The Most Surprising Thing About Wedding Dress Shopping

Lifestyle

Photo by Ellie Koleen Photography

I didn’t cry. She was so pretty. Her hair was platinum blonde with cream. Her skin, flawless. It was the color of the clipboard she was holding. Cardboard with cream. 

“What style are you looking for?”

“Oh, you know…natural. I’m really curvy, so nothing too busty.”

“Mmhmm,” she was writing.

“I don’t need my dad to see all of that on my wedding day.”

I laughed. She laughed. Softly, like someone laughs at a child.

“Do you like tulle?”

“Oh, no. No tulle.”

{too much volume}

“Long sleeve? Sweetheart cut? Mermaid? A-line? What’s your preference?”

“Long sleeve, definitely.” I was thinking about my arms. The rest was too much.

I played with my wrist and watched my gathering of strong women. Two of my best friends and my mom chatted softly. My niece and sister marveled at a flower girl’s dress in the window. My grandmother, who turned 80 that year, sat happily on a tiny love seat against a floral backdrop. She looked beautiful. This picking out a dress thing was the whole thing. Grandma had driven three hours to get there. And I hadn’t seen all of these wonderful people in one room since I graduated from college. It was a whole damn thing. A whole damn woman thing. Men certainly didn’t do this.

“Alright. Wonderful!!”

She turned a page on her clipboard and gazed at me.

“And lastly, what’s your budget?”

I looked at her as if she asked me how much money was in my bank account (probably $500) and wanted me to open my transactions on an Airplay screen. I knew I wanted to spend no more than $1,500.

“2,500.” I blurted. 

“Okay, that’s great. A lot of our dresses in the front of the store range upwards of $3,000 so we can stick to this area,” she motioned to an array of straps and beads and tulle in the back of the store. I hoped no one had heard the rest of our conversation. My grandma would rightfully shit her adorable turquoise trousers if she heard how much I was spending on a single dress.

“Go ahead! Pick out the ones you like to try on!”

She set us free inside the store. My girlfriends did most of the heavy lifting, pulling dresses off the rack like they were searching for something. “Oh, Brittany. This one is very Stevie Nicks meets Grace Kelly. Will you?” I nodded to every one and collected a bundle of gowns on my own. My niece tried on a pair of $300 metallic designer heels. She clunked around in them, the heels banging against the hardwood. Little girls in big shoes, filling nothing but the toe.

The owner of the shop, embodied in her benevolent pile of tulle, blonde, and tan ushered me into the dressing room with the big curtain. It was time to try the dresses on. 

The first dress was heavy. I guessed it to be 30 pounds, the exact weight of my parent’s cocker spaniel. When it was around my waist, the train took up most of the dressing room. The owner joined me when I had the thing around my legs and up my hips. She came in with her clamps and cinched me inside the bodice, tugging and twisting with delicate ease. If one could tug with delicacy, she did. It was all very medieval. 

The clamps were cold. The dresses were thick and detailed. When I was inside, truly wrapped in fabric, I felt well supported. The dress acted as a human ace bandage. I glanced at the size. Ten. I tried to compare dresses to rollerblades: you need them to be three sizes bigger than you normally would buy to fit just right. That was the case here, definitely. 

The dress was a long sleeve, like I wanted. It was form-fitting all the way down until it hit my knee caps, where it flared with flirty persistence. The delicate silk buttons in the back of my dress couldn’t meet one another, exposing my back and creating an unnatural gaping keyhole.

The dress was really beautiful, despite my thoughts, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how robotic I felt. And when I looked in the mirror I didn’t feel pivotal. I felt insanely, perfectly…normal. 

I couldn’t move my legs very well, so I waddled out of the dressing room and into the “reveal” area. A stepping stool surrounded by my most loved women played the focal point in the room. They offered me their most beloved gasps and wows and I positioned myself in front of the mirror. The dress was really beautiful, despite my thoughts, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how robotic I felt. And when I looked in the mirror I didn’t feel pivotal. I felt insanely, perfectly…normal. 

I sucked it in, let my teeth sear through the air. The dress wasn’t as flattering as I’d hoped. I’m curvy, so form-fitting appeals to me, but I felt my confidence slip. Everyone watched me and offered their notes. They were all so kind and made me feel beautiful in their own way. Esme, my niece, looked at me like I’d flown in on a unicorn, which saved me. The moment felt like a fast-forward film of my life filled with supportive women, hashing out all the reasons I was worthy: “G’DAMN woman! Look at you! You’re stunning. Do you love it?”

The thing was, I didn’t feel entirely right. I didn’t love it. No one tells you about the moments that don’t work. They don’t tell you about the emotion you won’t feel (even if you’re an emotional wreck like me!). They won’t tell you that searching for a dress will make you feel like a materialistic asshole. They don’t tell you that all of your girly enamore won’t amount to anything measurable during this process. They don’t tell you the entire experience will be flat.

