Say Fine to the Dress: How To Dress For The Wedding YOU Want To Have

As the owner of a bridal salon, all of my waking hours are dedicated to discussing the fine points of the big day, including the dress (or the suit, or the jumpsuit, or the crop top).

The first thing you should know about me is that I love weddings.

I love to talk about them, look at pictures of them, and obsess over every last detail from escort tables to bustles. I also totally understand that a “perfect” day, at least by Pinterest standards, just isn’t achievable, unless you are currently living in a wedding blog, or maybe a Sofia Coppola film.

The second thing you should know is that I own a bridal salon, so I have an excuse for being kind of obsessed: All of my waking hours are dedicated to discussing the fine points of the big day, including, most importantly (to me at least), the dress (or the suit, or the jumpsuit, or the crop top).

My job is to help brides cut through all the noise and figure out how to stay happy and looking like their uniquely gorgeous selves.

For those of you who haven’t been dreaming of walking down the aisle since you were 12, figuring out what to wear can be downright terrifying. It’s much easier to curl up on the couch and binge-watch HTGAWM.

That’s where I come in.

Fifteen years ago, I started my label, Mignonette, selling handmade dresses on Etsy. It gradually morphed into just custom wedding gowns, and 5 years ago, it morphed again into Mignonette Bridal.

We specialize in lovingly handcrafted, completely romantic gowns, and we also alter a lot of gowns from other stores. I feel like I’m pretty qualified to give some advice on how to get down the aisle without going naked, so I hope this will help demystify the whole process a bit.

Here goes:

The basics

To start with, when you go shopping for your outfit, only bring people who are going to give you useful feedback. That saying about too many cooks is never truer than when you are trying to choose the most expensive dress/suit you’ll ever buy and everyone has an opinion.

Secondly, everyone is not entitled to an opinion. If people are lucky enough to be asked to go shopping with you, they need to remember that if they aren’t being encouraging, positive and enthusiastic, that privilege can be revoked. It’s your day, so trust your instincts.

Third, your consultant should be your advocate. They are there to help you feel gorgeous at a price you can afford. If you aren’t gelling with a consultant, cut the appointment short. There are millions of gowns in the world, and yours is out there.

Suit-wearers: Make sure you research some silhouettes before you go shopping so you don’t get talked into a boxy dad-suit that will cost twice as much to alter as it did to buy.

Fourth, if you try on a dress, and there is even one detail about it that you just do not like, do not buy it. Save your money and keep shopping.

On the other hand, for suits and separates this is actually a bit different — suiting can be tailored, and lucky for you, you’ll likely be able to wear it for other occasions after the wedding.

Just make sure you do your research to find the best alterationist in your town. Taking it to any random dry cleaners won’t cut it.


What if you have no idea what you want?

First of all, don’t assume that just because you have a certain type of figure, you can’t wear whatever the heck you want.

Super-curvy girls look amazing in fitted gowns, and sometimes tiny waifs shine brightest in gigantic princess poofs. You never know until you try things on.

But don’t worry if you feel like you’re all over the place with your wedding style. It’s totally normal to like a million things, especially because there is so much to choose from. If you are not quite sure what you want, I recommend first going to a big store like Davids or Macys (they are really low-pressure and have a lot of sizes and styles to choose from, and they are great at leaving you alone to browse) and trying on every silhouette they have.

That really helps to narrow down what will actually look good on you – you might end up finding the one, and if not, at least you have good ideas for more serious shopping.

What if I don’t want to wear a dress/white/strapless/etc.?

Ugh, this dilemma is the worst. I do know some brides whose families pressured them into wearing gowns, and they were miserable the entire time (plus, they had to spend money on dresses they didn’t want to wear).

Since family is a delicate thing to negotiate, my biggest piece of advice is to pick your battles. If mom is leaning hard on you to wear a bedazzled ballgown, but isn’t helping you pay for it, try to delicately let her know that since this is coming out of your pocket, you will make the choice about what to wear.

FYI: the dressing room is NOT the place to have this convo. Try to establish your boundaries before you even go shopping.

Alternately, wear the dress for the ceremony and change into something flattering and comfortable for the party. In the end, whatever is going to get you through the day with a minimum of shouting is the right answer.

Why do I have to spend all this money?

You don’t, actually! I don’t believe you have to spend tons on your wedding day outfit. There are reasons why formalwear can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, though — from superior construction to luxury materials, you are paying for an item which is meant to be an heirloom.

However, if that’s not high on your priority list, definitely check out vintage stores, or the formalwear sections of department stores, especially during prom season, or around Christmas/New Years.

Never, ever consider buying a knockoff though — not only is the original designer not getting paid for their idea, you are guaranteed to end up with something that will end up costing more to fix than it did to buy.

As far as suiting goes, I am a huge fan of Saint Harridan. They know their tailoring and can really accommodate any figure.

If you cannot afford a bespoke suit (which typically ranges from $800-$2,000), try shops like J Crew, Suit Supply (their slimmer fits mean narrower shoulders, plus they offer suiting in a bazillion colors and patterns), and even Banana Republic.

My wife is partial to their suits and though they are pricier than your average outfit, this is your wedding, and you deserve to look gorgeous.

If you really cannot shell out more than $100, a thrift store find, paired with an excellent tailor and dry cleaner, will take you a long way.

Alterations

Unless you really luck out, you will need alterations. I always tell clients to budget an additional $250-$600 for tailoring, though that price can sometimes be lower or higher, especially if you make design changes like adding sleeves or having a jacket reshaped, or if you have a gown with lace or beading.

When looking for a tailor, look for someone who specifies that they only do wedding gowns and formalwear. This is not the time to just go to the dry cleaners on the corner.

I recommend searching “wedding gown alterations” on Yelp, then making an appointment to talk over what you want and make sure they understand your vision. Pricing varies from shop to shop, but it is worth it to trust your outfit to someone who specializes in formal alterations, not just whoever will do it the cheapest.


Underpinnings

I always recommend that clients get fitted for a brand-new bra or bustier that they plan to wear just for the wedding. I also have a love/hate relationship with Spanx; if you’re going to wear them, get the ones that come up under the bust and go down to the knee, otherwise you get strange bulges.

If you are planning to wear a gown with a very low back, and you have anything other than a super-perky bust, you need to invest in a bustier. A clever alterationist can always lower the back of a bustier, and you will be amazed at how wearing one will change the shape of a gown.

Always remember to have your undergarments and shoes ready to go when you start your alterations so that your tailor knows what to expect.

These are the most-basic of basic questions. What would you like to know? I’m all ears.