Mission: Wedding Dress (Part 1)

This past August I married my best friend. During the process of planning the wedding, I didn’t want to post too much about it and give away all the fun details. Like any good newlywed, though, I’m excited to share how it all came together, photos of the process, and what I learned during the planning!

Warning: Wall of text ahead! Finding a wedding dress was a very long process for me, so only continue reading if you’re morbidly curious. This is why websites like https://www.winniecouture.com/ stock many brands and styles of dresses to make the whole process easier!

Wedding Hanger

Wedding dress shopping.

Phew. Am I glad I’m finally done with that!

It was actually one of the things I was most excited about doing after getting engaged. I mean, come on! Getting to try on countless glamourous and highly expensive infinity dresses, then spinning in front of a three-way mirror feeling absolutely beautiful? What girl wouldn’t want that experience? Unfortunately, the reality was a lot more long-winded and stressful than I had imagined, partly because of how far away I live from my mother and sisters. My mother and sisters are My People. You know, the ones you absolutely need with you to give you that all-important thumb’s up approval for The Dress. Needless to say, right after getting engaged and the first time all of us girls were together for Thanksgiving, we decided we HAD to go for at least a wedding dress spin: a no-expectations shopping trip, just for funsies. Because we were in Asheville, North Carolina, the sad reality was that there really wasn’t much there in terms of wedding dress shopping. The cute little boutique my sister had bought her dress at five years ago had closed down, leaving only David’s Bridal and one other small shop with a disappointingly limited range of dresses.

Let me take this moment to insert here that I am possibly The Most Picky Wedding Dress Shopper in the History of Brides. No really – shooting weddings for over six years made me very aware of how…well…similar most wedding dresses are. They’re white. They’re either fluffy or not. And most often, they’re strapless.

…in the end, only one person will really even remember what your wedding dress looked like and that’s you.

There’s nothing I wanted less than a strapless dress. There it is. I’m sorry if that offends you. I’m sorry if you loved your white strapless wedding dress. It’s a totally personal choice and the only person’s opinion that really matters is yours. If I learned anything from wedding dress shopping, it’s this: that in the end, only one person will really even remember what your wedding dress looked like and that’s you. No matter how original or unique you think you’re being, it’s still a white dress. {unless you’re one of those super gutsy girls who goes for a blue wedding dress, in which case I give you a big nod of kudos} Regardless, the most important thing is for YOU to love the dress. For you to feel like a million bucks in it. And nothing I was trying on was doing that for me. That first shopping trip actually taught me a very important lesson: that if the woman putting you into the dress doesn’t do a good job with the clips, it’s gonna look horrible. Not just horrible, TERRIBLE. Like you’re swimming in yards and yards of white and it’s swallowing you up. Lesson number one learned. Lesson number two? (which I’m sure every girl tells herself she knows) Don’t EVER shop out of your budget. After flying back home to Chicago, I meandered into a few stores on my own {which leads to lesson number three: don’t shop for a wedding dress alone. It’s just downright depressing. Thank God for a good friend who came with me on my last Chicago excursion!} During these trips, I found some stunning dresses that gave me almost the right feeling of awe, only to realize they were several thousand dollars out of my price range. Oops. Lesson number five: if a wedding dress attendant seems to be ignoring your price range, don’t just walk out…run.

if a wedding dress attendant seems to be ignoring your price range, don’t just walk out…run

Thankfully, I’ve been in the wedding industry long enough to know that all that hype about “there’s only one dress out there for you!” is total crap. I moved on. At this point, I realized that having my mother and both sisters fly into Chicago just to accompany me wedding dress shopping was not only an expensive proposition, but also a little silly. Chicago is pricey. Has riiiiiidiculously high tax. And it was the dead of winter. We decided to aim for a February shopping trip in Durham, NC, where my older sister lives and only a five hour drive away from where my mom and other sister live. The triangle area, made up of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, has a good number of wedding dress stores and also a much kinder forecast. It’s also located conveniently close to Charlotte. Our plan was to shop in the triangle on day one, with Charlotte as our Saturday backup plan. The week before I flew down, Mom began praying non-stop novenas to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Yes, my mother considered me a lost cause when it came to actually choosing a wedding dress.

