My Honest Wedding Dress Story

Lillian West wedding dress

In the end I was pleased that Marc and I had a long engagement as it took me longer than I expected to find my wedding dress.

My main considerations when dress hunting were comfort and affordability, as I wanted to be able to dance and didn’t want to spend too much on a dress that would only be worn once (makes me sound so sentimental, I know…).

However it soon became apparent that the high street didn’t really offer many options for the wedding dress style I had in mind. I wanted something fitted to the waist, ideally with some lace and vintage style buttons, which then flowed gently out. I liked the idea of off-the-shoulder as well as v-neck and my main inspiration came from (pricey) designers like Milla Nova, Dalaarna, Limor Rosen and Berta Bridal. However, most dresses on the high street seemed to be either short, beachy, slinky or princess style, none of which I was after.

So over our 2.5 year engagement I went to quite a few bridal boutiques, both in the UK and in New York, and ended up trying on so many lovely affordable dresses that I found it really hard to choose just one!

I was expecting to burst into tears and know when I found ‘the one’ but to be perfectly honest a) I was always too excited to feel teary and b) there were about 4 that I would have happily worn. (Have any other brides felt like this?)

So to help any other brides-to-be, or for anyone who is just interested, I thought I would share more about my experience of finding my wedding dress. Starting at…

David’s Bridal, Westfield, London

Cost of dresses: £200-£2,000 (Including Vera Wang diffusion line)

Do they let you take photos? Yes

Sole appointment? No

Recommend for: Brides on a budget, relaxed brides, bridesmaid dresses too and brides not knowing what they want

It was about a year into our engagement that I booked myself in for my first appointment at David’s Bridal in Westfield, London. It was recommended to me by a bridal journalist friend who said that it was a good place to start to try on lots of different styles, especially as they stock a large variety of dresses ranging from as little as £200 to no more than £2,000. It is an American brand that now has stores in London, Glasgow and Birmingham and I think the size of it is the reason that it can keep costs lower.

I enjoyed having this as my first bridal gown experience as it was easy to get to from my London flat (accessible by both the DLR and tube), had plenty of gowns that you were allowed to browse through yourself (whilst knowing most of them were affordable) and was very relaxed, with another bride-to-be having her appointment at the same time. I know not everyone likes sharing their bridal appointment with another person but as I was a bit nervous for my first time and not sure what to expect, I found that I was more relaxed by not being the sole centre of attention.

It started with a brief chat with my helper where I explained what kind of dress I was looking for. I realised at this point I should have taken some pictures as inspiration or shown her my Wedding Dress Pinterest Board, as she kept showing me options which weren’t really what I was after.

Me, my mum and the helper pulled out about 6 dresses from the floor to try on and the helper encouraged me to try on a variety of styles so that I could really narrow down what I liked. This was helpful as it confirmed to me that I didn’t want a fishtail/mermaid or ballgown style dress (even though they were all pretty in their own right), however it also meant that it ate into the 1.5 hour appointment time and I wasn’t left with much time afterwards to try on many more a-line/sheath/column dresses. In fact I remember there were 15 minutes of the appointment left and I asked the helper if she could recommend any more options that better fit my description and she just said no and to book in again another time.

Davids Bridal Stratford WestfieldDavids Bridal London review

Overall, it was a great way to try on different styles and also start to see the differences in quality for the different price brackets but there was nothing that quite fit what I was after.

Bea’s Bridal, Warwickshire

Cost of dresses: £600-£1,500 (as well as sales) 

Do they let you take photos? Yes

Sole appointment? Yes

Recommend for: Brides on modest budgets and brides who like ballgowns and a-line dresses 

The next appointment was one closer to my family home at Bea’s Bridal in a pretty village nearby. It was about a month after my first appointment at David’s Bridal and I booked myself in because I was due a visit home anyway and Bea’s had come recommended.

The boutique is on an unassuming street, squeezed between a chippy and a Chinese if I remember correctly, but inside was really pretty and feminine. The showroom was downstairs and had two lines including one ‘sale rail’ and one ‘new in’ rail which we were allowed to browse through before our helper took our choices to the dressing room upstairs. The dressing room was more of a floor actually, with a cute chaise-lounge for guests to sit on.

What I remember most from this visit was Sheeny, the lady working with us in the boutique, and just how helpful, sweet and upbeat she was. She definitely deserves a shout out for being so hardworking, attentive and positive! Nothing was too much trouble and she would let me try on as many dresses as I wanted.

However, I should have done more research on the boutique’s designers first as most of the dresses were the ballgown or dramatic a-line style, which are all very beautiful but didn’t fit my brief. There was this one Amanda Wyatt dress which was relaxed and more of what I was after and though I did feel good in it (and my mum cried when she saw me in it), I wasn’t sure about having a high neck and then having to make alterations to the neck. Shame, as I really wanted to buy off such a lovely boutique.

Silver Sixpence, Weedon, Northamptonshire

Cost of dresses: £900-£1,800 (as well as sales) 

Do they let you take photos? Yes

Sole appointment? Yes

Recommend for: Brides on modest budgets, bridal separates 

My experience at Bea’s taught me that I really needed to do more research on what designers offered the sort of dress I was after. Many of the styles and designers I liked were far too expensive (such as Berta Bridal, Milla Nova, Limor Rosen and my favourite Dalaarna) and it took me a long time researching to find affordable designers that were also available to buy in the UK.

I then discovered this dress by Lillian West, which had the lovely relaxed skirt at the bottom and some lace detailing that still showed some skin at the top. I got really excited as I thought it would fit our Country Garden Party theme perfectly and after looking online, I found out that the weekend I was due another visit home it would be available in the Silver Sixpence bridal boutique not far away. I reached out to them on Instagram as time was of the essence and even though they had lots of bookings that particular weekend, they were really helpful and made it work so that I could pop in.

The boutique was part of a small parade of independent shops nestled in the countryside and my mum and I enjoyed having a little mooch around them before heading to our appointment. The lady who owned the boutique was very sweet and her mother-in-law owned a shop next door selling mother of the bride dresses, which my mum enjoyed looking around.

The collection in this boutique wasn’t the biggest I had seen, although they are one of the few places that stock bridal separates! It didn’t matter to me though as I was only really there to try on the one Lillian West wedding dress and luckily, was really happy with it. She let us take lots of pictures which we took away with us to think long and hard about…

Silver Sixpence Bridal Lillian WestLillian West 6422

RK Bridal, NYC

Cost of dresses: $500+

Do they let you take photos? Yes

Sole appointment? No

Recommend for: All budgets, loads of choice, no appointments needed, relaxed try on and bridal separates 

In January I moved to New York for a couple of months to stay with my fiance who had a contract out there (you can read more on my move to NYC here). My work were kind enough to let me take 2 months unpaid leave from work so it meant that I had plenty of opportunity in the daytime to continue trying on more dress options!

I decided to visit RK Bridal due to the amount of designers they stock and the amount of choice for all budgets, plus no appointment was necessary, meaning that I could rock up whenever I felt in the mood! I went on a weekday afternoon and was greeted by a tough little Italian American lady who asked to see my dress inspiration, my budget and if I had any favourite designers, before she took me around the sections pulling suggestions out for me. Kudos to this lady, she really knew the store back to front and pulled out some great options for me!

Now don’t get me wrong, this was a seriously relaxed appointment. Firstly, the store is like a big warehouse and there can be quite a few people looking around thanks to their no-appointment system. In fact when I went, there were a couple of other girls in the changing rooms trying on dresses at the same time as me. Also my lady was very no-nonsense about the whole thing and didn’t do any small talk. I personally didn’t mind this as I had already had some lovely boutique experiences in the UK and now just needed a chance to try on more dresses but you might want to bear this in mind if it is your first bridal appointment or if you want a memorable experience with your bridesmaids!

While I was there I tried on the same Lillian West dress again and it was still my favourite dress of the bunch. I was starting to make up my mind…

BHLDN, Anthropologie, NYC

Cost of dresses: $200+

Do they let you take photos? Yes

Sole appointment? No

Recommend for: Affordability, vintage inspired, relaxed appointments, bridal separates, rehearsal dinner dresses

Throughout my bridal gown search I had often come across the brand BHLDN (pronounced ‘Beholden’) which is exclusively found in Anthropologie in America. BHLDN had stood out to me not only for the affordability but also because many of the dresses were relaxed and/or vintage inspired – no princess meringues to be found here. As it was only available in the States, I thought it would be silly not to pay a visit while I was out here, so I made an appointment for a weekday afternoon.

BHLDNBHLDN Anthropologie

The BHLDN bridal area was found at the back of the store and I spent a few minutes browsing the rail until the lady working with me came down to meet me. What was great is that she came prepared with my name and wedding details (that they ask you to fill in on an online form) which made it feel more personalised.

