Monday, 25 February 2013

Over wedding dress shopping before it begins

Chris and I have been engaged for a while now. Nearly six months, even! While there is no rush, I did take myself wedding dress shopping last weekend at the suggestion of some friends. It's good to know what's out there, right?

My basic requirements, in no particular order, are:
  • Comfort
  • Fit
  • Flattering shape
  • Fabric that feels nice
  • A style that I love (as opposed to one that is in fashion)
  • Affordable (a relative term, if ever there was one - perhaps "value" is a better word)
When I think about it, these terms describe the clothing I try to wear every day!

To cut a long story short, there was no dress that ticked all those boxes. Even with a sympathetic and understanding saleslady, I was being steered towards what they had, as opposed to what I want.

Dresses cut straight across the top (i.e. 95% of corset tops)... you know how style guides suggest that horizontal stripes are rarely flattering? Well, chopping yourself off just above the bustline is the ultimate horizontal line. I felt/looked like I was exploding out of the top. And that was on the ones that fit okay.

Oh, so many corset tops. A made-to-measure corset is a beautiful thing. A pre-made corset is not likely to be quite as satisfying. I get that this is what some women want for their wedding dress (though whether that's just because they see a lot of them around, I can't say). But there's only one real reason they are so ubiquitous: it's easy to squeeze several different size/shape women into them (thus increasing the bottom line, because you can stock less sizes and spend less on design). I felt squished-in and bulged-out, and photos of other brides suggest I'm not the only one. Being thin doesn't seem to guarantee fit, either.

Aside from spaghetti straps and vague notions of adding 'straps' (strips of fabric) to strapless dresses, there were very, very few non-strapless dresses. Again, I think this is because altering a dress with straps or sleeves is more difficult, thus costlier for designers. Of course, trends and climate have some influence. But this really limits options for different necklines, solid underwear, or even modesty considerations.

A-line skirts... I know they hide the hips/bottoms/thighs, but in concealing your shape they add a huge amount of volume. I don't think this is a plus, at all. Certainly not for me. It also tends to add another two horizontal lines at the waist and feet.

Let's not even go down the path of what is affordable or good value. These are incredibly subjective terms. I do think, though, that for dresses worth a fortnight's salary (or more), the dress must tick all my boxes. If it ticks three out of six, and still requires alterations, I don't consider it to be good value.

I'm writing this [epic] post to share a personal experience. It's not a judgement of other people's taste or style. If you wore a corset top with a A-line skirt, and it made you feel happy and beautiful, then your dress did its job! If you have been (or are going to be) a bride, and you are thrilled with the wedding dress shopping experience, I'm genuinely glad for you!

However, there is so little web content that says "hey, it's okay to be disappointed with the wedding dress shopping experience". I don't need convincing that I should shop around more, or order from a Chinese sweatshop, or suck it up and spend a couple of grand on something that's just okay. I don't need you to tell me that I should go shopping with a family member, or buy a bunch of magazines. We are all different, so there's no reason to think that buying a dress in a shop will work for all of us.

A long time ago, I was pretty sure that I wanted to sew my own dress, and this hasn't changed my mind. I'm happily building quite the collection of formal dress patterns. There are certainly a wealth of them out there.

Have any of you had an interesting experience buying or making a wedding dress? There's no judgement here, so I'd love to hear your stories!

16 comments:

  1. I had my aunt in law make my wedding dress (because I can't sew - yet!). I also had some of my great grandmother's lace that I used in the skit of my dress.

    I never went wedding dress shopping actually, I kind of which I had had the experience. But oh well. I knew I wanted to have the dress made the whole time.

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    1. I loved how you used some of that lace, it was a really thoughtful and beautiful idea.

      If your experience had been like mine, you wouldn't have missed much ;-) I'm just glad I haven't wasted much time or energy on it - if I'd had my heart set on it, I'd be quite upset!

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  2. They're good criteria. I didn't want to spend a crazy amount, but I suppose what I consider to be crazy and what others consider to be crazy might be different things. I guess you have to bear in mind that I'm nearly 6'2" so I was never going to find a dress on a sale rack!

    I first went shopping alone (and sunburnt - not recommended, given how many scratchy beady things these dresses have on them!), and found a dress that made me smile, and then I tried a second one on at the last minute and loved that one, too. So they were my shortlist.

    Then I went to Melbourne and went on a cursory shopping trip with my BMs, and found one gorgeous dress that combined my favourite elements from the other dresses, but was way out of my price range - the stationery they wrote the quote on must have been worth $15 alone! Oh, to live how the other half live...

    So I went back to Adelaide to decide between the two original dresses, and while I was waiting my eye caught a dress on a mannequin, which was essentially my dream dress - involved lace without being too nanna, semi-V neck, fairly low back, chapel train, A-line, laced back. I assumed it would be out of my price range, but was actually cheaper than one of the other dresses!!! So that's the one I bought... and that's the one that is in storage.

