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Wedding Dress Shopping: Heaven or Hell?

written by EJ Wright

We talk to three local bridal experts and ask their advice on how to approach wedding dress shopping if you’re experiencing low self esteem.

There’s a myth perpetuated in some circles that women start planning for their weddings whilst crawling around in nappies on the floor. Whilst this may be true for some, most women never give it a second thought until someone, or indeed they themselves, pop the question. For these women, the consideration of napkin colours and should we, shouldn’t we have kids at our wedding falls somewhat short of consuming their every waking minute. In fact contrary to popular belief, many brides, perhaps most, feel lost and overwhelmed when embarking on planning their wedding. Similarly to motherhood, women are not born knowing what to do!

The other unhelpful misconception propagated by some is the idea that shopping for a wedding dress is the most fun and exciting experience of a woman’s life. No doubt for some women this will prove true (although personally I think a trip to Bora Bora might top it) but if you’re one of many women who break into a cold sweat at the very thought of shopping for your wedding dress then we hear you.

You Are Not Alone

Relying on the probable truth there probably isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t hate something about her body, the health and beauty industries annually make billions from our insecurities; plumper lips, smaller waists, smoother skin, longer nails, perkier bums. These nip, tuck and needle procedures are the tiny tip of an ever growing aesthetics iceberg. In the often painful pursuit of a perceived ‘perfection’, some women are tragically losing their lives to botched operations and cheap backstreet treatments. 

Unfortunately, even the wedding industry plays its part. Good hearted people in the business of weddings have sadly inherited a hand-me-down narrative with a subtext that encourages the pursuit of flawlessness. In our defence I’m sure most of us don’t even realise we’re doing it. We’re carried on the crest of a pre-ordained wedding vocabulary but failing to see the inverse consequences. What we intend as genuine support and encouragement to plan the ‘perfect wedding’ can often achieve little more than putting couples under immense pressure, most especially women.  

“When did getting engaged become the starting pistol for judging ourselves with even more scrutiny?” – Photo (c) Gantas V Photography

It’s little wonder then when a woman starts shopping for her wedding dress she may feel challenged by what she perceives to be a mass expectation that she too, along with every other detail for her wedding, has to be ‘perfect’. How does one even begin to accomplish something so subjective?

When did getting engaged become the starting pistol for judging ourselves with even more scrutiny?

EJ – Editor, INSPOSA

Of course every bride wants to look her best on the big day because she, with her partner, are the centre of attention. But where is the line drawn in the sand? When does the desire to look ones best become overshadowed by an oppressive narrative to transform oneself into someone quite unrecognisable from the person our partners fell in love with, purely in the pursuit of ‘perfection’?  

Wedding dress shopping should indeed be a fun and exciting experience but if you’re one of the millions of women who hate their arms, legs, eyes, weight, height, nose, chin, bum (you fill in the blank…….. ) rest assured you are not alone. I hope you’ll find some sisterly solidarity from the troop of women who, perhaps like yourself, are dreading the prospect of their first bridal appointment. 

Personally, the idea of stripping down to my bra and knickers in front of a bridal consultant is only slightly less mentally paralysing than having a bra fitting at M&S. Yes the staff are lovely, yes they know what they’re doing, yes, they’re here to help but it doesn’t make things any easier when my mind convinces me my muffin top, or more truthfully, both tiers of a large Victoria Sponge cake, are going to be silently judged. And even if the consultant doesn’t make judgement about it, I most definitely will. 

So I’ve reached out to some friends in the bridal industry and asked them for advice on how to approach shopping for a wedding dress if a woman is suffering from low self esteem or even simply ‘low interest’.  The dress after all is not the most important thing to every woman. Whether you’re feeling nervous about the prospect or bouncing off the walls with excitement you’ll find their professional advice invaluable. So let’s dive in.

Booking Your First Bridal Appointment

“Try not to be too anxious about it” says Emma Castle from Shade Bridal Boutique in Nottingham. “We’re here to help and put you at ease. I know brides think that’s easier said than done but trust us, this is what we do. We are also your cheerleaders just as much as your friends and family and we’re here to support you.” Emma suggests making some time to research bridal boutiques before you book an appointment.

“You can really get a feel for a boutique by looking a their website or instagram. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and voice your concerns either. This will help put you at ease and will introduce you to the boutique before you’ve set foot in the door.”

