If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know I’m getting married next year – eek! While I’ve been keeping wedding chat to a minimum, I’ve had quite a few of you tell me you want to hear more. So I’m going to pull together some – hopefully – useful guides.
First up: shopping for my wedding dress.
Not gonna lie – this was stressful. Not because the actual shopping experience was stressful, but because holy s#*! I’m getting married. It was a realisation moment. Sure, we’d sorted our venue and a bunch of other suppliers, but all of a sudden I needed to make big decisions without Lee by my side to talk things through. And we talk about everything.
So first up, I had to decide where on earth I was going to start looking…
Hampshire is not short on bridal shops, that much is certain. But a lot of Hampshire has a much bigger wallet than me – as we quickly learned when looking for a venue. (I’m going to do a full post on wedding costs after the big day, so stay tuned for that.)
For me, there were some key things I was looking for in a bridal shop:
- Starting price for their dresses. If their starting price was £1200 or higher, it was a no.
- Location. Realistically, I didn’t want to be driving more than 45 minutes to get there – especially as I was going to need to go back at least once or twice.
- Designers. Not that I know much about designers, but I really wanted something that wasn’t super traditional. I was looking for the more casual, romantic, boho designs which only a limited number of designers do.
- Website. I think a lot of small businesses underestimate a good quality website. Considering my background is digital marketing, a rubbish website is a big no for me. If you’re selling dresses for ££££, surely you can spend a few hundred on a decent website?
After browsing the heck out of Google, I created a shortlist of boutiques that matched the above. Now, I’d planned to go wedding dress shopping with my mum, and because she lives in Wales, we only had one day to schedule appointments – the idea being that we could schedule another day if I didn’t find anything I liked.
In the end, I chose these two boutiques:
Wedding dress shopping at Anya Bridal in Droxford
Our first stop for the day was hands-down the best. The staff at Anya Bridal were amazing and incredibly welcoming.
As this was our first boutique, I was really nervous. Social anxiety can be a real b#!*% and I was starting to fret before we’d even set foot through the doors. Some friends had already told me what it was like but I honestly had no idea what to expect.
My bridal expert, Vicky, was really lovely. We started by discussing our venue and whether I had any preferences to dress types/styles. Vicky then took us over to the dresses and showed us the different materials, explaining the pros and cons of each, before handing me a little basket containing three pegs.
We were then left on our own to browse the huge collection of dresses and choose just three to try on, which was actually easier than I thought it would be.
Once I’d made my choices, Vicky prepped the changing area and set out the first dress for me to try on, specifically asking me not to look in the mirror until I stepped out and up onto the little stool.
While the dress was gorgeous, it was clear I didn’t want something with a big skirt. There were just too many layers and material around my legs; the thought of spending a whole day moving around like I was some sort of marshmallow didn’t really appeal. I also didn’t want to be in any danger of tripping over my skirts or having to grab hold of my front in order to swing round. It just felt too big and bulky, and I’m not the most elegant of people at the best of times.
The second dress was totally different, with a single piece of material as the skirt and allowed me to move around much easier. It was clear that this was definitely more me, and more what I was after.
But that did mean the third dress I’d chosen was too similar to the first one I’d tried on and so wasn’t worth the time.
So having heard my thoughts about the two dresses, Vicky then went away and chose a few more dresses she thought I might like that were within my budget.
In the end, I discovered:
- I didn’t like a big skirt
- I wanted something that had a bit of sparkle
- I wasn’t a fan of the tulle fabric many used on the skirts
- I wanted something that felt lightweight and comfortable
- I preferred the flattering V-neckline
- I definitely wanted to be in a soft A-line dress
By the end of the appointment, I had a really good idea of what I did and didn’t like and felt a lot more confident about heading to the next boutique.
Due to Coronavirus, safety was always going to be a concern, but I thought the shop did really well to make both me and my mum feel safe and at ease. There was hand sanitiser readily available throughout the shop and the staff all wore face masks and face shields. They also allowed me to take my own face mask off when I tried one of the dresses on for a second time so I could see how it would look.
Wedding dress shopping at The Bridal Mill in Botley
For this appointment, I’d also invited along one of my bridesmaids and was so thrilled she could be a part of the experience; as you can imagine, a lot of shops have restrictions in place due to COVID-19.
The shop itself was lovely, albeit a little small which made it feel cramped, and I definitely didn’t feel like it had the same quality of service as Anya Bridal.
My bridal expert for this appointment, Dannielle, was lovely and super friendly. This time round, we were left to choose as many dresses as we’d like from the various racks on display and each time we pulled one out, Dannielle took it to my changing room ready for me to try on.
Having browsed all the dresses on offer, I was surprised by the lack of choice, particularly for the type of design I wanted. So we decided to make the most of things and added in a few other styles just to see what they would look like.
I did struggle getting in the dresses a little without having them laid out for me, and I was worried I’d accidentally rip one of the underskirts as I stepped into them. I hadn’t ever really considered the logistics of getting in and out of a wedding dress on my own…
All-in-all I must have tried on at least 7 different dresses, finally finding two that I really liked. One was a little larger in the skirt area than I wanted but the train and the bodice were gorgeous (and sparkly) while the other was much more the style I’d preferred at Anya Bridal but it was just a little too simple.
We thanked Dannielle for her time and said our goodbyes, but I wasn’t quite sold on either of the ‘finalists’ and definitely wasn’t a fan of the price tag: about £200 over my max budget.
