Reader Request: Wedding Dresses

Alex hit me up with this fabulous request:

A few days ago, I bought my wedding dress! Yay! And I had a particularly awesome experience. From paying attention to not only wedding blogs that I trust but also to you regarding clothes and bodies and how they can be best friends, I knew what I wanted, and I got it, because I knew what to look for and how to find it. Although I am now done with this fun and exciting experience, I’m still curious to see what – if anything – you have to say on the topic of wedding dresses. I know it’s a whole can of worms to open, and it’s very different from day-to-day clothing, but if you have insights, I’m sure they’re fascinating and could really help someone!

So, naturally, I wanna show you this:

weddingdress

I don’t have tons of photos that show my dress in full or in detail, but I love this photo a whole bunch, and it gives you the general idea.* Our wedding was at the end of August, but I still wanted my arms covered. And honestly? I just lucked out. I found this dress at a little local boutique that stocked three or four wedding-appropriate dresses at any given time. Bought it off the rack for $150. It was the only place I looked. The dress itself has a sheer overlay with applique flowers in the same sheer material across the bodice and down the skirt, and a solid tank dress underneath. It was perfect.

As for giving advice on wedding dress buying, I will do that. But before I dig into my own opinions, here’s the most important advice I can give: Get the dress you want and love and can afford. That is all. It may take some doing to find it – especially given that “afford” clause – but it will be worth it. Wedding dresses are among the most emotionally significant garments worn by humans, and no matter what I or your mom or your best friend may say, YOU should adore your dress. And feel luminous in it. So make that priority one.

Got it? OK then, here are my tips:

Strapless dresses are HARD

In addition to being a married person who once had a wedding, I used to assist Husband Mike in photographing weddings. So I’ve been to many, and been behind the scenes of nearly all of them. And the main dress-related wisdom I can impart is this: Strapless dresses can be gorgeous and elegant, but no matter how you’re shaped they will slide down on your figure and you will spend a lot of time yanking them back up again. If looking great in your photos is top priority, strapless can work. If you want to run around and dance and twirl your ring bearers and flower girls, you might want something with straps or sleeves instead.

Wedding dresses are pretty and tough to resist

Sounds obvious, right? But consider again that this is one of the most emotional garments you will ever own and wear. So when you’re confronted by a room full of utterly gorgeous gowns and flooded with the emotions surrounding your upcoming wedding, you may become overwhelmed. I have had several friends buy wedding dresses that they couldn’t really afford because they went, they saw The Pretty, and they just couldn’t resist. If money is no object, then look everywhere. If you’re on a budget, I would highly recommend staying away from the fancy bridal ateliers that you can’t afford. Because if you go in, you’ll see what’s there and you might end up charging a super spendy dress when something at a lower price point could’ve been just as lovely. Don’t let yourself be tempted and you’ll be less likely to overspend.

There are options beyond bridal shops

As I said, my dress was $150 at a local clothing boutique. I know lots of women who bought their dresses on Etsy and eBay for less than $50. The bridal industry is an “all that the traffic will bear” industry, and everything in it is expensive. But if a brand new dress isn’t a priority for you, explore some alternatives. You may decide to pay $10 for a thrifted dress and then contract with a seamstress to have it rebuilt and still pay less than you would for a new dress. And yours will still be custom and exactly what you want.

Think about your day

Weddings can be formal, raucous, both, and neither. If you have any idea what your wedding day will look like, try to take that into consideration when you’re looking at dresses. If the only dancing you’ll be doing will be with your parter and/or parents on a ballroom floor in a slow and stately manor, you’ll probably be just fine in something a little more structured and constricting. If you know there will be a 2-hour Hora after the the ceremony under the Chuppah – which can totally happen, as it did at one of my best friends’ weddings – you might want something a wee bit more flexible. When we think about wedding dresses, we think about looks and photos, which makes sense and may just trump overall comfort. But I know brides who have regretted their dress decisions during the later hours of their weddings when things have moved from smiles and clasped hands to yelling and the Chicken Dance.