We pulled out a few options, including some bridal separates, and headed down to the changing rooms. Again, this was a more relaxed fitting experience as there were a couple of other women trying on their dresses at the same time (including one very sweet lady who kept complimenting me on my choices)! Also to note, the bridal changing rooms are just across from the main changing rooms, so a few confused shoppers ended up coming to the bridal section by mistake!

Catherine Deane separatesBHLDN New York

Again, I really didn’t mind this relaxed approach as it made me feel relaxed myself. Also, they are happy to let you dress yourself if you are the sort of person that doesn’t like other people helping them in the changing rooms (even though I asked for help). I liked 90% of the choices I tried on in here, they were so beautiful and I loved that toppers could be added for a small cost.

This appointment really confused me as I ended up really liking some of the separates and the fact that I could change my look during the day by adding/removing a topper. It was time to go home and do some more thinking…

My Wedding Dress

When I got back home, I went with my mum to Serendipity Brides in Weedon, Northamptonshire to try on some final separates before then driving back to nearby Silver Sixpence Brides. I tried on the Lillian West 6422 dress once again and we both knew that it was the one. I had always felt relaxed in it, it flattered my shape, I could move and the material was so soft. I had tried on so many other dresses and kept coming back to this one, so I knew that I wouldn’t regret my decision.

We also ordered a long veil from a local designer Natalya James, who creates her own wedding dresses and affordable bridal accessories as well as offering wedding dress alterations. As much as I loved the Lillian West dress, I had always preferred 3/4 length sleeves to long sleeves, so booked Natalya in to help.

She did a great job as she managed to keep and re-position the buttons that I loved so much and was also able to use some of the lace that had been removed around the top of the arm, making it more detailed and more unique to me. She also did the traditional alterations; adding in a loop for me to hold my dress, turning up the bottom and taking in the sides. I saw her three times in total; once with the dress taking measurements and discussing the alterations, the second time to try on the initial alterations and the third time to try on the dress with the final tweaks.

Lillian West 6422

English wedding

My Wedding Shoes

Before I finish this post, I have to give a shout-out to my wedding shoes! They were Kurt Keiger heeled strappy sandals with some glitz on the front and they were THE most comfortable heels that I have possibly ever worn! I managed to pick them up in the Topshop (Oxford St) summer sale and only wore them for an hour’s practice around the house before wearing them on the day. I loved that sometimes you could see a peek of the sparkle under my dress and that I was able to dance in them all night long.

Heeled sandals wedding shoes Kurt GeigerKurt Keiger strappy sandals

My Tips for Brides to Be Looking to Find Their Wedding Dress:

  • Do your designer research first. Although trying on dresses was fun, I had wasted time going to local boutiques that just did not stock the style of dress I was after.
  • If you are after a more affordable wedding dress designer in the UK, I can recommend brands like: Lillian West (of course), Watters, Wtoo, Catherine Deane (also does separates and is stocked in BHLDN) and Needle and Thread (good for a boho bride).
  • If you are on a budget (who isn’t), then when making a booking, feel free to ask if your budget works for that store. It will save any embarrassment on the day!
  • If there is a specific dress you like, ask them if they have it before making your appointment. If they don’t, most places can call in a sample for you for a small fee.
  • Paying for an appointment isn’t the norm, so don’t feel like you have to. There is bound to be another boutique that stocks the same dress who won’t charge!
  • When you find a dress you like, practice sitting down in it and raising your arms in it, to see if it will actually work and feel comfortable on the day.

If you’d like to read more about our wedding (and see more pics of the dress!) then you can visit my post on Our Wedding Day! The Ceremony…

Do you have any questions or comments? I’d love to hear!

Marc and StephLoveEucalytpus rose bouquet

4 Comments

    • Steph
      October 15, 2017 / 7:38 am

      Thank you so much! xx

  1. Chloe
    October 15, 2017 / 3:36 pm

    This was such a lovely post to read. The first dress shop I visited was Silver Sixpence and they were SO lovely in there, definitely the best boutique I visited. Whilst I haven’t bought my dress from there, it has ultimately led me to my dress (I fell in love with two from the same designer, who happened to be based in the town I grew up in so I’m having a special something made up combining them!). You looked absolutely gorgeous!

    NINEGRANDSTUDENT: A Lifestyle Blog

    • Steph
      October 16, 2017 / 9:01 am

      Congratulations on finding your dream wedding dress! When are you getting married? You must have been engaged a few years now, right? I remember you mentioning it when I wrote a post on long distance relationships at Uni! Thanks so much for your comment x