Planning a wedding is overwhelming, shortly put. From my own experience it was particularly challenging in that I felt pressure to make the “right” choices for everything from venue to invitations, yet faced 1,762 options that each had their own appeal.
When you’re single and daydreaming, Pinterest seems like the ultimate wedding planning jackpot; however, the reality of it is that by month six of being engaged, Pinterest felt like the ultimate enemy. I kid you not, I felt personally attacked by Pinterest….it made me doubt my every decision, even the ones that came easy when first drawing an outline of how I wanted my day to happen.
One of the best things I did shortly after becoming engaged is make a Top 3 list. My parents and in-laws were instrumental in pulling off our wedding from all angles; however, Benny and I fronted much of the wedding expenses ourselves. One night about two months after he proposed, we sat down and made a list of the top 3 things we cared about for our big day—what we would allocate the big bucks to, no compromise. It was our HAD TO HAVE list. Everything else would be subject to compromise and value-based decisions.
Number one on the list was videography. I think number two was photography. Maybe it was three….I can hardly remember now that all is said and done. But you know what wasn’t on the Top 3 list?
My wedding dress.
I had no idea what kind of dress I wanted, and I felt certain I did not want to spend thousands of dollars on my gown. I more or less avoided the dress topic for the first month and a half of being engaged. My mom and I discussed visiting various nearby cities to hunt for a deal, but that’s as far as the conversation ever got.
A week or so before New Year’s, so the last week of 2015, my friend told me that one of Huntsville’s upscale bridal boutiques was having sample sale and advertising dresses for $100. She really encouraged me to make an appointment, despite my resistance. I felt as if there was no way this endeavor could be anything other than a letdown. I agreed though.
We arrived early that Friday evening to view the sale. It was extremely laid back and set up like any normal retail store—there were about four racks of dresses, some for $100. Some for $500. You simply took the dresses you wished to try on back to the fitting room.
Over the next half hour, Amanda made me try on almost every $100 dress there was. Some were so ridiculous and extravagant for me and my rustic wedding plans. There was one slinky dress I liked enough to buy final sale for $100; however, I didn’t have any sort of “YES to the dress” moment. Truthfully, that moment never happened for me until my final fitting.
As we were wrapping things up, Amanda ran in with one last find that had been returned to the rack. It was lacy and antique-looking, and really, really large. I tried it on, and instantly saw a spark of possibility. Amanda clamped me into the gown, and for the first time, I felt like a bride. We asked the boutique curators if a dress this large could be altered to fit, and they assured us it could.
I walked out of the door with my $100 dress thinking, “Hey, that was easy!”
When I showed my mom the pictures of the dress (I was too scared to take it out of the garment bag….it was a lot of white!), she immediately expressed concern for how large it was. She pushed me to make an appointment with a seamstress early on. When Amanda looked up the retail value of my dress, it initially sold for $2,000-$2,500, so I figured even if I could not wear this dress…I could at least make my $100 back, if not more.
The boutique gave me the name of a seamstress they recommended; however, I recalled my coworker describing a huge fiasco she had with a botched alteration, and how she found an amazing seamstress, Alison, to fix what many would have turned away. I got the Alison’s number and made an appointment.
Upon taking my dress out of the garment bag, Alison gave my mother a doubtful look. The dress did not have a size tag in it, but Alison guessed that it was a size 12. Altering it would mean making it approximately 4-5 sizes smaller. Although she doubted it could be worked with, she had me try on the dress.
When I emerged from the fitting room, holding the dress up to cover myself, Alison began pinning. She confirmed that the dress was a high dollar piece during its season; she thought the dress was at least worth $1,500. As she pinned, she formed a game plan. She would remove the lace from the dress and cut the skirt off of the bodice. She would then cut down the sides of the dress, as well as down the back, and remove the extra fabric. She’d trim the skirt before reattaching it, add crinoline under it to give it some fluff, and create a bustle. Upon reattaching all parts of the dress, she would add the lace back and add boning to the bodice if needed.
We started the alterations at the beginning of April. I returned for my second fitting in late June. My final fitting was the Labor Day weekend. I don’t think Alison had ever been so happy to be finished with a project. The dress turned out to be a bigger undertaking than she anticipated, but she really did work a miracle. I believe that she spent about ten weeks of time with my alterations. Even though the alterations cost more than I spent on the dress itself, the total cost of the dress plus the alterations ended up being no more than $600.
I was very lucky by circumstance when it comes to my wedding dress, but I share my story to show that compromise and values-based options are out there for brides-to-be. I definitely don’t think just anyone who is nifty with a needle could have altered the dress I chose, but I do think that sample sales are a great option for brides on a budget! I know people who have worn much simpler dresses than my own, and at full retail value plus alterations, they dropped upwards of $2,500.
No, I didn’t have the classic, tearful “YES to the dress” moment or ring a bell after I found THE one, and that experience may be on some brides’ Top 3 list. I did however find a dress that fit my style, fit my budget, and made me feel beautiful on the most important day of my life. I hope that maybe my story brings hope and excitement to future brides.
My advice to brides-to-be is:
-If you make no other list, make your Top 3 or Top 5 or Top 25 list. Base how many top items you get according to budget. We were working with a $10-$15k budget, so we stuck with 3. But do it. And do it early on. You won’t be sorry.
-If your dress didn’t make the Top 3 list, don’t settle for something less than fabulous. Just do your research! Look for sample sales at small boutiques, as well as end of the season sales at larger bridal retailers.
-Find a good seamstress. Don’t go with in-house alterations, or just who the retailer suggests. Ask for recommendations from real people who aren’t in the dress business. Find your Alison.
Do you have any words of wisdom for brides on a budget in search of a great dress?