Originally I set my heart on a custom-made dress and began talking with a dressmaker about my ideas. I was looking for a regency style dress with a lace overlay; something that would do Elizabeth Bennet proud. I made this inspiration board to show my ideas:
I was very definite about what I wanted and my dressmaker, Linda at http://no9bridalcouture.com was extremely helpful, enthusiastic and communicative. I was very satisfied. My daughter however, was bitterly disappointed that I was missing out on the whole trying-on-wedding-dresses-in-a-shop experience. She badgered me about this. Relentlessly! I gave in. Figuring that it could even be helpful to try a few different styles to determine what suited me, we set out with my cousin (one of my bridesmaids) to the local bridal boutiques.
I tried on every style imaginable - formal, informal, poofy, fishtail, loose, fitted, detailed and simple. I began to realise that the beautiful Jane Austen numbers did not suit me at all. I looked dumpy - more Miss Bates than Miss Bennet. I threw myself at the mercy of the experts. Bridal boutique sales assistants know their stuff. Finding the perfect wedding dress is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most women. These ladies do it every day.
Nice-Irish-lady pulled a couple off the rail for me to try on. I liked one (the regency style one), but not the other because it was strapless and I simply don't do strapless. But I went along with her fancies - trying them both on would do no harm. The one I liked looked dreadful on me. I seem to have an uncanny knack of making exquisite bridal gowns look like maternity wear. She bound me into the other. The inside of this dress was like scaffolding! I don't know why they bothered hanging it on a rail; I swear the whole thing could've stood up on its own.
As she opened the cubicle curtains, my daughter and cousin both gasped 'Oh WOW!'. I checked in the mirror to see what I'd done, wondering what this unexpected fuss was about. It was a beautiful dress, there was no doubt about it. It still had the empire line waist I loved so much, but was more Edwardian regency-revival in style; very Belle Epoque and remeniscent of My Fair Lady. It was diamond white - a sort of greyish off-white that had a sumptuous, vintage quality about it and was overlaid in a deliciously ethereal silver lace that flowed into a chapel-length train behind. It was totally, jaw-droppingly....... truly scrumptious in every way!
But if I'm honest I wasn't convinced it was the wedding dress for me. My 'swimmer's shoulders' bellowed out at me above the strapless neckline. There was a reason I didn't do strapless. Nice-Irish-lady joined in the chorus of 'Awwww's and 'Ahhhh's and 'Ooooh's. I couldn't argue with the beauty of the dress; that was blindingly obvious. But my shoulders! Damn! Arnold Schwarzenegger stared back at me from the mirror. The others saw no problem with them and said it was all in my head, but Nice-Irish-lady began to drape little pieces of chiffon and ribbon about my shoulders to illustrate how easy it would be to add straps or little cap-sleeves. I started to acquiesce.
'You should SO buy it!' my cousin and daughter insisted. 'It's perfect! It's absolutely stunning on you! You look amazing!'. I had tried a good score of dresses on before now and never provoked a reaction like this. It was at this point that I realised I had absolutely NO idea how much wedding dresses cost. My dressmaker had quoted a few hundred quid for the dress of my dreams and since I wasn't trying on with a view to actually buy, we hadn't looked at any price-tags - there was no need. I had been (sort of) honest with all the sales assistants and told them I was only trying on to see what sort of styles suited me so I didn't have a budget in mind.
It was £1250. TWELVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY QUID!!! (THAT'S OVER A THOUSAND POUNDS!!!!!) For a DRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was staggered! Well that was that over with. Spending that amount of money on a dress was absolutely out of the question. No way! I thought £600 was already a complete extravagance. Our total wedding budget at this point was estimated at around £3-4000 This was just silly. We went home.
Of course the girls told Kerry about the dress and how gorgeous it was. I told him how much it cost. If I was staggered about the cost of the dress, I was floored by his reaction; 'If you like it, buy it.' he replied without a thought. Hmmmm.... I phoned my mum in France. 'Blahblahblah.... beautiful dress... blahblahblah.... not sure about strapless... blahblahblah...... ridiculous amount of money...'. 'If you like it, buy it.' she replied without a thought.
I ummed and ahhed for a couple of weeks, asking all my friends and family for advice. It was unanimous. But the strapless thing still rankled with me. Surely if this was 'The One', I wouldn't be wanting to alter it and turn it into something else? And surely if this was 'The One' I would have been moved to tears instead of miffed at the sight of my big fat shoulders? Cue my uncle Michael. Michael is a retired fabric designer. He has an eye for beautiful things and impeccable taste and I trust his judgement completely. I asked him to come along with me to see the dress and help me make a decision, and of course he was happy to do so.
Nice-Irish-lady remembered me and the dress, and so she pulled it straight out and manoevred me into it again. This time she asked me about what accessories I was considering and on my reply came back with a long veil and sparkly diamante necklace to give me an idea of the whole look I was going for. She pulled back the curtains for the second time. Michael cried. I cried. I looked like a beautiful bride! ME!!! 'Oh Michael look at me!' I croaked, 'I'm getting married! I look like a beautiful bride!'. 'You ARE a beautiful bride!' he rejoiced (if it's possible to rejoice with a whisper). The veil and necklace worked perfectly to distract my eye from my shoulders. But after the first glance my insecurities kicked in again and I asked Michael what to do about the whole strapless situation. He pointed out that to add sleeves would detract from the integrity of the dress, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my shoulders. He also pointed out that logically, the only part of the dress I didn't like was the part of ME that was poking out of it! I didn't have a problem with the dress; I had a problem with self-image, and no dress in the world would ever solve that. I resolved to work on this issue and get over it. It was just silly really.
Nice-Irish-lady then announced that this particular dress was being sold off as a shop-sample for £500 less than the usual price.
SOLD! To the lady with the normal shoulders!
Maggie Sottero 'Tamara' wedding gown: