Wedding Dress Shopping: Trying to Find the Dream Dress

Ah, wedding dress shopping. The part of planning a wedding that gets romanticized again and again. I imagine I’m not the only one who has thought about her dress a time or two before getting engaged, so there seems to be a lot of weight on this one item. You’re picking one dress for one day…and it needs to stand the test of time, or at least photographs. All this is to say, I knew I would be writing this post when I decided to bring wedding prep onto the blog.


I have been with a few friends to pick out their dresses, but I guess I’d never paid a ton of attention to the whole process. Which is why I was surprised when the experience at each salon seemed a bit less personal than I expected. The stylist doesn’t ask anything about my wedding except the date, doesn’t ask my fiancé’s name. They are solely focused on the gown I want. I thought it would be a more fun, warm, friendly experience, but maybe that’s just me having watched too many episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. They were, however, super knowledgable about the dresses and totally honest with opinions.



Okay, so now that you know not to expect bottles of champagne and fireworks, let’s get down to business. As I said before, it’s one dress, one day. If I had an unlimited budget, sure, I’d spend $10,000 on my absolute dream dress. But, I don’t, so I knew I would be trying to keep my dress, all alterations and accessories included, under $1,000. Yes, that sounds crazy, but that’s what I’m working with.

Next, narrow down what you’re looking for, but be open. I made a list of the types of necklines I wanted to look at – boatneck, tank, high neck, the shape – ballgown, embellishment – minimal, the look – classic. This helps guide the conversation with the bridal stylist and gives you somewhere to start, but remember to keep an open mind. You never know what might surprise you.

Finally, make your appointments according to the first two steps here. Ask what their range is and what designers they carry. I wasn’t going to bother with a bridal boutique that started at $4,000 or only specialized in flowy, vintage inspired gowns. Also, expect that you’ll be making appointments several weeks out.




The first place I went was Elegance by Roya in Old Town Alexandria, which I picked out of proximity to the days activities and the fact the pictures of the boutique online looked pretty. My parents and Adam’s parents
were both coming into town to meet for the first time*, we were going to brunch in Old Town, and I thought a fun activity for the mom’s would be to go dress shopping.

I tried on a whole slew of different styles there and quickly confirmed that unless I’m in a ballgown, I don’t feel bridal. I also got over my fear of sparkles quickly and ended up falling in love with this dress. However, my reservation, beyond its price, was that it might not be the stunner in photographs that it is in person (which is important when you’re splurging on photography!) and, sure enough, every person I sent the pictures to was just kind of “meh” on it.


A few days later on a whim, I was on BHLDN’s website and noticed that a dress I’d loved forever ago was back in stock in their sale section, and only in my size. I ordered it, figuring at $700 it was worth a shot. It came in two days later and fit perfectly. As in it doesn’t need a single alteration. I’m not sure I would call it my absolute “dream dress” but it’s pretty darn close. And, while it’s an a-line style, there is so much fabric that a crinoline underneath easily turns it into a ballgown. Assuming this is the dress I end up with, I know I’ll be completely happy with it.



However, given the emphasis placed on this one dress, I still wanted to cover my bases and make sure that
I’d explored all the possibilities.

I went to a sample sale at Hitched, and, let me tell you, I’d been warned that the condition of dresses was all across the board at sample sales, but I was not prepared for how bad some were. Literally unwearable.
However, it’s worth checking out for the fact you could find a dress for $500. I tried on several dresses at that price point that were absolutely gorgeous and in good condition, but they just weren’t the style I envision myself

From a long sleeve lace dress to a tulle skirt with stunning lace back to a peplum fit and flare, I found so many amazing options that just weren’t right for me. I did pick up a veil at the sample sale though. At $50 – basically
75-90% off – the veils were an unbelievable steal.

Now there’s just one more stop to make before I completely commit to my dress – BHLDN. Next week I have an appointment at their Georgetown location to take my dress in, try it with accessories and make sure there’s nothing in my price point that I may love more. Don’t worry, I’ll update you all as soon as I have a final decision – without a picture, of course.


Another option to explore is buying a used dress. I’ve
stalked my dream dress on Once Wed more than a few times and, honestly, if I find it in my size, I’m not above having two dresses and selling one. You’d be shocked how many of the sellers actually say, “I bought this dress, then found a different one, so it’s never even been worn.” If you know anyone that has gone that route, definitely let me know!

Photo of me browsing through dresses by the super talented and super fun Maya of Mojalvo.

*Okay, I know people are thinking that’s weird they didn’t meet until we’d been engaged for a month, but Adam’s parents are in Austin, mine in Richmond, and we’d only been dating a little over a year, so it is what it is.


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