Wedding Wednesday: the dress

I’ve learned a lot about wedding dresses over the past couple of months. Mostly I’ve confirmed what I suspected in the first place: that I am not overly interested in them.

Now, let me be clear. I learned many things about wedding dresses in the process of finding mine. For one, they are GORGEOUS. Even if you haven’t spent your entire life dreaming about a specific dress or studying the styles, fabrics, details that are featured on them, there is no denying that the intricacy of a dress is awe-inspiring. This is a fact to which I hadn’t given a whole lot of credit up until a few months ago.

Kevin is SUPER superstitious about not seeing my dress. He wouldn’t even look at the opaque bag that carried it when we brought it to my parents’ house from the shop. So, out of respect for him – because he always reads my posts – I won’t go into great or specific detail here. I will, however. share a few tips and tricks that I learned along the way.

One thing that became really important to me after we decided to get married was to maximize our time while we are engaged. I wanted to take in all the traditional events and immerse ourselves in the experiences. The first of those things was trying on wedding dresses.

I honestly hadn’t given much thought to shopping for a dress until Amy mentioned doing it while she and her family were here for my birthday. We perused the options for a visit to New West’s Bridal District and selected the one that seemed fanciest. I was game for going, but I wasn’t going to shop around so we were limited to one stop that day. I’m not a shopper and I could mentally prepare for the appointment, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with two or more. We chose The Bridal Gallery as our destination, Canada’s largest wedding apparel store. I had no intention of buying my wedding gown there, but I wanted to get the full meal deal of wedding gown shopping. I don’t know where I thought I’d actually buy my dress, but I warned everyone ahead of time that we weren’t buyers on our outing. (I have no idea where or how I thought I would somehow magically end up with a wedding dress  otherwise, but this was the plan.) We booked a visit on my birthday and I rounded up my group: my matron of honour Amy, my mom and two of my aunts, though only one of my aunts was able to make it.

Tip one: Keep the group small and intimate. Most of the places we encountered limited brides to a maximum of four guests anyway, but I can’t imagine more than that. This is a limitation likely well founded since a couple of friends who did opt for bringing large groups to select their dresses found themselves annoyed, frustrated and overwhelmed in their crowded atmospheres. (Though, another couple of friends loved the experience of having a large group.)

We arrived at the appointment and were greeted at the front door. Our consultant introduced herself and walked us through room after room full of dresses, down several hallways and up even more stairs.

Tip two: They will make you take off your shoes. Nobody in my party was really prepared for that. Not a deal breaker, obviously, but it was a little annoying. They also won’t let you in with a coffee or any other beverage. All those Say Yes to the Dress shows on TV? Yeah, there are no mimosas in real life. Not in my experience, anyway.

We were booked into “The Vault” where we got a little more acquainted with our consultant and started talking about dresses (something I know nothing about. Don’t worry, I owned it.) She asked me things like do I like lace? (who doesn’t?), do I prefer chiffon or tulle? (what’s the difference?), how much “bling” am I into? (depends), what style of dress do I want? (what?)

I was a blank slate. I had opened nary a book nor visited a website. I was there for the experience and I was determined to get it. The legwork would be the consultant’s. Ever the professional, she assigned each of us with the task of picking one dress for me to try on. From there we would narrow down the things I liked, the things I didn’t, the looks that worked, the looks that didn’t.

If you have specific ideas of what you want or even a dress already picked out, now is the time when you’ll show and tell.

Tip three: Know what you want. Or don’t. I’d heard so many stories about women buying the exact opposite dress from the one they had in mind or having said an initial big old hell no to their dress only to fall in love when they tried it on. I was determined to save myself the drama of having to kiss a dream dress goodbye or to be super disappointed when something I thought would be perfect really wasn’t. Also, I’m lazy. 

In The Vault, there is a little pedestal for the bride to stand on and a motorized curtain that opens and closes around it. You start inside, the consultant closes the curtain around you, you put the dress on, the consultant comes in and ties you up, buttons you up, clips and cinches the dress to best replicate what it would look like after sizing and alterations have been completed. (It’s a science!) Once you’re all strapped in, back up on the pedestal you go and the curtain automatically opens to reveal you and your dress to your audience. Tada!

You discuss. You critique. You adore. You compare. You vote for. You veto.

Then onto the next dress.

Tip four: Prepare for a parade of cliches. “One man, one dress.” It’s their job to operate that way and they play up the emotional side. I’m mostly immune to that angle so all it really did was get a little annoying.

When the curtain was closing the first time, there was this second when I became acutely aware of the environment. I had all this “you waited this long for the right man to come along…” stuff being said which anyone who knows me knows is NOT my style at all, all this dress propaganda being fed to me and Air Supply was playing. I remember actually thinking, “oh brother. What have I gotten myself into.”

But it wasn’t so bad. It was only weird for me because I didn’t have high expectations for or too much attachment to what my dress would look like. That said, upon the umpteenth question about whether the one I was wearing was THE dress, I let our consultant know, quite clearly, that I’m the kind of woman who can love a lot of dresses. I’m not sure what that says about me based on her math.

Tip five: No photos. Wait, what?

