Weekends are for weddings! If you’re like me, with 9 weddings each year, the weekends are, quite literally, for weddings (attending them, that is). Also if you’re like me, the weekend is a time to think about planning your own wedding. Lots of people carve out a certain time each week for to wedding planning (Wedding Wednesday seems to be very popular). It ensures the wedding doesn’t take over their whole lives; however, I find that confining wedding planning to a specific time is too pressure-filled and bicker-prone. I plan my wedding when inspiration strikes. Weekends, in particular, offer the time to let my mind roam and plan my own wedding in a stress-free environment. In this series, I’ll take you through some of my major planning steps – hopefully this will help you plan your own wedding!
The dress feels like one of the biggest wedding decisions, yet it’s the only one that affects no one but the bride. All the guests enjoy the food and the venue, but it’s only one person who wears that dress. It seems so silly! But it is something to take kiiiiind of seriously because like it or not, there will be a moment when every person in attendance will look right at you and you only so you want to make sure you look good. Also, even a cheap wedding dress is quite pricey so you need to love it. Pressure!
Disclaimer: No, I am not going to tell you what dress I picked, nor will I share pics of me in any dresses, even the ones I didn’t buy. What I will tell you about is how I came to find the salon and dress I love.
Where to Go:
I started by going on a fact finding mission at Bleubelle Bridal in my hometown of Savannah. So many people had told me I would be surprised by which styles I would like so I went to make sure what I thought I would like was indeed what I gravitated towards. HOT TIP: I recommend this investigatory dress mission. Going without the pressure of needing to find a dress that day will keep you less stressed and open to letting yourself figure out what type of dress you like. And you never know – even though I wasn’t expecting to, I almost walked out with a dress that day.
Some girls loooove dress shopping. It’s a chance to play dress up and drink champagne. I, however, HATE shopping in general. I get very overwhelmed with all the options of department stores so I knew a large bridal salon was not for me. I did some research, found a few designers I liked, and booked appointments at places that carried them. I narrowed it down to: Lovely Bride, Nicole Miller, The White Gown, and BHLDN.
Side Note: The White Gown was my wild card. It is a more traditional bridal salon, but everyone made me so nervous about my chosen salons being too niche that I booked it as a backup. Well, I hated my experience there. I wasn’t crazy about the dresses and my sales associate didn’t seem to be working for the business at all. I think she brought me two dresses to try on. I had actually been to the same salon a few months prior to help a friend pick out her dress. Then, the experience was great. For me, it just wasn’t right. I was looking for a less traditional dress so it would make sense that the less traditional stores would suit me better.
Enough about what I didn’t like – let me tell you about the salons I enjoyed.
- Nicole Miller was a good experience, but you know exactly what you’re getting into. They don’t have a huge selection so if you like the ones on their site like I did, you’re in business. If those aren’t for you, don’t bother. As far as wedding dresses go, these come at a very reasonable price point. It’s also great because you can shop around for a dress to wear to other wedding events since they’re not inherently a bridal designer.
- BHLDN, the bridal line from Anthropologie, was a wonderful experience. The salon looks just like a bridal version of Anthro – exposed brick, pastel, and bold tufted fainting couches. Bohemian with sparkle. The price point here is very affordable, but the dresses don’t look cheap.
- Lovely was my favorite salon. The look is similar to BHLDN but a little more glam. It looked like a nicely curated boutique, not like a white walled/carpeted (that upon inspection is actually dirty) wedding dress shop. I was comfortable there. Note: all pics in this post are from Lovely.
Laura, the stylist I worked with at Lovely was…lovely. She picked up on my nonverbal cues and offered honest opinions only when I asked. They had a nice selection of designers and I was able to look through the dresses myself. HOT TIP: All three of these stores I liked allowed me to “go shopping” in the racks (benefit of not being a traditional salon with a ton of inventory). This was a huge help in pointing out specific features to the stylist that I did/didn’t like that would have been harder to articulate otherwise. Salons like White Gown and Kleinfeld’s don’t allow you to do this. It’s fine if your stylist totally gets you and is a fashion genius, but I loved looking for myself. Lovely gets extra points because they restrict the shopping to just the bride and stylist. While my Mom would have been fine and normal, so many mothers/friends in attendance are not so this is a good rule of thumb. Also, it lets the bride truly think about what she wants to wear.
