Top 5 for Wedding Dress Shopping (when your body image isn’t the best)

Part of my purpose here at ABT5 is to start conversations around wedding topics so many people deal with, yet so very few seem to (publicly) talk about. Mostly because those topics don’t really jive with a lot of the “perfection” standards out there that surround weddings and the wedding planning experience on a social level.

So, here we are. Let’s talk about body image and wedding dress shopping.

For all our sakes, I’m going to skip over the standard complaints about fashion design industry, size zero models, airbrushing, etc., because, c’mon, we’ve all read enough of those articles. I don’t want to talk about social theory – I want to talk about you and your wedding dress.

Let’s dig in.

As someone who has gained weight, lost weight, gained it back, lost it again, gained it back again, lost it again (you see where I’m going here)… I have decent authority to weigh in (haha) on trying to buy clothes when you’re not entirely happy with the state of your body. I’ve avoided clothes shopping like the plague, cried in dressing rooms when the shopping could be avoided no more, bought clothes I didn’t like just because they fit well, bought clothes I loved that didn’t really fit because I was “definitely going to lose the weight”… you know, you’ve been there.

But wedding dress shopping isn’t like regular ol’ clothes shopping – it’s a beast of a totally different color.

What is supposed to be a champagne-popping, sisterhood-bonding, fashionista’s dream can quickly turn into your worst nightmare. This isn’t just fighting back tears in the dressing room when you’re trying on jeans at the mall. You are on DISPLAY, in front of a sales associate you barely know and maybe your mom/sister/best friend (if you even decided to bring anyone with you). You are searching for one of the most important pieces of clothing you’ll purchase in your lifetime that will be worn on a day where you’ll be the center of attention ALL DAY and heavily photographed by a pretty pricey photographer.

Anxiety attack, anyone?

Take a deep breath…

Here are your Top 5s:

1) Bring only the best of your tribe. You definitely don’t want to bring a whole entourage (especially for the first shopping trip), but going along isn’t the best move either. Take the one or two people who love you the most, understand the reservations you have and why, and will be honest about what does and does not look good on you. The support and honest feedback will make a world of difference in this experience.

2) Make it a lovely day. Make appointments ahead of time at two different bridal shops (two is a good starting number for your first time out), and make a day of it. Go have coffee and catch up. Go see a movie. Go have brunch and have champagne (Yes, I am suggesting to eating and consuming alcohol before going dress shopping – c’mon, let’s live a little.) Do whatever it is that makes you your most content self. You may be nervous and anxious, but treating wedding dress shopping like going in for a root canal isn’t going to help. This can be a fun experience if you put the effort into making it one.

3) Shop with an open mind. Last week I visited Juno Bridal, a new lovely little boutique bridal shop in St. Louis’ Central West End. I was talking to the owner, Claire Ketterer, about this post and asked if she had any insight to share from the perspective of a shop owner. She said, “The best advice I can give is to keep an open mind. I had a woman come in the other day saying she definitely didn’t want a fitted-style dress. After trying on styles she thought she wanted, she ended up going with a fitted style. She loves it and looks fantastic in it!”

I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more! While you should definitely have a general idea of what fits do and do not compliment your body type, as well as what styles you prefer or dislike, always keep an open mind. Let the sales associates off suggestions and don’t be afraid of trying on dresses you’re not sure about. You never know what you might end up loving (and what makes you look stunning).

4) If you feel you’re not being respected, leave. I hope this never happens to anyone, but especially with this subject matter, I feel it’s worth mentioning. If you find yourself in a shop where the associate helping you is not listening to you, seems annoyed with having to deal with you, or is just straight up disrespectful as you try to find a dress that fits your body and personal style, leave. Do not drag out a bad experience any longer than necessary. You are the customer, you don’t owe them anything. Don’t be rude about it, but simply say you’d like to stop the appointment and leave to think more about what you’re looking for before trying on more dresses.

5) Buy a dress you look fabulous in, NOW. Most shops won’t let you do this anyway, but do not, under any circumstances, order a dress that doesn’t fit right or is too small a size to use as motivation to lose weight or get in shape before your wedding. I could list you another whole five reasons why this is a bad idea, but put simply, it will backfire. Even if you do manage to reach your fitness goals, there’s no guarantee the dress will look on you then. You just don’t know for sure, and bridal shops do not do returns or exchanges.

The best thing you can do for yourself is buy a dress you look good in that day. Dresses can always be taken in and altered if needed. If you plan on wearing any kind of shapewear, be sure to wear it to your dress appointments to get a good feel for how a dress will lay and move with you. Granted, the limited amount of samples sizes available at most shops may make it difficult to really get a feel for how a dress will fit, but listen to the sales associates’ explanations and trust your instincts.

Happy dress shopping!


Top 5 for The Wedding Planning Newbie

The champagne has been popped. The FB status update has been made. The engagement story has been told and retold. And now? It’s time to get down to business.

