“The nervous bride’s guide to the nightmare of wedding dress shopping”

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Amy Swales
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Contributing editor Amy Swales has some entirely serious and not-at-all-biased advice for any brides-to-be searching for their perfect wedding dress.

Hello there, I’d like to come and spend a lot of money in your wedding dress shop. Could you possibly ensure that I have to book several weeks in advance? Thanks. And maybe even pay for an appointment? Splendid. Could you chuck in a quick b*llocking for being five minutes late and for trying to take pictures to help me make a decision on something I’m dropping three months’ rent on? And if you could lie outrageously about the sample size and avoid giving me the price until I’ve fallen in love with something way out of my budget, that would be great. Cheery bye!

Welcome, all brides-to-be, bridesmaids-in-waiting and weary already-weds looking for confirmation that your harrowing experiences were not a fiction of your wedding-addled imagination (though your bloodied, bitten-to-the-quick nails should serve as physical evidence, really) – here we play Bridal Boutique Bingo. How many of these organza-clad nightmares do you recognise?

The subject under discussion is shopping for wedding dresses and your time starts now. Consider this your due warning: entering a designer boutique in search of The Dress is a combination of handing over the most money you’ve ever given up without an armed robbery being involved, and being treated like dirt for your trouble*. How unique and awful.

Don’t worry – many a bride before you has trodden this confetti-strewn path and lived to tell the tale, so we can let you know exactly what to expect. Let’s dive in!

* scroll to the end

So, you walk in to the wedding dress boutique…

Walk in? Are you joking?
Oh no no no, dear innocent and trusting bride. This is not how this goes. Walk back out again please, then call up a shop you have heard of – most likely having no clue whether they actually stock anything you like – and make an appointment in advance.

Hmm, not ideal, granted, but at this stage they’re being lovely on the phone, right? Chirpily chatting about how excited you must be and who you’ll be bringing with you and is this your first time? Don’t worry, we’ll look after you. It’s weeks away, but hey, weekends are busy and you’ll probably be sipping champagne, laughing at nothing and sobbing happy tears over a beautiful design in some kind of romcom cliché quicker than you can say “Please take all my money!” You can cope with that.

Oh, just before you go, how will you be paying for that?
Eh, for what? I haven’t bought anything yet. Oh it’s completely standard (you’re assured) as appointments are so sought after but often cancelled (no IDEA why, nothing to do with that ratty wild-eyed bride who sits outside yelling, “Nononononoononononono pictures, ahhhaahahahahahaa veils”) they have to take a small payment. Think of it as a deposit, as you’ll definitely find your Dream Dress (forever capped up now, by the way). Um, OK, if it’s normal…? You suppose you are getting half the shop shut down with staff dedicated to helping you and you alone, it’ll be so lovely and they’ve got to make a living, haven’t they? OK, let’s do this!


They literally don’t give a s**t once you’re there
The shop is busy, the staff are rushed and you feel like an afterthought taking up vital space with your indecision. Don’t you have a shortlist of designers already? What do you mean you had never considered a fishtail gown? That’s a whole different rack, it really would have been useful if you’d mentioned this before. Er, you don’t know the difference between a mantilla and a Juliet cap? Bugger, they’re doing you such a favour, you better buy something from here in gratitude, hadn’t you?

So let’s try on some dresses.

No. I told you already. They. Don’t. Care.
One bridesmaid confides to me in hushed tones that her bride-to-be friend – that’s the lady waving the much-worn credit card over there – was forced to change into her dress behind a slightly bigger dress because someone else was in the changing room and that was that. You know, the changing room she’d been forced into booking ahead of time? Yeah, some other chump got in there first so here, crouch down behind this meringue and take your clothes off. Ooh how to feel special. Except you’re not even asking to feel special tbh, just to be treated like a normal person.

You’ll be lucky to even choose the ones you try on at all
One bride tells me the shop she was in didn’t let her select any of the designs she tried on; they preferred to reverently parade the dresses they personally thought she’d suit one by one. Each new knock on the changing room door was an unwelcome and strange surprise.

We need to lighten the mood.

I wouldn’t.
Sorry about that. I tried to joke about the tonne of money people drop on one party dress. The glares nearly killed me. Other, more elegant brides don’t call it a party dress apparently, because you don’t kid around when it comes to weddings. It’s not like they’re a celebration of love and joy or anything.

Further evidence? “I got told by a friend I was never to come wedding dress shopping with her again. Why? I walked into the bridal department at John Lewis and said, really loudly, ‘F**K ME, IT’S LIKE HAVING SNOW BLINDNESS.’”

