Monday, 21 May 2012

A Red Wedding Dress

I wanted a Hollywood-red-carpet-inspired red velvet long-sleeved wedding dress that would flatter my 5 foot 4 inch UK size 20 frame.  My budget was under £500.  
I thought that the search for my wedding dress would be one of the most enjoyable parts of being a bride-to-be but I soon found it added to the stresses of the wedding planning process and was an experience that was demotivating, demoralising and exasperating.
My Mum, being a full-time carer for my Dad, a wheelchair-bound dementia sufferer, was not able to share much of the wedding planning with me.  She couldn't visit venues with me or come to wedding fairs.  Mum desperately wanted to come wedding dress shopping with me but this was logistically tricky.  We only had a two hour window on a Wednesday to do this when my Dad was at a weekly Day Care Centre.  The only possible option was for us to go to the two little wedding dress shops in my parents’ town.  Judging from the dresses in their windows, I didn’t think I was going to find my dress there but it was important that Mum had the opportunity to share this experience with me as it was a mother daughter rite of passage.
And here the challenges began.  The first wedding dress shop did not stock any sample dress above a UK size 12.   If I liked any of the dresses in this shop, I would have to close my eyes and use my vivid imagination to decide if they would suit me or not!  Their dresses also started at £3,000 – way beyond my budget.
The second wedding dress shop stocked a budget range of wedding dresses called FABULESS by Alfred Angelo up to UK size 32.  These dresses were around the £500 mark and the shop had some in stock in larger sizes.  I could at least try a few on and not start hyperventilating at the cost.  They also recommended trying on some bridesmaids dresses and prom dresses which could be ordered in red.  This was promising!
I stood on the wooden block in front of the full length mirror in my underwear and felt very self-conscious.  There wasn’t one dress in the shop with sleeves, they were all strapless.  I tried on several dresses – some in the sale, some in the budget range and some red bridesmaid dresses.  There wasn’t one dress I liked or felt beautiful in and there were a couple that I couldn’t get over my head.  I even got stuck in one dress and it took about 5 minutes to get me out of it!  I thought they all looked hideous but didn’t say so as I didn't want to spoil the occasion for Mum.  To cover my arms I tried lace and marabou feather boleros over the dresses.  I tried veils and tiaras….. the reflection looking back at me wasn’t me at all but a bride that I didn’t recognise, wearing something she looked uncomfortable in. 

I also learned that I had ‘left it quite late’ to order my wedding dress.  It seems that most wedding dress shops need more than 5 months to order a bride’s dress and have it in the store in time to be altered and fitted for the big day.  So not only did I have the challenge of a small (by wedding dress standards) budget, and a large (by wedding dress standards) size but I now basically had to make my mind up in the next fortnight if I was going to order a dress from a wedding dress shop!
A custom made dress was out of the question as this would be too expensive.  I started trawling the internet for red ball gowns, prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses but just couldn’t find anything that was red and velvet and long-sleeved and what I wanted.  I started to compromise and just looked for red and velvet or red and long-sleeved.  I started to look at other colours and fabrics to see if the muse took me and I found a couple of dresses online that I liked but they still weren’t what I had envisaged.  A friend recommended eBay and a dress made in China for a fraction of the usual price.  I short-listed a few – none of which were quite what I had in mind and I felt waves of anxiety that I would order the dress and it would arrive too small, the fabric would look cheap, and it wouldn't resemble the picture on eBay or that it would be exactly like the picture on eBay but so completely unflattering on me.  I just couldn’t order a dress without trying it on.
I started to wake up at 4.00 am every morning - the anxiety hour.  I was reminded of a friend of mine who had anxiety dreams before her wedding in which she walked down the aisle wrapped in a duvet with unwashed hair!!  Another friend also told me that she had had hideous experiences with snooty wedding dress stylists and how one friend, who had recently lost her mother, had been told by a wedding dress shop owner to come back with her mother as she shouldn’t be wedding dress shopping without her!  Panic was starting to set in as the whole experience started to feel like an ordeal.
I found a website that made medieval wedding dresses (within budget) and could make one in red velvet with sleeves.  But a medieval look really wasn’t what I wanted and it really wouldn’t look right beside my Beloved who was going to be dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie.  We would look like Don Draper and Anne Boleyn!  Not the style I was going for!
Taffeta & velvet medieval dress
I checked out vintage bridal wear, second-hand bridal wear and even discovered Oxfam and  Barnardos  have specialist bridal shops!  Fantastic!  But they still didn't have that stunning red gown I was after and very little in stock that I could get into. 
Alice James size 14 red wedding dress(Oxfam Bridal) 
Beloved and I had planned a day out at Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent so I looked to see if there were any wedding dress shops there.  There was one.  Oriental Pearl.  I booked myself a wedding dress styling and awoke early that morning, 4.00 am, having had a humiliating bad dream involving the fire brigade and me stuck inside a large rubber tyre!
Oriental Pearl had a quite dazzling array of prom dresses and ball gowns so I felt more confident that I may find something red but there was no velvet in sight.  A friendly lady called Coral was my stylist and I explained that although I was wedding dress shopping, I really wanted something red.  “No problem”, she said “you can have any dress in this shop made in red”.   I tried on several wedding dresses – though none bigger than a size 16!  I tried on 2 dresses that I LOVED.  One was £850 and the other was £269!  And guess what…. The £269 dress looked the best!  The only problem was, the sample I tried on wasn’t my size and was white.  If I decided to go for it I still needed to use my imagination to picture it in red and how it would fit in my size.  There was an element of risk as I wouldn’t get it till 4 weeks before the big day so if it arrived and it was hideous, I wouldn’t have any alternative.  But what choice did I have?
I bought it.  Coral measured me, took me through the fabric colour swatches, and I requested a 10 inch train be added.  The price started to go up.  As I was ordering in a “plus size” that meant there was an additional charge, a sort of ‘big girl tax’!  The train added more to it but there was no additional charge for having it made in red.  The dress would be made in China and shipped to Oriental Pearl for my collection at the end of October for the sum of £349.  Ok, so it didn’t have sleeves and it wasn’t velvet, but it was within my budget, it was RED and it was FABULOUS!!!


  1. Thanks Rachel! Even the ceremony room where we got married matched the colour of my dress!

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