As the owner of a bridal shop, who is finally planning her own wedding, you’d think I’d have it all figured out. And I thought I did. After all, I’ve helped thousands of brides find their dresses since opening and who knows how many before I started Laura & Leigh Bridal. I’ve seen the patterns. I know the way it works. I have advised so many people on how to approach this journey. I was overly confident. But helping a bride through their shopping experience and living your own experience are apparently two very different things. I found myself not listening to the advice I give and doing things I never thought I’d do.
Here’s some key takeaways from my wedding dress shopping journey:
Let yourself be surprised
Before I opened Laura & Leigh Bridal, I worked in a couple different bridal shops. One of the ones I worked at had a dress I thought was perfect. I’ll spare the details of what it was just in case my fiancé is reading. But suffice it to say, I thought that was “the one” when I first saw it and the dress image was saved on my phone for years. I thought that the elements of that dress were going to make up my wedding dress. My original plan was to just find something close to that dress and just order that. After all, I’ve tried on so many wedding dress styles in my own store that I know what looks good on me. But even with all the dresses I tried on in my lifetime (which I think is honestly in the hundreds or more), none of them were in the context of my wedding.
It wasn’t until trying on dresses for myself I realized everything I thought I wanted was wrong. I ended up going in a very different direction. Had I said yes to the dress I thought I wanted, I would have been quite happy with my dress, but I wouldn’t have been in love with my dress. I let myself try on something for fun and it truly changed everything for me!
Bring the right people bridal gown shopping and keep it intimate
I actually invited my entire bridal party to my appointment, plus my mother. It would have been 10+ people at my bridal appointment. But my decision to shop for dresses was so last minute that most people couldn’t go. I tried not to let myself be bummed. The people that ended up attending my appointments were thoughtful and worked hard to make sure that I was happy. I’m sure they all had feelings about what I tried on and what I ultimately chose, but they all made sure to respect my vision when giving feedback. To me, that was more valuable than anything else. Do I want a dozen people telling me I’m gorgeous in everything? Of course! Who wouldn’t? But ultimately, that wouldn’t have been helpful in narrowing in on my vision. The smaller group was definitely far more productive.
The benefit of an intimate group was that the feedback was quick, concise and there wasn’t a chorus of voices distracting me from what I wanted. The group listened to how I felt and then provided feedback, even if it wasn’t their favorite style on me, they waited to make sure they respected how I felt.
There were quite a few people who couldn’t come, and some who I really wanted there when I found the dress. And at first, I was upset. But what I realized is that the smaller group was ultimately better for me. During my time searching for a dress, I found what I wanted without those people. The simple truth is, in the moment I said yes, I wasn’t thinking about who was and wasn’t there for my wedding dress. I was thinking of one person only: my fiancé. I was thinking about how I was starting my forever with him. I was thinking about the fact this was the gown I was going to wear when that forever begins. I sent photos of all my favorites to those who couldn’t be there, and they were just as happy for me as if they were there. I decided to keep my final decision a secret from everyone for a little surprise at the wedding!
Trust your heart
For someone who works in an industry all about love and emotion, you’d think I’d be the biggest softy. But those who are closest to me know I’m mostly a robot when it comes to feelings. I’m not cuddly and I’m not especially romantic. And while I do tear up at weddings for close friends, I really didn’t see emotion being a factor for me in wedding shopping. I approached the process logically and the way a stylist would. I considered my inspiration and thought through the dresses I would try on and the order in which I’d try them. After each dress I weighed which elements of the dresses I liked best and then asked my amazing stylist (our manager, Michela) to grab me the next logical dress. It’s how I approach shopping for other brides. Why shouldn’t that process work for me?
At the end of my appointment, things were winding down and that’s when I thought of a dress. Michela and I both had a laugh because it was nothing at all like what I wanted. Sure, it had elements of what I liked but it was one of the last styles in the store I would have considered.
But something happened when it got clipped. My gut started chatting with me. Something was just feeling right. It was like the camera came into focus and things were clicking. Then, completely at random, the song that was playing when my fiancé proposed to me started playing in the store. And there they were: hot tears. I knew it was right for me. The logical part of my brain shut off for a second and I knew my look was coming together. Not everyone cries during the appointment when they find out. In fact, I’d say maybe half actually do tear up, if not less. The tears weren’t what solidified it for me, they just confirmed what I already knew. I had a feeling that the dress was right for me the moment the zipper went up and I tried to suppress that instinct. Trust that feeling. Logic is important, but your gut instinct rarely steers you wrong.
After that day, I did exactly what I tell brides not to do. I scrolled through Instagram and decided that I’d try more things on. The part of me that is a stylist thought, “as a stylist, what other gowns would I have pulled?” I came up with a list in my head of the gowns I would have pulled if I were styling a bride with my vision. So, the day after my appointment with Michela, I grabbed a handful of dresses and put them on. It was a complete waste of time and I only risked confusing myself. Thankfully, Michela was such a good stylist during this time and saved me from confusion. She had been with me when the vision slid into place the day before, so she knew I was wasting my time. But, like a good stylist she didn’t need to tell me, she showed me. She refocused me by pointing out that these gowns, while gorgeous, were missing key elements that made me happy.
It’s easy to get distracted and there are so many options out there. Ultimately, it’s not about all the options out there. Because trust me, as many as you have seen, I’ve seen more and I know what is coming next. I had to remember what I tell my brides: it’s not about what is out there, it’s about what makes you happy and what feels right. After all, you don’t do that with your partner, right? You aren’t supposed to get the ring and then keep swiping on dating apps because who knows if there’s a smarter, richer, funnier person out there. It’s the same with the dress. Once you find the one that makes your heart sing, let that song play on repeat.
The best advice I can give any bride, especially now that I have an all-new level of understanding about wedding dress shopping is that you should do what makes you happy. Don’t get caught up in the pressure. It’s easier said than done, but weddings are stressful enough. And if your bridal shop let’s you bring champagne, grab a bottle!
I’m going to end this with a small disclaimer, mostly for my fiancé so he doesn’t try to guess and figure out what I chose to do. Nothing in here is what I said yes to. Or maybe it is. I did end up deciding on something, but that secret lies with me only (and the company producing the dress, of course).