Let’s face it, going dress shopping is THE most exciting thing about getting engaged.
Yeah, yeah, it’s brill you’re going to marry your best mate etc. etc. but trying on big white fluffy dresses that cost thousands of pounds and make you look insanely fabulous, well that’s pretty darn epic.
I had literally been waiting for this moment MY ENTIRE LIFE.
I won’t lie. There have been moments when me and a mate have considered popping into Accessorize, nabbing ourselves a £12 sparkling cubic zirconium and blagging our way into Bertex Brides Pheobe and Monica stylee. Yep.
But did we do it? No, we did not.
Because dress shopping is SACRED. And must only be done when ONE IS ACTUALLY READY TO BUY A DRESS.
The good news is, that dress shopping comes really high up the list of things to do, right after you’ve booked the venue. Especially if, like me, you have only given yourself 10 months to plan a wedding. That sounds like enough time, right? Well it’s not. As I found out in shop 1.
Nice lady in shop: “And when is the big day?”
Me: “30th October”
*lady writes on clipboard* “…2017”
“Are you pregnant?!”
Have you ever gone shopping for a dress for a night out that night as the shops were closing and had nothing else at all to wear? Well, that pretty much summed up my dress shopping experience after that.
In the end, my poor mother and I visited no less than EIGHT dress shops. EIGHT.
So, in order to spare you the pain, here are a few tips of do’s and dont’s which should make things easier
1.Don’t bother trawling through magazines before you go
Are you a 6ft blonde model who weighs 8 stone wet-through?
No? Then there is zero point in looking at dresses in Brides Magazine and picking out your dream gown.
I was convinced I would look fabulous in a sheath-style gown complete with flower crown.
In reality? I looked like a living room sofa the painters had covered up with a dust sheet.
You will very quickly discover the styles that are right for you and those that really don’t work, no matter how much you want them to. My first day of shopping was really just about narrowing down shapes that looked good and working from there.
2. Get ready to get naked in front of strangers
I went and bought No-VPL knickers and strapless bra from Marks’, but in reality, a lot of the dresses have built in underwear so that bra ends up on the floor pretty quickly.
If, like me, you did not grow up in a ‘naked house’ this can be pretty uncomfortable in the first four shops but after that you get pretty blahzay about whipping your top off in a metre wide cubicle with a woman you’ve never met before.
Don’t even attempt to put a dress on alone (most shops won’t let you anyway). Just embrace the nakedness.
There are limits though. One shop assistant left me in just a pair of knicks between each dress for ten minutes at a time with no robe. It was tres cold and tres awks and meant there was no-way I was buying a dress from there.
3. Love thy bridal consultant
Most dress samples in the UK are a size 12. Fantastic, if you are in fact, a size 12.
If like me, you are three sizes smaller (or bigger) then things get a little trickier.
Do you know how hard it is to imagine a dress doing all the magical pulling in, pushing up things it’s meant to do when it’s six inches too wide and 2 ft too long? Really, really hard.
This is where your consultant comes in.
A good consultant can make the dress fit you by hook or by crook (sometimes literally). They can crocodile-clip, pin and tuck you into fabulousness, at least giving you some idea of how the dress will fit.
One of the best ladies that helped me, tied my hair up into a chignon which really helped me envisage what I would look like.
4. DO NOT TRY A DRESS ON YOU CANNOT AFFORD
In shop four, I discovered designer dresses.
There are the usual names that do the rounds in most bridal shops; Mon Cheri, Essence of Australia, David Tutera, Sophia Tolli. Beautiful dresses around £800- £1500. These dresses are made in the Far East, you order a size and they are altered to fit you.
Then there are the designer dresses. These are hand-made specifically for your body in the UK. Suzanne Neville, Ian Stewart, Jenny Packham, Caroline Castigliano. They start at around £2800.
There is a difference between them. I can’t describe it. They just feel nicer. And once you’ve tried one on, it’s really, really hard to go back.
I tried on a stunning Suzanne Neville ‘Melody’ which my Mum fell in love with. It was £3495. Before alterations.
If you are happy to spend that amount then go for it. I personally couldn’t justify it and went for something I was more comfortable with.
5. Don’t panic if you don’t get THAT moment
We’ve all watched 500 hours of ‘Say Yes to The Dress’ right? No? Just me then?
Let me save you some time. Every episode goes like this:
1. Bride tries on one dress she thought was perfect but is actually hideous.
2. Bride tries on dress she likes but Mum hates.
3. Bride tries on dress she hates but Mum likes.
4. Bride tries on perfect dress, everyone cries, she sobs to the camera “I could just picture myself walking down the aisle in this”, Pnina Tornai arrives with champagne and Randy asks that all important question.
Here’s what happened with me.
By shop five, The White Closet in Liverpool, we were really getting panicked. The lady in shop number one told me I needed 9 months* to order a dress (6 months to order, 3 to alter) and I had 7 months and 23 days.
*This, by the way is utter bullsh*t, my dress will be ready in August*
I tried on a gorgeous £3200 Jenny Packham which was the total opposite of what I thought I wanted and started crying. We drank champagne, paid £1000 deposit and hugged the lovely lady in the shop.
The next day, I had a horrible terrible feeling in my stomach that I had made the wrong decision. As it turns out, I was crying because I was tired. Tired of shopping, tired of saying ‘it’s lovely it’s just not me’, tired of making appointments (oh yeah, you can’t just wander in, you have to book 3 weeks in advance btw), tired of seeing my poor Mum stifle a yawn as I came out in YET ANOTHER DRESS.
Luckily, The White Closet allowed me to cancel with just a £40 fee, but they had no obligation to.
And a few quick tips/FAQ’s:
- Don’t stress about taking shoes, they have them.
- Limit your entourage, most shops only like you to take 1 or 2. (I saw one lady with 15!)
- Take your bridesmaid’s/Mother-in-Law to your fittings instead.
- Find a shop with a good seamstress- your dress might be beautiful but the fit has to be perfect.
- Allow budget for accessories and alterations- those veils are not cheap.
- If in doubt, sleep on it. All decent shops would advise this.
- DO NOT STRESS. This is a once in a lifetime thing (hopefully)! So what if it takes 8 shops? Enjoy it.
In case you were wondering, I’ve made a list of some of the lovely shops I visited in my tour-of-all-North-West-bridal-boutiques. I’ve left out the naked shop though, ’cause aint nobody got time for that.
The Dressing Room, Garstang
Agape Bridal, Cheshire
The White Closet, Liverpool and Didsbury
Jean Jackson Couture, Urmston