When you research what comes next after choosing your wedding venue, you often see suggestions like “book your officiant” or “find your photographer!” You might even find comments like “you’ll want to get your DJ right away” but “purchase your wedding dress?” That’s definitely not on the top of the standard Wedding To-Do list, but it somehow ended up being my next big wedding check mark.
With a sixteen-month wedding planning period and my sister Jill’s wedding two and half months after Harley and I got engaged, I was in no rush to book anything other than the venue. Even as someone who considers myself to be a serious Type A planner, I’m enjoying having a longer engagement so far because I don’t have to worry about deciding on vendors quickly. In fact, I took a one-month hiatus from searching for a florist when I found myself getting stressed over finding the perfect vendor who fit our style and budget. Somehow, “saying yes to the dress” has been one of the easiest decisions I’ve made related to our wedding and the one that I thought about the least!
Dawn’s friend, Shelley is wearing a wedding dress from Mariolka’s Bridal Boutique, which inspired her to shop for her dress there. Dawn is also in this picture as one of Shelley’s bridesmaids! (Image: Jack Bates Photography)
It all started with my friend Shelley’s wedding (pictured above) in December 2016. Shelley has been one of my best friends and fashion gurus for over 10 years! She got her gorgeous wedding dress at Mariolka’s Bridal Boutique, so naturally I started following the store on social media when I got engaged.
One Sunday in May, Harley and I were relaxing at the pool, and I saw an advertisement on my Facebook newsfeed that Mariolka’s was having a huge sale to make room for the 2017 collections. I figured that I probably wouldn’t find anything because I wasn’t “ready” to look for a wedding dress. I hadn’t started “sweating for the wedding” yet like many brides do, my Wedding Dress Board on Pinterest only had about five pins on it, and I didn’t have wedding dress shopping on my planning timeline until at least August when I would be eleven months away from the big day. I also didn’t want to get too excited because Mariolka’s is a very high-end boutique, which I thought would be out of my price range. Regardless, I made plans to go to Mariolka’s that Tuesday after work with Shelley and my mom. It felt strange going without my sister because I was very much involved with her wedding dress shopping experience, but she lives four hours away and I didn’t want to miss out on the sale!
Dawn, her sister, and her mum drinking champagne at the Bridal Boutique after she tried on the dress for them.
We arrived at the store in the pouring rain only about an hour before they closed and started pulling dresses from the 2016 collections. I let the Wedding Dress Consultant know that I hadn’t really thought much about what type of dress I would like yet and was open to trying on different styles. We pulled about 7-10 dresses, and it finally became real that I was getting married when I had the first one on and was walking down the runway to Shelley and my mom. After being a bridesmaid or Maid of Honor in five weddings during a one-year period, it finally hit me that it was my turn to be the bride!
The whole process was such a whirl-wind of fun, fashion, and decision-making that I couldn’t even say if the dress that I ended up choosing was the second or sixth dress I tried on. All I remember about trying it on for the first time in the boutique was being surprised by how flattering the style ended up being for my body and saying, “but it’s not completely white.” Spoiler alert for Harley: My dress is ivory. That was a big concern for me at first because I’ve always thought that wedding dresses were “supposed” to be white. Now I’m learning that every wedding-related rule is simply a suggestion, and the only thing a couple is truly supposed to do is make their wedding a memorable day that is a reflection of their relationship.
I’m not one to make such an important decision on a whim, so I asked our extremely helpful Wedding Dress Consultant if she would be able to put the wedding dress on hold for me. Because it was a sale item, she was only able to hold it for 24 hours. I quickly scheduled an appointment at another Bridal Boutique for the next day and was very honest with the consultant there that I already had a dress to beat. Being that the dress from Mariolka’s was already at the top of my budget at 50% off, I knew that the quality of other dresses in my price range would not compare. When nothing I tried on even mildly paralleled its beauty and quality, I knew I had found the dress!
I quickly went back to Mariolka’s to put the deposit down on my wedding dress by myself because I wanted to make sure it didn’t go back out onto the sales floor. The Wedding Dress Consultant and I shared a hilariously awkward moment when she said, “Well, I guess we’ll celebrate with champagne when you come back with friends for your accessories.” Again, I wasn’t expecting to find a dress at this boutique so quickly and had no idea that they celebrated with champagne when a bride finds her dress. It was such a nice touch, and I did finally get to share my celebratory toast with my mom and sister and on July 9th…exactly a year from my wedding date when Jill was home for my mom’s birthday. I wanted my sister to be able to see the dress in person, and it looks even better now that sweating for the wedding has begun!
Dawn as a bridesmaid at her sister, Jill’s, wedding (image Laura Serra Photography)
Wedding Dress Shopping Tips
Reflecting on my dress shopping experience, I have a few pieces of advice for my fellow brides:
- Keep your shopping party small. I was so happy to have my mom and Shelley with me to try on dresses and wish my sister could have come, but I’m glad that I kept my shopping party to a minimum. I definitely sought out the opinions of my dad and stepmom, as well as my bridal party before making my ultimate decision, but having too many people present would have felt very overwhelming.
- If you’re alright with not having a custom-made wedding dress, End of Season sales are the way to go!In addition to fabulous prices on designer dresses, another perk is that your dress is readily-available at the boutique without waiting for months in anticipation.
- It can still be the dress if you don’t cry. Jill and I both cried when she knew she had found her dress back in January, but I was thinking very logically and critically when I chose mine. When making the most expensive clothing purchase of my life for a dress that would also be the most-photographed outfit in my life, I guess the emotional side of my brain shut off. I did, however, get choked up when I tried it on for Jill in July, once the dress was all mine and there was no more need for logic and critical thinking.
- HAVE FUN! Whether you find your dress on the first try or have to visit ten stores and try on dozens of dresses, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience leading to the happiest day of your life. Soak it all in, appreciate the praise or criticisms of your entourage, and celebrate!