THE White Dress – The Search Begins

As some of you know, I am getting married this coming autumn.  I am so happy and excited about our wedding – a proper affair, white dress and all. The location is set and is gorgeous, the plans are well in hand, thanks to a simply fab wedding planner, and so now I need to turn my focus to my dress. 

You would think this would be quite easy for me and I would immediately be able to sketch out exactly what I want.  But that is not the case.  Perhaps it is because I have outgrown the bridal visions of my twenties, or that I have no princess fantasies dying to escape; or that I have absolutely no desire to emulate Kate Middleton, Kim Kardashian, or any other high profile bride (Although I do still LOVE Gwen Stefani’s pink gown).  I enjoy the Say Yes To The Dress shows not for the schmaltzy romance or the tepid drama, but for the fashion and styling aspects of the process – so many amazing possibilities, so many different styles and tastes, so many chances to be a beautiful (…or gaudy… or kooky…or tacky) bride, so perhaps my mind is just too muddled with options.   Or it may be that my own tastes have evolved well past what generous applications of lace, beading and bling will satisfy.  Whatever the cause, I am terrifically open to all the possibilities but when presented with the question of what I want I am at a something of a loss. 

My sister, lucky girl, wore my mother’s dress – a beautiful, timeless silk gown worthy of an Audrey Hepburn cover shoot.  It was the Dress of the Year when Mom wore it, and it looked even more amazing when my sister wore it more than thirty years later.  With her gorgeous face, tiny figure and that dress, my sister really did look like Audrey, and she was simply stunning.  Sadly I am not a size two so that fabulous dress will have to wait for my nieces.  But it sets the bar for what I want – timeless, beautiful, couture.  

So, with high aspirations and a determination to have the most flattering gown I could come up with, I started off my quest with some research – poring over the bride magazines, scouring the internet, reading the reviews, blogs, even chat boards.  I got a feel for the elements I liked and what I thought would work best for me but still no clear vision, let alone a picture or a model number to attach it to.  To further complicate things, all the advice on plus size bridal fashion I found didn’t remotely relate to what is available in the market.  Worse yet, what I liked the best and thought would work, the bridal experts had put firmly on the “do not do” list as being not the right silhouettes, details, etc. to choose for my size and shape.  Aaaahhhh!!!! 

Clearly I was going to have to try some dresses on to sort this out.  This was terrifying; after reading so many horror stories and watching hours of Say Yes To The Dress I knew that even my relatively strong self esteem was going to be put to the test when donning gowns intended for much smaller and taller women.  Knowing that most stores didn’t have many plus size samples to try wasn’t a big help.  Fortunately during my research I discovered Strut Bridal Salon in Phoenix, Arizona (www.strutbridalsalon.com); dedicated to plus size bridal and prom wear, every dress sample they carry is in a plus size.    Determined to give myself the very best first experience, have the best possible number of options AND have a fun girl getaway weekend in Scottsdale as an added bonus, the girl buddies and I headed out to Arizona this past weekend.  

First off, I have to say that Strut was terrific!  Owner Anne has created a charming salon and her knowledgeable and fashion-savvy associate, Jasmine, was amazing. We had an immediate Fashionista connection.  After a brief chat over what I was looking for (love texture, don’t love lace, neutral on bling, hate my arms, etc…etc..etc…) we pulled a variety of dresses, trying to stay within the boundaries of what I thought I wanted but admittedly getting caught up in the beauty of some amazing gowns. 

Jasmine, bless her, laced, tucked, clipped, hiked and hitched like a champ as I tried on dresses.  I tottered out in layers of fabric, top or back gaping, my body stiff inside a long-line bra and dress boning.  My sister and girlfriends oohed and ahhed.  Each dress I tried was lovely and had at least one element I loved – the fabric, the color, the neckline, the skirt, the detail.  Some looked great on, some not so much. 

Jasmine was unbelievably patient and positive, and best of all she really understood what I was trying to get to, even if I couldn’t explain it.  I felt like a colossal pill as I kept saying “maybe” and “almost” – I didn’t need a big teary, emotional ah-ha moment, but I needed to at least look and feel a “YES!”   Tired after squirming into quite a few dresses and exhausting even Jasmine’s best ideas, my best friend looked me in the eye and said “we are close, but we haven’t found the one that is YOU”.  She was absolutely right.  Each was beautiful, but not THE dress. Not MY dress.

The trip was totally worth it, even if we did come back empty handed.  I found that, despite all the so-called experts’ advice about dressing at my “advanced age”, I don’t need to wear some evening gown or a “destination dress” – I really can do the big white dress thing.  But not too big – I will need a dress that feels good for hours since I don’t want to change into a reception dress.  And it doesn’t need to be white – I look good in ivory and great in champagne or blush.

I learned volumes about what is going to work and not work for me.  For example, while pick-ups and huge skirts aren’t for me (can we say walking comforter?) the dresses with a ball skirt or a poufy tulle skirt emphasize my tiny waist and de-emphasize my tummy and, contrary to yet more plus size bridal advice, look really good.  As do corset backs, which again really make the most of my waist and bosom – I mean wow!  And while I still don’t love the sweetheart neckline everyone agrees – it loves me.  And that beaded bodice that completely scared me, isn’t half bad on – who knew?!  I have even begun to reconcile myself to the ubiquitous stevedore-arm-baring strapless bodice – although there MUST be a better solution than the faux coverage of chiffon or lace that, while it doesn’t add the visual or actual bulk of an opaque fabric, also doesn’t do much on the camouflage front either.

On the trip home I went back through the magazines thinking I needed to start over…but as I looked at the pictures I had marked before, I found to my own amazement that what worked on the pedestal was what I had marked in the pages.  So now I can throw aside the well intended advice, stick with what I really liked and find what is really ME. How cool is that?

And so, the journey continues. I will be sending more postcards of this adventure…stay tuned!

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