Consider your culture

Most brides have at least one relative who will express OPINIONS about dresses and wedding day adornment. This person may be someone to whom it is very important that you wear the traditional saree or lehenga, that you wear the gown she wore or that your mother wore, that you wear a mantilla even if you don’t want to. I really do believe that you should get the dress you want and love and can afford, but I also know that culture and tradition figure strongly into many weddings and ignoring them completely can have consequences. We planned our wedding without making any compromises and although we met some resistance during the process, all was forgiven in the end. But I know plenty of couples who still get snarky comments about what they did or didn’t do at their ceremonies decades later. Your wedding is likely to be meaningful for your family members, and if wearing something that reflects your culture or heritage can be done in a way that works for you both, consider doing so.

And I’ll quite happily stop there. But not before reiterating that the absolute most important thing is that you love your dress. Feel free to ignore everything I just said if you love your dress and feel amazing in it. That’s what matters most.

Oh, one more quick note: There are hundreds of wedding blogs out there, thousands of wedding inspiration Pinterest boards, and books and TV shows and more and more. I never tuned in to any of it while planning my own wedding and don’t pay it much mind now. Many women find great ideas and inspiration in these resources, and gain energy and excitment from them. Others feel overwhelmed and pressured and miserable. Before you immerse yourself in the world of wedding media, consider how much exposure you want and how it may affect you. Just sayin’.

*Our ceremony was parents, sibs, and grandparents only. We asked our parents and grandparents to each do a reading of their choice. Here, you see my dad reciting the lyrics to “Zip-a-dee-do-dah.” Because he’s a twerp like that.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2014-03-17 06:17:01.

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38 Responses to “Reader Request: Wedding Dresses”

  1. Coleen Monroe

    Thank you so much for this post! I may or may not be buying a wedding dress soon, and I’ve been meaning to email you about the process (I have no idea how to shop for something like this). I’m happy to know that my desire for an off-the-rack, possibly secondhand dress isn’t totally crazy!

  2. Elizabeth Shoemaker

    My only addition would be to consider wearing colors that aren’t white/off white. I look terrible in those colors, so I wore a red dress with a red and silver bolero jacket (my husband wore a matching vest and tie). I also had the good fortune to be living in Thailand at the time, so my dress was hand made to my design specifications and only cost $150, fabric and all. Still and all, red was fantastically fun, so if you’re looking, keep color in mind!

    • Lynn Barnes

      Oh, very yes! Until Queen Victoria got married, white was a funeral color. I dimly remember that she was in mourning when she married Prince Albert … nope, I’m wrong. She is, though, credited with being the first royal to be wed in white, although she was not. Certainly the ensuing Western European craze for white wedding gowns is attributable to her popularity. Until then, most women got married in their “best” dress, or had a “best” dress or suit made for them. The wedding dress then saw use as her “best” dress for as long as it still fit her. If I ever wed again, I’ll choose a bright, deep jewel tone for my garb.

    • Marie

      Yay, colour! Seriously : GO FOR IT. I wore a vibrant blue dress that I had made for my grade 12 grad. It’s totally ok to wear something you already own – no wedding dress shopping/expenses required. And now I wear it to formal and cocktail events.

  3. KimM.

    I got married last April. This was my second wedding and it was a casual setting. I wanted a short dress with sleeves and found exactly what I wanted at WHBM. $89. I got loads of compliments and felt both pretty and comfortable. My niece is getting married this year and is agonizing over expensive dresses. I keep encouraging her to look for pre-owned or off the rack so she can stay within her budget. I agree that a bride should get a dress she loves but I don’t believe in going into debt for a dress you’ll wear once.

  4. NightOwl

    I have to dissent on the issue of strapless dresses – a properly constructed strapless dress will have an understructure that won’t budge. My dress essentially had a corset built into it. I jumped up and down in it during my last fitting and it didn’t move.

    A less well constructed dress that doesn’t have boning, cups, etc. is more likely to slide down. This is one of the styles where quality can make a big difference.

