The quest (for the dress) begins

Standing in front of the mirror this morning I inspected my lacklustre hair. I tried tying it up. I tried pinning it. I even tried one of Mr CB’s headbands (not as weird as it sounds – he has longish hair, and favours a slightly hippie-ish look when away from the corporate environment of The City). But, damn it, nothing would work.

And it was then, as I brushed my hair into a slightly different side-parting, that I spied a few gatecrashers between my black locks. No, not a pair of nits, but worse – some grey hair. There they were, as apparent as dandruff on the shoulders of a black suit, like deodorant marks on your new black top, like… well, you get the drift.

Why am I telling you this, my patient Clueless readers? No good reason, I’m just hoping someone out there understands. And now onto more interesting news about wedding dresses, bridal stores and other lovely things that brides-to-be like to read about.

Two weeks ago I had a bit of a dress-filled weekend. I really wanted to get started on searching for my bridal gown but didn’t know where to start. Looking at the magazines wasn’t any good for me. As a dress fanatic, I loved the look of everything, and knew that I just needed to start trying things on.

I made an appointment at Young Bride & Groom in Watford, which I found from a quick Google search. My sister (and head bridesmaid) came with me, along with my mum and dad (poor dad, who somehow ended up tagging along). We had some time to kill before my allotted time, so we settled dad down in a cafe and popped into Browns & Co in the Harlequin Shopping Centre to have a quick browse. The store is a bit of an assault on the senses, with racks of (mainly) evening and bridesmaids dresses in plastic coverings everywhere. Weaving through the fabric and plastic – and trying to avoid static shocks – I located a sales assistant. She quickly showed us to wedding dresses and helped me to choose six dresses to try on, although as the shop does not stock size 6, we had to go for size 8 and 10.

I went into the tiny fitting room, where the assistant gave me a hand trying the items on. She couldn’t pin them for me, in case it ruined the fabric, but held the dresses in when I went out to show my advisers. Although I didn’t try any dresses that were right for me (and sadly they didn’t allow us to take pictures, so I wouldn’t have been able to go away and think about it properly even if I had), they had a lovely collection from large, beaded ballgown styles to simple column dresses. And the best bit was that the dresses were REALLY well-priced – the ones I tried on ranged from £195-£300. While this isn’t the kind of shop where you will get a glass of champagne and a chaise lounge to recline on, you will pick up an absolute bargain wedding dress if you are on a budget.

Onto Youngs. Well there is no other way to start, other than to say that it was a real pleasure going to this shop. As soon as we went in we were pleasantly greeted by one of the sales consultants called Sandra, who asked me some quick questions about what I was looking for before speeding around the racks (which were placed around the sides of the nicely decorated shop floor, with all the gowns in secure, plastic zip bags). She whipped out about six dresses, some I liked the look of and others not so much, and told me to get in the changing room. I went in, stripped down to my underwear – which I had made sure was a decent looking matching set! – and waited. Sandra came in with one of the dresses, told me to take my bra off and put my heels on, which I did feeling slightly self-conscious. She then held up the dress and instructed me to “dive” in, spun me around to face the mirror, said “hands on hips”, and began efficiently tugging hard on the strings at back of the dress.

Struggling to keep my balance as this lovely fairy-god mother wrenched me around the fitting room did not distract from the absolutely gorgeous Maggie Sottero dress that she had chosen for me. It had the most amazing corseted top – which she explained is what Sottero, a former underwear designer, is famed for – that suited my small frame, a simple flowy skirt that didn’t drown me, and a billowing train. The dress also had a single, detachable shoulder strap with flower details, that gave the dress a modern edge.

It was not something that I would have chosen for myself, and I was so happy that Sandra, with her experienced eye, was able to choose it for me. The dress was a size 8, so a little too big, but still lovely. Sandra then pinned my hair up, whacked a tiara on my head and told me to face the mirror. My immediate reaction was “Ah!”. I looked like a bride – it was a shock to the system, but also a complete rush.

I tried on a number of other dresses, a few we decided against before they had been done up. But three stood out as beautiful as the first – one very glam, golden Maggie Sottero dress, and two more ‘traditional’ dresses (one by Sottero – as well as being corseted, her dresses can be ordered in a shorter length which is great for petite brides – and the other by Benjamin Roberts).

I have to say that I loved all four, which were on average about £800-£900, and was surprised that I had chosen three completely different styles. However, not one particular one struck me as ‘the one’ at that time. But then it’s hard after an hour, as they all start to look the same. Thankfully we got some great pics, and I definitely intend to go back to Youngs in a few weeks.

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Images from www.youngbrideandgroom.co.uk

But you know how the world is keen to maintain a cosmological balance?  By this I mean every time something good happens, something not so good also happens? So while Youngs was a fabulous experience, I had a not so good experience at Always & Forever in Hounslow. I decided to go there because I had heard they had a massive collection, so I thought there would be plenty to choose from. However, I made the mistake of not checking if they stocked a range of sizes in store.

So, my mum and I arrived a few minutes before my appointment, and were led into the back room. Our eyes grew wide – the room was massive and lined with hundreds of dresses. “I’m sure I’ll be able to find something in here!”, I thought. With this in mind I asked the assistant where the smaller sizes were, and she looked confused. “We only stock size 14. Have a look around, and pull out the dresses you want to try on”, and with that she went back to the front room of the store. Frankly, while she seemed friendly enough, my heart sank at the fact that she didn’t offer to help at all. So we had a look around, but hardly any of the dresses were kept in plastic, so they looked worse for wear. When it came around to trying on the items, I had to call her into the fitting room each time as I was strugging to get into them myself. While the sales person made an effort to pin the dresses for me and suggest we take pictures, the level of service was not up to the same level as the other stores I had been to (which was especially surprising as the dresses in Always & Forever were on average about £500 more expensive than the ones in Youngs). I had enough after about three dresses and we decided to leave. It was a shame – I’m sure lots of people have found great things in the store, but it just wasn’t for me.

To round up my wedding dress activity, my sister and I went to the Brides magazine/Browns Bride event at The Langham. Browns Brides had organised the most amazing fashion show, featuring dresses by top designers including Oscar de la Renta and Mira Zwillinger (who was present at the event). We had a gorgeous afternoon tea, swooned over ridiculously overpriced dresses (but hey, if you can afford them..) and got some ideas for pretty, laser-cut invites. Fun, fun,fun, but to be honest I was totally wedding-ed out after it.

I’m now trying to decide where the next stop on my quest for a dress should be. Answers on a postcard.

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