I Thought I’d Prefer Wedding Dress Shopping Alone. Here’s Why I Was Wrong.

I finally get why people bring their bridesmaids shopping.

Me, judging myself for not planning properly — and also not bringing proper shoes.

Hi guys! Sarah here, editor of Philadelphia Wedding and a Philadelphia bride-to-be myself. I’ll be getting married in Old City in August this year, which means I, too, am caught in the whirlwind that is planning the biggest party I’ve ever planned while simultaneously working a full-time job and trying to have a life. (Anyone else just feel really tired and overwhelmed all the time? Good, glad it’s not just me.) Even though I’ve spent years interviewing wedding experts and writing about the wedding planning process, I still find that parts of the experience come as a total surprise now that I’m doing them myself.

Like today’s topic: wedding dress shopping. As an editor who also covers fashion, I am exceedingly particular and annoyingly painstaking when it comes to picking out clothes. I see nothing wrong with visiting six websites and canvassing an entire mall for something as simple as a pair of black jeans. I like to know all of my options before I commit to purchasing, and if it’s going to take me multiple days to find those options, then so be it. Friends and family decided years ago that it’s a waste of their time to tag along, and, more often than not, I find I prefer browsing on my own. So when the moment came to purchase a wedding dress, I was certain the same would be true — but it wasn’t. Here’s why.

1. Scheduling a group appointment gives you more opportunities to be reminded about the appointment.
When I first decided to go it alone, I was most excited about how flexible I could be when booking my bridal salon appointments. I scheduled my first about five days in advance for a weekday during my lunch break at Lovely Bride. I smugly congratulated myself for not having to send multiple texts coordinating with multiple people multiple weeks in advance, and then promptly forgot about the appointment until iCal sent me a ten-minute warning reminder. Oops. Not only was I late to the appointment, I also wasn’t in the right headspace to be making such a big decision. If I’d been coordinating with even one other person to meet me at the salon, chances are we would have texted about it the night before, and I wouldn’t have dropped the ball.

2. I didn’t prepare for the appointment the way I should have. 
Forgetting about the appointment until ten minutes before meant I also forgot to do two crucial things to prepare for the appointment: 1) Eat a proper meal and 2) Wear the proper undergarments. Wedding dress shopping is definitely not something you want to do while hangry. I was distracted, I wasted time trying on things I didn’t love, and I rushed through a process that actually deserves a considerable amount of patience because I really, really needed a sandwich. At the end, I kind of felt like a college kid who came hungover to a class presentation — I showed up, but I wasn’t fully present for the experience.

Another thing that was embarrassing: my underwear choice for the day. I am a modest person. I haven’t owned a spaghetti strap tank top since the 7th grade. I don’t like to be naked in front of strangers, but that’s pretty much unavoidable while wedding dress shopping. Gowns are complicated to put on and take off, and your sales consultant is there to help — which means the chances are high she will see about as much skin as your fiancé(e) does. If I had properly prioritized the appointment, I would have worn something opaque and full-coverage on bottom, and maybe even pasties on top. Both would have made me much more comfortable with the process.

3. I didn’t have reinforcements. 
The sales consultant I worked with at Lovely was lovely. She was friendly, listened attentively to my style preferences, and pulled multiple rounds of dresses for me based on those style preferences. But we were both in unchartered waters — I didn’t really know what I wanted to look like in a wedding dress, and she didn’t really know my personality. She couldn’t pick up on non-verbal cues regarding my comfort level in each gown, and she also couldn’t know how I’d want to move and feel throughout the Big Day. We were both just guessing, and, when it came to gowns I could have gone either way on, it would have been helpful for a friend to point out that I was likely hunching my shoulders because I felt self-conscious about showing too much cleavage, or that, no matter how great a tight skirt looked across my hips, I wouldn’t want to wear something that would interfere with boogying down on the dance floor.

4. And I didn’t have help. 
From a purely practical standpoint, one of the best reasons to bring a companion along for wedding dress shopping is the pictures. You’re going to try on a lot of gowns, and you’re not going to remember what you look like in all of them. Having a dedicated member of the group snap photos from the front and back each time you step out of the dressing room is crucial. Because I didn’t have anyone with me, I asked my sales consultant to take on this duty. She happily obliged, but I felt awkward and demanding asking her to do it each time, so I didn’t end up with pictures of all the gowns. Having video of how you move in a dress can also be helpful, but I felt way too awkward asking her record me, so I left without video as well. When I scrolled through my camera roll later that night, I was too focused on the spacey, slightly-uncomfortable look that comes from asking a stranger to repeatedly take your photo on my face to properly focus on the dresses. Bummer.

5. I missed out on what could have been a really fun experience. 
My second wedding dress shopping experience included my mother, two friends, breakfast before the first appointment, and a lunch reservation between the second and third. The already married member of the group regaled us with memories from her wedding, and my mom shared stories of how she found her dress (in an antique furniture store — not what I was expecting). We weren’t late to anything, I wore the proper underwear, and everyone had a delightful time. I wound up purchasing a dress the group unanimously decided looked the most like “me” considering styles of formal dresses I’d gravitated towards in the past. Lesson learned.

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