  5. Jennifer

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I bought my wedding dress for about $150 from David’s Bridal and there was no doubt it was the right one. It was a strapless A-line gown in white satin, with delicate flowers embroidered on the bodice in white thread. Gorgeous without being froofy. Also, my husband went with me and helped me pick it out, because that’s how we roll. The wedding was for show for the rest of the family, we didn’t feel like we needed it for ourselves. Before going to David’s I went to a few bridal boutiques and hated every second of it. From the inconvenient hours, the snooty shop attendants who gave you the stink eye because you didn’t prefer the $10,000 dress over the $1,000 one, the crap I was getting for not having a bridal party, etc. The wedding business is one of the biggest rackets there is. I also got a chance to reuse my wedding dress a year later; I wore it for Halloween the following year because DH and I went to a party as a couple we were friends with who happened to get married the week before (still my favorite and most inspired Halloween costume to date). The dress is still hanging in my closet, a bit dirty and ragged from the Halloween party, but my husband refuses to get rid of it.

  6. Angela Denker

    If you can find a sample size that fits decently, ask about getting the sample at wedding boutiques. You can always get alterations and often they’ll take around 40 percent off. Several of my friends and I have done this! Honestly mine wasn’t a super pleasant experience with the salesperson, but I got exactly the dress I wanted for a great price so it was worth it!

  7. Tracie Bowman

    When I used to work at a thrift store, a woman would come in every Halloween and buy masses of bridal gowns we put out as costumes. According to her, she re-styled the dresses and later sold them for great deal more. It might not be a bad idea to keep an eye on the bridal gowns or long dresses at the thrift stores. There were some beautiful gowns that came through, and they were so much cheaper than regular wedding dress shops. Thrift store dresses could always be tailored and updated too.

  8. Janel Messenger

    Great tips! The dress I wanted was almost $1000 twenty years ago. Not in the budget. I spent about $150 on fabric and made my own in 3 days. It was perfect.

    I agree with NightOwl. A strapless dress built on a full length support corset won’t move anywhere. That said, many commercially made dresses don’t have them, hence the slippage. It’s sad because for a few more dollars in material, all strapless dress could have a support system that holds them in place.

  9. JB

    I bought my wedding dress at a trunk show. I hadn’t been to any other stores, but I had looked at gazillions of photos and I knew I was drawn to one particular designer (Jenny Lee), so when she happened to have a trunk show in my area, I went. Jenny herself was there, and spent lots of time with each customer. I tried on several dresses, all gorgeous, and she made a number of suggestions for how each could be modified with the halter strap I wanted. It was such a great personal experience that I made a purchase on the spot, and 10 years later I still have no regrets. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach for everyone, unless you’ve already done a lot of research and have a good idea of what you want. I will also say that, despite the pricey dress, I bought all of my accessories (veil, shoes, etc) on ebay. Which I would highly recommend!

  10. Lisa

    You look so beautiful and sweet in your wedding dress. And Handsome Husband Mike! I did want to point people to A Practical Wedding, my friend Meg’s blog. I think it’s the wedding blog most aligned with Already Pretty’s body acceptance and rad style manifesto.

  11. PolarSamovar

    I felt pretty overwhelmed by all the wedding dress choices, and couldn’t really tell what looked good. My fiance, an architect, sketched up an idea of a dress he thought would look nice on me. (Fifteen years later, when I started learning more about fashion and proportion, I understood that he was dead on target with what flatters my body shape.) I liked what he drew; it seemed elegant, pretty, simple, comfortable, and very “me.” So I took the sketch to a friend of my mom’s who is a seamstress with experience making wedding dresses. She recommended fabrics and a shop to buy them in, I got the fabric, and she sewed me a beautiful custom dress for much less than the dresses at Fancy Bridal Atelier that I had been trying on with such a sense of gloom and futility.
    I guess not every girl gets to marry a designer. But in my case it worked out great.

  12. wonkyone15

    I got my strapless ball gown at David’s Bridal for $500, which was the verrry top of my budget. It went on sale a few days after I bought it, and I asked for the difference back, and they gave it to me! Totally worth asking- it was $200 back in my pocket, so I was pretty pleased about that! My wedding was outdoors in September, so I wore a fuschia cardigan over my dress and it was really cute! (I’m a cardigan kind of gal anyway, so that made it more me.)

  13. 33

    good point on strapless. full length gowns are heavy. i can imagine a strapless sliding down.
    i never quite understand the lure of wedding and wedding gown. although i can see the princess moment but it is just but a memorable day. the leading lady can wear whatever she wants and designs a theme to her liking. why does the gown have to white, long, and exepnsive (to wear it once and then take up closet space)?

