Looking For Your Dress Part 1: The Pregame Show

The most complicated clothing purchase you will ever make...I have an almost unhealthy relationship with “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC.  I don’t know what it is, but something about watching these women with ridiculous expectations argue with their families and friends about dresses they like and don’t like is highly entertaining to me.  Once I started watching the show, I just couldn’t stop.  It’s addicting!  And that started even before I suddenly found myself in the situation where I would need to be looking for a dress.  After I got engaged, watching the show took on an entertainment/research quality, and I used it as an opportunity to look for ideas and to learn some of the terminology.  Okay maybe I was just using my wedding as an excuse to watch it, but it was helpful I swear!

You’ll want to start gathering pictures that demonstrate what you’re looking for in a wedding dress.  This is where the big ole giant look book from The Knot is of major help (seriously, if you buy no other bridal magazines, at least get this one).  Look for pictures that represent what you think you’d want to look like on your wedding day.  Bonus points if you find a dress you like in its entirety, but focus more on aspects of the dress you like.  I cut out a bunch of pictures where I only liked the top, or the bottom, or the level of bling, etc.  Make notes on what you think you want, and what you think you don’t want, but try to keep an open mind.  I absolutely knew that I didn’t want a ball gown (or what I like to refer to as a cupcake dress), and I’m not a big lace person, but beyond that I tried to be open to my other options.  Wedding dresses fit differently than normal dresses, and the chances that you’ve actually worn or tried on dresses in some of the silhouettes are pretty slim (can you remember any other time you would have tried on a trumpet skirt or a poofy ball gown?), so try not to write them off as unflattering until you’ve given them a shot.  It is all too common that brides are convinced of what they think they want, but when they finally get it on, it’s not what they expected, and then they feel at a loss.  I’m not saying don’t have an image of what your ideal dress may look like, but realize that what you think you love in a picture you may not love on yourself.

Pay attention to whether you tend to gravitate towards a specific designer.  Always do a quick search online to see what the dresses you like run cost-wise to give you an idea of how realistic your expectations are.  Sometimes you’ll be surprised and find that your dream dress is less expensive than you expected.  There was a dress I was in love with in a magazine (well, I loved it on the 6 foot tall size -2 model, which I will get to in a moment), and was terrified of how much it might cost.  Lucky me, it usually retailed for about half of my budget!  Remember, you don’t have to love the color the dress is in the picture.  Most designers offer their dresses in varying shades of white and ivory (and even some bright colors, if you’re into that kind of thing), so you can most likely choose the shade that best matches your skin tone.

The thing to remember most when looking at pictures is that, for the most part, these models are tall and skinny, sometimes frighteningly so.  There are things that will look good on them that will not look good on “normal” people (even the “normal skinny” ones), and there are shapes that will look terrible on them because they have no shape of their on to back it up.  Don’t look for how the dress looks on the model, but look at how the shape of the dress flows with its patterns, the detailing, the cut, and the silhouette.  Yes, a bad model/dress match can make the dress look bad no matter what, but the more you try to look past the airbrushed stick figure the more likely you are to see the dress itself for what it really is.

When looking for a salon, keep your budget in mind.  If you have a $1,000 budget, don’t go looking at a salon where dresses start at $1,000 and go up, or worse start above your desired budget.  This severely limits your choices as salons rarely have much variety in the low-end of their pricing scale.  Also, if you are leaning towards a specific designer, go to the designer’s website.  Most of them will have a list of salons in your area that carry their dresses.  This can be a great way to start your search.  If there is a particular dress you are interested in trying on, ask the salon when you call to make an appointment if they have it.  Just because they don’t have it doesn’t mean you should skip the store, but it’s always a bonus if you can try on a dress you have in your head as potentially perfect.

On a related note: ALWAYS MAKE AN APPOINTMENT.  Some salons will say they take walk-ins, but you should never be one if it can be helped.  Making an appointment guarantees you’ll have the help you need and will have a dedicated fitting room for the length of the appointment.  Just walking in not only means you may not have any assistance or a room, but it also tells the consultants there you don’t value their time.  Be wary of any salon that ONLY does walk-in appointments.  Before making an appointment, check for reviews of the salon online.  There are a surprising number that remain in business despite constant problems with rude staff or ordering snafus.

Feel free to look at more than one salon.  Different salons carry different designers, and even ones that carry the same designers may have different dresses within those collections.  I ended up looking at two different salons, both of which were fantastic.  There was a salon I had heard about in the middle of Michigan which has been described as giving the “Say Yes to the Dress” experience and had a massive selection.  Given it’s location, it was easier for me to have the people join me on my dress shopping trip that I wanted there, so visiting that salon was a given for us.  There was a specific dress I wanted to try on, however, and they didn’t have it.  So two weeks before the adventure back to MI, I went to a local salon to try on that dress and a few others.  I ended up finding one I liked, so when we went MI we were playing “beat the dress.”

This has gotten long enough, so I’ll cut if off here.  In future posts I’ll talk about what to do and expect at your appointment, dress styles (and silhouettes), and fabrics.  Those latter two discussions will also apply to bridesmaids dresses, so it’s like they’re bonus posts!

I’ll also make a post about the salons I went to, just in case you’re in Michigan or the western suburbs of Chicago and want a recommendation of places to search.

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Posted on September 26, 2011, in Attire, Budget, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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