Ahhhh, dress shopping…the most wonderful day for a bride. It’s that special day when she gathers up her female entourage and heads to a fancy store, where she is waited on, hand and foot, as she tries on dress after dress (accompanied by “ooo”s and “aaah”s) in search of that heart-stopping ensemble that will remind her betrothed exactly why he (or she…) chose her. It is a magical day full of giggling, champagne, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars, and, yes, even a few tears.
But that’s not how it really is…at least, not for the bride on a budget. For the budget bride, wedding-dress shopping is more like a frustrating trip to the Walmart clothing section.
Despite spending nearly 2 years checking thrift stores for used dresses, all I ever found were A) dresses from the ’80s in styles that aren’t yet vintage enough to be considered eclectic or flattering and B) my sister’s wedding dress. My dream of organically finding an amazing vintage dress abandoned, I gathered my mother, sister, and very patient 5-year-old niece and headed for the Walmart of dress shops: David’s Bridal.
David’s Bridal (DB) tries to exude a feeling of luxury and uniqueness. You get paired with a dress consultant (AKA, a minimum-wage worker bee whose job is to take dresses out of bags, hand them to you, and put them back into bags, and also to scorn you for either A) wasting her time because you’re buying an inexpensive dress or B) being a spoiled bitch who has no budget) who parades you around the store trying to figure out your “style.” Their real job, of course, is to up-sell you and show you dresses that are out of your very clearly stated price range (as close to $100 as possible, please!), bring in all sorts of over-priced accessories hoping you’ll fall in love with them, and remind you that you’ll need a “going-away dress.” (I realize this has been a thing for some time now, but I still think it’s completely ridiculous!)
Now, my lady was very nice, and she didn’t seem too put off when I told her my budget. For me, the wedding dress, while important to this one particular day in my life, is virtually meaningless. Like my mother and sister, I will most likely never wear this dress again, and it will hang in my closet until my niece decides to marry someone, at which point she’ll try it on just for shits and giggles and then laugh at how out of style it is. Why would I want to spend more than $100 on that?
The job of the DB sales ladies is to convince you otherwise. They will try to convince you that this is your special day and money does not matter. But there is no place or time in this universe where you can ever tell me that money doesn’t matter and I will take you seriously.
So we looked at the $100 dresses and a few dresses that were marked down to the $150 range. I had seen two dresses on the DB website that I thought would be perfect for me, but, of course, they weren’t quite as adorable when not on a size-zero, Photoshopped model. In fact, I hated nearly everything I tried on, because with every dress I tried on, I felt myself die a little on the inside. The best way I can describe how I felt would be to say that I felt like I was searching for a unique craft beer in a store that sold only Natty Lite. Boring dress after boring dress, all of them looking like every other wedding dress I had ever seen. Everything lacked personality and uniqueness.
I finally settled on this satin-y, backless dress, but the store didn’t have my size. Desperate to make a sale, my dress lady called the nearby DBs and found the dress in my size in the Jacksonville store.
At this point, my sister was done with dress shopping. If you’ve ever been to Walmart, you can relate: you can only spend so much time in these stores before you feel yourself losing touch with reality. My mother, however, having made a solemn vow during my sister’s and my births to never let anyone get the best of us, seemed rejuvenated by the the idea of more driving. So we saddled up her giant SUV and burned rubber north.
Once in Jacksonville, I tried on what I thought was “the” dress, except now — 90 miles north and 60 minutes later — I despised this dress too. It hung on me like my grandmother’s moo-moo, despite being a smaller size than the dress in the previous store, and I just knew there was nothing about this dress that Kevin would like, except maybe the fact that it accentuated my shoulders (supposedly his favorite body part).
In an attempt to help me make a decision, the dress consultant at this store suggested taking in the dress to accentuate my waist. She retreated to the back of the store and returned with what I can only describe as a sewing Gollum — a homely, frumpy lady whose job is to sit in a part of the store that the customers can’t see and sew her little hands off all day. I felt sorry for her and gave up on the dress because A) I didn’t want to pay money to alter a dress I already didn’t want to spend money on in the first place and B) I didn’t want to create extra work for this poor creature.
Frustrated, the dress consultant brought me more and more dresses. I must have tried on 15 more dresses, and each time I exited the dressing room, I didn’t come out beaming and teary-eyed; I came out scowling and underwhelmed. My mother even offered to pitch in for the dress, thinking, as she always does, that more expensive things make people happier. I obliged her and tried on some more expensive dresses, but none of them wowed me. They were all just as lame as the cheap dresses, except they had more sparkles on them.
Part of my indecisiveness stemmed from the fact that I was considering whether Kevin would like the dress. My mother told me that finding a dress wasn’t about him, but if you know Kevin, you know how he feels about women’s fashion. And, oh yeah, I most certainly want Kevin to like what I look like just before we sign a contract that binds us to each other for the rest of our lives. I don’t need him getting any last-minute insecurities because my dress fits me like a house-elf sack. Being the attentive, wonderful fiancee that I am, I knew Kevin would want one of two (but preferably both) things out of a wedding dress: short and tight. Thus, if a dress I tried on didn’t meet at least one of those requirements (along with my own, more practical requirement of “hide my crooked scoliosis body”), it was out.
Now, in the background of my own dress crisis were two other women, one to my right and one to my left, who were also trying on dresses. Unlike me, these ladies were surrounded by a horde of women who claimed that every dress their bride-to-be tried on was “the one,” and they were trying on the most ridiculous dresses I have ever seen: gigantic monstrosities of lace and beads that were so over the top I couldn’t help but laugh a little (on the inside, of course). They each loved so many of their dresses that they couldn’t decide which one to pick, while I had the opposite problem: I couldn’t pick because I hated everything.
Finally, and because she was probably bored to tears and ready to kill me, the dress consultant brought me a dress from the non-wedding side of the store. (DB also sells party dresses.) I had noticed the dress when I had entered earlier and had pointed it out to my mother, but I hadn’t considered it for a wedding dress because, well, it wasn’t that.
I’m not going to lie and say that when I tried the dress on tiny birds descended from the heavens and fluttered around my body while tweeting a merry tune, but I felt something other than complete disdain.
I strutted around in the non-wedding dress, frowning at myself in the mirror, trying to determine if I really wanted to spend double my budget on this dress. But DB had worn me down. It had eaten me up and spit me out, and so I caved and spent $212 on the dress.
Perhaps it was my nonchalance, or perhaps it was because I didn’t buy a wedding dress, or perhaps it was because the dress consultant wasn’t completely convinced that I was convinced I wanted the dress, but no one rang the stupid “she found the one” bell like the other DB employees were doing for the other brides-to-be. But I don’t think I need to convince any of you that being exempt from yet another cheesy part of this canned experience was fine with me.
So my dress is not what I would have imagined for myself (I wanted short and simple and vintage), but it’s not completely mind-numbing either. More importantly, it was the only dress the invoked more than a “meh” from me. Hopefully, Kevin will feel the same!