Now that you’ve heard about the biggest project: our Game of Life inspired Aisle Runner, I’ll move onto something almost every bride deals with: THE DRESS!
I went into wedding dress shopping completely clueless. Despite my degree in fashion, I had never once gone shopping for fancy gowns, not even for prom (since I made both of those dresses out of duct tape–sorry for the terrible image quality).
So I had no idea what I wanted, no idea what looked good on me, and no idea what would fit a casual board game themed wedding. I went into the process feeling the pressure of “this is the dress of your lifetime” but also “don’t overdress your own event.” I wanted the dress to be special enough to be a wedding dress, but I couldn’t quite play ladder golf in a full drama mermaid gown.
Pinterest was completely useless because you’re looking at dresses on a model, so they all look amazing. Designer websites give you no hint as to how much a gown costs, and I was terrified to fall in love with a gown only to find it cost half of my wedding budget. [By the way, you can find out general ranges through searching the designers name with price. Often resale sites also list the original retail price to give you an idea for your budget.] I was disillusioned about how much wedding gowns were supposed to cost thanks to Say Yes to the Dress, where they scoff at you if your budget is under $3000, but according to The Knot the average bride’s dress costs about $1000. I was torn on if I wanted a separate reception dress. I only knew one thing–and that was that I was not going to wear heels and I had to be comfortable standing, dancing, and sitting.
So, inspired by TLC’s shorter lived I Found the Gown–where brides go to a less extravagant store that buys other store’s sample gowns at a steep discount–I found my own local sample store, Glamour Closet (They have locations in Chicago, LA, San Francisco, and New York). I went in with zero expectations on finding the gown, but instead I just wanted to get an idea of what felt right. I picked a weekend my mom was in town, and went straight from picking her up at the airport to the store so we could be there when it opened. I only went with my mom because I didn’t want a ton of opinions confusing me, and I really didn’t think I was going to find the gown that day.
Here’s the thing about Sample Stores: you get a big discount, you get to take the dress home with you, but you have to be a sample size. Glamour Closet in Chicago did have a smaller “plus size” section, which wasn’t real plus size but corresponded to about a street size 16-18. Sample stores will have the most variety in street sizes 4-8 typically, with a fair amount of selection just above and below those sizes.
The store is very simply laid out, with about 8 rows of dresses organized by style. In the back of the store is a wall of mirrors and 4 simple dressing rooms with a chair and curtains for privacy. Every dress has its street size marked, as well as its retail price and the discounted price you’ll pay. These stores do not give you the “works” with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, they are much more industrial and no frills.
Once you go in and get settled, the associates give you a pouch of colored clips and let you go choose which gowns you want to try on. You put the clip on the hanger and the associates bring the dresses to your dressing room. I kept a top 3 in my dressing room and chose more gowns as we went, systematically working my way around the store trying on anything that even remotely appealed to me on the hanger. This is dress up for grownups, so I had fun with it!
And then I had the final 3!
I LOVED the first one above. It was such a close second. The asymmetrical bodice was so flattering and the detail was subtle. The main reason I didn’t go with it is because it’s strapless, and I couldn’t envision straps on it. I didn’t want a strapless gown because if pictures are cropped too high then the bride looks naked in a strapless gown. The third one above has such a beautiful illusion neckline, but overall the dress was too matronly.
The middle one was our winner. It’s so wrinkly above because the staff had just put it out that morning and didn’t have time to steam it! I didn’t cry when I put it on, but I definitely felt butterflies. It’s a 2012 Martina Liana and I got it for about half off the original retail price. The dress was slightly damaged as one of the buttons on the back was missing. The dress is a champagne satin with lace appliqués sewn onto that layer and then 2 layers of tulle overlay. It has approximately 4 layers of crinoline underneath for that extra poof. Here’s the designer’s runway pictures:
I got it in February of 2015, and started searching for a seamstress to alter it in December (Our wedding date was June 2016). I needed to take the dress in, hem it, add simple illusion straps, change the waist ribbon, add some more beading to the appliqué at the waist, and add a bustle. I emailed a few people that I found on Wedding Wire and got some laughable quotes, one was actually for more than I paid for the dress itself. I ended up going to my town’s community Facebook page asking for recommendations, and with those suggestions settled on Alterations by Rachel, a one woman shop who operates out of her home with some assistance from her daughter. I chose her because of her before and after transformation pictures she posted on her Facebook page–mainly one of altering a dress that was far too small to make it fit. If she can do that, she can handle adding some straps to my dress.
I got all my own materials for my dress, picking up the ribbon and beads from JoAnn Fabrics, and the tulle fabric for the straps from Rainbow Fabric in downtown Chicago. It is worth going to a specialty fabric store to match your specific shade of ivory. I spent less than $10 in materials for my dress! My total cost of alterations was very reasonable for the quality of work Rachel puts out.
The straps I chose were based off of this bridesmaid dress:
I love this strap style, because it could be easily added into my dress while still looking like they belonged there. I didn’t want a seam at the top of my bodice, and these straps just fastened tidily underneath my ribbon at my waist. I changed the ribbon color to match my bridesmaid dresses, and I added gold beading to bring in the gold accents from around our wedding and to match my gold shoes.
I picked up my dress at the beginning of May, it took 3 full months, but 1/3 of that was me deciding what materials I wanted to get. They really appreciated me doing it early, as they get swamped around prom season. Once I got to VA, I got the dress professionally pressed as it got wrinkled on the road trip!
The straps did slide down my arms a bit, especially during the ceremony. I was so conscious of not adjusting them, so they look a little off in my ceremony pictures, but I’m glad I don’t have video footage of wardrobe adjustments during my I do’s.
All in all, I love my wedding gown. I haven’t even peeked at it since my wedding day, and haven’t decided if I want to preserve it or do a trash-the-dress shoot (probably rock climbing!). I do know that my dear husband stepped on it when we were swinging, ripping the tulle before we even got hitched and then I felt it snagging on wood around the venue throughout the evening, so we’ll see!
Oh yeah, a tip to outdoor brides, you WILL get bugs in your dress! It wasn’t even a buggy day out, and about every 10 minutes we had to lift up the tulle on my dress to clear out the little bugs hanging out in between the layers!