  14. Trystan L. Bass

    Being a historical costumer, I knew I’d design my own wedding gown (plus my husband’s outfit). My stepmom-in-law did most of the actual sewing. And since we do historical events, we’ve been able to rewear these outfits many times in the nearly 14 years since. My gown is at http://fishcat.com/wedding/plan/bride.html It did take a long time to decide exactly what style & era & materials tho; I waffled for months! It may be harder if you don’t want that big white dress, if you want something different, but you don’t know what, until you see it (either in a store or your head).

    For those looking right now, I highly recommend Offbeat Bride at http://offbeatbride.com/ The site is geared towards nontraditional weddings, really anything that speaks to what a couple wants to be authentic & independent. Lots of good ideas to take the pain & hassle out of dress shopping too, just search thru the archive. Plus, crazy cool eye candy 🙂

  15. Lynn Barnes

    Made mine. Drew my ideal, a variation on an 1880s gown, drafted the pattern, bought some cheap satin and lining and made it, a peplumed jacked over a skirt with a bustled back. I didn’t spend much money on fabric for a one-wearing dress that only had to look good for a few hours, although I did lavish some hand-tatted lace on the collar. It’s done duty in many school plays since then … I can’t get rid of it. I keep trying to give it away, but it always comes back with a lovely “thank you for letting us borrow this” note.

  16. AnnaVespa

    We had a Bavarian-themed wedding last August. Sometimes I still wish I had worn a *real* wedding dress, but I know that my homemade dirndl will get worn again and again! Plus, I could wear a regular bra with it, and it was really comfortable to dance in, which was very important. My mom made my dress, and when we bought the fabric, she said that it already cost more than hers, which she also made… about $50 as opposed to her $35. 🙂 It was made by my mom and fitted by a good friend who is a professional seamstress. A lot of love went into it, and it fit like a glove! I even made the poofy underskirt, and my mother-in-law made my garter from scratch, tatting the lace by hand. I wore pink pearls that were a gift from my husband when we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day five years ago. I used small pieces of my mom’s wedding dress to make a small headpiece and wrapped her sleeve cuff around my flowers. I guess I went for “casual, sentimental affair” as opposed to “magazine worthy glamour”. My hot pink shoes were my big splurge. 🙂

  17. Anna Miller

    I never even considered buying a new dress. As a lover of vintage clothing, I knew that my wedding dress would be vintage. I had no real idea of what kind of dress I wanted and started looking at all of my favorite shops. I tried on anything and everything. It didn’t even have to be white. One day, I went dress shopping with my mom at this great vintage wedding boutique called Andrea’s Vintage Bridal. When I walked in, the owner said that she had the perfect dress for me and after trying on dozens of gorgeous dresses, I ended up loving the first one that she had recommended. It was a 1940s style silk gown. Very simple and elegant. It only needed a couple of small alterations and ended up costing around $350. While this dress was perfect for the ceremony and pictures, it was floor length, very low cut and very clingy, so it wasn’t ideal for the raging party that was happening after. So, I went out and found another dress for the party. The party dress was found at a different vintage clothing store for $80. It was a beaded, linen, tea length, 50s party dress with straps. I think it’s kind of a fad now for bride’s to have a “costume change”. I did it because I found 2 dresses that I loved under my budget and each one served it’s own purpose. I truly loved both of my dresses and have no regrets about either.

  18. April Gunn

    I honestly don’t see myself ever getting married; I’m just not sure the whole setup is for me. If it does happen, it will be years from now and preferably after marriage equality has been achieved in all 50 states. But if the stars align and the GOP gets out of the way and I find The One and a wedding is actually about to Happen, I already know exactly what dress I’ll be wearing.

    It’s a 1970s off-white Gunne Sax dress that belonged to my mother. It’s incredibly outdated and doesn’t fit me, would require alterations…but I don’t care. I will get that dress professionally cleaned, repaired, hemmed, and altered, and I will wear it and no other, because no other dress has ever made me feel more beautiful or like a princess, and no dress has or could have an equivalent level of emotional meaning attached to it for me. I also know from sneaking it away to play dress up in it as a child that it can stand up to anything my crazy geekery-inspired Southern hypothetical maybe-someday wedding could throw at me. It’s packed carefully away in an airtight, moisture-proof box in my father’s attic, just waiting for the day it might be needed.

