Wedding Dress Search & The Dress

The search for the perfect wedding dress is tough – mine sure was. I have learned a few things along that way that no amount of reading on The Knot prepared me for. Hopefully I can help you avoid a few pitfalls. And, because I am not a superstitious bride, I have pictures too.

The dress the got away

A full 9 months before my wedding, I had my dress bought. I’m a pretty on-top-of-it bride, right? Perhaps not. Let me tell you all about it.

1 ) Lorna Fairy Princess Dress

When Papa Bear and I began planning our wedding, it was to be Pagan full moon outdoor handfasting affair, Rivendell meets gypsies in the woods. When I came across this dress, my jaw hit the floor. It was everything I wanted.

The Lorna - a dream of a dress

But at $2,600, there was no way. My dress budget was right about there, if you move the decimal point one to the right. I will always dream of this dress, but that is all it can ever be.

2 ) Nataya Stolen Kisses Simple Romantic Casual Dress

I had to find something cheaper, so I started looking at handfasting dresses online. Something in the same vein as the Lorna, floaty and ethereal but more casual, as at the time we were planning the wedding in my parents’ backyard.

As you might imagine, I found lots of velvet weirdness and Renaissance Faire-type costumes, but amongst the gaudy clutter, I discovered a  designer named Nataya. She makes these beautiful, simple, affordable romantic dresses.

This is all the same dress. It comes in ivory, sage and beige. Beautiful for a wedding, and with a little restyling, Steampunk. Neato. 

Two hundred bucks? Boo-yah! But wait. Ordering a wedding dress online is scary, especially if you are not one of those people that wears clothes easily. Besides, I wanted to try some stuff on, this would still be there if I needed it.

3 ) Love by Enzoani C1 and C1a Modern Romantic Dress

Next, seester and I head to an actual dress shop to try some stuff on. Dresses 3, 4 and 5 are from that day, and mostly from shopping in the bridesmaid section. I had been keen on a green dress, or maybe white, both of which you can find in spades, and at lower prices, in the bridesmaids section as opposed to bridal.

Comes in blush, black, ivory, silver, chiffon and mesh chiffon. This one made me feel like a lady. T'was nice.

This dress from the Love collection from Enzoani feels heavenly, floaty and gorgeous. I liked it quite a bit, but not enough to more than double my budget at over $500 (I don’t remember all these prices exactly, but these figures are as close as I know).

4 ) Love by Enzoani C20 Modern Grecian Goddess Dress

Comes in midnight blue, melon, silver, cashmere, lavender, blush, apple, black, ivory, light yellow. Made me feel like a goddess.

I remember this one was $675 specifically, because it was the exact price of my first wedding dress. And I was about willing to pay it. I tried this one on in midnight blue, and even though it was nothing like what I was looking for, it may have been the most elegant, perfectly fitting, perfect colored thing I have ever worn.

I took my own breath away, it was that good.

5 ) Justin Alexander 8465 Modern Vintage Ballerina Dress

And now, the one that got away. From the beginning of my wedding dress search, this one was following me. I saw it everywhere I looked. I was obsessed.

Comes in natural/coffee and natural/ivory. I wanted the coffee one, but the sample was in ivory, and in an 8, about 6 bridal sizes too big for me.

Can we talk about dress regret for a moment? Now I’m not saying I have it, but yes, maybe a little. The dress I purchased, while absolutely beautiful, I know isn’t the dress (we’ll get to that one in a minute). It is the dress within my price range, however, and as this is my second wedding, I am okay with it. But this Justin Alexander? This was the one.

I ran across a wedding with the bride in this dress yesterday, and it literally hurt to look at the pictures. Actual pain. But alas, I seem to remember this one being about $1000, so there was just no way. Le sigh.

6 & 7 ) Vera Wang White Classic Fern Embroidered Dress and Short Modern Edgy Dress

A few weeks later, seester (and later Papa Bear) and I tried David’s Bridal, because how many times in your life do you get to go legitimately try on some Vera Wang that is conceivably within your price range?

