Say Yes to the Dress is not an accurate portrayal of wedding dress shopping, nor is that episode in Friends where they all go home with a perfectly fitting dress and drink beer together…. that’s what I’ve learnt. Below is a true account of my dress shopping experience — no large black pegs were used in the making of it.
Unsure of where to start, my friend Tanya, who got engaged around a similar time to me, recommended a bridal shop in Essex as a great starter shop. They stock loads of different styles and she said I would be able to really filter out what I liked and didn’t like, so I took her advice and started the hunt there.
On a delightfully dull Saturday morning, my mum, sister and mum-in-law to be set off into the depths of Essex filled with excitement. I had visions of grandiose changing rooms, champagne, plush carpets and bright lights…oh how quickly I learnt that that was not the case. I entered a world of total and utter overwhelmingness. There were so many dresses I literally didn’t know where to start.
The lady who served us was lovely and explained the different styles and I gave her my budget. I decided to try on a range of styles as I literally had no clue. After selecting the dresses we were taken to the ‘dressing room’ which was a tiny, narrow room with a curtain at one end and just enough seats for everyone. It was essentially a broom cupboard. We weren’t offered a drink and I could feel my mouth becoming drier as I became more overwhelmed by it all.
At this point I should mention that I am 5ft3 and a size 12. Wedding dresses, unbeknown to me are made for 6ft tall, size 8 people. This was the start of what was quite frankly an exhausting, and at times depressing wedding dress shopping extravaganza that lasted about a month.
To sum up my first wedding dress shop experience, I look like a bowling pin in large ball gown dresses, mermaid style are near on impossible to walk in, and trying to picture yourself on the happiest day of your life with a woman standing behind you attempting to hold you in, do not scream out the romantic, wonderful experience I had imagined.
The second shop on the list (same day I might add, and I recommend you don’t do that, it was exhausting) was still in Essex and I had decided to go because they stocked a designer I liked. This wedding dress shop, amazingly, was worse than the first. Not only did they not have a toilet (we were instructed that the Pie & Eel shop next door were happy for us to use theirs) but there were no private changing rooms. I had to come out in an ill-fitting, ugly dress in the middle of shop with strangers staring at me! This is literally my idea of hell on earth.
The wedding diet was a non-starter at this point and quite frankly I do not love my body. I have lumps and bumps and my tummy sticks out. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, least of all squeezed into a size 8 glittered up mermaid dress. I find it quite amazing that brides like me are forced to make decisions about the most important item of clothing they will ever buy when the thing doesn’t fit. How do I know if I will be comfortable in it for 11 hours when at this moment in time it is cutting my arm pit like razor blades and the zip hasn’t gone past by bum!
Aside from the obvious issues with the dresses, having to make decisions with three of the most important women in my life is also really hard. My mother-in-law to be cried every time I put on a dress, my sister loved it as long as it had glitter and sparkles on it, and my mum was not mad keen on any of them. I couldn’t decide and felt totally overwhelmed.
Overall, not a wonderful start to dress shopping — I felt deeply traumatised but also determined to find my dress if it was the last thing I did.
The sad reality was that this was not a one-off ‘bad’ shopping day and from then on I experienced many different dress shop moments. I got my Prosecco-‘tell-me-about-your-wedding’-experience I was looking for, and to be honest it really did make a difference. Had the dress not been, in the ladies words, “a little bit over budget” then I probably would have bought it, mainly because she was so lovely and the changing room was massive! I experienced a studio space in Hackney where I fell in love with a completely alternative wedding dress. And thrown into the mix, the, ‘All of our dresses are size 8’s so we can see if you can fit into them’ experience — by far my least favourite!
Overall I visited eight dress shops and tried on well over 50 dresses in every shape and size. I became the expert on material and style and would walk into wedding dress shops with THE most specific requirements. I no longer cared about my body by the end of it and I was happy to whip off my clothes and bra and stand around in whatever changing room came my way.
To cut a long story short I settled for two dresses and on a second visit accompanied by my usual dress hunters, plus my dad and sister-in-law to be I went to show them the dresses and make a decision. Basically, my dad didn’t really like them and for me that was enough for them not to be the one. I wasn’t getting the wow feeling and I think I knew deep down that they weren’t for me. I needed everyone to go WOW and no one was.
So off we went to what I had now decided was the last wedding dress shop I was ever going to. Brides of Berkhampsted. On arrival I fell in love. The whole shop to ourselves, a cup of tea, plush carpets, a changing area and mirrors fit for a bride who had honestly had enough by this point. I searched the rails and loved so many dresses and was actually excited to try them all on, a feeling I thought had died inside me by this point!
Carol was so knowledgeable and kind (She even let me drink my tea in the dresses) and I felt like she had known me forever and I was at ease in her company. She made me feel comfortable in every dress I tried on (even the ones she pinned to my bra!) Low and behold, who would have thought, I fell in love with the first dress I tried on. My mother-in-law cried (obviously) and so did my mum! She assured me they were tears of joy as opposed to the previous tears of despair she had had in other shops! YAY!
For me this was most definitely the one! It had sparkles for my sister and I had butterflies in my stomach! An hour and a half later I walked out of there the proud owner of a dress, not only completely different in style from every single other dress I had tried on, but a different colour as well! Not only that but I came out having been to the toilet and not thirsty — two massive bonuses in my eyes!
For me, the bridal experience was less than perfect and I think the wedding dress industry has a lot to answer for in terms of their advertising and sizing. I mean, there must be more brides out there than me who have big boobs and a bum who want to see a dress on another bride with that too! I also believe that a pleasant, drinks-filled, happy wedding shop makes all the difference and I can’t wait to return to Brides of Berkhampsted in November to get my dress!
Karen: Thank you Fran, for your wonderfully frank account of wedding dress shopping. This is something I am hearing over and over again from brides of all shapes and sizes, and I would love brides-to-be, wedding dress boutique owners and designers to comment here or on our Facebook page, and tell me your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions for what we can do to make wedding dress shopping a thoroughly positive experience for every single bride-to-be.