    Oh, hey, Kat, are you a size 14? I might have found a dress for you... ;) http://www.marykinobridal.com/ella-bridals-wedding-dresses-5517-p-6039.html Obviously I look better in it than the skinny model! :-p Also, I tried it on with my old Zappy and can speak for the good support it gives, despite the low back, and even though I didn't fill the top.

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    1. You definitely put a lot more effort into the shopping than I did! That is probably why you actually ended up with something that works for you :-D

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  3. I think it would be fantastic to make your own wedding dress! By the end of it, you may think it was an insane idea, but it would be so worth it. You'll get something that you love and something that fits you perfectly. Definitely do it if you can!

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    1. I appreciate your support, and agree - even if it's insane, the end result will (should?) make me feel good!

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  4. I'm in the early stages of making a wedding dress for a friend. It's pretty simple as wedding dresses go, which is good, but still a bit intimidating. I think if you know what you want and have the skills, making it is the way to go, though. :)

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    1. I'm thinking simple is the best - hey, simple silhouettes are what beaded embellishmens are made for! How exciting to be creating a wedding dress for somebody else :-)

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  5. I totally agree with you. I got married in 2011 and had virtually the same criteria as you. I also did not want a strapless dress and that straight away seemed to rule a lot of the dresses out. Also I did not want to spend an exorbitant amount on a dress that I was only going to wear for a day. All the dresses in my price range were sooo boring and not my style. I'm a size 14 and did not relish the thought of trying to squeeze myself into smaller dresses in the bridal shops. I went to a few with my mum on a trip home to NZ, but they were soooo heavy and solid and I knew I didn't want anything like that. I knew I was going to make it myself. I had sewed a lot as a teenager and at university, but had not sewed much at all for quite a few years. Luckily it all came back quickly! I know what suits my body shape and I hunted through vintage websites until I found the right pattern, a repro 1930s dress, which I made it out silk satin. I had to alter the fit, and add a lining, as well as adding godet in the back to make a mini train. I had bought some beaded lace in Portugal and I used it to make a bolero (from a burda pattern) and I made a birdcage veil to finish it all off. I was so happy with it all, I got a dress that I loved and suited me very well (and was floaty and really comfortable) that was within my small budget. Totally recommend making your own dress. :)

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    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing your story!

      I'm glad it's not just me thinking that NZ has a limited selection. And I do agree that sewing it yourself is only as difficult as the pattern you choose, and the amount of effort you can put into it. It sounds like your dress was lovely!

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  6. Everything you've espoused here fits perfectly in line with my opinion of wedding dresses. I live just near high st in Armadale - prime real estate for wedding dress shops. I get to walk past them everytime I go to the gym, and there are some real stunners! But like you said - often it's the corset bodice (which is universall unflattering, IMPO) and a big A-line skirt, often with plenty of pouf, lace, or bling. I'm dreading the thought of having to go shopping for something like this - which means I think I'll make it myself too! Although the whole engagement thing has yet to eventuate... I do think it's worthwhile going to try out dresses before you DIY though. The one thing with sewing is that you don't really see the end result until it's done!

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    1. You know, I was almost jealous of my old self living in Melbourne... except that it would still be a lot of the same, with some expensive exceptions!

      I'm glad I tried on some dresses, even if it only confirmed what I already thought. And you're so right - you can invest a lot of time in a sewing project before having any inkling of the end result. I see many a muslin in my future...

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  7. I had the "but all we have is strapless" experience in the bridal shops too. 11 years ago! I did have fun trying things on though. There was one I guess would have been "the one" if I couldn't sew and had a larger budget, but as it was it felt way too extravagant. So I made my own, incorporating some ideas from that dress. I was going off the idea of making it myself, but told myself to finish making up the toile. When I tried it on it was all the "I love it, it's so cool, look at the swishy little train" crazy bride moment you're supposed to have. (Oh, apart from strapless, the dresses in shops tended to have ridiculous trains. Acres of fabric that I would have to pay extra to cut off!) So, I can tell you that even in calico you can have that magic dress moment. You don't have to spend the money (and effort) on the real fabric for the wrong dress. Good luck with it! Hope to see what you make.

    Kathleen

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    1. Thanks Kathleen! I love your story, it does give me some hope :-) The calico magic moment is brilliant.

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  8. Wedding dresses are tricky aren't they! I 'accidently' moved in with my partner many years ago when I was between flatmates and never left, so we never got around to doing the wedding thing, but I agree that the choices out there are pretty dismal. It might be a good idea to go try on some 'regular' dresses rather than 'wedding' dresses to get an idea of different styles as possibilities.A lot of my friends have bought pretty sundresses for their bridesmaids instead of buying 'formal' dresses and these have looked lovely.

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    1. Chris and I were flatmates too!

      Thankfully I have a variety of formal/semi-formal dresses from all my jaunts as bridesmaid and wedding guest. I definitely agree though, if I'm sewing a dress anyway it good to broaden the style beyond "wedding dress".

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