Apparently this is commonplace in independent bridal shops. We were warned when we first started and then when we later took a break so Amy could try on bridesmaid dresses, the woman (not our consultant) reminded her as she hung her selections in a dressing room. Honestly, I found it gauche not to mention out of touch. I understand that they don’t want to have you go out and buy the same dress someplace else – there are several measures in place to prevent this, also weird – it comes across as threatened and insecure. I mean, if you want me to buy from you, then sell me.

Tip six: Know how much you want to spend.

We had a budget in mind and its flexibility was one of the first questions we were asked upon our arrival. In the end, we narrowed our selections down to three and then I tried those three on again. (A side note: when I’d been asked what I wanted in a dress, there was one thing I said I wasn’t crazy about…two of the three finalists had the exact feature that I was convinced that I didn’t want. Evidently, my slate wasn’t quite blank enough.) Once the best of the three was identified, we dressed it up with a veil and a necklace and a bouquet. It was really, really nice. It was within our (flexed) budget. Then all of a sudden, the existing (not mention flexed) budget was out of my comfort zone.

Wedding dresses are expensive and this one was relatively low in price, but I still couldn’t stop thinking about how much that could buy in some other venue. Like travel. Or…I don’t know. Other stuff. (Just travel.)

Tip seven: Wedding dresses don’t fit like other dresses. Or clothes. Even if you’re not like me and you don’t wear athletic clothing most days, you are probably used to having some give in your clothes. A little stretch, a little room, a little flexibility. Wedding dresses don’t. They fit you exactly and though I knew that going in, it still took a little getting used to. And don’t worry about what you wear under there. I got a little obsessed about this and it was all for naught. I didn’t wear a bra at all and as long as your underwear aren’t a really bright colour, which pair you choose probably won’t make a difference.

Of course, you aren’t finished with just the dress because then there are accessories: a veil, a necklace, a hairpiece, shoes, a belt, perhaps. And finally, alterations. We’ve heard estimates between $300 and $700 for them. Luckily for me, consensus says that I’d be off the hook for most of that since I’m tall and the heftiest alteration costs result from taking length off of several layers of dress. That isn’t a problem for me.

We left the Bridal Gallery without a dress, but with an intention to think about it. And think about it, we did.

In the end, I went shopping again a few weeks later with just my mom and aunt. Amy couldn’t be there because she lives out of town, but she was as close as she could be via iMessage. We tried one lead we’d received, but which turned out to be a total dud and then we threw a hail mary pass and headed to David’s Bridal in Langley.

I was aware of David’s because it’s a big chain of stores. It’s the place where a lot of women end up buying their dresses and, as one of those women, I understand exactly why.

Selection. David’s had just as many dresses, but in a much more expanded range of sizes. At Bridal Gallery, they only had a few sizes in a dress so you either had to squeeze into a size or two below or swim around in a size or two too big and try to picture what the dress would look like. David’s inventory was much more complete – if one size didn’t fit, the consultant simply got you the next smaller/bigger one. They also measured me which is something that never happened at the two other shops. The others just went by clothing sizes.

Pricing. Being a chain, David’s was better able to offer us some deals – $100 off promotion plus a $50 off coupon I’d picked up at the Wedding Fair the week before. They can better offer breaks and they have also kept in mind the wide range of budgets. There were plenty of dresses available for much lower prices than we saw in other places.

Extras. Again, their chain status enables them to add on extras like a dress cleaning and preservation program. Buy your dress there and you can buy the package that allows you to send it off via UPS when you’re done and have it cleaned and boxed up for preservation (if you so wish.)

Photos. This is something that really bugged me on our first trip. When I explained Amy’s status and geographic challenge, our consultant did whatever she could to help us include her. She even took the pictures for us (and of us) to share with Amy and commemorate the purchase. As an active user of social media, this was big for me and, while it wasn’t the point that made the sale, it was really nice.

I usually prefer to shop in independent shops so it took a little soul searching and justification to be able to pull the trigger on a dress from a chain store. Here’s what was missing from my purchase that could have been found elsewhere.

Impeccable service. The chain experience was complete with a young and inexperienced consultant. She was perfectly good and may someday even be great, but she wasn’t a pro. She needed direction, she didn’t always listen and if we hadn’t been so intent to buy (I was NOT going wedding dress shopping again) she probably wouldn’t have made the sale. At the Bridal Gallery, our consultant had honed skills. She knew how to talk the talk and she really knew how to make the sale. If I hadn’t coached myself so thoroughly to not buy on our first visit, we’d have been done in two hours.

Intimate environment. Our area was private, it was quiet and it was comfortable for my guests. There was only space for one bride in my room. At David’s there were fifteen change rooms. If they were all being used, that space would get very crowded. Luckily, we were the only group there when we went so we had space. I probably would have walked if I had to share it.

In the end, I am so happy that I did things the way I did – I got the really fancy experience of shopping for a dress in the kind of store that makes a bride feel like a BRIDE!! while I bought a dress that I love and that came at a more affordable price. It was a really fun adventure, but I’m also glad it’s over!

Did you love or hate shopping for a wedding dress? Do you have any tips to add?

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