Shopping for wedding dresses is traditionally seen as one of the most treasured and special moments of the whole planning process; an event that will run seamlessly and leave you overspilling with joy and anticipation. If the movies are to be believed you’ll try on all number of satin, silk, tulle and lace numbers and ‘just know’ when it’s the one: it’ll fit perfectly, be everything you dreamed of and make you and your accompanying loved ones shed a tear or two. The reality though can, on the whole, be very different. Finding that one amazing outfit that will forever be remembered via the beauty of photography can be somewhat stressful, and as a bride you’re under immense amounts of pressure to find the one that makes you look and feel your absolute best. Unless you benefit from the frame and metabolism of a super model, trying on wedding dresses can be a somewhat uncomfortable and ‘unlike the movies’ experience – to the point when many of my friends and acquaintances have shared stories of leaving boutiques in tears and wondering what the hell they were going to do as that special day steps ever closer. Having had a rather stressful experience with my dress, I wanted to share the story behind this expensive purchase to hopefully share the realities while letting those of you who’ve also had a less than perfect experience know it’s absolutely the norm. Warning: it’s a long one!
When I first got engaged I can honestly say I was more excited about the decor, food and entertainment than I was about my dress. I’m a curvy UK size 16 and have 36G boobs, meaning it’s troublesome for me to find outfits that fit and look good at the best of times; I have my go-to stores and my go-to looks, which helps on a day-to-day basis but isn’t necessarily that helpful when you’re looking for your ‘dress of dreams’. Having been told by fellow engaged ladies of my size and stature that they’d been made to feel less than worthy of bridal attention and actually left local boutiques in tears, I was incredibly anxious about having to squeeze my backside into a sample size gown I know I’d probably hate. I’ve never been one to like overly bridal looks, and I knew I didn’t want anything strapless (those 36G boobs are not made for strapless bras!) which limited my options significantly. Having had a brief rummage though a bridal store next to my flat, I started to feel that I was really going to struggle finding a simple and flattering style that fitted me in all the right places; however, thanks to a friend recommending a trip to David’s Bridal the journey was set to be easier than anticipated. (In some areas at least.)
David’s Bridal is an American concept store located in a few UK locations, of which one is in Birmingham. It made sense to have my first stab at dress shopping in the biggest store there was, knowing they specialised in plus size brides too, so I booked an appointment with my mum to go and have a look. What I loved about David’s is that they take the time to walk you around the store and get you to fill in a questionnaire which covers the kind of things you like and dislike; they’re armed with so much knowledge they can literally whip you around the store and pull out a handful of dresses to try. Knowing I went in with a specification of “no frill, no poof, no lace, no strapless, no bling” it wasn’t the easiest task for them, but I tried on a few different styles to get to grips with what I thought worked and didn’t. They also ask you to rate every dress out of ten, getting you to specify what would improve your score, so you can go away with a much clearer idea of what you want – even if you don’t find it in that store or on that day.
Back to the shopping experience, and something was about to happen that I never anticipated. While waiting for my stylist to go and find my next dress, a fellow bride-to-be was trying on the most extravagant dresses there were; after rocking every style she could, she came out in a much more conservative number that instantly I had my eye on. There was something about it that I loved, no matter the fact it was quite poofy, had tonnes of bling and lace and was the complete opposite of everything I thought I wanted. After waiting for her to finish with it, I jumped in and asked if I could try it myself ‘just for the lolz’; before my stylist had even finished doing up the reverse I started to feel a bit teary. As I looked at myself in the mirror she asked if she could tell me a secret: “When you walked in, this was the exact dress from all the store I had in mind for you – but as it was everything you said you didn’t’ want, I didn’t pick it up.” By the time I opened up the door to the changing room to show my mum, she’d said she adored it and I burst into tears. It was the fifth dress I tried in on the first day and in the first store, but I knew there was no point in looking any more. That was it. This was the dress I was going to get married in.