I wasn’t aware of these things until I was sweating in a dressing room with a stranger, wondering if I looked better in a lace mermaid dress or a dress that looked Shakesphere-slaps-Vera Wang-straight-in-the-face. Wedding dress shopping is a pregnant fairy, bopping around with expectations and esteem. So much so that, if nothing happened aside from fleeting insecurities and sweaty pits, I felt uncharged; wrong. When I tried the dresses on, nothing shook me. I didn’t cry. I felt the same way I would feel trying on a sweater in a well-lit Target dressing room. 

Trying on a wedding dress is a symbolic flex that your life is indeed going to change because someone loves you that much. On the flip side, a dress is just a dress.

I have been in the room when a woman cries when she tries on her dress. And I have that disease where I cry whenever someone else does, so I cried with them. Trying on a wedding dress is a symbolic flex that your life is indeed going to change because someone loves you that much. On the flip side, a dress is just a dress. And it doesn’t make me love Jake anymore than I do already (Writer’s Note: He’s going to make me have him sign something for mentioning his name in this article). 

When I did find my dress, it was very unconventional and simple. So unconventional, in fact, I thought it was wrong. I didn’t know it was the right dress because I wasn’t struck with purpose. I knew it was the right dress because I was comfortable inside of it. I knew it was the right dress because I wanted to keep it on. I could move. I could pick up a pin. I even DID A LITTLE TWIST. It also didn’t look like a wedding dress right away. And I kind of loved her for it.

I didn’t feel like a princess. I felt like me. Maybe that’s where it all came together. For so long, my entire life, I thought you had to put on a dress and have a Cinderella moment. You know the one. The swirl of yellow sparkle up the waist, lift the gloved arms in the air gallant voila. If only I had gone into the searching with the opposite in mind, that my wedding dress love story would be as simple as a Tuesday afternoon. Kind of like my love story.

When I got engaged, a lot of people reacted as if I’d changed the world with one hand. When, in reality, I had done…virtually nothing. This was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn about the wedding process. Everything is big. Everything is celebratory. Nothing, not a single moment, is unimportant. Picking out a wedding dress felt exactly that, brimming and burly, when I wanted practical and simple.

I didn’t feel like a princess. I felt like me. . . . For so long, my entire life, I thought you had to put on a dress and have a Cinderella moment. . . . If only I had gone into the searching with the opposite in mind, that my wedding dress love story would be as simple as a Tuesday afternoon.

Don’t get me wrong. Weddings are really wonderful. If I had it my way, I’d crash at least three a month. It is one moment in our lives that all of the people we love will be consistently in one space, throughout almost an entire year (depending on how long you plan) and they will spend a big duration of time talking about love. In some way or the other, weddings are a sense of gratitude. It’s my choice to get a hold of what I can handle; dial the celebration up and down as needed. I learned quickly that the process could be as big or small as I allowed it. Searching for a wedding dress told me a lot. That I enjoy being comfortable. That I really love seeing my loved ones enjoy a celebration, for the mere glory of magnifying life. And that there’s beauty in lightness, plainness.

And for the love of all that is right in this world, we don’t need to feel or be how others feel and be. How we celebrate, how we absorb the world around us, truly wrap it all in our arms, is our choice.

I didn’t cry.

I didn’t cry when I found my wedding dress. I simply loved her.

BY Brittany Chaffee - March 6, 2020

3 Comments  +

add a comment

  1. Morgan says:

    Brittany,
    I’m here to simply say, I’m a fan of your work but more so I’m a fan of your thinking. Your articles are always so real, sincere, vulnerable and brave. I love the way you write about women’s issues. Our pain, our thoughts, our desires, our voices. The way your write about our roles and the way you challenge them…I’m always in agreeance with your stances. Your work is refreshing and honest. Thank you! I just wanted to put it out there. I do not have experience with wedding dress shopping (in a looooong term committed relationship and joyfully unmarried) but I relate to so much of what you write about. You’re a warrior. You come to battle and you leave your words for us to soak up. To think about. All of your articles have a true heart and soul to them. Being a writer who can express emotions the way you do is a true gift. And we are all so lucky to read words from a woman who has a mind like you.

  2. Morgan,

    I like words but I can’t even describe how flattered and grateful I am for your note. Thank you thank you thank you. You and so many women in this world are the reason I try to tell stories in the most truthful and honest way I can. A lot of the time, we don’t know what people are really going through, so it’s refreshing to hear that we’re often going through the same motions. You are wonderful. Stay lovely, messy, beautiful and true.

    xoxo,
    Brittany

  3. Morgan says:

    And Thank You, Brittany! (which I must add is my middle name! Spelled ‘Britney’ hehe)

    Keep on rocking!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most-read posts:

Did you know W&D now has a resource library of  Printable Art, Templates, Freebies, and more?

take me there 

Arrow Alone

Get Our Best W&D Resources

for designing a life well-lived

MORE STORIES

Arrow Alone

the latest

Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

Hi, I'm Kate. Welcome to my happy place.

follow  @WITANDDELIGHT

ELSEWHERE

PINTEREST

FACEBOOK

342k

3m

12.5k

INSTAGRAM