19 Dresses: How I found my Gown

As someone who loves fashion and loves to shop, I knew that trying on wedding gowns would be an experience and memory that I would absolutely relish. And boy was I right. After a full weekend of dress shopping, I found my gown. I was thinking about sharing a few photos of ones I didn't choose, but I decided that not only do I want to keep my dress a complete surprise for Les, I decided that I don't want him to see me in any wedding dresses at all! So instead, I just have a few fun photos of my bridal entourage, and so many thoughts on the whole experience. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in...

I made three appointments over the course of one weekend at three very, very different salons. The first was Saturday morning at Cristina's in Andover, the second was Saturday late afternoon at BHLDN in Chestnut Hill, and the third was Sunday morning at Flair on Newbury Street in Boston, where my sister found her gown! I also had a backup appointment scheduled at Andrea's in Portland, Maine for the following weekend in case I didn't find anything. The way I chose the salons I went to was based on geography, of course, but more so on the designers that each carried. While each had designers I was interested in, Flair and BHLDN make it pretty clear which gowns they actually have in-store based on their website (in BHLDN's case) and their Pinterest boards (in Flair's case). Cristina's, on the other hand, doesn't have a clear list of the gowns that they have at any given time. This meant that I went into my last two appointments with a definitive list of the dresses I wanted to try on (and that list may or may not have been on a spreadsheet that was sorted based on a numeric rating system according to which gowns I was most excited about....) whereas for my first appointment at Cristina's I was eager to let my stylist make her own pulls and recommendations, and also to experiment with different silhouettes. As it turns out, the dresses you stare at for months and mark as a 1* (or the highest rating) on your spreadsheet may not be at all what you're looking for... but we'll get to that later.

The weekend started, actually, two days earlier than planned because my office lost power during the early hours of the morning on Thursday because of a huge wind and rain storm. The result was two bonus days off for me--Thursday and Friday-- to kick off the weekend! The same storm knocked out the power at my parent's place in Maine, so my mom ended up coming down Friday afternoon. We took Nestlie for a nice long walk, talked about what I was looking for in a dress that weekend, watched a movie, and then went to sleep (or, rather, she went to sleep, I laid awake so excited for the next morning...).

At 10am sharp, my bridesmaid Ashley pulled up to my apartment to scoop up my mom and I to head Cristina's in Andover where we were meeting my sister. As a sweet surprise, she showed up with the cutest bridal balloon that we affectionally called "Little Lisa" for the rest of the weekend. When we pulled up to the parking lot in Andover where Kelly was waiting, she surprised me with a sparkly bridal banner, a veil, a tiara, a sash, and a bag of necessities from Whole Foods in case I felt dehydrated or hungry after so many try-ons. It's safe to say she's off to an absolutely incredible start as my maid of honor! From here, let me break down our experience at each salon...

Saturday morning: Cristina's in Andover, MA Seven Dresses

For this appointment, I had my mom, sister, and bridesmaid Ashley with me. When we made our way into the salon, we were instantly greeted by mimosas, which made for a perfect start to the whole affair. We met my stylist, Nicole, and I filled out a brief questionnaire. From there, we went upstairs to the bridal suite. I wanted to touch everything. The dresses were all so, so pretty-- so many textures and styles and tones. It was brightly lit, full of natural light, and there was only one other bride there at the same time as us, although it looked like there was space for one or two more. I kept my responses to the questionnaire pretty brief because it was my first time trying on wedding dresses, and I wanted to see a sort of range.

Nicole didn't waste any time at all; once I told her in general what I was looking for, she pulled four or fives gowns and we headed back to the dressing room. She guided me toward which gown to try on first, and as soon as I put it on I felt like a bride. It wasn't quite the cut that I thought I wanted, but when I walked out to the center of the salon where my mom, Kelly, and Ashley were waiting, they all loved it. There were so many details that I absolutely adored about this gown, and I said to the group that I didn't want to take it off. What was really cool was that a stylist who works for the designer of this particular dress happened to be in the store that day, so she was able to tell me a little bit more about it and point out a few things. We all agreed that we were off to a really, really good start, but I was eager to try on a few gowns closer to what I had been staring at for months!

