Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Dress. Yes, THE Dress!

Hive, oh dearest Hive, I have so much to tell you. I've been away for the last few days completely and utterly consumed by this crazy dress hunt, but at the end of all that I do have good news to share.

I made a final FINAL dress decision!!!

OMG, the stress and heartache involved in this process was something I didn't foresee in the slightest. I've learned so much about myself and had so many revelations about things I wish I'd done differently, so I'm going to try and put those thoughts together eventually. But before I get to that, I know y'all wanna see pictures and I think you've earned it for standing by me through this all of this.

After falling off the proverbial wall, putting my pieces together again first required spending hours upon hours scouring internet-land compiling a list of affordable dresses that could ship relatively quickly and that I thought I'd be happy to wear. I needed this reassurance in order to feel like I had not indeed sabotaged myself by "waiting too long" to look for a dress - because I definitely felt that way, and I needed to get past that intense self-blame. Turns out, though, there are a lot of lovely dresses out there that could arrive in time to be altered for our wedding. Knowing that I would be okay even if my search yielded no other viable options, I already felt a bit better.

Next I decided to simultaneously explore two equally feasible options - altering the dress I had already purchased and looking for a completely new dress. First I met with an incredible seamstress named Karen Tierney of Studio Trousseau in Alameda. I brought with me a few inspiration pictures to show her what I was thinking about, including one of a beautiful Rosa Clara shrug and one horribly Photoshopped picture of me wearing the kind of alterations I thought I might need.

During the hour-long consultation she worked wonders in putting my mind at ease. She confirmed that it would be possible to add a lace inset at the bust and then create a matching lace shrug in order to keep the look cohesive. And because it had been difficult for me to find images of chiffon gowns with lace shrugs, she also assured me that it would be gorgeous and wouldn't look like I was trying to hide that the dress fit poorly. I left feeling good about this option, even if I was still somewhat disheartened that adding the lace was pushing the overall look into a little more vintage-y territory than anything else in our wedding.

I headed straight from the seamstress to a bridal salon appointment. (Treating it like a full time job, for real!) After calling around and confirming that I really had gone to all of the bridal boutiques in the Bay Area that carried a significant number of plus-size samples, I knew my only options were to head back to Alfred Angelo and David's Bridal because I hadn't tried on as many of their dresses during my first go-round. This time I worked really hard on being more open-minded about what styles I would consider. I came armed with a long list of possible contenders for each place, but I also told myself that I'd try on whatever the consultant brought me.

I'm so glad I was open to trying dresses that weren't on my list because I got to Alfred Angelo and found out that almost none of the dresses on my list were in the store as a plus size sample. So much for that plan! But onward I pushed, and I even took pictures of some of the dresses I tried.

I felt beautiful in this first dress! My consultant told me the sash could be ordered in black, and that's a look lots of people (including me) have really liked. It's hard to tell because the picture is blurry, but this dress had a lot of bling going on and when we held up the wedding party dress beside it, the difference was shockingly clear. Both me and the consultant agreed the dress was just too fancy for the style of my wedding.

And then for something completely different. This was fun to try on, but it wasn't me.

This last one the consultant brought in without my knowing it and it looked like a bunch of nothing on the hanger. But when I put it on...

I adored it! This sample was several sizes too big so the proportions were all wrong on top, but there was so much to love about this dress. The black sash was just enough to accent my waist without being overwhelming, the bling on the sash made the dress 'special' while still looking appropriate with the wedding party dresses, and it has POCKETS! Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Moving on to David's Bridal I had a similar experience with them not having plus-size samples of many of the dresses on my list. So my consultant pulled a bunch of other dresses and into the dressing room I went. I wasn't thrilled about anything I was putting on, so I don't have a lot of pictures to share. Again I tried on the chiffon dress with the black sash, and I still loved it so I knew it continued to be a good option for me.

I was just about to put on my clothes and leave when she brought in one more dress she thought I might like. This one looked pretty sad on the hanger, but tell me if anything looks familiar to you.

Umm, yeah. Besides being a little slimmer A-line silhouette, it was eerily identical to the Alfred Angelo dress I'd liked so much. Gah! What the hell?! So after one meeting with a seamstress and two bridal appointments, I was feeling hopeful but seriously confused.

Not wanting to make another decision all by myself, there was no way I was finalizing anything without some input from a friend. Lucky for me Party Person N was willing to spend her entire Friday evening driving back and forth to Sacramento with me just so I could get her esteemed opinion about this dress dilemma. On our long car ride she helped me to realize that I really didn't love the idea of altering the Maggie dress if it meant wearing so much lace. That was a tough realization, but I needed to admit that it was true and that my ideal goal was to find a new dress I could love.

