Since I discovered its existence, Say Yes to the Dress has been a guilty pleasure of mine that I was finally able to admit to in public after my engagement last year. If you’ve been hiding under a rock, or are an non-engaged male, here is the basic show premise: brides-to-be fly in from all over the country to Kleinfeld Bridal, New York’s famous bridal boutique looking to find the wedding dress of their dreams. Most of these brides seem to fall into the category of hopeless romantic. Brides gush about their fiancés, how perfect they are, and how they just can’t wait to marry them. Consultants ask brides how they want to look on their wedding day, and then dive into the stock room’s thousands of dresses ready to find their brides a dress that will make them feel as if it was designed just for them. When a bride finds a dress she really likes and the consultant knows she’s on the edge of making a sale, she asks, “Is this the dress?” And through tears of joy and grins as wide as Texas, the brides exclaim, “Yes, this is the dress!”
This was not my experience. The first time I tried on wedding dresses was last May at Ally’s Bridal in Hoboken. I was living in Knoxville, Tennessee at time and visiting my then-fiancé for the weekend. It was about a month after we had gotten engaged, and we were talking about trying to pull off an October wedding, six months after engagement. In the bridal world, you should order your dress eight months or more in advance, which meant that even though I was just engaged, I was already behind deadline for ordering a gown. In the overall wedding budget, the dress was not that high of a priority. I scrimped and saved everywhere possible in order to afford incredible photography, so the dress budget suffered a bit. From the beginning I knew that if I wanted a higher-end, well made dress ready to go within six months, I would probably have to purchase a sample size.
Putting on my first wedding dress was a surreal experience, and not at all what I had envisioned. It was still only beginning to sink in that I was getting married. My mom was in Pennsylvania, my sister was in Virginia, and my bridesmaids were spread out from Pennsylvania to Virgina to Tennessee to Georgia. In my mind, that day I was trying on dresses just to get an idea of what I was looking for, and not completely taking it seriously. In an ideal world, I would have had all of these women I loved so much with me to support me through the dress-picking process.
Thankfully, a friend in Hoboken, Ana, agreed to go with me. I tried on multiple dresses, some of which I liked more than I expected, and was met with many “ooos” and “ahhs,” but I wasn’t getting super excited about any of them. I finally asked Ally, the shop owner, if she had anything in lace. She directed me to a strapless, modified A-line dress with lace detail and beading on the sweetheart-neckline, bottom of the dress, and cascading down the train. I thought it was pretty, but my strongest gut reaction was, “this is really figure flattering.” The drawbacks were that it looked more modern than the romantic feel I was going for, and I wasn’t sure about the way the train being made of all lace. Despite my hesitation, Ana’s reaction to the dress was this: “Nick is going to PEE himself when he sees you in that dress.”
There was no way I was going to purchase a dress that day, but I felt like I had a direction to head in. I shopped at a few more dress locations when I got back to Tennessee, but every time I tried a dress on, I found myself comparing them to the dress with the cascading lace, even though it wasn’t my “dream dress.” It was important to me that I stayed within a reasonable budget, and the extremely helpful and consultant at Wedding Wonderland (trust me, the boutique is much nicer than the frou-frou name) told me there were dresses she would love to pull that sounded like what I was looking for, but they were way over budget. I knew that finding a dress to top the one from Ally’s Bridal would be a difficult challenge.
I was able to revisit the dress that had haunted me for a month when I flew home for a friend’s wedding in June. I made my sister come with me, because if I needed her input if I was going to seriously consider purchasing it. I tried it on for her, and her response was, “I have no qualms with this dress.” I’m not kidding. That’s a direct quote. That was not the reaction I was hoping for, but when I tried on another dress I liked for her to compare, she admitted she definitely liked the first dress more. The shop owner and I talked about adding lace cap sleeves to the dress to up the vintage and romantic feel, so I knew it could be a bit closer to what I had in mind originally. Knowing I had a deadline to meet and a budget to keep, after I found out I could buy it as a sample, $300 under the ordering price, I bit the bullet and bought it.
We didn’t end up setting a wedding date for October, and instead pushed it back to January. For the next six months, I agonized over whether or not I had made the right decision. I am unfortunately one of those people who has a difficult time making a final decision on things and often second-guesses them, wondering how things would have turned out had I chosen differently. I went back and visited the dress and tried it on for my sister-in-law, a retail manager, to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Some days I thought I hated the dress. I looked up pictures of the dress on the designer’s website and other brides’ sites, and confirmed that yes, the dress really wasn’t as nice as I thought it was, and that I had made a terrible decision. I even tried on another dress I had fallen in love with online after I purchased mine when taking my sister to find her maid of honor dress. Thankfully, although it was a gorgeous dress, it was too “summery” for a January wedding, way out of my original price range, and not nearly as flattering on me as the one I purchased.
(Please excuse the vertical orientation and turn your head or computer to the right)
It wasn’t until a few weeks before the wedding at my first fitting that I finally changed my mind. I pinned my hair up similar to how I planned to wear it day of. I brought my shoes and jewelry with me. I brought my incredibly honest and supportive friend Lauren. And finally, with all the little details almost in place, standing in front of the mirror, I could finally see it. The evening light in the store danced and flickered on the beading of the dress as I turned slowly on the pedestal. I began to feel the emotion spread through my chest, and tears welled up in my eyes. I was about to be a bride.
I never thought I would make my dress decision out of practicality, and that my heart would finally catch up months later. But I shouldn’t have been too surprised, considering I am a firm believer that “just knowing” about a relationship (or a dress) is rare, and should not be the standard. My dear engaged friends, don’t let the idea of how it is “supposed to be” and finding “the dress” get to you. There is no formula to finding a dress that will make you feel lovely and confident on your wedding day. The process doesn’t look the same for everyone. What was important was that I felt gorgeous when I looked in the mirror in my practically chosen dress on January twenty-first, and I knew that my husband would think the same.