Which reminds us…

Only one way is the right way and that’s BIG AND WHITE
You don’t want a white dress? You don’t want a white dress? You don’t…? Sorry, had to take a break there to clear up the mess of sparking robotics where the assistant’s head used to be. LISTEN, you ‘alternative’ hippy excuse for a bride – it doesn’t matter what you say, you’ll REGRET IT BECAUSE IT’S THE ONE DAY YOU CAN WEAR A BIG WHITE DRESS.

Christ, they are persistent. You’ll be offered off-white, ivory and cream by one bemused, blank-eyed assistant after another, and experiment with the daring addition of a coloured ribbon somewhere in the waist area before eventually ending your day being run out of town by boutique owners pelting you with Dylon machine pods in pillar-box red, screaming, “How’s that for colour, you crazy mare?! TAKE IT!”

Don’t even think about mentioning a jumpsuit. Jumpsuits are dead to you.

Onto the size-shaming
You’re in the door, you’re in the market for a white dress, next comes the tape measure. RED FLAG. This is thankfully fairly rare, but given the same body-diversity issues plague the wedding industry as any other part of fashion, it’s unsurprising that stories of fat-shaming are not unknown – from the horrified “Darling, no! You’re an apple!” to discovering there are no samples in your size, to being told in a conspiratorial aside, “We only go up to size 14 – wedding dresses just don’t look good on fat people, do they?” They look crapper on mean girls. Mean girls staring out over the wasteland of their friend-less ceremonies.

Flipside: size-lying
This sample dress – only available if I take it right now – is a size 0 you say? And I fit into it? OMG I must have it! Yeah, no. Nothing about that works for me.

Let’s move on and assume you’ve found, against all the odds, more than one you like. You do what anyone about to drop the bottom out of their bank account would do and take a picture of yourself in each dress so you can decide at leisure.


No. No pictures allowed.
That’s right! You may want to mull over such a decision – after all, they keep banging that BEST-DAY-OF-YOUR-LIFE drum, strewn with rose petals – but you are strictly not allowed any visual aids to help you do so. Yep, despite you probably spending the most amount of money you’ll ever spend on ONE dress for ONE day, this is Not. Allowed.

Presumably, banning the taking of pictures is to stop people eyeing their overinflated prices and going “F**k this, I can find this online for cheaps,” but even if that was the case, you could find a picture of the design online anyway. What you’re interested in is how it looks on you. And what they want is for you to rely solely on their opinion, which is inevitably, “You look incredible, you must buy this now whatever the cost.”

When all that’s brought you to your knees, it’s time for…

The Hard Sell
Oh, the pressure. They’ve only got one left in your size. It’s end of season. Another bride was in here literally a second ago and she’s just gone to get her credit card.

Witness this tale of woe: “They brought me a dress and made me try it on before telling me how much it was. I loved it. They knew damn well it was WAY over my spend limit – but what’s this? They’ll sell me the sample display dress for exactly the top end of my budget? Amazing, how thoughtful.

“But there’s a two-hour deadline and if I didn’t buy it there and then, the price would go up. They stopped smiling. I was scared to even leave the shop and look at other dresses – it turns out with good reason. They called me every half hour to remind me of the deadline, then (increasingly frantic) to extend the deadline by 10 minutes at a time. I burst into tears in the second dress shop. They offered me tea, biscuits and hugs and I ended up buying a beautiful gown from them. I think the first shop is still leaving messages.”

And one more for good measure
“My sister took her dress to a boutique who said they were happy to alter dresses not purchased with them. After an hour of being told how she was a fool for buying it, how cheap the material was, how badly stitched the seams, she was reduced to tears.”

Ah go on then, another: “I returned to the shop to find my alterations hadn’t been done. Instead of admitting it, they castigated me for losing too much weight (I had not lost any, trust me) and eventually begrudgingly undertook ‘additional’ alterations, despite a needle and thread having not touched it in the two weeks since I’d left it there.”


* Before you write angry letters to us scented with your bespoke big day fragrance, we know not all wedding boutiques are like this – hell, if they were then surely they’d go out of business? Wouldn’t they? Tell me they would. Anyway, if this really does put you off, click here for words of wisdom from 15 brides who’ve lived all your wedding nightmares and more – it’ll turn out OK, we promise. Also: Yes, I hated wedding dress shopping and bought my non-white, non-wedding dress online. So shoot me with a confetti gun.

Images: HBO / iStock / NBC / Rex Features / Universal


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.