I've scarcely ever set foot inside a wedding boutique. I did once as a little girl when a friend of Mum's was getting married. Being small it all seemed very grown up and sophisticated, princessy and glamorous. Sadly I was just simply tagging along with Mummy not being asked to be a flower girl. Hopes of being asked to be a bridesmaid throughout my later childhood and teens were wishful thinking but at least I could draw pretty pictures of fantasy wedding dresses. It was nice to imagine the gown I would choose if I ever did get married and to dream of being a bride.
Inevitably, given the generation I grew up in, glamour and society weddings fed a lot of my dreams. That includes my ideas about a wedding dress. I wish I had kept some of my drawings in a keepsake box: They would be interesting to see now. My dress designs included lots of lace. They started off as ball gowns like Cinderella's: Princessy creations that would have meant a double door entrance just so I could fit through! In time, the sort of retro movies my mother made me me fascinated with clinging, lacy, beaded dresses, beautiful couture and expensive jewellery.
As a grown woman thinking about my dream wedding dress, I realised that most of those ideas were still there. On Pinterest, my 'Wedding Dress Inspiration' board is full of exclusive, high end designer dresses following that 'Hollywood Glamour' trend. Sheath dresses feature very highly, lace and beading, low backs, wide shoulder straps and V necklines. There are very few strapless gowns, little satin and taffeta, no A-line silhouettes and certainly NO ruching.
Total Miss ControlFreak that I am, I did my homework, created a mood board, set a budget, talked to other Brides and took advice. I researched shops and designers, I booked appointments. I was clear in my mind what I didn't want....(as above)...., no train (or maybe just a sweep train), no strapless gowns, no A-line silhouettes and definitely NO ruching....it was a mantra to be recited to make sure I got what I wanted.
So, a recent Saturday saw myself and a very good friend from work, heading to the City of Chester to fulfil this mission.
Chester is across the border in England, almost exactly an hour by train: The county town of Cheshire, pretty much the 'Surrey of the North', Chester's streets are host to a wide selection of wedding boutiques, most of them rather expensive looking! Well the day started well, coffee more coffee and yet more coffee (was that wise? - what about peeing?) then we started on the shops. 'This is going to be easy' I thought' as we started to place coloured bobbins on hangers of dresses I wanted to try. I rejected any dress that was either too expensive or had any of the attributes listed above. In the first shop there were still seven I really liked to try on. The day was stop start bridal shopping punctuated by lunch with wine and then more shopping. I was in seventh heaven. I'd been looking forward to this day for so, so long!
But how was it? Well, forget your existing changing room experiences in New Look or Debenhams. You WILL need help. Nobody gets into a wedding gown unaided. This is the moment when, with an assistant helping you, you are either glad you picked out a nice bra and knicker set to put on that morning....or you feel embarrassed. I was so glad I had bought mine previously, another thing my groom hasn't seen (yet). Choose something you would wear on your wedding day even if you later find something better.
Wedding Dresses either have to be stepped into or go over your head with your arms above your head. Depending on the dress, it will fasten with a variety of lacings, fabric covered buttons or zips. You may need to wear a dress hoop or hoops to hold the dress in shape. You won't be able to do any of this on your own! Putting on a bridal gown is a process that either transports you back to childhood memories of Mummy putting you into pretty party dresses or maybe even the 18th century. Be prepared to feel laced in place, stand patiently while being attended to and become a Princess!
I've looked at many pictures of wedding dresses so why was seeing myself in a beautiful white designer gown for the first time such an emotional experience? There was a wild rush of feelings I had NOT anticipated. Somehow seeing a dress on yourself is when you perceive yourself as a Bride for the first time. You think, OMG this is actually going to happen. It is a wonderful and defining moment.
Once you have tried on at least seven dresses it becomes serious. Fortunately, my friend was on hand to take lots of photos, front AND back (you do want to know how you'll look from behind don't you?). She was amazing. Telling me what she thought, asking me what I thought, making suggestions....I couldn't have done it without her. At the end of the day however, roughly 20 dresses later it was difficult to remember the first ones and the best ones. There tended to be two I had really liked in each shop and one total favourites not each place. I visited 2 shops and was still undecided when I reached the third and last one.
In the last store, Berkertex Bride, we had the benefit of Chris, a knowledgeable assistant who worked really hard to help. Here was where I left my comfort zone and began to think more clearly. Based on my selections, Chris suggested other dresses and more importantly encouraged me to try things I had ruled out. She persuaded me to try on a tea length dress, ruched ones, ones with court trains and yes, even strapless gowns! I confronted many of the things I thought I didn't like. I tried on veils and tiaras, princess gowns and A line ones and was amazed at what I saw.
We often say 'save the best till last' without really thinking much about it. Brides sometimes say, you will KNOW when you find that special gown, the one you HAVE to have. I was a little sceptical about this: I often have trouble deciding on a restaurant or dinner, let alone dresses! Even so, one of the last dresses I tried really captivated me. I asked to try it again after all the others. This was the gown that changed me. It turned on my head almost every idea I had about what I wanted. This was the one I put on and thought, 'this could be IT!'. In all the dresses I tried, this was the design that made me feel right; a dress to say 'I do' in; the one I could imagine myself wearing on my special day and that 'future Mrs Williams' dress!
Pause for thought, something practical and sensible inside made me want to review ALL the possibilities. We retired to a local pub where we'd enjoyed lunch and began to work our way through a bottle of Freixenet. There is nothing quite like cool intoxicating Cava (unless it's Prosecco) for freeing your up mind and helping you make a decision. I came to realise in that moment that although buying a wedding dress is a major purchase it is unique. Wedding gowns are totally special, unlike any other garment you've ever had and meant for a truly memorable day marking the beginning of a new life. This is not the time for 'this one is a little cheaper than the other' or 'this would go better with shoes I already have'....
With that sudden realisation came the admission that I REALLY wanted this dress! Then there was the mad scramble to return to the shop. The door was locked but they opened up especially for us. Was it a sign? I like to think it was.
Returning home on the train I don't think I have ever felt quite such a sense of achievement (and yes I do have a PhD). It felt so good to have found what I was looking for (even though I was looking for something else!)
To those of you who want photos you will simply have to wait until after the wedding. No way am I risking my H2B getting a sneak peak at my dress. Like you, he'll just have to bide his time and be surprised. I'm so looking forward to seeing the look on his face.
(Miss Jane Ward for now - well until 28 October)