Shopping in the net

Say yes to the dress

So, my sister is getting married.  D, my youngest sister has taken the plunge and is going to marry R, the man she has been with for a decade.  This had led to a lot of squealing (her, his mum and sister, her friends, me), crying (her, our parents, me), panicking (her, me), joy (all involved) and of course, shopping (her and me).

Apparently, every girl has a vision of what their dress should look like, and so when they get married it is just a question of finding the dress that ties in with their vision.  I am not sure that this is true, there are plenty of girls who grow into women who wear jeans and converse trainers to their weddings (the dream) and are still fully functioning adults who are not broken in any way. What I am saying is that there should be no rules about weddings.  But I am not going to be able to change centuries of doctrine and tradition with one inconsequential blog post.  I am going to describe what it is like if you have chosen the traditional route.  And here, just for the sake of clarity, I am defining ‘the traditional route’ as the wedding where you invite friends and family to a church/temple/other place of worship/registry office, wear a white dress and throw a party afterwards.

And after you have thought about how many guests, what sort of thing you would like to do, where you want to be  – bearing in mind that we are no longer limited to getting married where we live – some couples now choose to have weddings in romantic locations completely unrelated to anywhere they have lived.  These destination weddings are, I assume amazing to picture and plan in your head, and then an absolute nightmare to execute.  I digress.  After you have an idea in your head about the bare bones of the event, it is time for the next most important thing.  The Dress.  The Wedding Dress.  The Thing Which You Have Been Picturing Since You Were 4 Years Old And You First Watched (insert Disney Movie here).  For many women, the wedding dress becomes the focal and most important point of the day.

D has always been into fashion and she has inherited our maternal grandmother’s flair, style and panache.  She can put on pyjamas and then accessorise them to look like she could go out to a party.  I have the reverse talent.  I can put on Dior and make it look like charity bin.  Both talents – mine less desirable, but a skill nonetheless.

The point here is that D had an idea of what her dress should be like.  I say an idea.  I mean ideas.  As in many.  More than one.  Heck more than 10.  She had these visions and dreams and so we embarked on a journey to make it happen.  She took a day off work, and booked three appointments to go and see dresses.  I don’t know if this was deliberate, but we started out at a posh store in Central London where you have to make an appointment and pay for the privilege of trying on their dresses.

This place occupies a massive amount of space on Bond Street and you are treated like a person on a conveyor belt.  You are greeted and ushered to a desk where your wedding dress advisor asks you what we now know are standard questions.  What style are you looking for?  When is your wedding?  Where are you getting married? Have you been anywhere else?  What size dress are you? How many bridesmaids will you have?

So first things first.  D had obviously done some research and had emailed ahead of time to say which dresses she wished to try on as per the website’s instructions.  The advisor suggested several other dresses (all from the massively more expensive bespoke range).  The wedding was 9 months away (cue – sharp intakes of breath, yes, that should just about be ok) and it will be in London.  So even though we are talking about a summer wedding in London, there should be the option for rain, hail, sleet, snow, extreme wind, extreme heat, humidity or all of the above.

Because we were squeezing 3 appointments into one day, we were at the first place at 10am.

After the interview part, the lady said:

“We can go upstairs and try on the dresses now.  Would you like a glass of champagne?”

Me: “ Er no thanks.  It’s 10am.  Could I have a cup of tea?”

Her: “No sorry, we only have champagne”

D:        “Ooh Champagne, lovely.”

We’re sisters and very close, but, you know, we’re not identical or anything.

So we make our way upstairs to changing area.  D with her champagne glass and me with the bags and the coats.

 

We were ushered into a large cubicle with a – wait for it – pedestal in front of a mirror.  Here we go I thought, trying on clothes will never be the same again.

So she disappears into a dressing room off the back of the cubicle and I sit around with other ladies waiting for the big reveal.  Most of the people in there were mothers and daughters, but there were girls who came with friends and various other combinations.

We had asked if we could FaceTime Mum so she could be there with us for the first dress she tried on.

