Despite my interest in sewing and love for quirky fashion throughout my life, I honestly never thought much about my wedding dress before I got engaged. I know that some girls dream about their wedding gown from a young age (I’ll be honest I had like, five things pinned on my *secret* wedding Pinterest Board) but I just figured I’d find something that worked for me when the time came.
Although I didn’t have a certain style in mind, I did have a few requirements for my wedding dress. I wanted to find either something vintage or something secondhand and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a piece of clothing I’d only wear for a few hours.
Most importantly, I wanted to feel 100% like myself in my wedding dress. I wanted to move like myself, sit like myself, dance like myself… I didn’t want to worry about spilling wine on my gown or walking through mud and I didn’t want to feel constrained in any way (“I can’t breathe!” “I can’t bend over!” “Ahhh everyone is stepping on my 20 foot train!).
I know that my thrifty/practical approach to finding my wedding dress is probably not right for everyone and although I was completely pleased with my modest budget I fully understand splurging on this once-in-a-lifetime ensemble. I had as much fun trying on fancy dresses as I did donning goofy gowns. And *spoiler alert* I truthfully considered the brand new shiny dress with a price tag of $2,000 for a hot minute because… well… it was just SO PRETTY. Ultimately I went with my gut and I am so glad I did!
Here’s how “the dress” came to be!
Sometime in the fall before our wedding (October? Maybe November?) I hopped in the car with my bridesmaids and headed down to Minneapolis/St. Paul to go dress shopping. My mom (who lives back in the Chicago suburbs) drove up to meet us there for the weekend trip which we had planned to fill with a few trips to bridal consignment shops and new boutiques.
Even if you 100% know that you want to buy a brand new dress I highly suggest checking out some bridal consignment stores- it’s so much fun and takes all of the pressure off of dress shopping. You can try on the most ridiculous/out of style dresses and goof around and nobody will be uptight about you being silly in the changing rooms. Let your bridesmaids each pick out a dress for you – funny or for real and I promise you will not be let down! Here’s a fun one from the first shop we visited.
I tiered… I mean… tried on everything from terrible 90’s dresses, a dusty Beetlejuice number, and a halter dress that I am 100% sure was for a quinceanera. Even though we were having a lot of fun, we didn’t find anything even close to a “maybe” at the first shop and got ready to head to the next store on our list.
As we were getting ready to leave I made one more pass through the aisles and found myself browsing in sizes that were completely out of my range when I spotted a fabric I fell in love with. It was a cute, ivory floral lace that reminded me of a summer picnic and was unlike any fabric I’d seen on a wedding dress before.
I pulled out the dress and was surprised by it’s simplicity. “That’s cute” I thought and went to hang the dress back up knowing it was about 5 sizes too big. My mom noticed me and suggested I try it on anyways, “Why not?” she said. And so I did.
It took a few clips in the back to imagine the dress in my size but once I got it on I was completely surprised by how much I liked it. It wasn’t at all what I thought I was looking for but between the fabric, the neckline, and the simple silhouette I thought it definitely had potential.
The price tag was impressive too. At $199 dollars I was definitely intrigued by the thought of saving so much on this element of the wedding. We knew that we had other shops to browse so we asked the staff if we could put the dress on hold while we continued our shopping. (This was our very first stop after all!) Nope. The shop couldn’t place holds on dresses and wouldn’t be open the next two days – we would be long gone by the time they reopened.
I was torn. I wasn’t ready to buy a dress at the first shop we visited without even trying on other gowns but I saw a lot of potential in the dress and didn’t want to miss the opportunity either. I changed back into my street clothes, mulling things over in my mind, it was only $200 after all and I could always do my own alterations and hem it to wear for my bridal shower or rehearsal dinner. Maybe I should just go for it?
By the time I made it out of the fitting rooms I noticed all of my bridesmaids were weirdly emotional and that my mom was missing. That’s when I realized that she had snuck off to buy the dress for me. Ugh. I was amazed. With most wedding gowns being thousands of dollars there was literally no situation where I imagined my mom buying my wedding dress for me. It was such a surprise and made it so special. Of course she had the same attitude as I did about the dress, “If it works, great! If not, who cares?”.