Wedding dress shopping at Wed2Be
My final appointment for the day wasn’t at a boutique, instead my mum had suggested trying a prom shop. So we booked an appointment with Dress 2 Party in Southampton. Their website had some amazing dresses, and while they primarily catered for proms, they did stock a few wedding designs, and they also supplied a lot of their prom dresses in white/ivory.
It had been difficult trying to secure an appointment, not because they were busy, but because whoever was manning their emails was almost useless.
When we finally arrived, the store manager was so unhelpful. She didn’t really seem like she wanted to talk to us, and when we asked about the dresses on their site that could be ordered in white or ivory, she seemed to know nothing about it. Cue the eyeroll.
I decided to sack it off; it had been a long day already and I didn’t have time for unenthusiastic sales staff.
Instead, we decided to try Wed2Be who offer walk in appointments.
The shop was huge and I quickly started to feel excited about the variety on offer until the sales staff explained how it worked; everything they offered was currently on the dress racks. Which meant there was only one of each dress, and only so many stocked in my size. In theory: great. In reality: disappointing.
There wasn’t much to choose from in my size, maybe 20 dresses in total. We pulled out 3 and were led to a changing cubicle where we were left to our own devices; a combination of understaffing and COVID restrictions which actually suited us just fine.
I tried all 3 dresses on in quick succession and wasn’t overly impressed with any of them. They just weren’t that good quality and the sizing was so off it would cost me a lot of money to get them altered.
High street wedding dresses
While I didn’t have any more appointments, I had ordered some high street dresses to try on.
It’s amazing how many high street retailers now sell wedding dresses:
- John Lewis
- Phase Eight
- Laura Ashley
…to name a few.
Having checked out all of the above, I ordered a couple of dresses from ASOS and one from NEXT.
I was super impressed with the ASOS ones; they came in their own ASOS Bridal box and dress bag and were really lovely, but the sizing was waaaay off and the fit was just terrible.
I had the same issue with the dress from NEXT and so all 3 dresses went back. I’d had high hopes for these dresses which was a shame.
Wear Your Love wedding dresses
Before my day of wedding dress shopping, I’d discovered Wear Your Love and instantly fell in love with their dresses, especially Giselle. Not only were they made-to-measure (which means no alteration costs), they were super cheap (circa £700-£850).
I almost couldn’t believe it and spent so much time looking at customer reviews, and taking a look at customer photos on their Etsy. It seemed like the perfect solution.
The only downside: I couldn’t try the style on, which felt like a big risk. The workshop is based in California and doesn’t have its own shop.
It seemed like the perfect dress, and was definitely one I wanted to consider after trying on something of a similar style.
While initially I’d wanted something quite plain and simple, I fast learned that actually I wanted something with a little more sparkle which meant that I didn’t feel like this was the dress for me.
Having said that, these dresses are gorgeous and have the perfect beach, boho vibe that I am in love with.
Going back for a second try on
A few days later, I decided to book in another boutique, one near my mum that stocked the same designer of the dress I loved at Anya Bridal.
But with only a few days to go, local lockdowns in Wales meant it wasn’t possible.
So that left me with two options: do I wait for the local lockdowns to lift? Or do I go back and try on the dress I loved?
It was a tough decision. Some people will tell you that ‘you just know’ when you put ‘the one’ on. But in reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I question almost every decision I make, so there’s a lot of pressure when it comes to choosing a wedding dress:
- Does it look how I remember it?
- Will I still love it in X months times?
- Is it worth the price?
- Is it me?
- Will I be comfortable?
- What colour should I buy it in? (Most of the dresses I saw could be purchased in ivory, white, Moscato or in a combination of these colours which only made the decision all the more confusing; if I buy a colour different to what I tried on, will it look weird? So do I just buy the colour they stocked?)
^a small glimpse inside my mind when it’s in anxiety overdrive…
The only way I knew I could be sure was if I went back for a second try on. And you know what, I loved it.
My top tips for finding your dream wedding dress
Shopping for my dress was such an incredible experience and I’m kinda sad it’s over (although I know there’s so much more to look forward to, like marrying my best friend…) So here are my top tips if you’re looking for your dream dress:
- Try and enjoy it. I find a lot of people are prewarning me about my stress levels and while I don’t doubt there’ll be a fair share of stressful moments, shopping for your wedding dress shouldn’t be one of them.
- Keep an open mind. You may have an idea what style dress you like, but don’t be afraid to try something different.
- Research ideas. Get a feel for what ideas you do and don’t like, but don’t get fixated on them. I really loved the Princess A-lines and the super boho style dresses, but ended up choosing something that was neither.
- Take someone you trust. Whether it’s your mum or your best friend, take someone you know will be honest about how you look.
- More expensive doesn’t mean better. When you decide on your budget, stick to it. Just because a dress is more expensive, doesn’t mean it’s a better choice.
- Find something that is you. I tried on so many dresses that felt so foreign. For me, being comfortable is always important and I wanted a dress I love so much that on the day I won’t want to take it off.
- Remember your alteration costs. Whatever your budget is, factor in a few extra £££ for alterations once your dress arrives.
- Don’t shy away from High Street options. I was a bit gutted I couldn’t find something on the high street but they just didn’t fit me very well, but I’m glad I tried them anyway.