As a 28-year-old bride-to-be who had been working in the fashion business for eight years, I thought that finding my dress was going to be my favorite part of the wedding process. Since I have a petite frame, standing at 5'2'' on a good day, I knew what I wanted: something simple and fitted that came out a little below the knee. A hundred dresses later, the favorite part had become a nightmare.
A year before my September 7th, 2014 wedding at the Brooklyn Winery, I set out with hope and excitement. I met two of my best girlfriends with wide smiles and giggles at the boho bride favorite and Instagram super star Stone Fox Bride in Soho.
While the showroom was cozy, the kind of place to hang out with a tub of popcorn and watch Girls in, it unfortunately had a limited range of dresses. While it was fun to indulge in my flower halo fantasy, the half-dozen gowns I tried on didn’t feel quite right. We drank away my disappointment with pressed green juices afterward and said it was okay because it was only the first round.
Thrilled again for trip two, I went with my two sister-in-laws to Gabriella Bridal in Soho. The selections were beautiful with plenty of beadwork and feathers. I posed in pictures in more than 20 dresses but felt like the dresses were all swallowing me. I couldn't justify the cost of over $5,000 for a dress that I wasn't in love with, especially since I would only be wearing it for eight hours.
After my years of working for a clothing manufacturer, I knew how much these dresses really cost to make, which generally hovers around 10% of their retail cost. It made me feel nauseous to spend the bloated thousands, but if I found the perfect dress, I was ready to. There is something about weddings that can make even the most rational bride irrational.
On my next foray, I blew out my hair and did my makeup when I went to the bridal mecca Vera Wang with three friends in tow. It had always been my dream to wear a Vera gown. I would pass the store daily on my way to school as a little girl, excited every time the windows featured a new tulle cupcake creation. They offered us champagne and asked for my budget. I didn't want to be without options so I blurted out, "$10,000."
"Oh you can try on anything then!" the salesperson excitedly said.
I tried on 12 gowns, but all of them looked the same; fitted bodices with huge mermaid tails.
“The bottom reminds me of toilet paper,” my friend said.
My dream dress wasn’t to be found.
I decided to go bigger, somewhere with limitless options and a wide range of price points. So, I booked an appointment at Kleinfeld’s. Having never watched Say Yes to the Dress, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. My mom and I met the saleslady who said with pride that I must have recognized her from TV. "Oh yes, of course," I lied, not wanting to hurt her feelings.
I explained to her that I was looking for something simple, but she brought back a few ball gowns with sequins and lace fit for a Miss America pageant. I politely declined.
Frustrated with me, she offered to take us into the back room. My mom and I searched through racks of tightly packed heavy gowns, sweat beading on our brows as we looked for my dress. As I stood on a pedestal with three mirrors surrounding me, my mom and the sales lady urged me to say yes to what they felt was my best option: a Hollywood glamour white crepe V-neck front, that was backless with a giant bow on my butt.
"When you've found the one, do you keep looking?" the saleslady asked.
I wondered how many times she had said that line today. I left Kleinfelds feeling stressed and depressed about my search.
It was now six months before my wedding. Chances of having a dress made for me were slim. I was facing extra charges for rush fees on delivery and alterations that added 20% to the cost, but I still couldn't pull the trigger on a dress I didn't love.
Every boutique I went to put pressure on me: "You have to order today or it won't come in time," they stressed.
I went to Nicole Miller after work. I went to BHLDN on my lunch break. I hated everything. I couldn't find a dress that wasn't wearing me, and people started to make me feel like I was a bad bride.
By eight months into my dress search, it no longer felt special or exciting to see myself in white lace or satin. My friends had grown weary of taking pictures of me in 100 dresses. My mom was exasperated and told me to get over myself. I began searching the darker depths of the wedding dress underworld. Needing to focus, I set off alone on appointments. I didn't have time to weigh people's opinions on each dress: “You’re totally not fat, but somehow that dress makes you look fat.”
Salesladies would ask me why I was shopping alone. I was embarrassed to ask my friends and mom to come along again. I went to RK Bridal, to a Vera Wang sample sale, and to a few small showrooms in the garment center, but I came up empty handed.
Two months before the wedding, I finally ordered a Badgely Mischka dress from Shopbop for $800. It looked exactly like what I had always described, and the price was incomparable. While it wasn't my favorite dress of all time, it was comfortable, and I didn't feel guilty when I saw it all worn, stained and crumpled after its day of glory. I had the time of my life in that dress, and it showed.
No matter which dress I had picked, the day would have had the same happy ending: I married the man I love.
All along, it wasn't the dress that mattered.