  19. Courtney Landes

    I’ve been married twice. The first time, I had my dress made. I found a good seamstress, picked a pattern, and had my seamstress go shopping with me for the fabric. It was a basic taffeta dress–a-line skirt with a fitted bodice. The taffeta part had a sweetheart neckline, and the sleeves and upper part of the bodice were made of lace to make a much higher neckline (because stodgy relatives). My mom made my “veil,” which was basically a bit of tulle attached to a hair comb to tuck under my updo with some flowers. I probably spent $300 (in 1998).

    At my 2nd wedding, I decided that I had no need of a white dress, since the color looks awful on me and it was my 2nd wedding. I trolled e-bay and ended up buying a long prom dress in an irridescent light blue. The shape was pretty much a sundress with wide straps and a crinoline skirt. I took it to a friend who could sew and had the bodice fitted perfectly and the strap length adjusted. I found some silver sandals to wear with it, and got a little tiara for my hair. I felt gorgeous, and it was super comfortable. I can’t remember what I spent exactly. I remember that the shoes were more than the ebay price of the dress. The tailoring was about $50, but that was a friend-and-family rate.

  20. what not

    I got married in a knee-length, floaty, sleeveless white dress from Banana Republic, which was appropriate to our small, summer backyard wedding. I chose white because I wanted to be sure the photos would look like wedding rather than prom mementos, but otherwise I’d have been open to other colors.

  21. Guest

    I agree with the other comments about getting strapless dresses to stay up – not all of them fall down! Well-constructed and well-fitted dresses will usually stay up pretty well. Another option (related to inner structure but easier to add to a dress without good innards) is having a waist stay added – it’s almost like an internal belt that holds the waist of the dress around the narrowest part of your body and can really minimize that slipping around.

  22. JoAnn Beroiz Ely

    I alter wedding dresses and re-style vintage dresses for a living 7 days a week and the one thing that always amazes me is the choice of train. You have to consider that you will spend 90% of your day with all that bustled up and hanging off your butt. You will have to sit on it (Little Miss Muffet style) and find someone to accompany you to the restroom…yes, they never think of these things. And while strapless gowns can be perfectly tight and not droop down…try adding a 7 pound bustle to the end of the zipper and see how that changes one’s posture and balance. For heaven’s sake realize that a wedding gown is formal attire and needs either boning or some sort of foundation garments (Spanx) and a pink lace thong will not be enough to hold in your stomach for those expensive photos in a skin tight satin dress which shows all the lumps and bumps. Lastly, after the ceremony, get your gown cleaned as undetected white wine will leave a red stain later on down the road as it can be made from red grapes.

    • Anamarie

      That reminds me – my dress had a huge skirt and was very heavy. You’re right, it was impossible to go to the restroom alone! Someone else had to hold my skirt up while I went. I did wear a long-line, strapless bra that went to the waist. I’m not sure what happened, but the bra and the dress somehow worked against each other, and the next day I was rubbed raw from under my breasts to the waist. TEST YOUR FOUNDATION GARMENTS!

  23. Anamarie

    I was only 21 when I got married (20.5 years ago!) and very impressionable. My mom didn’t have a wedding with the big dress, I was the first daughter/first granddaughter, etc. So the wedding got away from me a little bit. Not complaining, because it was an awesome day. The one thing I was able to control was my dress. I did go to a fancy bridal shop and found my dream dress – the very first one I saw. It was about $600 at the time, but was one of the cheapest at the store. I just loved it, and like I said, it was something that was MY decision. So even though I ended up scraping by for a few months, it was worth it!

    There was also the incident of the snotty bride who was yelling at the store staff, and then walked out of the store in a huff – with her dress tucked into her white pantyhose. You can’t put a price on that!

