An Honest Take on Wedding Dress Shopping

After years of watching Say Yes to the Dress, I thought wedding dress shopping was supposed to be this magical day, full of tears and champagne. In reality, wedding dress shopping is REALLY hard. I tried hard to stick to a modest budget (~$500 including alterations) knowing the realities of alteration costs (which, news flash, can run you a few hundred smackaroos on top of your already overpriced ball of fabric).

As you'll see with my inspiration photos below, I really wanted a dress with long sleeves. But given the fact that I do not have waif thin arms, most long sleeve dresses I tried on wouldn't even get up to my shoulders. Such a buzz kill! I also gravitated towards a more bohemian style in the inspiration phase of this whole shebang, but apparently my body was like, "nah bitch, try again". In the day of Pinterest, its so easy to find inspiration photos that you think represent the look you're going for, but when you add cost + your body type into the equation, that doesn't always pan out. And there was the simple fact that almost nothing I tried on made me feel like a "bride". Now, I don't think the dress I ended up getting made me feel very "bridal", it made me happy and I tried to role with that. It was 100% not what I had envisioned for myself, but really what sold me on it was a comment my mom made. She told me that I had the rest of my life to dress minimally or modestly, but given that I'm not frequenting red carpets in this lifetime, I really only get one day to wear a crazy, over the top dress. And its true! Every inspiration picture I found was one I would realistically wear in real life and if I wasn't going to find a dress that made me feel like a "bride", I might as wear one that was over the top and made me smile.

Lets be straight, I don't tend to water down or sugar coat things over here. I want to be honest as I recap my whole bridal experience. I was not someone who has dreamed of their wedding day. Editorially I find weddings jaw dropping and inspirational. But in reality I really struggled with the direction I wanted the day to go and the look I wanted to convey. I tried to keep an open mind through the whole thing, but given that I am in the most indecisive person in the entire world, it was very hard for me to commit to one dress months in advance. As I mentioned before, I gravitate towards simplistic, minimalistic and bohemian aesthetics, but those wedding dresses were either WAY out of my price range or just not a good look for me. 

Okay, enough chit chat. Keep reading if you're interested to see how this whole thing went down. Hopefully this helps any soon-to-be brides out there when it's your turn. And of course I have to ask, what was your dress shopping experience like? 

Lovely Bride was what Pinterest dreams are made of. Millennial pink walls, mid century style couches, plants and natural wood accents made me want to start paying them rent. Unfortunately this salon was way out of my price range. The ruffled wrap dress I fell in love with was over $2,000 and at the end of the day, didn't seem much different than something I would wear to work (although it did make me feel very "me", if that makes sense).

If you had asked me to pick my dream bridal gown, I would have picked the one from my first inspiration picture. Very understated but impactful, with long sleeves, waist definition, and buttons details. Paired with the understated boho headpiece, I was sold, hook, line, and sinker. In reality, this dress style looked AWFUL on me and was hella expensive. I was so brokenhearted, but it goes to show how radically different our body types are and how important alterations are to a final look.
Bridal Garden was not my cup of tea. I will say, I loved that this was a not-for-profit bridal salon that offered brides designer dresses at a DEEP discount. But they were all very "traditional" and not really my style. Sadly I left with no photographic evidence of the dresses I tried on (trust me, they were awful).

Schone Bride was like Lovely Bride: the stuff dreams are made of. I found some great dresses here, but again they were all pretty pricey. I loved the short sleeved feather dress. LOVED. But the neckline rode up every time I raised my arms and I was nervous that I would need to keep fixing it all night. I had every intention of busting a move on our wedding day and knew this dress wouldn't photograph well in anything other than the portrait shots. In addition to that, it wasn't the most figure flattering on my body type. I would have needed to diet (or invest in some heavy duty spanks) before the wedding to get rid of the "pooch" I carry in my lower stomach and that's just not something I could see myself committing to. But let me reiterate, I LOVED THIS DRESS. Side Note: I showed Greg this photo after the wedding and he hated it.

In addition to the feather dress (that was shockingly affordable at $850 and wouldn't have needed any alterations), I tried on the long sleeve lace wrap dress from my inspiration photos. Guys, that dress was over $6,000. And if that's not enough of a turn off, it looked so cheap and awkward in person. I wish I took a picture of it to show you how much that model is photo shopped!
BHLDN was where I was convinced I would end up getting my dress. I've been following their brand since its inception and have loved so many of their dresses. All of their dresses are under $2,000 and a lot of their bridesmaid dresses come in an ivory color, making it a very budget friendly option. Given that the entire line is meant to be worn off the rack, the lack of alterations is a huge bonus. And if all of that wasn't enough, you're able to buy and return the dress like any other clothing store. As someone who is very indecisive, I thought I'd hit the jackpot. 

I fell in love with so many dresses here. The flower dress at the top of this post was one of my favorites, but after sitting with the pictures for awhile, I realized it wasn't as figure flattering as it could be, given all the detail and bulk at the waist. I loved the simple bridesmaid dress I tried on (which was only $200) but thought the bust was a little weird. The sparkly beige dress was the front runner while I was in store. I loved that dress in person, but recognized that it does not photograph well at all. Had I not decided on the dress I did, I probably would have seriously considered the grey floral a-line gown. In fact, when I was in the salon making my pro/con list for the dress I did end up choosing, I had it down to that one and this one. But this dress was $1,500 and that was more than I was comfortable spending on a wedding dress. I will say I loved that it wasn't white and thought it did wonderful things for my figure. It was "bridal" without being too over the top for me.
Reformation was another disappointing option. Yet again, Photoshop made the dress look different online than it did in person. I thought the long-sleeve wrap dress would be a great alternative to the lace long-sleeve wrap dress I had pinned and tried on at Shone, but the shoulders weren't flattering, it was very see through and hella low cut. My grandmother would have to see me in this for Christ's sake and I was not about to risk a nip slip.
I liked the short sleeved kimono style as well but hate when you can see the fabric overlapping. I will admit these dresses looked great in other colors, because you couldn't see the overlapping fabric, but with the white they just looked cheap.
Love It At Stella's is the only non-NYC bridal store I went to and I had zero intention of getting a dress here. As you can probably tell, I don't gravitate towards the more traditional or more popular bridal styles. I don't like the mermaid fit (or anything too tight or formfitting for that matter), I've never been one for rhinestones or bling and I probably haven't worn anything strapless since my high school prom. Given that my parents live in a semi-rural town, I figured I wasn't going to have many option, but since my mom had very generously offered to buy my dress, I felt very strongly about involving her in the process if and when I could. Little did we know she would be the only one with me when I found my wedding dress.

Prior to Stella's I had gone to a handful of bridal salon, had done a ton of online shopping (including Lulu's and Amazon) and had only involved a couple girlfriends that live near me in the city (or gone by myself). Truthfully, at this point, I was very discouraged by the whole process and realized I was running out of time, assuming a dress needed to be "custom ordered" (which, for the record, I think is utter bullshit. But that's a rant for another day). Lets keep in mind I'm not a very "emotional" person and I'm certainly not impulsive. My final decision was very rational and calculated. I didn't cry and I certainly didn't want to hold up a sign saying I said "yes to the dress", but honestly it was super sweet to see my mom's reaction and have her serve as my enthusiasm proxy. It was also hilarious seeing all the girls around me try on all the bedazzled gowns with their cowboy boots while I tried on the dresses the stylists had yet to be able to get a bride to even consider, let along try on.


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