.
I set an appointment to shop with a bridal boutique along with my mom. The sales rep (and I use this term purposefully) set me up in a fitting room with a few dresses in the styles I described. She began pulling dresses while I relaxed, which I thought was sweet at the time. By the time I had my fill of trying on dresses for the day, she circled back to the front runner. We took some pictures and at the time I loved the dress, though it was out of budget and I wasn’t totally sure it was best for me. That’s when the rep explained to my mom, who had her own reservations, that she can’t guarantee this dress will still be available if I come back in later and reminded us of the sale going on this week only. This is when my anxiety triggers. What if I can’t find better than this dress? What if I miss out on this dress? Will my mom want to come back and do this all over? So I nervously decided to get the dress.
That night, I looked at the photos my mom took (which in the quickness at the dress shop I’d failed to really examine before handing over the Discover card.) I then noticed a small detail I hadn’t before - I hated the dress from behind. Purely hated it. How could something so pretty in the front look so terrible in the back? So I tell my mother in tears - who gets sick at the thought of how much we just spent on a dress we could only return for store credit at a shop I’d thought I’d already tried on every dress. I realized then I went into the dress shopping experience totally unprepared and was pressured into buying a dress. I later found out the dress that might not be available next time - was one of the newest dresses in the boutique and could be custom ordered in my size and there really never should have been any sense of urgency. Fortunately, I was able to fix this HUGE mistake, but before I explain how, I’m going to tell you all the things I wish someone would have told me before I’d gone shopping.
Here’s What I Should Have Considered Before Buying
Budget - Before falling in love with a dress, only to be disappointed that you have to settle for something within your price range would just spoil your memory of your dress. It’s better to know what you’re working with beforehand. Don’t forget to factor in all of the extras too (undergarments, shoes, veil, belts, etc).
Body - This really is a big one. I heavily weighed “my body type” in my decision-making. If you have thick hips but plan to be “poppin” on the dance floor, a trump skirt or mermaid dress might not work for you. Consider the different styles of dresses and what really looks best for your body type.
Heirloom - If you are the sentimental type, check with your mom, or your grandma first. My BIGGEST dress regret was not working harder on redesigning my mother's dress. I thought it would be too expensive, too much work, too ____, _____, and _____. I let the work scare me out of what I really wanted; convincing myself, with every excuse, that I wouldn’t be able to make it happen or afford to do it. The worst part - I didn’t even try. I didn’t know who to ask and was too afraid of what I’d find out if I did - so I just didn’t.
What if I take apart my mom's dress and ruin it? What if I don’t like it? What if I can’t pay for it? Years later I found out my mother would have LOVED if I’d worn her dress - in whole or part. It made her sad that I’d mentioned it, once upon a time, and then didn’t move forward. Don’t be me. If it would mean the world to you, don’t be scared. Working in the wedding industry, I’ve seen so many redesigns and they are always so special.
Timeframe - Tip #1. Don’t give the bridal shop your wedding date, but the date you’ll first need your dress - bridal portraits. Bridals are usually scheduled at LEAST a couple of months before the wedding date. Tip #2. Make sure the dress can arrive in store with enough time for alterations, a fitting, and a second round of alterations if necessary.
Season - We are located in South Louisiana, where weather is incredibly unpredictable, but being mindful of your wedding date can help you narrow down whether a lace-sleeved ball gown would be more fitting than a lightweight sleeveless empire dress.
Venue - If your wedding will be in a Cathedral or place of worship, it may come along with its own rules. It might be a good idea to talk to your venue or officiant for particulars.
Style - It’s your day and you can most definitely get away with breaking all style rules. Still, indoor vs. outdoor, grand vs. intimate - these are all worth considering when deciding on what dress is best.
While Dress Shopping
Don’t stress about undergarments (yet). Bring your bra and shape-wear, even if you don’t have exactly the perfect bra, corset, or petticoat. Besides, until you find the perfect dress, you won’t know exactly what you need and your boutique can help fit you properly for the items you do need. You can buy them when you buy the dress or do a little extra shopping for better prices elsewhere.
Many recommend bringing your wedding shoes. That seems silly to me. If you don’t have your dress how likely is it that you’ve picked your shoes?? (Weird) I recommend you just decide on the height you’ll likely be wearing on your wedding day and make sure you bring a pair to test out walking in the dress.
Should I bring someone with me to the dress shop? An extra set of eyes is always helpful. Bringing your mom, a bridesmaid, or your wedding planner can help with the big decision - but also, don’t feel like you need the “Say Yes To The Dress” reality TV-style experience. In my case, that pressure made it worse and fueled a bad decision. I didn’t want to leave empty-handed because I’d inconvenienced the people that met me to shop. I felt rushed and pressured. It’s acceptable to go alone for preliminary low-pressure shopping. Set out a few of your favorites and bring the squad in later for a final fitting to make the final decision and share that special moment together.
Skip the makeup, especially the lipstick. You’ll be trying on lots of dresses and smudges of makeup might ruin the white
Avoid a wedding day catastrophe and hem the front of your dress a bit shorter than the back. You’d hate it if the groom’s first look is one of you tripping down the aisle.
Luckily, I was able to return my original purchase (for store credit): giving me the chance at a re-do. I took that opportunity to play dress up, clearing my schedule to spend the day scoured each and every rack in the boutique, including the dusty clearance racks. I promised myself I’d try on a variety of styles, colors, and materials until I found a dress I truly loved. I collected more than two dozen dresses. The last one I tried on was a $600 discount dress that jumped out at me from the sales rack because it wasn’t bagged up anymore and its beautiful lace was poking out above the endless sea of clear bags. I’m so thankful for that circumstance because the dress itself - on the hanger - was unimpressive, and had it been bagged I may not have bothered to pick it up. At this point, the simplicity didn’t scare me, but I was so deflated. It was the last dress of the now 20+ I’d put on, and it didn’t look promising. When I stepped in front of the viewing mirror, I wept.
Above images are personal bridal portraits, provided by The September Company - 2017
That’s how I knew.
If you are looking for your perfect dress, don’t settle.
About the Images
The bride in this blog is Kayla Diaz de Arce who spent much more time and effort designing the perfect dress for her. Kayla took time, thought it through, and was patient about the process. The result is stunning! Her dress is the Marilyn by Sareh Nouri, with gorgeous custom straps by Maria Elena (they're actually belts!) The lace on the dress was made by the French designer Sophie Hallette, who also made the lace for Kate Middleton's wedding dress! The headpiece is by Canadian designer, Malis Henderson.
This whole look, including the veil and headpiece, was put together by the wonderful ladies at Le Jour Couture. All jewelry (diamond engagement ring, bracelet, necklace, and earrings) is from Lafayette Jewelers.