Many of us dream about getting married and fantasise about our wedding dress when we are little. I was no exception.
My childhood self was obsessed with puffy taffeta wedding dresses with massive trains accessorised with a glittering tiara and a flowing veil.
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But now I am an adult, I couldn't think of anything worse. I got engaged last April and quickly realised that my childlike fantasy of over-the-top princess dresses didn't relate to the reality of being a modern, independent woman.
So I started a search to find one that would be appropriate. I knew what I didn't want - strapless dresses and puffy meringues - but discovering what I did want was trickier. I read lots of wedding blogs hoping to find something different from the rails of lookalike dresses that I saw in traditional wedding boutiques. And so I began what ended up as an eight-month search that took me to Edinburgh, London, Paris and Ayr, all with the aim of finding 'the one'.
My earliest bridal reference came courtesy of my parents as a picture of them on their wedding day in 1979 hung on the wall of our living room for years. My mum looked beautiful in her white chiffon gown with leg of mutton sleeves and daisy trim that she later confessed cost just £50 from Watt Brothers in Glasgow. The least said about my dad's brown velvet suit, frilly shirt and tan platforms the better. The 1970s have a lot to answer for...
Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than £50 to buy a wedding dress nowadays, as I soon discovered. My first appointment was at a boutique in Edinburgh that stocked a dress I'd found online that intrigued me. I took my mum for moral support and while there was no denying that the dress itself was stunning, I felt a little 'too naked' in it.
My mum was slightly bemused by this sudden prudishness and probably started imagining me on my wedding day covered from head-to-toe in some chaste Victorian ensemble. I went back to the drawing board and the more I searched online, the more I came to the conclusion that most of the brands and designers only stocked their full collections in London. So I hatched a plan to head down south for a long weekend at the end of September to go on a dress search with my mum and my bridesmaid Jacqueline, who lives down there.
Our trip kicked off well as we arrived in London suitably sozzled. Mum had managed to charm the Virgin staff in first class and ensure we got a steady stream of free wine throughout the 4.5 hour journey. Unfortunately that would be the last bit of free alcohol we would see as, despite the fact that most of the boutiques charged between £20-35 for a one-hour appointment, the only beverage served up was mineral water. Our vision of spending a few days wafting around posh boutiques and sipping champagne came to a crashing halt.
First off we headed to Jenny Packham's plush bridal boutique in posh Belgravia. There was a gorgeous selection of feminine frocks, from frothy to sleek, all begging to be tried on. There was one particular dress that we settled on as a contender and we all cooed over it. The sales assistant encouraged me to walk around the private garden at the back of the store while wearing it to get a feel for the dress and how it moved as I walked. I began to get a little misty-eyed and fantasise about wearing it on my wedding day but I was brought back down to earth with a bump when the sales assistant wrote down the details of the dress on a card for me. There, scrawled on the card, was something that almost made my heart stop: £4,600.
The sales assistant added that this was "without alterations so you have to add on another £100-£350 to the price". My face must have reflected my shock as she then enquired: "Is that over your budget?"
"Just a little bit," I lied. We decided the only thing that would help us get over the shock was to head to the nearest bar and drink copious amounts of wine to help us forget about it. (That or work out if there was anything that we could remortgage or a kidney going spare that we could sell to actually afford it.)
The next day we regrouped and headed off to designer Alice Temperley's Mayfair store. There we found a beautiful collection of dresses that combined traditional English rose charm with a relaxed bohemian vibe. One dress made me feel like a jazz age heroine, while another made me feel like a modern-day Priscilla Presley. I especially loved the latter and was so close to ordering it until it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't want to feel like I was playing dress-up on my wedding day. I wanted to feel like me. I left the store determined to figure out what 'bridal me' was.
We went to another six appointments, a mix of specialised vintage stores and modern designer boutiques, but nothing quite worked as the vintage stuff was dismissed as being 'too costumey' and the modern stuff was 'too simple and plain'. We had hit a wall. I went back to Glasgow with my tail between my legs. I berated myself for being too picky and determined that there must be something out there that I liked.
I hit the internet again and began to spend most evenings after work looking at websites and blogs trying to find the elusive dress. My fiancé, seeing how seriously I was taking it all, started to think I had turned into a madwoman, especially when I started to enquire about whether a naturist wedding would be a good idea.
Through my research, I came across some dresses that were promising but were only stocked in far flung places such as Sydney, Barcelona, Paris and LA. While it would have been nice to fly around the world trying on wedding dresses, it wasn't obviously wasn't practical or financially viable.
Married friends told me that you need to order your wedding dress at least six months in advance of your wedding date and I was edging closer to that deadline. Even on holiday in Paris in early December to celebrate my birthday, I could not escape my wedding dress mania and managed to squeeze in a trip to Delphine Manivet's bridal boutique on the Rue St Honore while there. I hoped that maybe I would discover that 'bridal me' was in fact a soignée Parisian type. But it was not to be. I loved a dress there but something in my gut told me not to buy it, that it was not the one.
And then, one evening, when I was reading a wedding blog, I found one that made my heart beat faster. My heart sank yet again as I realised that the only stockists were hundreds of miles away. I told myself that it wasn't meant to be, but now that dress was in my head haunting me and everything I looked at after that was compared to it.
Then, one day as I was re-tracing my steps and checking out some bridal boutiques online I had already looked at, I came across a picture of my dream dress alongside the words 'coming soon'. I contacted the store and they said it would be in stock in late December.
So that was how I found myself on the 5.40am train to London on Saturday December 21, on an insane nine-hour round trip for a one hour appointment to try on the dress - an appointment that at least had the benefit of involving champagne and macaroons this time.
Standing in the boutique wearing the dress in front of the mirror with my bridesmaid looking on with a lump in her throat, I knew it had all been worth it. I had found the one.
For a while I worried that I wouldn't have that eureka moment when I found my perfect dress. But in that moment I finally understood that with dresses, just as with men, you know when it is right. And no, you can't see it until the big day...