Sure enough, D swishes into the room in a dress about a foot too long for her and gets up onto the pedestal.  She looked lovely, it was a ballgown style dress and suited her very nicely.  It was not the one she had asked to try on however, that one was currently being tried on two cubicles down.

The dress she was wearing was gaping open at the back as the shop only had it to try on in a small size.

Now I am going to digress and talk a bit about how the system works here.  I had never been wedding dress shopping before.  Actually, that isn’t true, but I had not been so involved in the early stages.  Here is how it works.  You make an appointment at a dress shop, and you ask to try on a dress.  Typically the dress shop has one dress of each type.  This could be in a size 8,  10 or  12. (UK sizes).  If you are a size 16, you have to try the 12 on (or the 8 depending on the sample size) and imagine what it would look like done up or not so short, or if your boobs actually fit into the dress.  If you like it enough and your imagination is good enough to picture it, you can then order the dress- and pay for it – and then 6 months later you will get it and be able to try it on in the right size and get it altered to fit you better.  And what if you are considerably bigger than a size 16 (like me)?   How soul destroying would it be to traipse around London trying on size 10 dresses and basically having the whole shop see you hanging out of the dress and trying to imagine what it would look like if it didn’t feel like a vice and if you didn’t look like an overstuffed haggis?

I cannot imagine any other situation where you would part with a fairly large sum of money without having seen the goods.  I mean, it is like going into a car dealership and asking to test drive a 4WD off the road vehicle..  Sorry Madam, we don’t have any here at the moment – we do have a two seater city electric car, why don’t you test drive that one instead?  If you like it, you can imagine what driving a car 3 times the size would be like and put down a massive non-refundable deposit on an off-roader.

In this case it was fine, D is a size that most of the stores had (or close enough), so she was able to get a good idea of what the dresses would look like.

Sorry for the aside there, I thought I would make my point about how dresses should be able to be tried on in all sizes.  I feel strongly about this.  I feel like nobody should have to apologise for not being a size 8,10 or 12.  I also feel like everyone regardless of size deserves to get married and have pretty dresses, but the wedding dress industry doesn’t seem to feel the same way.  Ok, ok, getting off the soap box now…

So back to the cubicle, D is trying on dresses and marvelling at how tall she looks (yes darling you are standing on a pedestal, you are in fact about a foot taller than you normally are, yes, you would look great at that height, no we can’t install pedestals everywhere we go.  We also cannot lengthen your legs at this stage.)

We tried on three or four dresses, liked them all, took pictures of D from every angle, including selfies, and then left with a piece of paper that had the price of the one we liked best on it.  Let me tell you, for those of you who don’t already know this, wedding dresses, yes – those items of clothing that by definition you only wear once – are bloody expensive.  And everything you want is extra.  It’s a bit like Ryanair, but somehow Ryanair seems cheap by comparison.  (I just wrote Ryanair and cheap in the same sentence, give me a second to re-adjust my world view…)

And I’m back, where was I?  Oh yes, the posh Bridal shop, we tried there, the appointment alone cost us £30.  Next we were off to the street in London which houses 3 or 4 bridal shops.

We arrived on time for our appointment, and were asked all the questions.  D tried on a few things and we saw something we really liked.  All the while we were merrily taking photos, selfies, sending pics to Mum in Athens, and jolly as can be.  After a couple of hours in that shop it was time to leave the West End and head out to Wandsworth.

We allowed 90 minutes for what the satnav promised was a 45 minute journey.  We arrived an hour late frazzled, annoyed and with me praying that D would not choose a dress from this shop in the ass end of nowhere. (Apologies to the good people of Wandsworth, I am sure it is lovely and easy to get to if you already live there, but I did not find it so at all.)  So we get in, apologise profusely for being late, and then D starts trying on dresses.  I take out my phone to take a photo and the woman says:

“ Sorry no photos.”

“Er, what?  How are we supposed to remember what we tried on and see how it looks after we leave the shop?”

“The designers don’t like it.  No photos please.”

This really cheesed us off.  I continued to take photos, (I thought surreptitiously) and then when we went to leave the woman said to me,

“Please don’t put any of your photos up on social media ok?”  Busted.  And I thought I had been so stealthy.