First I showed her the Alfred Angelo dress, which she really loved on me. She confirmed all of my thinking about the dress, including that pockets are just about the best dress addition in the world. Then we went over to David's Bridal and tried on the chiffon one and the twin. Doling out some tough love, she told me the chiffon one looked great on me but might be a bit too casual, and I kinda agreed. I think that's the reason I didn't just buy it the first time I tried it on, even though I really do love that dress. As for the twin dress, the addition of a crinoline slip gave it more body at the bottom making it a dead ringer for the AA dress (except for the pockets). And because AA sells that black sash separately, I could just add it to this dress and no one would be the wiser. Party Person N loved this look on me so much that she actually cried a little. Awww! That meant a lot to me and definitely told me I was on the right track.

So we'd narrowed it down to just the Alfred Angelo dress and it's David's Bridal twin. While we were trying to make a decision, the DB consultant told me the dress was being discontinued so it couldn't be ordered, plus it was currently on sale. For $200. Unfreakin'believable! We started thinking that I'd be stupid not to buy this dress. I would have to buy the sample, though, and it had a little pucker in the top of the bodice. Looking at it closely, I couldn't figure out what was causing it so I was a little concerned that alterations might not be able to fix it. That little pucker is the kind of thing a detail-oriented gal like myself could never pretend I didn't notice if it couldn't be corrected. The only other consideration was that the crinoline slip was actually much warmer to wear than the AA dress was. I'm guessing this is because it sat right against my legs, whereas the AA dress had some distance between between my skin and the crinoline. But maybe those minor details were worth dealing with if I could save several hundred dollars.

Party Person N pointed out that to make the DB dress work I would need to buy the dress, the crinoline, and the AA sash, making the total cost about $400. That was $600 cheaper than the $1000 price tag of buying the AA dress in-store, but before our trip I'd found the AA dress online for $590. So Party Person N posed the question to me: "Are pockets, a cooler dress, and not worrying about that pucker worth $190 to you?" After only a second's worth of thought, the answer came to me surprisingly quickly: "Oh yes."

I chose a(nother) dress, and it feels amazing!!! No regrets and no worries about this one, though. What I'm going to do with that first dress is another question altogether, but for now I'm just going to revel in this happiness and contentment because they were ridiculously hard-fought. So, yay!!!!

If you were a two-dress bride, what did you do with the first one?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This Isn't Easy, and That's an Understatement - Pt. 2

Now that I've been able to get a little distance from the relentless dress disillusion that consumed me last week, I'm in a much better place to continue sharing this story with you. So let's clear the room and then get back to it.

When I left off, I was on my way to see the Maggie Sottero gown in person. When the woman brought the bag into the dressing room I found myself already hoping I'd have that 'it's the one!' feeling because it was just so lovely. The material and shape was so much like the others I'd tried on that I was certain it would look good on me. But it was the beading at the waist that really sold me - part sparkly and part metallic, it felt like just the amount of bling I'd been hoping for.

The woman helped me squeeze myself into a sample that was much too small, and I stood in the mirror for a very long time trying to imagine how this gown might look if it were the correct size. Logically it felt like it should work - right fabric, right shape, right detailing, right color, right price. I checked off each of those items multiple times in my head while the clocked ticked off minutes going on hours. As I stood there. In the dress. Uncertain.

At one point I remember saying to her, "This whole time I've just been looking at the dress, but it's hard to look at me in the dress." The shape and fit were bad, but I was assured that was just a sizing issue. The dress felt too low at the top, but the saleswoman confidently said that in my size the top would come a bit higher and the dress was "meant to be low like that" so it actually "looked better than I thought it did." I was trying hard to convince myself that I loved it. Because I did love it, didn't I? I loved it online, I loved it in person, and I wanted to love it on me.

I asked myself again and again, "Is this the one?" Waiting there by myself in the dressing room, I didn't hear an answer. All I could think about was how much time I'd put into finding dresses like this, how few other options I'd been able to uncover, how much I liked the idea of this dress, and how little time I had left to buy something. I heard the voices of so many people telling me not to worry because alterations can work wonders, and I heard myself wanting to make a decision so I could move on to another project.

So I bought the dress. I put down the non-refundable deposit, paid the $100 fee for the plus size "pattern change" as well as the extra fee to have it rush ordered so that it would arrive no later than the last day of September. There were no tears of joy, no quiet certainty, no sense of relief. Instead there was just extraordinary hope that I was worrying for no reason and that somehow it would work out.

