By Casey Nilsson
I’m not talking about the man. I’m talking about the dress.
I found it. Within my budget. In less than thirty minutes. At a retail chain. And — here’s the kicker — it was the first dress of the day. There was no champagne toast, no whooping from my girlfriends, no “phew” moment after a long afternoon of worming into tulle-covered monstrosities. It was just me and my mom and a consultant named Dottie.
Sorry for the bragging. I’m still working on my delivery.
I can see how the experience goes so wrong for so many women. It could’ve been that way for me, too; I have a hard enough time figuring out what to wear to other people’s weddings. Engaged Editor Jen Steffy Swanson sat down with Randy Fenoli of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” to pick his bridal brain (read the interview here), and while his advice is so practical, I still found myself lost on a few levels. I don’t have unlimited cash, I don’t want a cookie-cutter look and, frankly, I don’t want a woman I’ve just met — who is trying to sell me something, mind you — yanking and tugging at me with cold, uncaring hands while I stand there, nearly naked, waiting to be funneled into my could-be dream dress.
If you, too, have a touch of bridal paranoia, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are nine tips — yes, nine, that’s all I’ve got — to keep you sane while shopping.
1. Leave the bridal clippings at home. Randy touched on this in his Engaged interview. I’m going to throw a totally made-up statistic at you: 90 percent of us don’t look like the models styled in bridal magazines. They barely look like that on a regular day. I’d love to have worn a spaghetti-strap gown covered in heavy French lace and translucent beads with an empire waist and lingering train, but I would have looked like Bride of the Blob.
Keep your own body (and it’s beautiful, I tell you!) in mind when you’re sifting through the rack. Won’t go strapless on a regular day? Skip it on the big day. Like your legs? Nobody says you have to cover them up. Keep it classy with a sweet tea-length dress. Feel more comfortable with coverage? There are some gorgeous options out there, and this season’s sheer sleeves are fresh and frump-free — especially compared to their 1980s ancestors.
2. Wear grandma undies. The consultants will follow you into your dressing room. The more coverage, the better.
3. Choose carefully who tags along. Totally by accident, none of my friends were invited to my first appointment. I honestly didn’t expect to walk away with a dress; I wanted to buy local! But I’m happy with how it all worked out. My mother is brutally loving — which means she’s brutally honest. So when I tried on my simple ivory gown, I was sure it was a winner because she was swooning over it, too. (Though she made me try on two others just in case, and one was covered in seersucker. Seriously.) If I brought my gaggle of girlfriends, the process would have taken so much longer, and I would have felt pressured to try on every sequined, glitzy thing they threw at me.
4. Pack a snack. Trying on dress after dress can be emotionally and physically exhausting — I felt it after just three. A granola bar will jump-start your gears, just remember to take the dress off first.
5. If you have a budget, stick to it. Or else you’re in trouble…. You’ll thank me later for that open-ended threat. Your consultant wants you to buy something outlandishly expensive — it’s their job, they likely work on commission — but if you open your appointment with the awkward, holding-up-a-bag-of-pennies disclosure, you won’t run the risk of overspending.
6. Ditch a consultant if she’s not giving you what you want. It’s harsh, I know. But if she’s bringing you $900 gowns and you asked for the $500 to $700 styles, well, that’s just mean.
7. Keep the mood in mind. I can’t tell you how many gowns I’ve seen on preownedweddingdresses.com and oncewed.com (hey, I’m not above a beautiful bargain!) that have never been worn. A big reason is because, in haste, the gals bought their dresses at sample sales or years in advance without knowing what type of mood they’d like to set. I’m all for a deal, but nobody wants to be over/under-dressed at their own wedding.
8. Snap a few photos. Some bridal shops are iffy about this, but insist on it. How many times have you worn an outfit, only to look at it again in photo form and, well, hate yourself for wearing that hideous red crocheted poncho? Remember: You’ll be showing your future grandchildren — or bored neighborhood kids, whomever — your wedding photos. Be sure you’ll look nice in them.
9. Buy something you’re comfortable in. All eyes are going to be on you, from the moment you walk down the aisle to the last goodbye. You’ll eat, dance, hug, sweat, laugh, drink and kiss in this dress, so you should feel great — not just pretty — in it.
Now comes the nagging, rooted-in-reality advice: It’s one dress, to be worn a few hours in a whole life together. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be you.
Alright, that’s over with. Here’s a fuzzy sneak peek of my little ivory number, with touches of lace and a romantic fluttery back. It lives in my old bedroom at my parents’ house, and I’m getting my pennies’ worth by slipping into it every time I visit.
Casey Nilsson is the copy-editing extraordinaire for Rhode Island Monthly magazine. She’d like to marry her dreamboat, throw a personal, romantic reception and avoid angering any immediate family members — in less than eight months and for about $8,000. Follow her thrifty, DIY journey here or on Pinterest @cnilssonRIM.