  24. Melanie

    This is one of the best dresses I’ve seen. Your radiance and the dress are not competing for attention. I wore pointy black biker boots with black stirrup pants. You can guess the rest…

  25. shayelea

    If I ever get married, I’ll likely go with one of three choices:

    1. Find the perfect vintage dress (liquid satin…sigh!), that fits me, in my budget. (Unlikely unless I lose weight or luck out…lots of vintage in my size, but not vintage bridal.)

    2. I snagged a lovely bias-cut white burnout velvet gown from the 30’s at a vintage shop last month. It’s quite stained in some places and the sleeves are a bit goofy, but if the stains come out the sleeves could be altered. It’s not quite what I’d always dreamed of but would be quite pretty as a wedding dress.

    3. I con a friend into creating a pattern from an adorable black vintage cocktail dress I have, and have a clone made in ivory silk with a long skirt. The bonus is I could have it shortened and would definitely wear later.

    I can’t imagine wrapping myself in polyester crepe for such an important occasion. (Gosh, I’m such a textile snob!)

  26. L K

    I will most likely go vintage or have a replica made. What I learned from my girlfriends is, if you don’t care about a fashion label, have it made. A friend of mine had a gorgeous gown based off of a high fashion piece made by a seamstress for a fraction of the cost. These bridal stores charge way more than the dresses are actually worth considering the fabric choices. Sometimes you can get a much nicer dress made from scratch. But being a costumer I’m a fabric snob so I have a hard time imagining wearing a dress made of certain fabrics like cheap taffeta or costume satin.

  27. Jessie

    “Singletons: Do you dream of a specific dress or have a plan for finding one when the time comes?” Why the assumption that we all will get married?

  28. contrary kiwi

    My impression was that since this post is about wedding dresses, the assumption is that the single people looking for advice from it do plan to get married, or at least wear a wedding dress. Nowhere does Sally say or imply that she believes every single person will or should get married.

  29. alex1042

    What timing! I’m the Alex who asked for this post, and our wedding was this past Saturday! I loved my dress, but I do have a bit of advice to add here, hindsight being 20/20 and all… have your properly-fitted undergarments BEFORE you get your dress. I had never gotten bra-fitted until about the halfway point between buying the dress and having the wedding, and having the right bra putting everything where it belongs made the top of the dress fit differently. There can also be problems finding one that doesn’t peek out the top of the dress. It would be much easier to build from the bottom up (so to speak).

  30. livi

    I wore a white, a-line skirt with flower applique, and a white blouse. Since we chose a date only one month from when we got engaged I was really limited and had to get something off the rack. I also only had about $75 to spend. Dresses are hard to find that fit my body hence the skirt. My ceremony was very simple with only my parents present.

  31. Si Titran

    These things are all very well and good, but how can one follow them? I’m a bride who has been looking at/for dresses since I’ve been engaged months ago. I’ve been to every dress shop in the Seattle area. I’m a bigger woman. I have a chest that is nearly impossible to find ANY clothing for. I shop my thrift stores very regularly, and even the most amazing plus size consignment shop I could hope for. I can’t even try on these super expensive dresses, that aren’t right for my body or my wedding. Am I doomed??

  32. calikancab

    I had to come back and look again at the picture of you listening to your dad. Love it!

  33. Mary Christine

    Late to the party; I wanted to throw my two cents in just because.
    I work in bridal alterations, and being recently engaged, I have had so many people ask me what kind of gown I’m looking for.
    Being petite, with very little bust to speak of, and a touch bottom-heavy, I’m thinking a drop-waist A-line. Definitely a train, possibly straps. If it’s strapless, I would absolutely want a corset-tie back, not a zipper closure, for a better fit and to minimize yanking-up later in the night. Full skirt so I can move. Lightweight so I can carry it (organza if I can find it). Possibly with some color in it: blush, or pale Tiffany blue.
    I like the idea of vintage: the colors and silhouettes. But I’ve worked on enough of it to know that I may not wear vintage anything ever again — smells, spots, and rotten fabric are things that alterations (and even specialty cleaning) just can’t fix.
    But working on bridal gowns (whether tea-length with a petticoat, a bright peacock green sheath, or a satin battleship that can stand up on its own) is something I love, and every bride is so different, I’m so excited to see what comes into my shop next!
    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Sally!