Dress shopping. As became apparent in my last Wedding Wednesday post, I had quite the rollercoaster of emotions when it came to choosing something to wear at my wedding. But, as also became apparent after that post, in my attempt to make light of the situation and provide you all with some comedic reading, I might have perhaps scared a few bride-to-be’s unnecessarily about the task ahead of them. (oops!)
The reality is that, despite the odd bad experience and lots of my own internal stressing, overall I found wedding dress shopping really fun, and so should you. It was an excuse to get together with my Mum and my Best Women for champagne fueled afternoons where I got to play Princess for the day. Trying on pretty dresses is never a chore folks, and even if they don’t always fit, don’t always suit you, and you have to get used to stripping down to your bra and pants for everyone you meet, on the whole you will laugh about the strange oddities and unusual experiences and have a blast. For any bride-to-be’s reading, it’s definitely a part of wedding planning you should be really excited about and enjoy every second of. If you’re an indecisive, perfectionist driven. fashion fanatic like me, just be prepared for the inevitably torturous decision that you’ll eventually have to make which is; which one do I choooooseeee????
So today, as part two of my thoughts on wedding dress shopping, I thought I’d reassure you that for each bad experience, I had twice as many great shopping experiences and met some amazing designers and stylists who simply couldn’t do enough to help this helpless bride-to-be out.
If you’re about to embark on dress shopping, or have just bought your first wedding mag and aren’t sure where to begin, these are just a few of the boutiques, designers and resources I loved. I’ve labelled these as ideal destinations for where to shop for dresses when you’re not a typical bride but by that I certainly don’t mean a bride who doesn’t want to look a million dollars or feel like a Princess on her big day, I simply mean that I sought these destinations out knowing that I didn’t want to wear a traditional strapless ballgown and was instead looking for something unique with a bit of an edge. If you’re also looking for a dress that’s a little different these might just suit you too.
Charlie Brear – for top notch service and to-die-for quality
Oh Charlie Brear, what can I say about this beautiful designer? I adore her work – it appeals to all of my personality types, from the fashion conscious to the overtly girly to the sleek and sophisticated. I’d seen her dresses pop up a few times on wedding blogs and had spotted an advert for her Arlette dress (a short yet chic full skirted design) in Brides magazine and had immediately added the boutique to my must visit list. My appointment at the Charlie Brear store was one of my favourite bridal experiences to date and one which came close to swaying me away from my original desire to design my own outfit. To start with, the little studio space just off Charlotte Street in London is incredibly beautiful. From the minute I walked into the gorgeous courtyard adorned with floral decorations and pretty candles, I knew I was in for a treat and that luxury vibe extended right the way through the gorgeous store and rails of delightful dresses.
I’d originally been drawn to visiting Charlie Brear because of the vintage aesthetic to her designs (she began her business by founding The Vintage Wedding Dress Company back in 2005 before beginning to design her own collections after seeing a major gap in the market) and in particular her Additions range which, as my friends put it, is essentially ‘build a dress’. You start with a simple silk or crepe slip and add on different elements such as skirts, tops and sleeves. Being as indecisive as I am, this idea of playing ‘dress up’ throughout the wedding day and switching elements over for different looks, really appealed to me. As such my appointment at Charlie Brear was lots of fun, where I spent an hour just playing around piling skirts on top of one another – everything from giant princess like chiffon to delicate embroidered lace and fringed numbers in between.
Two things really stood out to me about an appointment at Charlie Brear. The first was the service – the girl who helped me on the day was most definitely not just a shop assistant, she was a true stylist. Even from one short chat about the style of wedding we were having and the style of dress I was thinking of, she immediately ‘got’ me. She understood my look and my skin tone from the off, immediately telling me that the champagne colours weren’t right for me and had me trying things I would have never otherwise picked. In short she was a total pro. The second thing that stood out was the quality of the fabrics. Up until that point I’d found a lot of wedding dresses I tried on a little disappointing on that front, they’d look great in the pictures but seeing them up close suddenly they’d appear a bit cheap. Charlie Brear was the complete opposite – the fabrics not only looked amazing but felt amazing too! All in all I loved my appointment. Why didn’t I go for one of the dresses? In the end the combination I’d fallen for was a little out of my price range, and the lure of designing something of my very own that no-one else would ever wear was just too good to pass up. but if I could have done that and had a Charlie Brear, I would have.
Others to check out…
The Mews at Notting Hill – for unusual European designers such as Laure De Sagazan
Katya Katya Sherurina – for edgy yet girly tulle creations
Sally Lacock – for gorgeous lace and a bespoke service
Another of my absolute favourite appointments was with the adorable Sally Lacock. I visited Sally with two of my best women on my very first day of dress shopping. Straight after my experience at David’s Bridal, which was so far from what I was looking for I’ll admit I had almost been put off altogether, visiting Sally was like a reassuring warm hug, reminding me that dress shopping could and would be fun, friendly and enjoyable. Again Sally’s studio is gorgeous – it’s situated in a not particularly wedding related spot in Dalston Kingsland so you have to go slightly out of your way to visit but the beauty of the interior and the personal service you get once there make it absolutely worth the journey.
I got to meet and spend time with Sally herself, which as the busy designer and founder behind the label, was something I wasn’t expecting as it happens so little in designer boutiques nowadays. Sally was wonderful from the off, heralding us all in from the cold into her cosy little space, full of gorgeous lace, pretty trinkets and rustic exposed beams, offering us a glass of champagne and chatting to us about all things wedding. All of the Sally Lacock designs are made by herself in her Dalston studio, but don’t think that this in any way compromises the quality because it certainly doesn’t. Each and every one of her dresses and bridal separates (once again what I was drawn to!) were made to the highest quality, featured beautiful silk and lace fabrics and slipped on like a dream. Sally’s pieces are vintage inspired so if you’re looking for for a vintage dress but finding the sizing and quality difficult to deal with (so many vintage pieces are either absolutely tiny and require a lot of alterations or aren’t in the best nick being so old), choosing a designer such as Sally who makes dresses with that vintage look, but can fit them to your shape, could be a great option.
I fell for quite a few of Sally’s designs, particularly her bridal separates which just formed so many more options. She’s got lots of new designs in since I met with her and each piece can be customised to your requirements to make it more bespoke to you, so her studio is worth a visit should you be looking for a vintage style dress that you can make your own. I had such a lovely time at Sally Lacock and she let me prance about in tulle skirts with giant headpieces on for far longer than was necessary so for that I owe her a big thank you.
Others to check out…
Fur Coat no Knickers – for vintage inspired 50’s style dresses, lots of fun, lots of sparkle (and a great friendly service)!
Hope & Harlequin – quirky and unique
I met the guys at Hope & Harlequin at The Vintage Wedding Fair and immediately fell for their beautiful silk dresses. Hope & Harlequin are based in Brighton and stock an amazing range of original vintage dresses from 1920’s style slips to 1960’s boho frocks. The quality of their vintage is great and the team there really know their stuff. The pieces I tried on at the wedding fair were actually from their own vintage inspired range, again designed to look like vintage dresses but made to your size and shape.
I gravitated towards a pink silk pleated dress at the fair, but it was the team who encouraged me to try their silver silk circle dress – a beautiful soft silk simple slip with a high neck and an amazing embroidered circle design to the centre, which looked and felt ah-may-zing on. One try was enough to see me book an official appointment at their store to see the full collection and speak to their tailor about alterations. On a weekend where my Best Woman Lyndsey was visiting from Scotland, we took a trip to rainy Brighton and found ourselves having quite the fun experience in the upstairs wedding boutique room of the Hope & Harlequin vintage shop. The team here were oh so lovely and really went out of their way to make the appointment one to remember. Having already fallen for the circle dress, I added two more that day to my growing list of dresses I’d fallen in love with. Another vintage inspired shape called Audrey (the name gives you a hint as to what it was like) and an original vintage piece which although needed alterations was one of the most incredible dresses I’d tried on so far. As with all of my most enjoyable appointments it was the staff that made it, and the team at Hope & Harlequin are great – offering to create accessories just to my specifications and allowing me to talk to their seamstress about alterations and costs.
As with all vintage dresses, there’s only one of their kind around which can be hugely appealing but in most cases they also need quite a lot of work so I’d always advise going to a specialist shop like this in order to discuss the costs and implications beforehand. I found it incredibly hard to walk away from this appointment without a dress in tow, but I felt such a big decision needed to be slept on and once again by the next morning I had doubts about changing what was such a beautiful dress as it was, so drastically.