We left the first shop excited about having a strong contender to bring home but were all still excited about other possibilities. Our next stop was at another bridal consignment boutique and it was full of more silly dresses including this “super Catholic” look that my mom loved because it was traditional AF and also “white” (not ivory/champagne like I was looking for, haha).
Our last stop of the weekend was a fancy/traditional bridal boutique. It was spotless and perfectly lit and we all had to remove our shoes when we got there. I had an attendant help me into each gown and stuff weird pillows into the back of dresses that were too big – no more big ass binder clips!
I tried on a range of dresses knowing that this was all just for fun. From gorgeous mermaid style gowns to big poofy princess dresses – it was the stereotypical dress shopping experience I think every gal should have. I felt beautiful in every single dress (even this ridiculous blush gown with the removable skirt) but despite the glitz and glamour I knew I was getting married in a friggin’ State Park and there was no need for hand beaded lace overlays or ten pounds of tulle.
Until I tried on this dress…
Ummm. What?! Look at that back! Look at that neckline! Look at how nice my boobs look! Oh, wait, it’s available in champagne with a light gold underlay? Well, shit. Take my money.
Yes, it’s true. Underneath the beautiful bridal boutique lighting with the delicate (and probably $250) veil perfectly in place I was seeing what I feel like women are conditioned to want for their wedding day – a polished, perfect looking dress that made me feel special. And my wedding was a special day after all, wasn’t it?
I was torn. The dress was about $2,000 (the most I told myself I’d EVER spend on a wedding dress) and was made to order so if I wanted it I’d have to order it soon. I got some information and we left before I fell completely under the spell of the mood lighting and general fanciness.
On the drive back to Fargo I talked it over with my ladies and I knew that the fancy dress was not for me. I wasn’t sure at that moment if the dress in the back of my Volkswagen was for me either but I was sure of one thing – I wasn’t going to wear a $2,000 wedding dress. Not because I felt like I didn’t deserve one or that there is anything wrong with spending as much money as you want on your wedding gown but because it just wasn’t who I am as a person.
I’m the girl that gets compliments on shirts that I find at the thrift store for $3. I’m the girl that tears apart clothes that are way too big to make them fit me because I like the fabric. The dress in the back of my car needed some work before it felt like my wedding dress but that’s what would make it my own and ultimately that’s what would make me the happiest.
So with the help of the seamstress who owns the alterations shop next to my old store (yep, my necktie store was right next to a seamstress who specializes in prom & bridal) we shrunk the dress down to size, popped in some bra cups and hemmed it to height.
I wavered in my commitment to the dress over the summer and had one or two freak outs as the wedding got closer (because I am human and apparently like, 90% of all brides do this). But when it came time to put on the dress on my wedding day I knew that I made the right choice.
It had rained the entire morning on the day of our wedding so the ground was wet and there were puddles and a bit of mud. My tiny little train dragged through wet leaves and ended up getting smushed into s’mores by the end of the evening but none of that mattered. The whole day and the whole night I felt completely like myself, I was able to dance freely, drink and eat freely, and best of all… brag to everyone when they complimented my dress that it only cost $200! (I am my mother’s daughter.)
By the time we made it to our cute little honeymoon cabin I noticed that the hem of my dress was filthy and I couldn’t help but laugh. I slid it back into the dress bag knowing that, like most brides, I wouldn’t be taking out again for a long time and I smiled feeling satisfied that I squeezed every inch of life out of it.
It turns out that I did take my dress out of the bag to write this blog post and I cracked up when I looked at it. There is literally still a leaf hanging from the hem.
With our wedding a thing of thing of the past it is fun to look back on the whole process of planning our day. I spend a lot of time working with couples on small details of their weddings (making neckties + bow ties) and I know how little things can add so much meaning to a celebration.
Being on the other side of the planning process I also have realized that the most important and most meaningful thing you can do for your wedding is to stay true to yourself. Think about the big picture and who you are as a person, not just about what you want your wedding to look like or what you think your wedding should look like.
As much as you’ll remember those turquoise and coral bridesmaids dresses (mainly because there will be photographic evidence of them for all of time) you’ll mostly remember how you felt. As great as feeling beautiful or magical or “perfect” seems, nothing really beats feeling 100% like yourself.