It made me feel like a princess and I didn’t want to take it off; it felt completely different to the other dresses I’d tried but was just ‘me’. Designed by Oleg Cassini (and just my luck, the most expensive dress in the whole
shop!) it was exquisite and timeless. Simple, but intricately stunning; classic with a modern twist (POCKETS!); plus it made my boobs look amazing and my waist look tiny! I’d tried on a S14 and there were a few buttons around the reverse that didn’t do up (thanks to my giant boobs again,) so we ordered a S16 knowing that we could just adjust it to fit perfectly. I handed over my card without a hint of apprehension and it was a done deal – just eight weeks to wait until my own dress arrived in the store. If this all sounds simple and closer to what you see in the movies than not, I was about to get my own taste of bridal stress!
Five weeks later my dress arrived earlier than expected and I quickly arranged an appointment for it to be fitted. (Side note: David’s Bridal make you pick up your dress within a couple of days of it arriving, meaning you have to be pretty prepared to drop everything with little notice. It took a lot of arguing from me saying I was two hours away, due to go on holiday and no my fiancé couldn’t have it delivered to his workshop, for them to agree to hold it in store until my fitting.) I was so very excited to put on this beautiful dress once more, waiting for that moment when I looked in the mirror and had to again stifle back tears, but when it was buttoned up I looked in the mirror and felt almost nothing. I stepped out to an emotional mum and mother-in-law, but deep down I knew something wasn’t right; I couldn’t remember the neckline being sweetheart and it didn’t cinch in my waist the way I thought, but I was assured by the dressmaker that it would feel more like mine once the adjustments were made. Over two hours of pinning and tucking later it did feel better, but I still wasn’t convinced that this provided me with the magical moment I was anticipating.
Once I was home and discussing the day with my mum and sister, we started looking at photos that were taken. Something made me take out my own phone and look at photos taken on the day I chose and bought the dress, and when I compared the two I started to feel sick. It wasn’t the same dress. The neckline and waist were completely different; I looked frumpy, compared to the amazing ‘I feel like a princes’ moment I’d had initially. I couldn’t possibly get married in this dress and we had to do something as a matter of urgency to fix it. As soon as the store reopened the next morning I was straight on the phone, explaining that the dress I’d bought was not the dress I’d been fitted in to and that they needed to halt any alterations immediately (as this meant the dress couldn’t be returned and I’d have wasted a few grand in the process.) The manager was incredibly helpful and apologetic, immediately starting an investigation into what could have happened and how we could get me the dress I wanted – it turns out that because David’s Bridal is an American brand, their ‘plus sizes’ start at UK16, which means this is a different style and design to account for the added room required to make women up to a UK30 feel fabulous. Like there’s a petite, regular and curve range in most high street stores, I’d inadvertently tried on a dress from the standard range but ordered a different plus size version that made me feel like a frump. Gah!
To cut a long story short, I made an appointment to go back and try on both dresses (the sample in the store and the one that had been made specifically for me) and to come to a resolution. As soon as I tried on the original dress I felt like a million dollars again; it was exactly what I remembered and more, pinching me in and flattering my body shape in all the right places. So the only option we had was to order the S14 and attempt to make it fit, even though there were about eight buttons on the reverse that didn’t do up. Those next few weeks were an anxious waiting game as I’d taken a complete gamble on a dress I didn’t know would fit until we cut the seams open (making it non returnable) and saw what could be done. When my new dress arrived I breathed a sigh of relief. It fit, almost perfectly. Although they’d let out a couple of inches from the side, everything else was practically perfect – they just needed to properly finish the hems and sew up the seams to ensure the detailing was consistent. Another few weeks were to pass until I could finally try on and pick up my dress and the anxiety around it fell away. Or so I thought.
Skip forward to July when my dress was completed and I was due for a final fitting, before taking it home to await the big event. I could hardly contain my glee, stepping into it wishing our wedding was closer than the three months I had to wear it for the full day. I stood there in my slip and basque, waiting for the dressers to do me up so I could step out to ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ from my bridesmaids, when the words “we can’t get it done up” filled me with dread. After all this stress, after so many trips back and forth to Birmingham, after so many fittings (six in total by the end,) don’t tell me it won’t bloody do up! They scuffled about and went to find some help, before I was pulled about and squeezed in so much (removing my basque in the process) I could hardly breathe – but they did it! It turns out that during the finishing process they actually sewed the seams much tighter than anticipated to ensure the lace and beading flowed well, meaning it was a real squeeze to get me in.