Others to check out…
Elizabeth Avey – for a huge selection of beautiful original vintage dresses
Shop Gossamer – for amazing vintage and pre-loved designer all at hugely affordable prices (the lovely Lucie bought her dress from here! AND there’s an Elie Saab on there right now that is TOO amazing!)
Debenhams personal shopping – for an affordable alternative
Lastly, don’t rule out the high street. There are lots of high street stores offering bridal ranges now and I certainly wasn’t one to turn my nose up at it. I’m one of those people who could have found my dress anywhere (that has become obvious seeing as I fell in love with pretty much everything) and I was definitely open to an affordable high street option. See the H&M white silk jumpsuit above which I seriously considered wearing for a J.Crew vibe (check them out too if you’re after something simple yet chic) and so when I was invited along to Debenhams for a personal styling day I was keen to see what their high street range could offer. Another super fun experience, myself, my Mum and GB’s Mum were comfortably seated in a plush room and supplied with wine, chocolate and strawberries while the capable stylist did the hard work for me and spent time scouring the store on my behalf bringing back a rail of dresses for me to try that she thought would suit my figure and style. This service isn’t just for brides, you can do this (for free) to find your bridesmaids dresses or get your Mum sorted with her outfit. Since then both my Mum and GB’s Mum have been back to do appointments of their own as we were all so impressed. I have to confess that I’d probably already ruled out a high street dress by the time I visited Debenhams (seeing the quality of those Charlie Brear gowns made me realise that the calibre of the fabric and professional look was more important to me than I imagined) but still, having someone shop on my behalf and tell me what colours, shapes and styles suited me was really helpful and a lot of fun. I tried everything from embellished Phase Eight slinky gowns (Blogger babe Kylie wore one of these on her wedding and looked FAB!) to full skirted lace prom dresses and Jenny Packham’s high street range. If you’re looking for something affordable this can be a great option, there was a few that I really liked and when I saw the price tag I was (again) nearly swayed. The fabric quality definitely isn’t quite as good, but that’s not to say the dresses weren’t beautiful. I guess if you decide the important factors within your dress beforehand and fabrics isn’t one of them then the high street is a truly viable option!
Also check out…
J. Crew, H&M Conscious collection and Monsoon
Charlotte Wilden – creating beautiful ethereal and unique designs
Finally, as you probably guessed by now I decided to have my dress made for me, so that I could bring the design in my head to life after failing to find anything quite like it on my dress shopping travels. If you’re looking for something totally unique, definitely think about looking at independent dress designers. I at first ruled it out thinking it would be far too expensive but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was do-able and in terms of cost, not a great deal different to buying an off the peg dress from a bridal boutique. Whether you choose to customise a vintage dress or go fully bespoke, consulting the expertise of a seamstress or designer is a brilliant way of making a dress your own and knowing that you’ll be the only one in that creation come the day, which ultimately sealed the deal for me. I’ve decided to work with the incredibly talented Chalotte Wilden of Wilden Bridal. She specialises in vintage inspired, ethereal designs using lots of gorgeous silk, chiffon and lace fabrics – all right up my street – but what I also loved about her was that she wasn’t at all phased by any of my crazy ideas (in fact she seemed excited) and you can tell from the diversity of the dresses she has made in the past that she really creates a dress for the individual, something that can allow their personality to shine through. I’m still at the very early stages with my dress but already it’s been a super exciting process and as a bit of a creative myself I think I’m going to love being so involved in the whole journey along the way. I can’t reveal too much yet of course, but after the wedding I’ll be dedicating a full post to Charlotte’s way of working and how the dress came to be. Definitely give Charlotte a shout for a unique wedding dress that you can put your own stamp on.
Also check out…
Kate Beaumont – for beautiful vintage led designs
Sarah Willard Couture – for all things pretty and lacy
Sanyukta Shreshta – for to-die-for fabrics and cuts
So there you have it – five bridal experiences I thoroughly enjoyed, yet five completely different options. I’m definitely glad I made the decision I did and chose to have my dress created for me but whether you’re looking for a plush designer dress or an affordable high street item, I’d recommend all of these designers, stores and boutiques in an instant (which just goes to show that good service, friendly staff and a nice atmosphere mean as much as the dresses themselves).
I hope this list helps a few of you who might be about to embark on the dress search, if you need any more ideas just ask!