What I Learned about Myself While Dress Shopping

If there’s any one wedding planning moment made iconic by pop culture, it’s saying yes to your wedding dress. And whether you have been dreaming about your perfect bridal gown since the good ol’ days of middle school, or are diving into the bridal boutique deep end totally blind, shopping for the dress you’ll wear on what’s arguably the most photographed day of your life comes with a fair amount of pressure and vulnerability. Especially if you’re not used to seamstresses seeing you in your underwear.

As it turns out, I learned a lot about myself while shopping for my wedding dress. Or, at the very least, I had some long-held suspicions about myself confirmed, once and for all. And if you can learn anything from my mistakes, successes, and general confusion, then it’s definitely worth sharing every moment of my self-revelation. Here are five things I learned about myself while shopping for my wedding dress.

I Had No Idea What Dress Shopping Actually Was.

In the year leading up to getting engaged and shopping for my wedding dress, I was living in a 600-square foot studio off Chicago’s Belmont Red Line stop, with a television only slightly bigger than the iPhone X and no cable. Reality television shows dedicated to bridal fashion were not a part of my regularly scheduled programming. I am also the kind of gal who tends to know my exact size in everything, in the approximately three clothing stores that supply my entire wardrobe, and therefore almost never try anything on before buying it. As such, prior to wedding dress shopping, it was entirely lost on me that I would be expected to take off the clothing I had arrived in and adorn myself in massive amounts of white lace, satin, and organza. I expected to sit, maybe sip champagne, and point at things while some fairy god-seamstress magically estimated my exact dimensions by glancing at me out of the corner of her eye. Then, in 6 to 12 weeks, I’d return and pick up my perfectly-tailored dress, which I would slip into for the first time on the morning of my wedding. For anyone with similarly misguided expectations, this is precisely not how it works.

I Care About Comfort More Than I Thought.

If there were ever a day to sacrifice comfort for fashion, I imagined my wedding day would be it. Then I discovered: not so much. With minimal exception, the wedding dresses I tried on could have taken me down the aisle and then right back home to bed. As it turns out, I gravitated towards wedding dresses that shared a surprising number of qualities with my favorite comforter. Don’t underestimate the power of a super comfortable wedding dress — and, believe it or not, you do not have to sacrifice style for comfort. Seriously, I promise! Don’t forget that you’re going to be spending a really long time (think: sun up to sun down) in your dress. Dancing, eating, hugging endless numbers of people, taking hundreds of beautiful photographs. You will want to be comfortable.

I Am Not A Cryer – At Least, Not A Fashion-Inspired Cryer.

As oblivious as I was to the actual logistics of wedding dress shopping, there was one cliché that was well ingrained in my mind and, I’m sure, is equally-ingrained in the mind of every wedding-planning bride. When you find THE ONE (the one dress, that is) you will cry. Whether that crying looks like some tastefully tear-filled eye ducts or full-on sobbing into your tulle, crying is to be expected. If you do not cry, you must not have found THE ONE. That was simply not true for me. This narrative lasted for the exact amount of time it took to try on a single dress. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, I thought: “Hey, I actually look good! Let’s do this again!” I scampered back to my dressing room to try on a second dress. Upon returning to the full-length mirror, I found myself thinking: “Hey, that’s kind of flattering! Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.” Upon evaluating the third dress: “Huh. I look pretty good. Again, so, fourth dress, then?” while beginning to wonder how long this was all going to go on. Without a tear in sight, I settled on the fifth dress, because that was not only the exact number of dresses I had the patience to try on, but also because five had been my grandfather’s lucky number and I liked him. The moral of this story is, whether you try on two dresses or two hundred, love them all or struggle to find one that speaks directly to your bridal spirit, if you do not cry, do not despair. Knowing you have found the dress for you is not determined by how many tears you cry, but by how rockin’ you look in it. And believe me: you’re rockin’.

I Get Confused When Other People Cry Over Fashion.

Unlike my own tear-free eyeballs, the three people I invited to watch me parade around in white organza all afternoon were beside themselves. From subtle sniffles to mascara rivers, each of the dresses I tried on was met with the same level of awe, enthusiasm, and tears. Now, don’t get me wrong, having people stare at you and tell you you’re so beautiful they are inspired to cry is enormously flattering. It should probably happen more often than it does in a woman’s lifetime. But it in no way gave me any indication whether one perfectly great-looking dress was any better than the next perfectly great looking dress. If you anticipate you’ll be an indecisive bride, make sure you bring at least one level-headed gal pal along for concrete feedback.

I Should Have Substituted All That Pre-Wedding Pilates for Pre-Wedding Weight Lifting.

Anyone who has never spent much time around wedding dresses before might be shocked to know how much a little lace, tulle, and bedazzlement can actually weigh. The answer is somewhere between the weight of a small dog and that of the first car you bought after getting your driver’s license. If you’ve been living off kale and lemon water for the last six months, under the mistaken assumption that there’s one perfect dress size all brides must meet before walking down the aisle, you might find yourself weakened and staggering under the weight of your dream dress instead. While we’re surrounded by all kinds of stories about wedding day dieting, my number one piece of advice to every dress seeking bride is to throw out those diet books and do whatever makes you feel your strongest, your happiest, your healthiest, and your most beautiful – inside and out. But honestly, adding a little pre-wedding strength training never hurt anyone.

Written by E. Ce Miller