Preliminary phone calls to bridal stores is a good idea. You’ll get to speak to a member of staff and gauge on the phone how they respond to any concerns you have. Do they put you at ease, are they impatient or unhelpful or do they make time to discuss your anxieties? It’s important to ask what size samples they have too. Can they help if you are tall, short, petite, curvaceous or anything in between? 

“No two bodies are the same” Natascha Bankart – Photo (c) Getty Images

“No two bodies are the same” says Natascha Bankart, designer of bespoke wedding dresses in Oundle “and the average woman is not a size zero six foot runway model. I guarantee your wedding dress consultant will have seen the whole spectrum of body insecurities. Go into your dress consultation knowing you can look for a silhouette that will work for you.”

Natalie Wrightson, owner and designer at Natalya James Bridal has her bridal boutique in the town of Ampthill in Bedfordshire. She’s worked in design and garment construction for over fifteen years. “We always try to make our brides as relaxed as possible and put them at ease. Many brides come in very nervous, especially if it is their first appointment. As fun as it sounds to bring friends and family to your first appointment, too many opinions can be extremely overwhelming and often unhelpful as not everyone likes the same thing. Really think about who’s opinion maters most, if any!”

Emma too suggests coming alone at least to your first appointment if you’re feeling anxious. “We have many brides come along to their first appointment alone or with just one friend or their Mum” says Emma.

“If you’re anxious about the process this is the perfect way to start. Too many opinions when you’re not sure what you want yourself can be confusing and overwhelming.” 

What Are You Even Looking For?

So now we’re feeling a little more confident to book our first appointment, here comes the next question. What are we even looking for when we get there?

Some women are lucky enough to know which styles suit them and which to avoid whereas others are unsure and open to suggestions. If the words a-line, empire, mermaid and sheath are enough to send you into a fit-and-flare, this new language will be daunting. This is where the skill and experience of your bridal consultant will come centre stage. 

When booking your appointment you want to be confident the person helping you at least knows what they’re talking about. Do they understand cut, colour and fabrics?  Can they advise what will best suit your shape and furthermore give you the most comfort in relation to the plans you have for your wedding day? 

“We always sit down with our brides and first ask them about their wedding day plans.” says Natalie. “We find it helps to ask them to tag four to six dresses that immediately jump out at them. From there we start putting them in their choices and pulling out additional dresses based on what they say they like or don’t like about each dress. We find very quickly the style and neckline they prefer but will try them in everything from a fitted dress to a ballgown or an A-line. Necklines are just as important as dress shapes. The right neckline can really change a dress.”

Natascha agrees. “The main objective of your wedding dress is to draw the eye to see you elevated in the dress, not the dress with you in it. Keep these four things in mind; cut, neckline, colour, location of your wedding. Your dress consultant should advise you on the cut and shape to consider but the neckline and your hairstyle is what frames your face so make sure the neckline helps draw the eye upwards to your face. Try on a number of different styles. The number of times I’ve had brides choose a completely opposite dress to what they had originally envisaged themselves in is probably most of the time.”

“…there probably isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t hate something about her body”

Emma advises honesty is the best policy with your consultant. “You won’t be the first bride to say there are parts of your body you don’t want to show. We’re not here to tell you what to wear, we’re here to create a look for you that you feel comfortable in. There are so many creative ways of styling and customising dresses so you look and feel amazing on your wedding day.”

Being honest about your personal insecurities will help the consultant guide you to a dress you’ll love.

“We are patient and take time to listen” says Natalie. “We often find many brides don’t like their arms and think sleeves will help cover them up but more often than not sleeves draw attention to that part of their body.”

Experienced bridal consultants really can be your new BFF when it comes to slaying the demons in the mirror.

Grab Some Confidence Boosters

Something which might also help your confidence is investing in some new underwear for your bridal appointments. Go for a bra fitting at M&S or John Lewis. Consider some nude Spanx if this helps build your confidence. Take a pair of heels with you if you’re planning to wear them on the day. Most stores have shoes you can try but you’re better in a pair of your own. A light short robe to cover yourself between dresses is also a comforter. 

But first things first, let’s put that word ‘perfect’ in a drawer and never think of it again. I heartily encourage you to inform us if you see the word ‘perfect’ on INSPOSA so we can swap it out. I guarantee it’s there several times over, lurking in historical posts.

Most importantly, engaged or not, we should instead start focussing on the things we do like about our bodies. In the words of Mark Darcy to Bridget Jones, like yourself ‘just as you are’.