Anyway.  We went home after that. D was disappointed.  I was tired, grumpy and irritated with the whole system.

“Let’s arrange to go to another few shops” I said,  “we can’t buy a dress the first day…”

When I think back to that day, and had I known what was coming, I might not have said those words.

There then followed 3 months of sporadic wedding dress shopping.  D would take a day off, and making sure we left no stone uncovered, we went around London.  I mean it was like sstudying for The Knowledge.  If this was a movie, there would be a map of London and our footsteps would be shown all over it going to places I had never been before.  I also have to say that the areas we visited got progressively worse and the shops less and less attractive as time went by.

We even went and saw two designers who could make D the dress she wanted from scratch.  The problem was that neither of these women were listening to D when she was explaining what she wanted.

D would arrive full of hope, take out a million pictures, painstakingly explain what she wanted and they would completely ignore her and tell what they thought she should wear.

Now.  I know designers know their stuff.

I know they have an eye for fashion, they can see what would suit you etc etc.

I also know that when you are paying for a bespoke wedding dress, they should at least listen when you are describing your vision.

There were conversations like this:

D – “So I was thinking that I would like a strapless dress, ballgown style, I like soft fabrics – no lace –  with an off the shoulder element that is detachable so that I am not restricted all day.  Possibly another detachable element to change into for the evening…

Designer – “Hmm, I don’t know if that would work.  How about a mermaid dress with a  lace bolero jacket that you can take off in the evening?  Lace is very in this season.”

And they were right,  Lace is very in at the moment, we can all thank Kate Middleton for re-introducing the trend in such a major way, and she looked lovely, she really did, but D really doesn’t like lace.  So no lace for her then.  This was impossible for either of the designers we spoke to to fathom.

“But lace is very versatile and you can achieve a layered look….”

“I know, but I really don’t want lace.”

“I do a lot of lovely work with lace and you could have a lace overlay to achieve the soft romantic look you are after.”

After three or four times of a polite response to this type of steering, D snapped.

“No lace.”

Needless to say, we never returned to either of these designers.

Each time we would leave somewhere, D would be more disheartened, more despondent and less confident that she was going to find what we were looking for.  I mean we could have gone to any number of designers and had a dress made from scratch, but we thought it would be prudent to be able to eat and live after the wedding, rather than spend everything she had and then some on a dress.

After going to about 15 shops and trying on about 60 dresses, we ended up going back to a shop which was (thankfully) a 20 minute walk from the house.  This made the logistics easier certainly.  The lady who made the dress, Sophie, was lovely and she listened to D, understood what she wanted, and was prepared to re-work stuff as and when it was required.

Even though it took us so many attempts in so many different locations to reach the final decision, every place we visited was useful.  Each wasted trip brought D closer to forming her decision, even if it was a firmer idea of what she didn’t want.

To be honest, even if she had liked the very first dress we tried on, we would still have probably gone to every other place too.  Because it is part of the experience.  Unlike me, D has never bought ‘the first thing that fits, just because it fits’.  She likes to go from shop to shop and try everything on before making a decision.  That was her dress adventure, and I feel glad she dragged had me along for the ride.

The dress was totally worth it.  She looked beautiful, and felt confident and amazing in it.

When people asked me about the dress, I was able to say confidently that it was the best of all the possibilities, and that she would look stunning.  If I am completely honest though, I really did think she looked beautiful in most of the dresses she tried on. But I also knew that it isn’t enough for your sister or your Mum or the shop assistant to say you look lovely.  You have to be able to look in the mirror and like what you see and know that on this one day, you can look the way you want and feel happy with your choice.  It was the one dress she wasn’t prepared to compromise on, and I am glad she didn’t have to.

Through countless fittings and carting backwards and forward of shoes, underwear,  jewellery, taking thousands of photos, up a bit, down a bit, like this and like that, we left two days before the wedding with a huge dress bag, and came home.  It isn’t the most important part of the day, but it felt like it was really happening when that dress was hung up in my room.

She really was getting married. Shit.  I have to write a speech…

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