Happy International Women’s Day! I have to start saying that really, as it was seeing this a lot on social media today that prompted me to write this post (and I want to). When I checked Facebook this morning, it encouraged me to share a post wishing a happy IWD to my girlfriends (just like it told me to share Happy Mother’s Day a couple of days ago – how would we remember anything these days without it?), and I see many of my lovely ladies have posted various images wishing us all the same.
Following on from my post about the slightly frustrating task of finding our wedding venue, I figured I should tackle the subject of finding my dress next as it seems just as hot a topic as finding our photographer. Of course, finding the dress has been more fun, and delightfully surprising actually, as I was never one of those girls who dreamt of her wedding dress as a young girl. I was convinced as a teen I would never meet ‘the one’, that things like that didn’t happen to girls like me, so I never really considered it. Warning, this is a long one!
The only time I had been in a dress shop before was with my sister for her wedding almost ten years ago. We only went to the one, Jasmine Bridal in London, because she had seen the dress of her dreams in an American wedding magazine, and I convinced her she should do a bit of research, to find there was one stockist in the UK. She looked amazing in the dress, and despite the practical me suggesting she try on a few more after, she had found ‘the one’ in the first go.
As a self-confessed wedding obsessive since becoming a wedding photographer five years ago, I absorb everything about the industry and regularly read wedding magazines, and I love looking at all the dresses. I always ask prospective clients about their wedding dress shopping journey and, hopefully, give some good advice and wedding dress shopping tips too. I know the styles of many of the main designers and can tell a Maggie Sottero a mile off, separate my Alfred Angelo from Jenny Packham. Now it was time to put my own advice into practice.
I don’t have the sort of figure that can naturally rock a wedding dress. My curves were not made for ivory satin. I do, however, love corsetry so there was some hope… I decided I would make sure I tried on every style of dress going. I would flounce about in a ball gown, sashay around the room in a fishtail and slink into something all vintage-looking and beaded. I also decided I should bring one great friend for the general sessions, rather than bring mum and sister up for the endless try-ons and stick with showing them the shortlist.
Deciding the bridal shops to visit was easy. I have heard many fabulous things from our clients about The Tailor’s Cat in Cambridge. A luxury bridal boutique in Sussex Street, they have some fabulous designers in stock, including Ian Stuart. Ian Stuart has long been my favourite bridal designer. His designs have a theatrical feel about them, they are more dramatic than most, and he is not afraid to bring colour into the palette. If I was going to suit any particular type of wedding dress, I have always had a feeling I was more likely to be an Ian Stuart bride than anything else, so I had to try some on.
The great thing about being self-employed is the ability to do things in the week, so I booked a weekday appointment and went along with my close friend Aimee to the Tailor’s Cat, where I was to be looked after by the lovely Kyrie. I was feeling quite nervous on the day, instantly worried that nothing would suit me, but I followed the magazine advice, wore nice underwear and did my hair and make-up, and it is true it did help me visualise the dresses better. Something happened as I started to see all the dresses hung up, I got excited! I loved the fact that I could go through and put the blue disks on as many dresses as I wanted to try on, but I was aware not to overload myself, so I initially chose about 7 or 8. I made sure I had a real mix of styles in there, big, slinky, sleeves, no sleeves, and there were a couple of dresses that Aimee really liked but I wasn’t necessary fussed about, but I thought it was good to try them on too.
And then an important thing happened. I decided to start with one particular style, to discard it straight away, but when I put it on – it looked great! This changed things immediately, and although I still tried on all the rest, it was clear I should try on a few more in this style. In my initial pick there were 3 or 4 Ian Stuarts amongst other designers, and Kyrie then showed me another I’d initially discarded but I agreed to try it. My word. It made a fantastic noise when I put it on and I instantly felt giggly and excited, oh, and Aimee cried. It felt like a good sign! I tried on a couple more and then Kyrie suggested trying the two favourites back on again, and yep, that really was the one.
It really was great to have the freedom of time by being there on a weekday, so I’d really recommend it. Kyrie was great, not pushy at all and it felt like nothing was too much trouble, but best of all we weren’t rushed. I left that day feeling like I had found it, but I did really want to try on some more dresses, I had the taste for dressing up now and it was such fun! Next up I headed to Karen Forte in Bassingbourn, a nearby village to me so it was convenient. It was also convenient for Tom’s mum too, and I wanted to invite her to a session as she has not had the opportunity to go dress shopping (Tom’s sister made her own wedding dress, bucked the ivory trend and looked amazing, see below!) I was honoured to have Karen herself fitting me, she has been in the business for years and obviously knows a huge amount about wedding dresses! Here Karen listened to what I said I was looking for (following my new insight after the first session) and she went off to bring me back some gowns. If I am honest, I was a little disappointed to not be able to root through the racks myself, although Karen did put me in some great dresses and this is probably really helpful if you are not sure what you are looking for. She did pull out an amazing Pronovias dress as my final choice, which I very nearly fell in love with, and may well have had I not already fallen in love with the Ian Stuart.
Lastly, I really wanted to visit the lovely ladies of Shades of White in St. Ives. Jo and Anna are a super pair of ladies and again I had some great feedback from clients, so I wanted to give their collections a go. Again there were designer collections there I had admired, such as Ellis Bridal, and the boutique feels luxurious. Like at The Tailor’s Cat, I was given tokens to select dresses to try on which was fun. I tried on another six or seven dresses with the lovely Wendy, coming close to falling for a Romantica dress, but I left still with the niggling feeling deep down that the Ian Stuart was the one. Thankfully Aimee had spent all the sessions taking photos of me on her phone, so I was able to look back and yes, I felt I could stop now. After trying on 23 dresses, I knew I had found the one and didn’t feel I needed to try on anymore, I was done.
Last weekend, Aimee, Tom’s mum, my mum, my sis and I went back to see Kyrie and I put it on again. I got the same butterfly feeling. Everyone cooed and my sister cried. It was definitely it! I didn’t try any more dresses, just focussed the time on looking at accessories that might go with it, as well as trying it with the Vivienne Westwood shoes I have brought for the big day.
So all in all the experience was fantastic, much more enjoyable that I thought it would be. If you are a curvier girl you need to go in with the expectations that the samples won’t fit (unless you go to a plus size specialist), but you can use your imagination about the way they would look done up, and your assistant will usually help you hold it up. Do try on a bit of everything even if you don’t think you will want it – you never know! Why not try them all on, we only get the one chance to do it so make the most of it.
It’s worth mentioning that if I was getting married next year, I would seriously be considering having my dress designed and made by a bridal designer such as the amazing Chantal Mallett, and I would urge brides who want something a little different to consider doing this too. Chantal makes the most wonderfully dramatic and creative dresses, but unfortunately I know I just won’t have the time this year to invest in the process. If you have a particular look in mind for your big day why not visit a designer and sketch some dress ideas, such as our gorgeous bride Kate and her bespoke medieval wedding gown by Biggleswade-based dressmaker Helena Smith.
Oh and in case you are wondering, Tom does know I will be in Ian Stuart, and he is not surprised, he always expected me to me, but of course I have been deliberately vague in this post on what the dress is like. That you will all have to wait and see!