To try and alleviate my concerns, I decided to take a bit of a road trip the next day to a store that had a slightly larger sample gown in stock. Thinking positively, I'd brought with me some jewelry and hair accessories because I wanted to get some idea what was going to work with my dress. Seeing it in that store, it was just as beautiful as I remembered it. I was able to slide on this sample, and I waited for her to clip me in it before I snuck a glance in the mirror. "Please let it look amazing. Please let me have no worries about the top of this dress."

But again I was confronted with the knowledge that the top of the dress was uncomfortably low for me. Trying to quell my impending freak out, the super nice saleswoman offered to call Maggie Sottero to ask about how increasing the pattern size would increase the height of the top. In the meantime, I grabbed a beaded lace jacket and stuffed it into the top of the dress to try and visualize what adding some trim along the top might look like.

I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. Throughout my dress hunt I hadn't been particularly fond of lacey looks, either for me or for the style of our wedding. Adding that trim along the top and then considering adding a bolero of the same material really altered the feel of the dress in a way I wasn't sure I liked. When the saleslady got off the phone, she didn't have good news for me. The person told her that going up in size only changes the circumference of the gown, so the difference in the height of the bodice between a size 2 and a size 20 was only half an inch. HALF AN INCH!

That was it for me. In that moment, less than 24 hours after I'd purchased it, I knew for sure the dress wasn't going to work as-is. And I won't lie - I was devastated. It took a few days for the information to sink in and for me to gather up the energy to start thinking about some resolution to the situation. But I had a very cathartic conversation with a good friend who confirmed that the dress I ordered was going to be too low and that I needed to just think about this dress hunt as my full time job right now. That was so nice to hear because somehow it gave me permission not to focus on anything else for the time being and to do whatever is necessary to find a dress that I love. (Thanks for that, L!)

So... I'm back on the hunt for both dresses and alterations, and I promise to keep you posted on my progress. Thanks for all your support, Hive! I'm feeling really, really hopeful that I'll have good news to share with you soon.

I'd love to hear from those of you out there who also second-guessed your dress decision or who ended up being a two (or more) dress bride. How did you live with yourself through this process?! :-)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This Isn't Easy, and That's An Understatement - Pt. 1

This has been a really tough week in the wedding planning department, and I'm not nearly out of the woods yet. All of this emotional turmoil is about one thing - the dress. That singularly important wedding element that I've tried to avoid thinking about for so long now. And since I'm still squarely in the middle of this predicament, I'm still not sure how it's all going to work out.

The short story is this: I bought a dress, and I don't feel good about it.

There is, of course, a longer story. So... The dress journey started innocently enough with me trying on a few dresses at a couple different places, and it was actually going pretty well. In fact, I'd started writing a post about how relatively painless it had been and how I was silly to have avoided it for so long. I'm such a researcher at heart that I was probably never going to be one of those women who goes to one or two stores, tries on a handful of dresses, and falls in love with 'the one.' But I was doing what I assume you're supposed be doing in those appointments, which is finding out what I liked and didn't like. The more dresses I tried on the clearer my sense of what I was looking for. Eventually I had it nailed down to one particular style that I was positive would work for me, and I really loved it. Surprisingly (to me, at least) I was feeling really excited and really close to making a decision. That's the good, hopeful part of the story.

I didn't know this before, but I certainly know it now - the problem with finding a particular style you like and not being a regular sample size is that many places won't have dresses in that specific style that you can actually try on. So even though I'd decided I was looking for a flowy, slim-line, pleated chiffon gown, I'd only been able to actually try on two of them.

both dresses from David's Bridal

And one other dress I'd held in front of me.

dress by Mori Lee

The first dress I really loved was that black-sashed David's Bridal one, and when others saw the pictures of me in it they seemed to love it as well. But the further away I got from having tried it on, the more misgivings I had about the black sash. I was (am) worried it would look too 'matchy-matchy' with the wedding party dresses, and I was beginning to think I wanted something with just a bit more sparkle.

Even writing that out I'm still surprised I'm thinking that. I'm not a 'sparkly' person in my every day life (unless we're talking about my personality, of course!), and I had a very negative reaction to all of the poofy-er, blingy-er dresses I tried on. They were lovely, but they just weren't me. Not that I know who the bridal gown 'me' is since I've never dreamed about what I wanted this dress to look like. All I know is that the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea of a simple gown with this shape and fabric plus a really sparkly waistline. Looking back over the pictures I'd taken of these dress trips I came to the conclusion that the other David's Bridal gown didn't offer quite enough waist definition for my liking, and the beading on that Mori Lee gown felt a bit too dainty for me.

