One of the first things any newly engaged woman does (apart from showing off the new diamond) is think about the wedding dress. The gown of her dreams. Images of walking down the aisle to gasps of awe and beauty and romance and love – it’s all SO exciting.
I’ve always been a fan of preloved clothes. Take me to any charity shop or vintage fair and I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. I love a good rummage. Anyone remember jumble sales? I have an inbuilt radar for the interesting and uncommon. I just have this knack of finding hidden gems.
I’d been in this South Manchester place a handful of times and was always drawn to the first floor which housed exquisite vintage wear and second hand (or bought but unworn!) wedding gowns.
There was quite a selection that day, some in better nick than others. One dress in particular drew me in. I’d never seen one like this before but when I saw the size on the label I immediately discounted it and carried on looking. Nothing else matched up and I stood there eyeing it up once more. It definitely looks too small I said to myself, but you never know I guess I can try it. I’ll be losing weight for the wedding anyway. (We all say that right?)
Surprisingly it fit. As though it was MADE FOR ME. It looked like it had never been worn too. It was a long-sleeved ivory gown with prominent puffed shoulders, boat neckline, cinched in at the waist with a very full floor-length tulle skirt. It also had a deep V back. Vintage Laura Ashley vibes with a twist. It was unusual. And quite dramatic.
I didn’t hesitate. I bought it and was absolutely delighted with this pain-free expedition. It really was a blessing considering my usual experience with clothes shopping.
But as time went by, I began to feel less sure about the dress. I got it into my head that it looked old-fashioned and that it was too sharp a silhouette for a such a romantic occasion. I started toying with the idea of wanting what was very popular at the time – a strapless gown. I wondered if what I had could be reconfigured somehow. A quick Google search for a local seamstress and suddenly there were endless possibilities.
Next thing you know I’m stood in a dressmakers lounge in the actual dress and we’re agreeing what bits to remove from where. It took some to-ing and fro-ing over a number of months namely because I hadn’t nailed down all the variables like jewellery, hair, accessories, shoes and the veil.
Collection day came round fast. The anticipation was OFF THE SCALE. I changed into the dress, drew back the curtain and saw it in all its glory. Oh wow. Erm. Hmmmm. Ahhh. Sigh.
I didn’t like it.
There was something not right. It felt saggy. I felt like I looked like a frumpy milkmaid. I couldn’t believe I didn’t like it. The seamstress did her best to console me whilst trying to identify what exactly the issue was. She put the veil on, thinking that would solve the problem.
She grabbed a pretty bolero from her rail, suggesting that may make a difference.
We checked my underwear was giving the right amount of support.
She felt I looked incredible and tried to reassure me. “With your hair and makeup done, everything will just come together on the day, you’ll see”. She then presented me with a lovely surprise. A small handmade clutch bag, created from off cuts of lace from the sleeves. Sweet, but not enough to convince me.
We had to leave it unresolved.
I paid the bill, took the dress (+ veil + bolero), got back to the car and cried.
What I didn’t know then is that the original dress was ideal for my body shape and completely summed up my personality.
I wrestled with the couture adaptation all week, wanting, urging myself to (re)love it. I felt I owed it to the seamstress for all the care and attention she had poured into the alterations. Being an empath I often put the needs of others ahead of my own. Crazy eh?
Surely it’s too late to consider a new dress with only a week to go.
I started ringing round a few bridal shops to see if they had anything suitable. Every store owner wanted to know the same thing. When was the big day? It was a sensible, qualification type question and they were probably used to brides looking too far ahead. When I said NEXT WEEK I was greeted with gasps of disbelief. The time constraint along with the fact that I wasn’t an off-the-peg kind of size made this task virtually impossible.
I ended up in a warehouse style bridal emporium 6 DAYS BEFORE my wedding searching desperately for something. Anything. As long as it was better than the milkmaid look I didn’t really care. The store assistant was very helpful and kept my spirits up as I stepped into gown after gown hoping and praying this one would be the one. I tried about eight on. No good. Head in hands and inner alarm levels now screaming SOS I tried on the ninth. Okay, right this one. It looks okay and it fits me.
Bizarrely it was also a strapless dress. Less romantic. More sophisticated. The antique looking lace a nod to the vintage vibe. It was snug on the hips but it was the best I was going to get. So dress No 2 was purchased. The panic was over.
There were times I’d felt this way previously. Obviously not with such high stakes but the plan to wear a certain outfit only to discover the night before or worse still, the hour before when I put it on that there was no way I could wear it. It’s embarrassing to admit but there were times that this routine became so traumatic that it caused me to feign a sudden illness so I could cancel last minute. This saga meant I missed out on a number of occasions over the years and was late at many, many others.
I’m now a qualifed personal stylist after studying with the London College of Style. I’ve been fascinated by and drawn to clothes since I was a teenager. It’s why I named my business ‘Years Of Style’.
My training was deeply reflective. I had a few revelations. I realised that the original gown I purchased, you know the one that was DIFFERENT and made a STATEMENT and fit me like a glove, that gown was a perfect match for me. It was my style personality to a T and OH SO FLATTERING for my curves. That’s why I felt incredible when I tried it on.
But I wasn’t confident in myself back then. I didn’t own my unique personal style. My self-worth was low. I was fragile. I was slowly rebuilding my identity from a turbulent marriage and traumatic divorce.
The dress was right but I wasn’t.
I messed about with it, resulting in its demise. The changes affected the integrity of the garment. It lost its structure. I then had to make do with something less than.
You’ll probably look at the photos of me on the wedding day and have absolutely no idea I was anything but joyful. I was happy of course; I was marrying the man of my dreams. But I wasn’t 100% brimming with confidence. It’s amazing how we can mask it.
It’s also amazing how we can do the work on ourselves to learn all of this. To drill down into what’s really going on. To allow healing. To be at peace.
That’s where I’m at now.
And it’s why I can relate so much with women who struggle with self- love and acceptance.
I’m thankful for my wedding dress experience but boy come the next big occasion (ahem milestone birthday next year) I am pulling out ALL THE STOPS. I know who I am and what I like. I no longer shy away from being me.