Wedding dress shopping always scared the living daylights out of me.
I'm not a fan of trying clothes on at the best of times as I have a very distinct vision of how I want to look... but very rarely does real life provide me with the satisfaction of seeing my vision pay off.
When we first got engaged, I spent hours looking for inspiration online (back when Pinterest was invite-only!) and decided on no account did I want anything fussy, strapless, or sparkly. I dithered between strappy V necks and duchess-style portrait collars after falling in love with a Bardot-style evening gown at a vintage photoshoot. As time passed and our wedding plans began to take shape, after many Pinterest sessions I eventually stumbled across a beautiful dress by Alfred Angelo which I could not get out of my head. However, when it came to actually trying on dresses, I baulked every time. There are two bridal stores in the next road to our flat, but I just could not bring myself to book an appointment, so frightened was I of disappointment. As it turned out, my first dress-trying experience was entirely unexpected...
I'd taken a half day off work and now stood at the entrance of Earls Court 2 gazing at the enormous expanse of white, floral fluff before me with some trepidation. I'd attended a wedding fair the previous week with Jon and we had both come away a little out of breath and overwhelmed. Without his big hand holding mine I felt a little lost. Thankfully Jon's mum, sister and fiance appeared to appease my sense of doubt and after watching a beautiful catwalk show, with much cajoling, I declared myself ready to try on some dresses.
I couldn't fit the first dress over my hips. Standing alone in a partition between the wedding dress stand, while other brides stripped off and dived into petticoats beside me, I quickly felt like a duck out of a water. The second and third dresses were marginally better. A lovely assistant appeared to help me with pins and hoops and by the fourth dress I was diving into skirts like a pro. I tried on my first corseted (strapless) lace dress and was so overwhelmed by the defined hourglass shape my wobbly body had been squeezed into that I put down a deposit for it.
Mere seconds after boarding the tube, I was engulfed by fear, dread and above all, regret. Hadn't I always said I would never go for a strapless dress? Was it too vastly different from the off-shoulder, simple, classic shapes I had pinned and coveted since I got engaged?
After spending the next day in a horribly anxious and tearful state, I decided this was most certainly not the correct feelings one should be experiencing upon purchasing their wedding dress. I wanted it to be the experience I had imagined and read about. I wanted a boutique and people clapping, not a loud echoey exhibition hall. Most of all, I wanted a different dress.
Thankfully the company I purchased the dress from were remarkably understanding and allowed me to cancel the order without too much financial disappointment. Once the refund had been confirmed, I allowed myself to feel excitement once more. There was no point in dillydallying - I had a particular dress in mind that I wanted to track down and within a matter of hours I had two appointments booked with the only two stockists in the area.
The first store, although delightfully helpful and friendly, did not have the dress I wanted. I dutifully tried on eleven dresses in quick succession, but none provided me with that feeling of "the one". They put jewels in my hair and flowers in my hands, but I couldn't visualise myself on the day of the wedding. Nothing felt right. Not wanting to disappoint them, I narrowed my selection down and assured them I would come back to try on the final two dresses. By that point my wedding dress tally had hit 18. I was beginning to feel like nothing would live up to my expectations; like I was the fussiest bride in the world and no dress could make me feel perfectly beautiful.
It was with this outlook that I journeyed to Chelmsford on a rainy Saturday, with my expectations at an all-time low. Upon perusing the store, my spirits dropped even lower when a thorough search revealed no sign of my dream dress. I made my selection nonetheless and began to follow the assistant to the fitting room, when I spotted a rail I hadn't noticed before, tucked away in the smallest corner, invisible unless you peered around the fitting room dividers.
"Oh, those are plus size dresses," the assistant informed me. "You can try them if you want, but they'll be a bit big." Her expression was doubtful.
Normally, the mere mention of plus size would make me pull out the tags from my clothes and proclaim myself to be a proud 12-14 thank you very much, whilst dying a slow embarrassing death on the inside. I almost walked past them. Until I spotted the Alfred Angelo tag hanging off the second dress on the rail, and what if, just maybe...
It was the dream dress. In size 20. But the dream dress.
"I'll lace it up as tightly as it will go", she promised me, but I didn't need any pins and clips to know that this was my dress.
"You could try some similar styles," she said, but this was my dress.
"We'll take it in. Re-do the lace-up back. It'll look better when it's your size," she said, but I already knew. Despite the extra fabric, the gap between my arm and the straps, the too-long hem, the corset that would not lace up any further - it was my dress.
"It's in the sale," she admitted, and after a flurry of phonecalls to my mum, hopping around the shop trying to get enough signal to send photos, it truly became my dress.
My mum cried when she saw me in it, three weeks after paying for it.
No fireworks, no tears, no glowing light and hallelujah chorus, but I felt so calm, confident and assured as soon as I put it on. I smile every time I look at the pictures. It's far too big, and my hair was a mess after the rain, and I'm not as slim as I want to be on the day, but it is undoubtedly perfect and I cannot imagine wearing anything else to become Jon's wife.
So my words of wisdom to any dress-hunting brides is, stay true to yourself! Shop assistants will try and get you in all sorts of shapes and styles (I mean, I even tried a fishtail!) because unless you attend balls and the like on a regular basis you won't be accustomed to wearing a full-length formal dress. And while I agree it's great to try different dresses (and let's be honest, it's fun too) don't forget that you will still be you on the day of your wedding and above all you need to feel relaxed. I felt so wonderfully at ease in my dress, it was special and comfortable and perfect at the same time and that's how I knew it was the one for me.