Were we still having our original wedding, the long dress here with the fern embroidery might have been it. There are 120 buttons all down the back, the detail is stunning but understated. At $1200, it’s sort of a steal if you want some Wang, but for our new micro wedding, a dress that substantial would have been way too much.

Vera Vera Vera. Wang. Yes.

I thought our current micro modern wedding called for a short showstopper, so I tried the super modern route with this classy but hot short bridesmaid’s number, also from Vera. $200, I seriously almost bought this.

I have no picture of this part of it, but my big problem with the short dress was that it cut the tattoo on my back (between my shoulder blades) in half. I wanted to either show it or not. I did not want to look like I just forgot it was there in the first place.

The nail in the coffin for the short dress was my psoriasis. I cannot predict how those couple of problem areas on my lower leg will be on the wedding date, and I am not willing to take the chance of looking like I have leprosy in my pictures.

8 ) Galina Unique, Modern, Ethereal Dress

And now, the dress I have sitting in my closet. I would like to give some official props to the bridal consultants who helped me at the various dress shops, because as you can see from all of the dresses featured in this post (there were piles more that I tried on as well), I had no idea what the hell I wanted.

My only real criteria was that my dress be different.

This is what I will wear on my wedding day.

This one is. Although it did not stun me as much as the others, something about it still felt  comfortable. Not for real comfortable, there is some boning in the top of the dress, but it did feel right for me, and my tattoo is highlighted nicely by the triple spaghetti strap cross in the back.

Obviously I need to get this thing hemmed and altered a little bit, but something about it just seemed right for our new wedding too. The ceremony will be held at the Caldwell Lily Pool inside Lincoln Park Zoo followed by an elegant dinner for 11 at Tru in downtown Chicago.

This dress is simple, chic, sophisticated, but with just enough floatiness to befit a pagan full moon wedding.

So what did I learn?

  1. If the price is outside your budget by more than you could see yourself dropping on an impulse or emergency purchase (maybe a couple hundred dollars?), DO NOT EVEN LOOK AT THAT DRESS. I know you tell yourself that you are just looking for inspiration, but stop it you filthy liar, you are just torturing yourself. I did not do this and it keeps making me sad.
  2. If you find a dress online that is a really good possibility, within your price range, and they have an ironclad return policy, buy it, try it on, and if it isn’t perfect, return it! Yes, I totally should have done that.
  3. If, when you see a certain dress on you, you take your own breath away, consider bending, but not breaking, rules #1 and #5. Perhaps I should have done that.
  4. If you are having a non-traditional wedding, consider chucking the white dress. Find a fabulous gown you could wear to the Oscars in a color that looks amazing on you. If you ever find yourself invited to an event with James Bond, you will have something to wear. I regret not doing that.
  5. Even if you feel like a dress is stalking you, even if you can’t stop looking at it (#1) if it is legitimately out of your price range, DO NOT TRY IT ON. That is rubbing salt and lemon juice in the wound and you will hate yourself for it.
  6. Vera is the MAN. No further comments.
  7. Give your bridal consultant your must haves and absolutely nots, then forget all about them, and tell them to as well. Had I stuck with my original wishlist, I wouldn’t have found any of these dresses.
  8. Don’t limit yourself to wedding dresses, or even bridal salons. Bridesmaid’s dresses, vintage boutiques, online dress sellers, custom – there are so many options, many of them far less expensive than  a traditional bridal salon.
  9. Be open to anything.
  10. Know that even if you don’t have your dream dress, you’re still going to rock it on your wedding day.

That look on my face is me saying goodbye to my dream dress before I take it off and put it back on the hanger. So sad.

Tell me, did you end up with your dream dress, or did you too feel like you had to settle a little?

How does that make you feel? I am still conflicted.

What are your tips for navigating the constant heartbreak and frustration of wedding dress shopping?

Further Reading


  1. As you said the search for the perfect wedding dress is really tough. I enjoyed very much reading this blog. It gave me a lot of ideas to plan my wedding costume. Thanks a lot for sharing.