When I was asked to be guinea pig for a trial Brides Instagram series in which I'd wear wedding dresses by various designers, I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE. Obvs. Okay, so I'm not engaged and not planning to get engaged any time soon, but who wouldn't want to try on once-in-a-lifetime gowns and call it 'work'? Besides, this was definitely the only chance I'd get to jump into a £20,000 dress or two.
The plan was simple: pop into bridal boutiques, try on different styles, take photos and post them on our Instagram Stories. We already know that lots of engaged women have no idea what they're getting into when they book a dress appointment: How does it actually work? How do you choose where you want to go? How many dresses do you try on? We wanted to showcase what boutiques are like, how varied wedding-dress styles can be and, of course, how many amazing bridal designers there are out there. We also asked in-store stylists for their best advice and threw those videos in for good measure. A handy interactive guide for all.
Little did we know that 'Wedding Dress Wednesday' would become one of our most popular series, with thousands of brides-to-be tuning in each week to discover new designers and dress styles. An obvious byproduct of this has been that I've now tried on about 50 wedding dresses. I know, I can't believe it either.
Here Are 6 Things I've Learnt:
1. You'll never please everyone
I cannot emphasise this enough. Inside the boutique, I'd often find that my preferred look didn't align with the designer's, the stylist's or my colleague's. During cringeworthy phone sessions when my parents showed the rest of our family photos of me cheesing at the camera, I'd discover that the dress I liked best was at the opposite end of the spectrum from my grandmother. (Perhaps to be expected, but still.) Then there's our voting system on Instagram, where our audience can choose their favourite. More than once I've noticed that what I loved most our followers didn't.
What really surprised me was that these discrepancies in opinion rarely came down to what I looked like in the dress. It was usually the result of some other detail. This is not an insignificant distinction to make. For example, one person might not like a shape or fabric, while another disapproves of coloured wedding dresses or 'sexy' styles. The fact is, you probably DO look wonderful in your favourite dress, but your mum wanted to see you in a ballgown. My best piece of advice? You do you, girl.
2. Try everything
Obviously I don't mean that literally, but it's important not to limit your options. I know plenty of engaged women who've said something like, 'I know I want lace', but ended up in, say, a gorgeous minimalist number. Interestingly, lots of brides who wear fishtail skirts never imagined they would until they tried one on. A eureka moment can catch you offguard. You'll increase your chances of 'finding the one' if you have an open mind.
I think I've worn every style you can possibly think of: ballgowns, classics, couture, lace, alternative, beaded, vintage-style, coloured, embroidered, strapless, long-sleeved... Seriously, the list goes on. I was shocked that I liked most of them in different ways. Do I know what I'd wear if I got married? No. But I know not to have fixed ideas. (And, realistically, I'm going to have to aim for an outfit change or two.)
3. A veil can seal the deal
The first wedding gown I wore was a show-stopping design by Steven Khalil at The Wedding Club in Knightsbridge. Preferences aside, it is an objectively magnificent dress. But I didn't see rainbows or whatever when I stood in front of the mirror. I just thought, 'Woah, I'm in a couture gown'. However, the moment stylist Mandi put a veil on my head and I saw my reflection... Mind. Blown. I can safely say that if I was soon-to-be married, that may have been a 'holy-moly-maybe-this-is-the-one' experience. To put it simply: I felt like a Queen.
I'm not the only person to feel my jaw hit the ground when a veil was added to the equation. Other women tell us they've felt the same – including those who didn't intend wear one. It's the one time in your life you'll get to float around in a veil; why not try it?
4. Listen to your stylist
Whether you're with a stylist or boutique owner (or the designer him or herself), it's a good idea to ask for their advice. They've seen every style on hundreds of women. They have a good idea of what suits whom. If you go into a shop and feel totally overwhelmed by the options or don't know where to begin, let the experts guide you. Don't be intimidated – they have a passion for bridal.
5. Don't invite too many people
Some boutiques won't let you bring your cousin's neighbour's cat, and I don't recommend it. It might have been different for me because I wasn't engaged and my colleague was taking loads of pictures to post on our Instagram, but I felt hugely uncomfortable when the room was busy. If you feel on edge, self-conscious or bashful as a result of this, you'll find it difficult to dwell in front of the mirror. And you might even think you 'look bad' when you absolutely do not.
6. If you don't look and feel fabulous, move on
This can actually apply to any clothing purchase. If you don't immediately like it – or better yet, if you don't immediately love it – forget it. There's no point in accumulating 'stuff' you don't use and/or doesn't make you feel good. More specifically, with regards to your wedding dress, you should feel amazing as soon as you see yourself in it. Even if that takes a little bit of imagination ('I need some adjustments made here'; 'I'd like to add a detail there' etc.).
On your wedding day you want to feel confident, empowered, comfortable and beautiful. Or as the saying goes, 'the best version of yourself'. If you don't look and feel fabulous in a dress you've put on, don't waste your time. Take it off and move on. Not everything will look good on you, but I promise you'll find something that makes you feel the BOMB.
Headline image: dress designers from left to right, Hailey Paige, Suzanne Neville, Katya Katya London, Hermione de Paula, Eliza Jane Howell, Steven Khalil at The Wedding Club