I’m not going to lie, it was bloody uncomfortable standing there in this giant dress with hardly enough room to consume a canapé let alone all the food we had planned, but I didn’t care: I’d come too far to let anything stop me walking down the aisle in this white number! Although I’d never intended to go on a wedding diet, I did make a promise to eat healthily and go to the gym more in the run up to the wedding to hopefully make it a slightly more comfortable experience. I started to wish I’d just bought another dress, but then I’d remember how amazing I felt and how the day was about so much more than what I was wearing. Those couple of months were anxious and lead to many sleepless nights, but as the day dawned I realised I really didn’t care about the dress at all – as long as I could walk in and marry the man I wanted to spend my life with. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that during the lengthy and stressful process.
The week of the wedding my mum brought the steamed and fluffed dress down to me and I tried it on one last time to make sure it did up and that there weren’t any last minute disasters waiting to happen. There were still a couple of troublesome buttons, but between her and the bridesmaids we would sort it on the day, but the thing that started to worry me was that the lace edges around my arms were starting to rub me raw. They’d re-shaped this area to make it fit my small frame (big boobs and small shoulders are not a great combo,) but the stitching had left the material as sharp as a blade – and there was no way I’d survive all day with it rubbing my skin so badly. (Another thing of note is that you could be so focused on the overall look, or in my case worrying about it doing up, that you don’t notice other things until later on.) So the day before the wedding we took a trip to the haberdashers and my mum had to cut sections of material away to relieve the discomfort; yep, actually cut my wedding dress! It helped that she spent my childhood making costumes for my endless shows and dance competitions, but still – quite a daunting task for us both. She sat on my sofa stitching up my dress as best she could and all I could think was ‘I just hope it lasts the few hours I need it to until the photos are done!
On the morning of the wedding I was incredibly chilled, preferring to take it all in and get to the venue as a bundle of excitement rather than stress. I put on my dress at the very last minute and there are some quite comical photos of my bridesmaids working together to do it up… But do up it did and I felt fabulous, even if a couple of the buttons aren’t as smooth and consistent in the photos. I couldn’t stop smiling as I made my final checks in the mirror, picked up my bouquet and walked out of our hotel and into my car. As soon as I arrived I felt a wave of emotion and couldn’t wait to see Josh’s face at the end of the aisle. All those worries, issues, anxieties and moments of panic slipped away and all I cared about was getting into that room and saying my vows – although I didn’t anticipate the fact that the width of the aisle space we’d left was far too tight for me to walk accompanied by another person, but it was quite funny!
So what did the whole process of buying a wedding dress teach me? That it’s never straightforward and that something will inevitably go wrong, but on the day you really will forget all about it. As brides the pressure is there to find the perfect dress and have the perfect moment, that the fittings will be dreamy and filled with champagne, and that you’ll walk away without a care in the world – but rarely does that happen. Most of us are intimidated and stressed out by the whole process, crippled by anxiety as to whether or not it will actually fit (how often do you buy an outfit a year in advance?) and all sanity goes out the window when it doesn’t go to plan. To be honest it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you feel on top of the world, and the dress is only meant to last a few hours before it gets trashed… By the evening I’d got fed up of trying to manoevre the huge skirt and whipped off my slip so I could dance, while the bustle broke and my train got trodden on anyway (that was a waste of £70!) But the best thing? All the pictures of me during the band look like I’m having the time of my life – the dress is just the bonus.
It may be the part of the process that’s both the most exciting and the most disconcerting, but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s just a dress. A rather expensive and delicate dress, but it’s just a dress that you wear for a singular day and then pack away for your future generations to enjoy. The only thing that matters is the memories you make while wearing it.
Would I change a thing? Nope, in retrospect it was all part of the process.
THESE IMAGES ARE NOT TO BE USED OR SHARED ANYWHERE, WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT, BY ANY SUPPLIER.
| Photographer: Hannah McClune | Venue: Lillibrooke Manor |
| Bride’s Dress: Oleg Cassini at David’s Bridal | Hair: Headmasters Windsor | Makeup: Bobbi Brown |
| Bridesmaids Dresses: Biba at House of Fraser | Flowergirl Dresses: Monsoon | Men’s Suits: Moss Bros |
SIGN UP TO MY MONTHLY NEWSLETTER HEREEXCLUSIVE NEWS, GIVEAWAYS & INFO ON WHAT YOU’VE MISSED!
Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.