Friday, 30 September 2011

How to find the 'One' after the 'One'

Monique LHuillier's Poppy
Nothing quite prepares you for the hunt for the 'One'. Not the heartache, cunning and good fortune needed to find the man who becomes your fiance, but the heat rashes, tears of mothers shed and taxi habit you are likely to establish.


This is the other search for the 'One'. It is strangely relegated to a fond vagueness for many brides once they have stepped over the lintel into becoming a bride, recalled with a soft smile - which I now understand as a one of a blend of relief and knowing. But when you are knee-deep in mousseline, lace and corseted to the nines with a shop assistant cooing over your reflection, it certainly does not seem the most pleasant or fun way to while away a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it can descend into a dull agony, especially if, like me, you are trying to straddle the fine line between a high-fashion number and more romantic wedding sensibilities.


I also developed what became referred to as 'The Wedding Dress Shop Fear', defined as a nervous tremor, prickly flush across my decolletage and an existential sense of not really being there - and I am usually quite a collected sort, able to laugh off or man-up enough to realise when I am being daft.


But, on the 17th September 2011, I found my dress. It wasn't the dress I thought it was going to be, it wasn't the one that made mum cry and look very sweetly sheepish, but we all suddenly, just like that, I knew. Thunderstruck. As I tried to walk towards the window to mimic the walk down the aisle, its ivory duchesse silk train undulating behind me before catching the front skirt on the Manolo Blahniks the shop owned for precisely this sort of moment, making me stumble a little in way that reminded me I was still very much me, I realised I was a bride. Because that's the thing about a wedding dress, it is not just a dress, but a transformation, a realisation of yourself as a woman, as a bride. It should make you feel as good as your fiance does, but equally make you feel like the bride you want to be.


Elie Saab for Pronovias Laertes
So, dear readers, in the light of this, here is my Wedding Dress Hunt survival guide. And a small selection of the ones that got away.


Go forth, and hunt that dress out!


  • Create a dream wedding dress moodboard of images of elements you like from not only bridal magazines, but high fashion publications, portraits of your silverscreen icons, details from postcards and anything else that inspires you.
  • Research designers to establish who creates dresses that fit what you think of as 'your' style, but be prepared for the one you choose possibly being a wild card.
  • Begin looking at dresses at about a year - ten months before your wedding, and allow at least six months for gowns that take longer to craft or are imported.
  • A big warning - being new to all this I had no idea that the better bridal shops in London and other destination bridal shops across the country are usually fully booked at weekends for anything up to three months in advance. A Saturday appointment is like gold-dust. If you do the maths, this means that if you cannot get an appointment to even see a dress for three months, and it will then take six months to make the dress from this date, you are realistically looking at nine months, and risking not giving yourself enough time to compare dresses to do a full shop.

  • Rivini Claudia
  • Take your mother and a best friend who truly knows your style as touchstones - whilst your mum would probably revel in the experience of just you two searching for your gown, it helps to have a second opinion from a peer who can help encourage you to show your personality and temper any more traditional, staid ideas of how you should look that your mum may harbour.
  • It sounds simple, but ensure you have clean hair and wear it down if it's long. This gives more opportunity to play around with how a dress can be styled, scooping your hair up on your head with your hands or allowing it to soften a more polished dress with a little bit of undone beauty.
  • Allow yourself ample time to get around your appointments. As a rule of thumb, three appointments in a day is plenty. Even the hardiest of brides will struggle to cope with stretching arms above their head, wobbling into piles of silk and being hoicked, pinned and pulled for up to four hours.
  • Build in a coffee and lunch break - preferably with that essential cocktail or glass of wine to loosen you up.
  • Think carefully about your ceremony venue and the season you are getting married in (goosebumps never look good), and if you are marrying in a church or synagogue, any guidelines your denomination may have around bare shoulders, for example. 
  • Whilst there are no rules, look for a dress that 'matches' up to the size, mood and character of the place in which you'll get married. An airy meringue with lots of bosom that takes out half the guests as you sweep up the aisle of a tiny church might be perfect for your reception party, but it will be hard, hot work come the later hours of the evening, too.
  • Are you a dancer? If you want to prance around all evening in the arms of your new husband, you need a dress you can move in: fishtails gowns that hug the knees, narrow sheath dresses and voluminous dresses can all prove tricky. Larger dresses that have a crinoline or hoop that makes the skirt stand away from your legs are perfect for dancing, and trains can usually be bustled up with a discreet ribbon tie on the inside of the skirt to reduce the trip-hazard.
  • Alternatively, have a silver or ivory sparkling, feather trimmed mini-dress ready for the evening's party
  • Sometimes the thunderbolt does not strike, but try walking as if making your way up the aisle and the way the dress makes you feel, hugging or floating about you will suddenly make something click.
  • Don't judge a dress or a designer by the over-posed posturings of the models wearing them in the campaign shots - and do try a dress if a shop assistant has a hunch it might work - be as open-minded as possible as sometimes it helps to firm up what you are envisaging.
  • Vera Wang Gemma
  • If you are worried by falling in love with a simpler, more demure dress that seems to lack wow-factor, look to putting punch and personality in with a statement accessory or detail, such as crimson shoes, a glittering handbeaded embellishment or piles of exquisite vintage paste necklaces that glint around your neck. Some designers (Ian Stuart, Johanna Hehir, Phillpa Lepley) will happily look to tweak and add details to suit your wishes.
  • Textured skirts and a diaphanous, soft aesthetic  as well as muted pale pastel colours such as mint, duck egg, fawn and blush pink that are so hot right now bridge the gap between fashion and wedding romance - don't be afraid to try new fabrics and shapes.


 
I had firmly believed I was a full skirt, ballgown bride, but had my breath taken away by both a lace fishtail that hugged curves I didn't know I had, and the eventual winner: a spirited ivory duchesse silk number halfway between the original dress I had imagined (a Vivienne Westwood number later re-named 'Carrie' after it's starring appearance) and a finer, tighter, womanly and possibly seductive dress. I'm afraid I won't show you it here, but here is the original one that got away...
Vivienne Westwood Carrie

Lovely designers to try:

And the loveliest shops:
Browns Brides (London) for wonderfully kind, enthused service, beautiful gowns, and a chic boutique.
Clifton Brides (Bristol) for dreamy dresses, and delightfully caring assistants.
The White Closet (Manchester) for ethereal, vintage-inspired gowns and a sweet, quirky team.
Pronovias (London and concessions nationwide) for spectacular gowns at surprising price points and confident, kind service.
Blackburn Couture (London) for a blend of modern glamour and graceful gowns from a good range of distinctive designers - plus, the team are inspiring yet gentle.
Johanna Hehir (London) This was the place I felt most at home - beautiful gowns, beautiful service especially from Caroline who I felt understood me as a bride and my style instantaneously.
Luella's Boudoir (London) With a strong reputation and as the only stockist of Johanna Johnson dresses in the UK, this boutique is a go-to for bohemian and vintage referencing brides.

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