All worn out

Finding the dream dress is not always easy, as Ann Russell discovers when she ventures into the world of the bridal boutique in the 4th part of her planning diary

As soon as he popped the question, I started shopping for the perfect dress. It wasn’t conscious at first – a scroll through Pinterest here, a flick through the odd bridal magazine there – but as the months slipped by I knew my gown hunt had to step up a gear. Time was marching on and Destination Dress was starting to feel like a distant speck on the horizon. Since my journey began, I’ve visited
12 bridal showrooms, in Edinburgh, Glasgow and even London, and every one of them offered a different experience. Read on to find out what dress shopping is really like, from one bride to another.

_Cherish

Cherish by Suzanne Neville

BEFORE YOU SHOP

First things first: don’t start trying on gowns until you’ve confirmed the major details. Are you planning a beach wedding? Getting married in a cathedral? The location of your wedding will have a big say in which dress you choose. Forward planning is also the name of the game when it comes to securing appointments and finding your dress with plenty time to spare. So, before you start shopping, set yourself a general budget so you won’t fall in love with a dress you really can’t afford. As much as I enjoyed prancing about a high-end London boutique in a series of designer gowns, the practical side of my brain was laughing at the ludicrous price tags, so it’s worth shopping around to find a dress that ticks your style and price boxes. A hundred pounds each way is unlikely to break the bank but a dress that’s triple your budget might mean packed lunches rather than a wedding banquet for your guests. Get a firm hold of your parameters and stick to them.

YOUR ENTOURAGE

As someone who has watched more episodes of Say Yes to the Dress than she’d care to admit, the prospect of taking along a dozen-strong entourage seems perfectly acceptable to me. Not to most showrooms, though: they prefer to accommodate no more than five guests per bride, so choose your chaperones carefully. There’s no room for platitudes here, so invite the most honest person you know, the one you can trust to be completely upfront about the way you look. It also helps to take along someone who shares your tastes. Friends are particularly handy after dress number 15, when your mind is a frothy haze of tulle and taffeta. They’ll keep you on track.

THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Make a shortlist of shops you’d like to visit and arrange appointments accordingly. Don’t be offended if they ask about your dress budget on the phone – some boutiques are more expensive and they need a benchmark to determine whether their dresses are within your price range. Visit no more than three shops in a day or you’ll end up totally overwhelmed. Salons are quieter during the week so make appointments then if you can – some places get totally overrun by bridezillas at weekends!

Expect to try on between six and eight dresses in an hour, depending on how decisive you are. Along the way you’ll form an understanding of the shapes and styles that suit you and be able to start narrowing down a list of priorities. Bear in mind that most bridal salons won’t let you take photographs. Some are concerned that their dresses might be copied, while others feel that amateur photographs won’t do their dresses justice. Respect their rules and ask for a full description of your favourite dress so you can revisit it at a later date.

Saina by St. Patrick

Saina by St. Patrick

Some shops will pull out all the stops and ask the right questions (‘Let me see your ring!’ and ‘How did he propose?’) but others will fall short of the mark. When a city-centre boutique (which shall remain nameless) failed to pin any dresses during my appointment and suggested I use a pair of chicken fillets to fill out a rather rigid Madonna-style bust-line, I felt more than a little disheartened. This was not the vision of bridal elegance I had in mind. Despite this small bump in the road, I’ve found that a lot of boutiques will go the extra mile – from a local chain that delivered dresses between their shops to save me travelling miles, to a luxury boutique that offered to merge two of their dress designs into one.

SAMPLE WITH CARE

If you’ve got limited time or a very tight budget, sample sales can provide a cost-effective solution if you’re not set on a particular style. Problems arise when you’ve fallen for a specific dress or you’re looking for a sample dress that’s completely flawless. The nature of sample sales is that the dresses have been tried on hundreds of times before and might be a tad worse for wear. During one of my recent appointments, a fellow bride-to-be was having a final fitting and her dress caught my eye – a beautiful strapless lace and sequin detailed fishtail that shimmered in the light. When I asked to try the sample, the result was night and day. Where her fresh ivory gown had caught the light perfectly, the sample version was dull in comparison because it had been stored in the shop for months. On the other hand, if luck is on your side, sample sales are the best way to find an expensive dress without blowing your budget.

DON’T SETTLE

Are you guilty of being on the self-critical side? If so, instead of focusing on the bits of your figure that you don’t like (we all have them), take time to notice how the dress accentuates your best assets. All wedding dresses are beautiful (well, almost all!) and there’s bound to be a whole handful that you could wear on your wedding day, so don’t compromise and buy something you’re unsure about. Shop around until you find the one – it could be your first dress or it could be your 50th – there’s no telling when the moment will happen. But when crunch time comes and you’ve made a decision (hurray!), make sure you review the full terms of purchase, including the alterations schedule, cancellation policy, manufacturer’s name, style number and details of any accessories you’ve ordered.

STAY HYDRATED

essence_1617 Essense

Style 1617 by Essence

Don’t expect bubbles, bells and whistles at every showroom you visit. You deserve great customer service but manage your expectations accordingly. Not every salon will offer a glass of fizz on arrival; some will offer a cup of tea, others might offer you a soft drink. But whether you’re greeted with Prosecco or Pepsi, remember you’re there to find a wedding dress. Yes, little touches add to the experience but they’re not essential. On the other hand, trying on mountains of tulle can be thirsty work so make sure you do request a glass of water during your appointment to stay hydrated. Getting in and out of dresses is more tiring than you think on an empty stomach, so have a decent breakfast or lunch to help speed along the decision-making process.

TEST THE DRESS

Long lace sleeves are the perfect addition to an elegant column dress but are impractical if fitted too tightly. If you’ve fallen for a dress with sleeves, lift your arms at your final fitting and double check that you can move enough to dance and eat without restriction. Sit down in your dress to ensure you can still breathe, and practise moving around with a train to determine whether it’s something you can manoeuvre down the aisle. It helps to take your own pair of heels to the appointment – choose a practical heel height to get a realistic picture of how your dress will fall.

BE YOURSELF

Let’s face it: this might be the only time in your life when YOU take centre stage, so stay true to your personal style at all times. If you’ve never worn a strapless dress before, your wedding day is the wrong time to experiment. A large proportion of wedding dresses are strapless and most are cut to a very flattering shape, but it makes sense to avoid styles that you’re not naturally drawn too. Rather than making a beeline for a specific type of dress – fishtail, A-line, ballgown – try on a whole range of styles and consider each dress on its own merits. Remember that wedding dresses will look very different on your body compared with how they sit on a hanger so remain open-minded and don’t be frightened to try on the odd wild card.

Finding your wedding dress is a journey in itself and there’s no foolproof route to success, but by staying true to yourself and trusting your own judgement you can’t go far wrong.