I spent the past four days shopping for a wedding dress on the east coast. Four days, 10 appointments across two states, and I believe roughly 70 dresses. My “Overachievers Anonymous” group tells me that’s a lot. Just kidding. I obviously don’t have time for Overachievers Anonymous.
People have tons of advice around proper shopping for the “most important dress you’ll ever wear” (side note: people who say that obviously have no intention of winning an Academy Award). They say, “know what you want, but be prepared to end up with the opposite,” (well then why don’t I just shop for the opposite of what I want?) and, “pick the dress that feels like you…as a bride,” (but I’ve never been a bride…) and my favorite, “you’re going to be looking at pictures of this dress for the rest of your life, so make sure you like how you look in it,” (who, exactly, is purchasing dresses that they think they look bad in?).
I am now pleased slash exhausted to say that I have some wedding dress shopping of my own. Mine comes more in the form of a survival guide – tips for making it through without wanting to elope in a white, satin mini dress.
The Research: You’ll want to start looking for your perfect wedding dress approximately two years before you actually get engaged. I recommend keeping an online file or Pinterest board called something like “Someday…” so you seem like slightly less of a freak. Bottom line, you need to buy a dress approximately nine months before your wedding, so if you have, say, a one year engagement that only leaves you three months for research, and that is two years and nine months too short a time. (Not even I can decide if I’m being sarcastic with the above…)
The Appointment Booking: Wedding salons somehow like brand new restaurants that always stay brand new. In other words, you need to make an appointment a month in advance if you expect to get in. I should preface that by saying that I did my shopping in New Jersey and New York City, the former of which is the most densely populated state in the nation (I think) and the latter of which is New York City.
That said, if you just show up at a place and beg for an appointment because another one of your appointments messed up the time, they’ll totally let you in.
The Supplies: You’re going to want to bring the following supplies with you to each appointment:
- Two, nude strapless bras (You should be wearing one. The other is a back-up in case of something completely unknown. It just felt safer to have two.)
- One pair of nude underwear (You should be wearing these as well. Thong is fine, but remember that a stranger will be seeing you in it).
- One pair of nude Spanx (You’ll put these on over your nude underwear so that you look like the version of yourself after eating nothing but salads for the three months before your wedding day)
- Almonds or your choice of on-the-go healthy protein (You don’t fit five appointments in one day and expect a lunch break).
- Bottled water (It gets pretty hot in those dresses. Assign a bridesmaid or mother to be your water boy throughout the day. Note: the bridal salons don’t think it’s funny when you suggest that your water boy squirt the water right into your mouth, football style).
- Shoes the height you will wear (That’s just smart shopping people. I do it when I’m looking for jeans, let alone the second most important dress of my life – third if you could the Emmy’s, which no one really does).
- Hair tie (You’ll want to see your hair both up and down in the dress. There’s nothing particularly funny about this. I’m sorry).
The Spectators: First, be prepared for many salons to limit the number of people you bring. I thought it was because they didn’t have a lot of space. I now know that it’s because they’re looking out for your own good, and my spectators were incredibly well behaved.
Prep your team on the kind of responses you’re looking for. Example: “Let me react first, and then let me know what you think,” or, “Only say something if it’s really ugly,” or, “Here are paddles with the number 1-9 on them. Please hold up the corresponding number you feel as you see the dress.”
The Crying: I want to tell you that just because you and your spectators don’t cry the moment you walk out in the perfect dress doesn’t mean you haven’t found the one.
BUT I tried on 70 dresses and there were only tears once, so I don’t know what to tell you…
The Stylists: At every boutique you’ll work with a different stylist who helps get you into and out of your dresses (read: sees you nudey). These people are an amazing cast of characters and worth the shopping experience alone. Here are literally all of mine:
- Connie – What Sally Field would be like if she were a struggling mother of three working part-time at a chain Bridal Store, and had a thick New Jersey accent.
- Nancy – If you are from the Tri-State area and have a sweet but candid aunt who wears low cut shirts and lots of jewelry, it’s her. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, I can’t explain her. Nancy was the only stylist who also cried, but it was at the same time as my Mom, so it made sense.
- Nadine – Fairly morose Jamaican woman who did not give two bleeps about the entire process. I loved her because she was almost mean about it, in a funny way. Like, “You think you like that dress but you don’t.” That said, she told me I’d be back to buy my favorite from that store, and she was wrong.
- Galina – A perfect-looking Russian model who tried SO hard to pretend my jokes weren’t funny, but I finally cracked her. I will say that it was hard to focus on myself in those dresses because I kept thinking about how much better Galina would look in them.
- Jessica – A sassy Persian girl from Queens who literally told me to go buy a cheap dress at David’s Bridal and modify it myself. She would have been my favorite but she worked at this place where you had to take off your shoes at the door, and I couldn’t get past that part of the experience.
- Yolanda – A sweet African American woman who told me my stomach was flat as a board and that I don’t have hips. I fell in love with a dress at her shop because it was a $500 discontinued sample of a $5,000 dress…that made her speak so kindly about my abs and hips…
(it’s almost over)
- Gina – A seamstress from New York who tried to sell me a discounted Vera Wang dress that was completely torn apart that I almost bought it because it was a discounted Vera Wang dress.
- Laura – Oh Laura… She was/is a beautiful and impeccably dresses stylist who works at Castle Couture (yes, that is the real name of the place) in Marlboro, New Jersey. She’s the one who saved me on that morning that I didn’t have an appointment and begged to be seen. She also lead me to the first dress I thought was the one. I even put a deposit down on it. It really was so beautiful. Sadly when I looked at the pictures of myself in it, it wasn’t the best fit (so that’s what they mean) so I cancelled that plan and went back to the crying dress.
- Liz – The young, recently engaged owner of a sample and consignment dress shop in a little cottage on her parents farm property aka the luckiest girl in the world.
- Brittany – The sweet niece of a shop owner who was very patient with me despite the fact that I had obviously already picked my dress.
The “Knowing” – Guys, I don’t know. I was so confused after appointment number seven that I actually fell in love with a dress that made me look like the world’s sexiest Scarlette O’Hara. It was rough. I kept finding dresses that would be perfect for different versions of myself (style schizophrenia is a real issue) and different versions of my wedding (like, this would be perfect if I was getting married at a chic, New York City hotel), but in the end, it was the dress that looked the best on me, and made me feel the most giddy to get married. I felt like I could wear it all day. I also felt like it represented the bride I want to be – sophisticated but fun, traditional but sexy. If you are a man still reading this, I’m sorry.
I’m happy to say that it was all pretty easy in the end – after it was really hard and somewhat frustrating. I am also happy to say that I have no desire to try on wedding dresses again. So, that either means I really found the best dress or that I exhausted myself to the point of shut down.
Either way, I have a WEDDING DRESS. How freaking cool is that?!