I put all that info together and then went searching online for a similar dress with some chunkier beading at the waist. For the record, this is most likely where my problems started. I'm fully aware that there are substantial downsides to being an over-researcher, especially when many dresses take at least 4-6 months to be made and I'm less than 5 months out from our wedding. I also know the 'safest' way to make a decision about a dress would've been to just a find a dress I liked, buy it, and stop looking at dresses. But I just couldn't let go of the thought that buying one of these dresses would've been settling. And I wasn't ready to settle, at least not yet.

My online research really only yielded two other viable options. These were similar enough to ones I'd seen in person and/or tried on that I thought they'd probably work.

images of dresses by Maggie Sotero - 1 , 2

After scouring every real bride picture I could find of these two dresses and comparing them to things I had learned about what did and didn't work for me in other dresses, I determined that the waistline of the one on the left would probably be more flattering on me. So began my frantic searching for a store carrying a sample. I was thirteen calls deep before I finally found one, so I made an appointment for last Wednesday and I went in feeling genuinely hopeful that this would be the final shopping trip - the trip where I'd have that elusive 'the one' feeling and I'd know my search was over. Needless to say that's not quite how it went down.

My dress search and all of the situations related to it have been, by far, the most challenging and emotionally exhausting parts of my wedding planning experience thus far. The self-doubt and second-guessing have been draining, and now the time crunch adds an additional level of stress that feels completely unbearable at times. Even though I've already postponed writing this post for a few days now, I'm going to take just a little more time before I tell the rest of the story.

In the meantime, tell me about your experience. When it came to shopping for your wedding day attire, were you an over-researcher like me or did you have more of a "one (store) and done" mentality?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dressing the Party: Round 3

With David's Bridal and a smaller boutique crossed off the list of possibilities, it was back to the drawing board once more. By this point, the infinity dress had been mailed back and forth across the country for everyone to try on, and the consensus was that it needed to be nixed as well. Everyone thought it was a fabulous dress, and several people said they wanted to buy one even if we didn't use it for the wedding. But there were concerns that it would look too casual in gray, even with a fancier fabric, and that it might be more "high maintenance" than people would prefer. So it's a no-go for the wedding, but I'm seriously considering getting one for the honeymoon.

[By the way, if you're thinking about getting an infinity dress for yourself or your wedding party, I would highly recommend Etsy seller katesy. She was wonderfully communicative, was flexible and patient in getting me a loaner dress to send around to everyone, she will customize the dresses both to your wedding color(s) and the specific measurements of your wedding party members (including plus sizes), and she offers matching tube tops for additional coverage. And fyi: this is not a paid endorsement of any kind, trust me! I was just really impressed when I was in contact with her.]

Now, back to the story - because this is the really good part, I promise. :-) It's the part where Party Person N and I trekked up to the Sacramento area to go to this mysterious Alfred Angelo signature store. For those of you who haven't been before, it's pretty much like going to a David's Bridal - it's fairly big and busy, they assign you a consultant, and they have lots of styles and sizes to choose from. Because I still didn't have a clear sense of what I wanted these dresses to look like, we just grabbed every cocktail-length dress they had that came in the charcoal color.

We were quickly able to rule out the satin dresses, which still left us with a bunch of chiffon options.

The initial verdict - charcoal was absolutely the perfect color (third dress in the bottom row), and I could be blissfully happy if our wedding party members chose any of those styles. Finally, finally! Oh, blessed color and fabric choice of the Ferris Wheel wedding, you had appeared to me!

As I sat basking in my relief, this next little realization felt like it came out of nowhere yet made so much sense: Party Person N and I both both adored the black trim on that charcoal dress. In fact, that's totally what made the dress for me. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a dash of black on a gray dress was just the little bit of edge and sass that I was looking for, and I was pretty sure it would work beautifully with the overall aesthetic of our wedding.

We asked the consultant about dresses with contrast trim, and she told us that there were only a few that could be ordered that way. But looking more closely at all of the dress options, I was certain we could find a way to replace sashes, belts, straps, or flowers with black ones in order to create a cohesive look. As best I can imagine (and hastily throw together in Publisher), here's a very rough idea of what we're aiming for.

{flower boy, junior Party Person, 3 Party People, 3 Team Mr. FW people, and a flower girl}
gray dress images from Alfred Angelo (some edited by me), source for vest images and flower girl dress image lost forever in my inspiration folders - sorry!

We're not quite there yet, but it's definitely starting to come together. Now... what is it that's left? There's something... I just know it. Something that we need... in addition to those outfits... Something like... Oh yeah, a wedding dress for the bride and a suit for the groom. That's right. Alas, something for another day. (I swear I'm working on it. I actually have an appointment tonight - wish me luck!)

Random question: where do you fall in the satin vs. chiffon debate? (Yes, I realize there are other fabric options out there, but it seems to me that those two categories encompass at least 75% of bridesmaid dresses available, yeah?)