Dress Shopping

The day began early for me: at 4am I hopped on the El to catch a 6am flight to the mountains. A few hours later, I disembarked the plane, ready to hit the town running. My sisters, in typical sister fashion, were running a late. Mom sent me a flurry of texts to assure me that they were on their way. {No really, practically out the door} The first store we stopped at was a bust. Empty on that Friday morning, this particular bridal store had a distinct lack of personal touch and the attendants seemed very indifferent to my quest for The Perfect Dress. I tried on a few gowns, but knew instantly none of them held even a touch of interest for me. After a quick pick-me-up at Starbucks, we continued on our merry way to the opposite end of Raleigh. This second store was actually quite nice and the attendants very personable. The entire shop was organized by designer and there was also a back room full of last year’s gowns on sale. SCORE. {I am totally about the sale dresses} Gown after gown after gown was put on, styles were discussed in depth, and everyone gave their opinion. Every once and a while, my mom or one of my sisters would get excited about a dress, but I just wasn’t feeling it. {swan feathers on bodice? Interesting? Yes. For me? no.} None of them made me excited. The more I tried on, the less I knew what I wanted. I kept repeating that I wanted something whimsical and quirky, but no one {least of all me} seemed to know what that meant. I also felt increasingly stressed because I remembered hearing how bad it is to try on too many dresses. “Too many dresses,” all those terrible wedding shows blare, “and you will just get more and more picky and won’t know what you want!” FALSE. Lesson number six: sometimes, you need to try on a lot. Sometimes, you really just need to see how everything looks and only then will something pop out at you. Be patient, feed everyone around you lots of donuts and coffee, and don’t freak.

I wanted something whimsical and quirky, but no one -least of all me- seemed to know what that meant

After scouring the entire store and trying on dozens of dresses, our group was dejected and losing momentum. Piling back into the car, we zoomed out of Raleigh and into Durham. I now feel a keen affinity for Durham. My sister and her husband have lived in Durham for several years now, but it’s only been recently that I feel like my sister has really developed a liking for the town. It’s small, to be sure, but being in the triangle area, it’s quite close to many other cities and its downtown has a certain charm to it. Our third and final destination for the day was a tiny boutique right in the heart of downtown. Our appointment was at 3:30, but we found just enough time to duck into Monuts Donuts and gorge on some of its mouth-watering delicacies. Feeling a little bit more fortified, we parked outside of Tre Bella feeling a little bit resigned to the fact that we’d have to wake up early to drive to Charlotte the following day.

Wedding board

(even my Pinterest wedding board was all over the place)

Tre Bella was a tiny salon. My heart sank a bit when I walked inside, because I could immediately see that they didn’t have nearly as many dresses as any of the other stores we had been to. Lesson number 7: often, small is better. Less choices will actually mean not only better choices, but a way for you to narrow down what you like. The owner immediately greeted us and sat down with me to talk about what I was looking for. When I told her my budget, she kindly pointed out the sale section and suggested we look through those particular gowns, as most of the other dresses would be much more expensive. We immediately started pulling dresses out, trying to keep open minds about each one. I noticed that these dresses were much more unique than any of the others I had seen all day. They were different. There were some really plain ones and some much more elaborate ones. My mother instantly fell in love with a rack of Downton Abbey-esque dresses (I had to firmly repeat several times that I wasn’t going for a 20s look, although it’s quite beautiful). Both of my sisters, on the other hand, declared their adoration for a surprisingly plain, no-frills dress that looked like something Kate Hutson would wear in How to Lose a Guy. My younger sister insisted that she wants that exact one when she gets married. Meanwhile, I was putting dress after dress on. Nothing was looking good, but the owner of the store was cheerfully encouraging. We stopped for a second to discuss what I was looking for and somehow began talking about one of the few dresses I had liked, both online and at a way-too-expensive store in Chicago, and what elements it had that I had fallen in love with. The owner began pulling more gowns out, like a magician with a hat. I’m not quite sure where they came from, but they kept getting closer and closer to what I was looking for. In that instant, St. Jude decided to come through. Not with one dress, however, but with two. {How typical of a man!}

St Jude comes through at last!

The first, was exactly what I thought I had been looking for, down to the very fabric. It fit perfectly and would only need to be slightly shortened depending on what shoes I’d wear. The entire dress was made up of the most delicate, beautiful lace, with multiple layers of the lacy fabric falling down the skirt in different lengths. It was strapless, so I’d have to either give in on that point or wear some kind of little jacket – an intriguing idea that didn’t bother me. It was so gorgeous though, that I wasn’t sure a wreath of flower (which I really wanted to wear for the reception) would go with it. The second dress was a complete surprise: nothing like what I thought I wanted. It was a darker shade of cream with an absolutely gorgeous skirt covered completely in fabric flowers. The dress had some obvious flaws that would need major fixing, though. The bodice was beyond dreadful. It looked like a shapeless sack – something that was incomplete and needed to be pinned onto a mannequin. Honestly, it looked like the designer spent so much time putting together the skirt, that they just gave up on the bodice. There wasn’t even any boning in the strapless bodice, meaning it couldn’t stay up at all once I put it on. All of us decided it must have been a runway dress. To buy it, would mean finding a seamstress to completely take it apart and restructure it. The thought was overwhelming, but every single flower on that dress screamed “whimsical” at me.

Both dresses were almost the exact same price and exactly half of my budget. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Of course I went with the second.

Wedding Dress Shopping

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