Well. Here's my honest experience.
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When I first went, I wanted to make it a "thing" and have my mother and mother-in-law come with me to a boutique in NYC and do a whole weekend together. One thing people don't talk about? How far in advance you need to book an appointment. I do not plan in advance, so when I tried to book this two or three weeks in advance, NOTHING was available at the "top" boutiques, so I made an appointment where I could. Fine.
When I first walked in, I was scared, quite frankly. Seeing wedding dresses that hundreds of women have likely tried on, questionable fabric, puffy silhouettes... it was my nightmare. That said, when I spoke with my stylist and told her what I am looking for, she was pretty spot on when she brought multiple dresses into the dressing room for me - lace, long sleeved versions, low backs...
The first dress I tried on was a long sleeve number. Before the stylist came in to pin the dress, I stood at myself looking in the mirror feeling like I was a little girl again trying on my mother's clothes. This very "adult" dress, just hanging on me. How are women supposed to buy a dress that is (likely) too big on them, or way too small because these stores have just one size!!
Here's the next thing that happened. I walked out of the room to show my mothers the dress and their lack of awe broke my heart. I wasn't walking out with confidence that I liked parts of the dress and/or that this dress was not terrible for the first one, but I was walking out hoping for a specific reaction that I did NOT receive. This happened the whole time. I would walk out focused less on how I felt, but more about "the reaction". I did find a beautiful Pronovias option, but again, with the edits that I wanted to make to it (actually in my size, adding floating lace to make long sleeves), how was I supposed to drop over $4k on a dress that I would "hope" would be perfect when it was in my size?
Here's what I did next, and likely something that not many people do. When I was next in NYC for a work trip, I made a last minute appointment at BHLDN. To go by myself.
When you book your appointment, you are able to share which dresses you are interested in, but you are not limited to just trying those dresses on. You are also able to try on your size (or maybe one size variation) because BHLDN is off the rack. The stylist I had here had the dresses I requested, and she let me walk around and pick anything else I wanted to try.
I probably had around ten dresses in the (beautiful and roomy) room to try over the course of the next hour and here's the key difference I had - because I was by myself, I was focused. If I put on a dress and it didn't feel right or I hated the silhouette, I had her help me out of it. I didn't trot around and see what anyone else thought, I allowed myself the time to "feel" without pressure.
There was one dress that I knew I needed. It was a simple c - short sleeves, embellishment around the waist, and a low v-neck back. It wasn't THE dress, but I knew I needed it and decided "well, why not have two dresses" and this became my reception dress.
Going into all of this, I knew I wanted something classic. For me that meant no puffiness or a ton of bedazzling, and instead lace, subtle detailing, and I wanted my back to be the star of the show (since I am clearly small chested). This Eddy K Carson dress had all of these things. The lace was beautiful (a lot of lace at both low and high price points look cheap, in my opinion) and I loved the way the edges were built around the lace and was not a harsh line. The back was open, but had these beautiful satin floating buttons going down from the back of my neck. The front was sexy, but not too revealing (to be honest, there was more padding in this dress than I wanted, and I had the seamstress at Green & Blue Studio remove it). It fit like a glove, and the only thing I wanted to do with it was add a belt to it to break up the full lace body and define my waist.
But, I didn't want to get this one right away, because while I did this research part by myself, I knew I wanted my mom to be there when I said "yes". So I came back with her a few weeks later, tried it on, CONFIDENTLY walked out to her, put on the veil, turned around with a bit of swag, and saw my mom's eyes tear up. When I asked her what she thought, she said "it's everything you have been looking for". It was the perfect moment for us to share.
Not to mention that when Brian saw me for our first look, he was blown away and said "it's perfect for you". [heart melts]
The moral of my personal story is this... do what you feel comfortable doing in this journey if you haven't gone through it yet.
When I see shows like Say Yes To The Dress, I am horrified to see how opinionated friends & family can be, and I hope I never pushed any of my own friends like this (if I did, girls, please forgive me). This moment, and your wedding day, is about you. Make sure you take care of yourself throughout the journey and trust your gut. YOU are going to look back at your photos many, many times, not them. And my hope for you is that you are able to smile when you look at those photos, not wish things were different because you questioned yourself in the slightest bit because someone else's voice was louder than your own.
Jewelry: Ben-Amun Spire earrings, Tiffany & Co. wedding band, heirloom rings
Alterations: Green & Blue Studio (DC)
Photography: Rachel May Photography
Cylburn Arboretum (getting ready photos)
Mt. Washington Mill Dye House (ceremony & reception)
If you want tips for your future husband, Brian did his own post here.