My next thought in planning was my dress. Whether it was on the forum or elsewhere, I had read that you should start looking about a year in advance. At the time, I was oblivious to the early order expectations of dress shops, or that you had to give a date and wouldn’t receive your dress until mere weeks before. Characteristically, I was incredibly wary about giving a date to any supplier, just in case they were reluctant to process my order massively in advance.
And anyway, I hadn’t been thinking about dress shops – it was my mum who first put dress shops into my mind – I had been thinking online.
Have I mentioned before that I HATE, LOATHE and DETEST shopping?
Well, online is different. Click open a browser and you open the lid to a treasure trove of possibilities, no harrassments, no browsing through rails of completely the wrong thing and trekking doggedly from shop to shop – in an instant, in a single click, you can close the whole thing down and walk away to resurface into real life and grab that much-needed cup of tea. And I already had one dress in mind – £125, custom size and colour, and floor length slimline satin – a style which worked on me.
My dress idea:
My only concern was the fit under the bust – this dress had the potential to hang down rather than “clip in”, and it was important that my wedding dress did not sag! Still, I had not set my heart on this dress: it was still just an idea – I would keep exploring.
I had told myself that for the wedding I could buy something really special, spend a proper amount of money – I had had a think and come up with the budget of £250. That, I thought, would be generous. Oh dear! But I had made a plan, and, stubborn mare that I am, I would stick to it!
And thus I brought my mother into the equation. I told her I had seen a dress online and was considering it; I showed her a picture; her response was… deep dissatisfaction. And then she declared that she would take me dress shopping!
Now, let me really set the scene for this: my mother hates shopping as much as I do. And if anyone is aware of how much I hate shopping, it is my mother. She is terribly indecisive and rarely manages to come home with anything from a shopping trip… And so her suggestion rather took me aback. The “taking your daughter dress shopping” experience was entirely lost on me: my mum doesn’t believe in marriage and had never expected me to get married. But here she was, taking me round wedding dress shops in Sheffield, determined to find me something more “wedding dressy” (more structured than what I had been looking at) and trying to tempt me towards ivory.
Whites are emphatically not my colour – and wasn’t it Agatha Christie’s Poirot who said that when a woman has made up her mind that a particular colour does not suit her she will not wear it?
I have very fair skin and lots and lots of freckles: the perfect combination for a mottled effect, especially at a distance: an effect enhanced by white or pale colours, giving me a smudged, slightly grubby and unwashed appearance.
The symbolism of bridal purity had never appealed anyway, and somehow I had picked up that weddings had “colour schemes”, a principle which made complete sense to me. Afterall, when I decorate a room I have a colour scheme in mind; I try to make things match as much as possible; I use aesthetics to create harmony – surely it would be the same for a wedding?
I wanted a colour I hadn’t worn before, and a colour with wow factor. The colour choice was always going to be a joint decision between me and Guy because it was our wedding, and he would naturally help me decide upon a dress – it was only sensible (although I did decide he shouldn’t see me wearing it until the day). And so I voiced the suggestion of blue – bright royal blue. Guy liked blue.
I only actually tried on dresses in one shop; somebody was meant to tell us, my mum and me, that you go to wedding dress shops by appointment, but nobody had done it. So in some shops we browsed through the dresses, and in others we looked through magazines and at bridesmaid dress colour swabs, and then we went to Pronuptia, who gave us an appointment for a few hours later, and so we went off and had tea at Nero’s.
At the time, I had no experience of wedding dress shops: I had never been anybody’s bridesmaid or anything. And so they were big and scary and I felt small and cheap and out of place in one – a tresspasser on foreign territory. – But, in hindsight, I realise that Pronuptia were a very good dress shop. I was completely honest with them that this was only a preliminary venture, and that I was unlikely to buy a dress because I wanted one in colour. The dresses were all in transparent bags, and they let you go round looking at whatever you liked, touching them through the bags, and asked you to turn round the tags of things you’d like to try – as many as you liked. I remember thinking about how they all looked like very heavy sacks, shapeless on the hangers, and I was seeing beading EVERYWHERE. Beadings and sequins are desperately not to my taste, and I feel they cheapen a dress: for me, the fabric has to do it all: lace, embroidery, layering and cut – those are the qualities which can make a dress divine. And yet I had no idea what I wanted and went round turning tags higgelty-piggelty (I was in and out of the dresses very quickly anyway). My mum also went a bit tag-happy. They sent me upstairs and brought up the dresses in fours or fives, helped me in behind a curtain and laid out the train as I emerged and, because the dresses were all 14s and 15s, held the back so I could see what it would look like fitted in the huge mirror I was faced with.
My mother did not cry. She did not become even the slightest bit emotional. And neither did I.
‘The One’ is not a belief system I subscribe to, let’s get that straight. It is an emotional response to an aesthetic pleasure at an emotional moment! Just like the key change up by a major third (Guy’s wording – I’m no musician) used to move congregations. There is not one dress for one woman, no more is there only one man you could have been happy with – otherwise nobody would ever criticise anybody else’s dress – but once you have found one you are that happy with you really are blinded by love – why would you consider any other when yours is perfect? So all I was looking for was a nice dress that would make me feel amazing: I did not expect miracles.