What to Buy:
The look I was going for was something less bridal and more like a long white gown. Let’s face it, when I’m the only one standing in the front wearing white and saying vows, they’ll know I’m a bride, even if I’m not wearing a traditional bridal gown.
Because I was overwhelmed, I decided to approach it the way I do in the regular world: I made a list. It turned out to be helpful because I was able to articulate what I wanted when I got to the boutique. Some items on my list:
- No ball gowns or crinoline of any kind.
- I kinda wanted to be a little sexy. Am I allowed to say that? It’s the ONE day where everyone is looking at me, and I wanted them to say “Dang! She looks good!” I didn’t want to say that out loud, so it translated to: “I would like something form-fitting with zero poof and either a low neck or low back.”
- I didn’t want to spend a ton of money. It’s hard to spend thousands of dollars on something you wear for 5 hours.
- To complete the look, I had a veil in mind and wanted the dress I chose to mesh with that overall style vibe.
Everyone – and I do mean everyone – had an opinion about my dress before I even started shopping. I was told I would never like lace and other materials look more bridal. Just because that’s what they think doesn’t make it law. I was also told I was wrong for not wanting the Kleinfeld’s experience. I’ve been with friends and it’s been great; however, I knew that I would freak out in such a large space with that much inventory. And everyone said not to go in with such a strong idea of what I wanted because 9 times out of 10 the bride goes in and chooses something totally different. Then I guess I’m the 10th because I wound up with exactly the type of dress I described. At 30 years old, I know my body and what styles work best. What I’m trying to say here is to trust your gut.
I set a budget that was pretty low. Plenty [most] girls spend at least that much on just their dress, but I wanted it to cover the dress, alterations (which can be $600-$900), and accessories (shoes, veil, belt/sash). Guess what. It’s totally doable. I kind of don’t know why some people spend so much on their dress.
Some tips I found super helpful:
- Have an idea of what you like. Flip through magazines or even Say Yes To The Dress. You don’t have to be as specific as I was, but knowing in general that you love tulle, for example, is helpful in figuring out a starting point.
- Think about your best (and worst) assets. I am not very well endowed up top. That meant I am actually able to pull off a super low cut dress without it looking inappropriate. However, unlike my boobs, my tummy is not flat. It’s not bad, it’s just my least-loved area. That meant lace was maybe a better material for me because it was a bit more forgiving. I didn’t want to get a dress that would require me to stress about dieting in the weeks leading up to the wedding.
- Know your personal style. The best part about my first appointment was the sales associate asking me what my style was – not my wedding dress style, just my general fashion style. She asked, “If I gave you a $5,000 AmEx gift card, what stores would you go crazy in?” I told her I err on the side of preppy and am a big Kate Spade fan. My Mom contributed that I am girly but not froufy. That gave her a good sense of what I would be most comfortable it – clean lines and structure. If your sales associate doesn’t ask this question, volunteer the info.
- If you think you’ve found the dress, don’t buy it on the spot. Allison suggested going to my other scheduled appointments and if I continue to compare the other dresses to the first one, that would be the sign that it was the right one. Also, take pictures if you’re allowed. The wedding lasts a few hours but the pictures are what you’ll be looking at for years. When I got home and reviewed pics, I realized one of the dresses I loved simply didn’t photograph that well.
- Trust your sales associate. This is what they do for a living. All the dresses my Mom and I picked off the rack were almost right but not quite. They had the right elements but didn’t quite come together. On the other hand, all the ones the associate pulled were direct hits.
- Scout for trunk shows. If you discover a designer you like, see if they have an upcoming trunk show. You’ll get to see the full collection (vs. just a sampling) and get the dress at 10% off. That savings could amount to hundreds of dollars.
- Bring the right people. You need someone else there so you’re not just relying on skinny mirrors. Someone needs to tell you if the dress flatters you, specifically. However, too many people means the appointment can’t get focused. Also, make sure the people in the room remember that it’s your dress, not theirs. My sister in law and I have somewhat different styles, but it didn’t matter because when we were in the salon she was wearing her Tess hat. For herself, she may have preferred dress number 4, but she was able to recognize that dress number 2 was more my style.
FYI: Don’t worry – after the wedding is over and done with, you’ll see plenty of pics of me in the actual dress!