You think when you get married, your search for The One is over. Unfortunately, as you are about to realise. a whole new search for another ‘One’ is about to begin. Buying a wedding dress feels incredibly frivolous, it’s the only time in (well, certainly my) life that you will spend an obscene amount of money on something you will very likely only wear once, and which will spend the next 30+ years in a loft.
My first wedding dress shopping experience brought the importance of The Dress home with a crashing reality. I walked into the boutique, dazzled by the wall-sized mirror, plush sofa, glasses of champagne and row after row of white dresses. Then, I was completely blindsided by the owner – a tiny, immaculately dressed woman who casually dropped the line: ‘The most important things about your wedding day are the dress and the venue.’ I nodded, already feeling entirely out of my depth, as she bustled around taking my coat and asking if I knew my measurements. I wondered if I had my priorities wrong. I thought the most important thing about our wedding was… well, after declaring to love each other for the rest of our lives? Spending an amazing day with all the people we care about the most. And… the food. Definitely the food.
‘What’s your venue?’ the woman demanded as she hauled huge white dresses off various rails, teetering precariously on skyscraper heels. When I told her, she said, ‘Well, we need to find a dress to match.’ A dress to match a building? Is this something I’ve missed? I have never thought ‘Gosh, the Tate really compliments the Zara Trafaluc dress I’m wearing today.’ Or, ‘Guys, didn’t you get the memo? Its STRIPES for this Shepherds Bush Empire gig!’
I left the shop an hour and five dresses later, utterly overwhelmed, and thinking longingly of eloping. I thought back to my friends’ weddings and tried to envisage what they wore. I realised that while I know that they all looked positively radiant on their wedding days, I could only vaguely picture their dresses. I’m sure they were white. 100% on that.
After that first dress shopping experience, I considered going ‘Anti WeddingDress’ and searched desperately on the high street for a simple white dress that I could style out on the big day, à la Keira Knightly – or even a white jumpsuit, Solange-style. If Marilyn Monroe and Mia Farrow didn’t wear ‘classic’ wedding dresses, then why should I? This idea was instantly shot down by my Mum: ‘You absolutely have to wear a proper wedding dress, otherwise, how will people know you are the bride?!’ It’s a statement that begs many questions, but I digress; some arguments aren’t worth having. Apparently, a ‘proper’ wedding dress was obligatory. So, there were many more Bridal shops. I soon found many of the shop owners and I had contradictory views. They’d say, ‘tell us what you DON’T want.’ And I would respond, ‘Nothing sequined, not too much lace, and nothing that makes me look like a toilet roll cover from the 70s.’ They’d nod enthusiastically and return with a plethora of lacy sequined marshmallows. And they want you to cry. They wait expectantly as you step out of the changing room, ready for you to burst into tears of joy.
Somewhere between shop three and dress 46,382 I realised that the posh shopping vibe of the bridal boutique is all just to distract from the fact that it’s a long hard slog. You have to make appointments well in advance, you have to have your hair sitting nicely and your make up on, and for those of us who barely scrape 5’ 3”, ideally you’ll be wearing heels. You have to pre-plan your underwear (there is nothing to detract more from the image of you walking, angelic, down the aisle than a turquoise bra and Wonder Woman pants.) and it’s worth having an escape plan for when you don’t like anything you try on. It is hard work. Because ultimately, you are looking for The One. The dress that you will be centre stage in. The dress that dozens, maybe hundreds of people will be waiting, breath baited, to see you in on this the most celebrated, photographed, Instagram worthy day of your life.
I was at my wit’s end when I knocked on the door of a large townhouse in my hometown. It belongs to a Wedding dressmaker, though reviews of her style had been mixed. The old door creaked open, and a middle-aged lady with eyes huge in her glasses, said ‘Come in dear.’ Her voice was sugar sweet, she seemed to be made of layers, all scarves, skirts and long necklaces. She led me into a parlour, and my heart sunk as I saw the usual plush sofa, wall-sized mirror and rows of white. But I snapped out of my world-weary feeling as soon as she started talking. ‘Now dear, tell me a bit about yourself. I’m going to sketch as you talk and when one of my dresses calls to me I’ll fetch it for you to try on.’ She was as mad as a box of frogs. I loved her. She actually gave the best piece of wedding dress shopping advice; she said that when you leave, you won’t remember what the dress you tried on was like, but you will remember how you felt in it. This I did find to be true. I found my dress. I’m 100% sure it was white.