And at 5 foot 3, I looked like a little girl playing dress ups: I was swamped. I could barely move.
Here are the four dresses the shop assistant wrote down for me, that I had liked the most. I don’t have photographs, as these weren’t permitted, but here they are on the models.
Ella 5471 @ £829
Ella 5497 @ £929
Ella 5482 @ £879
And, my clear favourite: Essence D940 @ £1129
It was a valuable learning experience and the first idea I had had about how much wedding dresses cost. But it also helped me understand what I liked and what I didn’t like. Some of it was old, but a lot of it was new to me. For example…
– I liked A-line dresses and I didn’t like fishtail dresses, princess dresses, or any dress with a large skirt.
– I liked corset backs, but I also liked covered buttons.
– I liked dresses with folds and layers in the material, especially twisty effects around the bodice.
– I liked sweetheart necklines, but I didn’t like like straight necklines, sleeveless dresses, halter neck dresses or dresses with straps that shape into the neckline.
– I didn’t like trains – at all. Not even little puddle trains.
My mum was keen to discuss colour with me. She challenged my preference of royal blue (which I later understood to arise from her concerns about how royal blue would look on her!) and, following her abortive hints towards the traditional whites, tried to persuade me towards apple green or red – both colours I loved, and which suited me. There was a picture of a bride in red in the Town Hall’s wedding brochure, which she took to looking at, pointing out how the colour complemented the room: well, I have been told not to fight a colour scheme, but nothing is ever quite so satisfying without a good battle for it first – and the Assembly Room was red, but the Old Library was dark green. But I was determined that red was not even an option: The look I wanted was elegance rather than fussiness frills, and if I were looking for an occasion dress, I would have to be careful to avoid “sexy”. Red symbolism was definitely sexy, and I was as dead against it as I was white.
I thought very seriously about the apple green. I really liked the colour and I knew that it would suit me, whereas I could only guess at the blue. Grey blues suited me, but I wanted a stunning colour, a colour of power and magic and meaning. And on your wedding day, you are supposed to wear something blue…
Trumpeted back to my online world of shopping without consequences, I began the hunt for a dress that could win me. I found myself on Chinese sites, comparing outdated copies – £250 was suddenly a very reasonable budget once again and I ended up torn between two dresses in particular:
I loved the corsetted back and soft light chiffon of the first dress. I would have to have two straps, of course, but I was sure that would be fine with a custom dress. But would the blue look as stunning in chiffon as satin? I wasn’t sure.
On the second dress I loved the thinness of it’s look, the satin and the lace embroidery. It had a low back, although no corsetting, and a train and beading that would have to be removed.
I emailed both sellers.
And in the end my decision came down to the most basic requirements: seller 1 spoke very poor English, and seller 2 had good English: I was confident that seller 2 could understand my requirements and carry through my requests. And so I bought dress 2: and £101 lighter, I was the proud owner of a rather crumpled, but surprisingly not subject to import tax, royal blue copy of Maggie Sottero’s “Cathy”.
It was only after several months of wedding chat that I looked up the name of my dress. Designer Culture had always disgusted me in everyday life, but I began gradually to understand the appeal when it came to a one-off dress like a wedding dress, a dress you would talk about, compare, maybe sell on preloved… I knew my dress was a Maggie Sottero because of the distinctive photography and backdrop, so I trawled through the older models on her site until I came across my own – with a little skip of my heart.
Have you ever read Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’? We didn’t use a quotation at our wedding, because in the best passage the heroine is choosing between two lovers; but it still remains my favourite love story of all time: a love story about two fallible, faulty human beings, who love each other for good or ill, knowing each others’ weaknesses and loving each other, irresistably, despite.
The heroine’s name is Cathy.
And here she is, as my mother walks me down the aisle! As you can see, she went for navy blue and white in the end.
The dress was altered to add lace to the straps and to have the small puddle train lopped off to allow me to dance in it. It was altered in Sheffield, and when I went to try it on I had been grossly overfed by my adoring mother. I was nearly a stone heavier than I normally am, and the dress didn’t fit around the ribcage. I spent months in anxiety. Shortening the straps had lifted the bust and made it tighter underneath. I wasn’t sure it would fit me when I was at my ideal weight. I would wait until Guy had gone out and weigh myself before trying it on, trying to convince myself that everything would be okay. But I still fretted and panicked. I didn’t want to pay to have it altered again, especially as it had cost nearly as much as the dress in the first place.
On the day the hook and eye I had sewn on came off! People had to put a pin underneath the zip to hold it in place – you can see it here!
But, in the end, I am still so pleased that I bought the dress from China – I used alibaba.com and the buyer security on their site is excellent. The quality and the price were more than satisfactory, and my custom demands were met without question or demand for greater payment. I can wear the dress again – although only to very special occasions – and, whilst I liked corsetted backs, I liked them trying on dresses 3 or 4 sizes too big for me; after hearing all the fears about back fat and such forth, mine was definitely the easy pick. So, three cheers for zips and buttons, and a better catch for next time around…!