How I Chose My Wedding Dress

Claire on Williamsburg Inn staircase

I have to start by admitting that I started shopping for my wedding dress before we started looking at wedding venues, which is evidently a cardinal sin in wedding planning. In my defense, I KNEW that I would want a huge ballgown no matter what venue we chose. There was just no scenario where I would wear anything less formal.

Also, I’m glad that I started looking for a wedding dress first, in January, since H and I decided a few weeks later that we wanted to get married that June, which is an extremely short timeline for a wedding gown—most gowns take six to nine months to arrive after you order them, plus more time for alterations! Since I started early, I fit in three boutique visits and ordered my gown before everything closed down in mid-March. I feel lucky that I got to have the wedding dress shopping experience I wanted, even though 1) the pandemic derailed every other aspect of wedding planning and 2) describing anything related to COVID wedding planning as lucky is maybe a bit inaccurate. 

What shocked me when I started looking for my gown was how LONG it took to get an appointment at bridal boutiques. I was bowled over when I called BHLDN and they didn’t have an appointment available for weeks. So, if you are planning your wedding, keep in mind that you might not be able to just walk in somewhere and start trying on wedding dresses.

I made my first appointment at Ashley Grace Bridal in Lynchburg in late January, before H and I had really started planning or decided if we would have the wedding in 2020 or 2021. My mom and sister-in-law came with me, and we had such a fun time looking at dresses. There was a classic strapless ballgown that I loved, but I hadn’t decided at that point if I wanted to get a new dress or if I wanted to wear my mom’s dress, so I decided not to “say yes to the dress” that day.

The gown I loved at Ashley Grace

Earlier that day, I had tried on the dress that my mom and grandmother wore for their weddings. It was absolutely gorgeous, with all-over lace, an A-line silhouette, and tiny buttons down the back, but it didn’t fit me at all (I didn’t know how tiny my mom and grandma were, but I know now!) and the fabric had yellowed with age. We checked with a few seamstresses and decided that it probably couldn’t be restored, and I knew I didn’t want to take apart the dress and use pieces of it. The trip to Ashley Grace Bridal helped me realize that I felt so much more bridal in a new gown than I did wearing my mom’s dress, which made me feel special, but a little bit like I was playing dress-up.

Trying on my mom’s dress

Once I knew that I wanted to get a new dress, I made an appointment at BHLDN in Georgetown. They asked me to note if there were any dresses I knew I wanted to try on, so I looked at their collection online. While I was mainly checking out ballgowns (I’m a sucker for a good princess dress), there was another silk dress with an off-the-shoulder neckline and a lovely floaty skirt that caught my eye, so I asked to try that one as well.

For the first BHLDN appointment, H’s mom, his aunt, and my best friend/college roommate, who drove up for the day to be there, came with me. Once I started trying things on, I was surprised that the dresses looked so different than they had online! Some of the gowns I had chosen suited me really well, and some just fell flat. There were two that I loved—first, the non-ballgown I had originally spotted online, which had a swishy skirt, tiny tucks for a starburst effect on the bodice, and perfect off-the-shoulder sleeves. It looked even better in person than it had on the website! The second dress that I liked, a fitted crepe gown with an off-the-shoulder sweetheart neckline and a short train, was totally different but equally gorgeous and dramatic. However, neither dress had the super-full skirt I wanted, so I decided on my stylist’s suggestion to make a follow-up appointment, order a crinoline that would add the fullness I was looking for, and try it on with dress #1.

Two weeks later, I was back with H’s mom, H’s aunt, my mom, who I wanted to be there when I “said yes to the dress,” and a giant bridal petticoat I had ordered online. With the underskirt, dress #1 was perfect—unique but not too trendy, formal but approachable, and very me. I said yes! Even though I knew at that point that dress #2 wasn’t my wedding dress, I decided to try it on again so I could show my mom, and because wearing it made me feel like a Hollywood starlet. Rationalizing that it was much simpler than the first dress, and that this was the one time in my life to wear gorgeous white dresses, I decided to get it as well to wear for the rehearsal dinner.

Both dresses, of course, took way longer to arrive than I had expected because of pandemic-related shipping delays, but I threw myself on the mercy of my amazing tailor and they were both done in time! They were perfect for the rehearsal dinner and wedding. 

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