5/23 {Real Bride: Mellzah} My Dress Shopping Experience Part III, Or I Said Yes To A Dress, & What I Learned

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No, not my wedding dress, but I adore it and I’m hoping to find something similar for my roaring 20s bachelorette party!

This weekend, I made a proper appointment at The Princess Bride in Bothell and was accompanied by only two other people: my maid of honor and another of my bridesmaids, both assertive enough to ensure that I wouldn’t allow an opinion other than my own to determine my ultimate purchase. It was by all accounts a smashing success, as I ended up buying a dress that I absolutely love. Here ‘s what I learned from my experience:

1) Consider dresses in the context of your theme.

No one’s saying you can’t wear a ballgown to your beach wedding or a sarong to your church wedding if that’s what you really want, but a dress that fits in with your overall scheme will look more cohesive. If your overall theme is ‘vintage’,  bringing in elements of the time period you want to emulate will help tie everything together. Same with bridesmaid dresses, but that’s an article for another day!

2) Have a good idea of what you like.

Browse Pinterest, look at other weddings, watch a boatload of Say Yes to the Dress, read bridal mags, and really look at the dresses. Not necessarily specific dresses or specific designers, but fabrics, common elements between dresses that speak to you. You might not be able to afford that Jenny Packham that you’re dying over, but that and a few other dresses may help you figure out that you’re all about the beading–and that’s a great start! Bring examples of the things you love to the bridal salon, point out the elements that really speak to you, and you’ll avoid having dresses pulled that just waste your time and exhaust you mentally (it’s hot, emotional work trying on dresses, and the more you try on, the more confused and upset you can get!).

3) That said, be flexible. 

You can read all of the magazine articles in the world about which dress will actually suit your body type best, but no amount of reading can replace actually seeing them on your body yourself.  A chart may tell you that as a short, full-figured person, you shouldn’t even look at a fit & flare and should resign yourself to empire,  but I can tell you that as a 5’2″ (on a good day) full figured person, I tried on a fit & flare and everyone was dying over how great I looked in it. And if you are really in love with a shape, try several if the first one doesn’t work out–I tried on a different fit & flare at another shop, and it looked like I was in my second trimester with a baby conceived in a threesome with Ben and Jerry. All I’m saying is, don’t knock out a shape off the bat because someone else says it won’t look good on you–see for yourself. Try them all. You may end up surprising yourself! The dress I ended up buying, while it is one I pulled myself, is one that I wouldn’t have ever even considered if I had only seen the promotional photos. You really can’t tell what you’ll love until it’s on your body.

4) Research your shop before you book an appointment.

I saw The Princess Bride‘s booth at the Seattle Wedding Show, which put them on my radar. I checked out their website and saw that they carried designers who reflected the aesthetic I was looking for, which increased the odds that I’d find something that I’d like. (It also didn’t hurt that they gave me a coupon for $100 off a dress purchase at said wedding show…so definitely check out wedding shows in your area!) Going to a different shop that focused on different materials and shapes might have meant that I’d have wasted my time, or ended up being talked into buying a dress that was something other than what I really wanted. For example, my maid of honor was talked into buying a very princessy gown at a shop with more dramatic gowns for her wedding this past October, when she really wanted something simpler. This week, while looking for dresses for me, she found exactly the kind of dress she’d been pining over and ended up kicking herself retroactively for not sticking to what she really wanted.

5) Start at an actual shop, not at a sample sale.

Starting at a sample sale like I did made me feel very discouraged about the dress-finding process, because the samples they had in my size were dirty, torn, and poor quality–and they fit me very poorly, to boot, which left me feeling like the odds were against me in terms of finding a dress that I love that fits me. At A Princess Bride, I was shocked, SHOCKED, that I fit into their samples with no issues, because I expected a repeat performance. No, no, no. You may strike gold at a sample sale, or you may end up looking through the poorly made, ill-fitting crap that no one else wanted, and that is no way to start off your dress-buying experience. My problem during an actual dress appointment was choosing only one of the dresses to purchase when so many looked so damn great!

6) Before you go in, make sure you set a hard budget.

Know exactly how much you’re willing to spend, and figure in several hundred dollars of alterations into that amount. If you’ve got $1500 to spend, you may want to cap your dress at 1000 so you have money to add sleeves, or a bustle, or cups, or modify a neckline without going over your budget–alterations and sales tax adds up fast! Whatever number you set, stick to that number. Don’t even think about trying on a dress you can’t afford, because once that dress hits your body and you fall in love, nothing else will compare and you’ll be heartbroken, or you’ll devastate your budget, or put a financial strain on anyone who has kindly offered to help you purchase your dress.  Or maybe you  have some wiggle room in your budget but know you’d feel sick about spending that much money later–don’t say yes in the heat of the moment and regret it later! Stick to your number. You’ll find a dress, I promise. The lower the number and the more exacting your specifications, the more legwork you’ll have to put in, but you will find a dress.

7) Hydrate!

Seriously, who would have thought that trying on a bunch of dresses could make a person so thirsty?

8) Leave the crew at home.

Bring just a couple of people–three, max. The more people you include, the more opinions there will be about what actually flatters you, and again, you may end up getting confused or being pushed away from a dress you love or into a dress you’re ambivalent about.  Put these people in charge of taking pictures of you from the front, and especially from the back so you can see what everyone else sees. You can show it to everyone else later, but while you’re shopping, make sure that the collective voice of others doesn’t overpower your own.

9) Start early.

Start looking earlier than you may think you have to–if you’re not buying off the rack, gowns can take 6 months or more to be made. Occasionally dresses can be rushed for an additional fee…but not always. You don’t want to fall in love with a dress that you can’t have, and you don’t want to be stuck with something you don’t love off the rack because you don’t have time to find anything else.

10) Have fun!

If you aren’t having fun, if you don’t like your sales rep, if you feel pressured or hassled or ugly: you need to leave. Give yourself a break and try somewhere else, maybe with other people. Just because you spent an hour and a half on a dress appointment does not mean you owe the shop a sale. Buying your dress should be an enjoyable experience, and if it isn’t, all you’re going to be able to associate with your dress is how unhappy you felt in the shop.

How did you go about finding your dream dress? Any tips/tricks you’re willing to share?

Editor’s note: Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of Mellzah’s dress shopping extravaganza! 

Melissa Leff makes fun happen! When she's not wrangling pixels, grammar, or people, she's making stuff and blogging about her misadventures. Catch up with her at her blog, Mellzah.com, and on Twitter!