Your outlook can go from super pumped to obnoxiously overwhelmed pretty quickly after diving into the world of wedding planning. So many options, so many lists, so many conflicting opinions, so many rules, so many rules for breaking the rules…you get the idea.

Here are your Top 5 for the wedding planning newbie:

1) Know thyself:  Engagement rings aren’t magical. (Well, maybe figuratively, but I’m talking literal here.) If you were a hot disorganized mess before, being engaged isn’t going to change that. If you were an impulse-buying budget buster before, being engaged isn’t going to change that. Hopefully, you see where I’m going here.

Planning a wedding doesn’t magically give you skills you never had to begin with – it isn’t going to change your base personality, general habits, or natural talents. To thine own self be true! Know your weakness and make considerations from the get go. Wedding planning is stressful enough, don’t make it harder by trying to reinvent yourself in the processes. If you can’t stick to a budget to save your life, elect someone to impose some tough love checks and balances in your life. If being super organized is something you gave up on a long time ago, consider hiring a wedding planner or tap your most organized friend to be in charge of the paperwork and deadlines.

2) Your Top 3s:  This is the #1 piece of advice I give to my clients (and strangers). Before you even go down the wedding planning road, sit down with your significant other, and a bottle of wine, and talk about what’s really (and I mean REALLY) important to the both of you when it comes to your wedding.

Get specific. This isn’t a trick question – there are NO wrong answers. It could be getting to invite everyone you’ve known since childhood. It could be to have a jaw-dropping venue. It could be to have Christian Siriano gown. It could be to spend as little money as possible on this wedding so you can have an amazing honeymoon. Whatever your hears desire.

Then, narrow your desires down to the top three specific aspects that are THE most important to you two. Yes, only three (any more and you’ll have too many opposing priorities), so you may have to compromise (get used to it – that’s marriage). Take your Top 3 List and post it on the fridge, plaster it on the front of your planning binder, make it the wallpaper on your phone – put it everywhere so you can easily refer to it when you’re in the thick of planning and having trouble making decisions. For any issue, ask yourself, “Does this serve one of our Top 3s?” It will make your decision making process very, very, easy.

3) Ask the RIGHT budget question:  So many people ask me, “How much does a wedding cost?” That is soooo the wrong question. Sure, I could tell you what the “average” cost of an “average” wedding is nationwide, or even in your local area. But, that number is downright arbitrary – and not just due to the vast amount of varying factors that determine how much the “average” couple’s wedding costs. (Please note my excessive use of quotation marks around the word “average”.)

The question you REALLY need to ask, and the number that actually matters, is, “How much money do we have to spend on our wedding?” Don’t add an extra layer of stress on yourselves by trying to figure out how which hole you’re going to try and pull money out of. Your time and energy are much more positively spent figuring out how to make the best use of the money you DO have at your disposal. I’m not gonna lie, you may have to revamp your ideas and expectations for what your wedding day is going to look like (not always a bad thing!). Trying to celebrate above your means leads to nothing but stress, bitterness, and resentment – all very not-so-pretty-looks for a couple who’s supposed to be celebrating one of the most joyous and important moments in their lives.

(I also want to note here that the bulk of what you’re paying for is the celebration, not the actual wedding. A very important distinction to keep in mind.)

4) Think outside the wedding aisle:  You’ll hear me come back to this concept again and again and again. If you’re looking for creative inspiration or ways to make your wedding more personalized and unique, stop gravitating toward the “wedding aisle”. I mean this both figuratively and literally.

Try to refrain from always starting with online searches involving the word “wedding” – search for inspiration with a more open-minded, lifestyle approach. What sort of themes do you gravitate toward in everyday life? What colors make up your dream living room? How do you like to spend your free time as a couple? These are the place to find real inspiration.

If you find yourself in a store like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby on a mission for wedding décor and special touches, LITERALLY get your butt outside of the wedding aisle! Browse the whole store (and stores that don’t have wedding aisles) for things that make your heart sing. Signage, décor, favors, stationary, accessories, all of it – look for the expected in unexpected places and you’ll end up with a wedding that couldn’t possibly be anyone else’s but yours!

5) Take all wedding planning advice (including mine) with a grain of salt:  Yep, you read that right. As much as I’d love to sit here and tell you all about how my perspective is the most insightful and on point, the truth is that every couple and situation is different. What is a perfect path for one, may be disastrous for another.

There is no one “holy bible” of wedding planning or one infallible planner with all the answers. If you’re at a crossroads and looking for direction, seek out different perspectives and then go with your gut. It’s ok to follow someone’s advice to the letter on one topic and then totally choose a different direction on another.

Take this Top 5 and keep it in your back pocket as start to navigate the crazy world of weddings. Don’t let yourself get too far down the rabbit hole too fast – one step at a time is the perfect pace for now!

Happy Planning!