The next few I came out in were definite no's for a variety of reasons, but slowly we were narrowing in on what I like and didn't like in terms of fabric, cut, and neckline. After six gowns, I came out in the seventh and final dress that I tried on at Cristinas. While I was standing in the fitting room being clipped into the dress and looking in the mirror, I couldn't wait to show my group. I felt mature and stunning and bridal. They could tell by how much I was smiling that I loved it... especially the back. It was sublime. I could tell, though, that my mom wasn't as excited about it as Kelly, Ashley, and I were. When I asked her why, she said that it was beautiful and she did love it, but also that she was still thinking about the first one I had tried on! I had moved way past the first dress, though, and now I was truly having the dilemma of whether or not I could actually say yes to this last dress knowing I had two other appointments scheduled. Realistically, I knew that as much as I was falling in love with this dress, there were a few that were very high up on my list at both BHLDN and Flair that I would regret not trying on. Woefully, I returned to the dressing room and Nicole wrote down the information on the dress so that after my other two appointments I could come back in and order it when I was ready.

With that, the four of us headed across the street for lunch. I couldn't believe how well the first appointment went, and as soon as we sat down I started to scroll through all of the photos that Kelly and Ashley took of me in each dress. I was feeling pretty confident that that last dress could be the one, but I couldn't wait to get to BHLDN.

Saturday afternoon: BHLDN in Chestnut Hill, MA Eight Dresses

After lunch, Ashley headed out to her sister's soccer game and my mom, Kelly, and I (and Little Lisa) drove down to Chestnut Hill. We had some time to kill so we wandered around the mall a bit before heading across the street to Anthropologie. If you don't know, BHLDN (pronounced Beholden) is Anthropologie's bridal line and it's only located in a few of their stores around the country, so I felt pretty lucky to have one so close by! A few of my very top gowns were from BHLDN, so I had pretty high expectations (whereas I didn't know what to expect at all going into Cristina's). First impressions upon walking in: it was busy. It isn't really sectioned off from the rest of Anthropologie too much, so shoppers can sort of just wander over to look through bridal, bridesmaid, and mother-of-the-bride dresses, making the space kind of crowded. It was also dark... which, although in keeping with Anthropologie's overall aesthetic, I thought was kind of odd for a bridal salon.

But, this makes sense because as soon as we checked in and sat down with my stylist, she explained that BHLDN is definitely not a traditional bridal salon. Unlike somewhere like Cristina's where you order a gown and it is made and then delivered to you months later, BHLDN dresses are ready-to-wear and are delivered in 5-7 days. And while that may be a relief for any last-minute shoppers, it wasn't exactly the most enticing sales pitch for me. It sort of gives you the feeling that they're just churning out bride after bride.

She also noted right off the bat that if I wanted any changes made to the dress or any details added, this would have to be done elsewhere. They're unable to order any extra fabric for additional details, so it would be on the bride and her seamstress to try to color and texture-match fabrics. This was in pretty stark contrast to Cristina's, which has in-house alterations, and Nicole was constantly telling me about the different ways we could personalize and perfect the gowns I was looking at by ordering additional fabric directly from the designer. So, it's safe to say that I was a little hesitant going into my first gown at BHLDN. The last thing that my mom, Kelly, and I found unsettling? My stylist and I walked through the salon pulling the gowns that I had been eyeing for months, but before she brought them into the fitting room she said she had to go check to make sure they were in-stock to order. We weren't sure why they would be hanging in the salon or available to try-on if they weren't, but luckily all of the dresses I was interested in seemed to be in-stock. Can you imagine if you finally saw a dress in person that you had been dreaming about for months only to be told you couldn't order it?!

I can basically summarize the rest of the appointment at BHLDN by saying that, unfortunately, we weren't impressed. For starters, all of the fabrics looked and felt a lot less expensive than the ones I had tried on earlier that morning, even though the price points were all roughly the same at both salons. The dark lighting also made it really hard to tell what the actual color of the dresses were. If you're a guy and you're reading this (first of all why are you reading this?) you're probably asking yourself, "Isn't there only one White?" Definitely not. There's white, off-white, diamond white, ivory... etc. While Nicole could tell me the color of each gown I had on, the stylist at BHLDN told me all the gowns I was trying on were the same color (though she couldn't tell me what color... ivory-ish I think?). I'm not sure if that was accurate or not, but they all did have a sort of cream or even yellow-ish tint to them under the BHLDN lighting. While I definitely liked one or two of the dresses I tried on, I knew that I didn't love any of them. And while it was easy to leave BHLDN, it was terribly hard to sleep that night.

After Cristina's I guess I had it in my mind that each salon would be better than the next, but I was wrong. And, as much as I thought I loved that last dress at Cristina's, part of me still had some reservations about it. The back was my favorite part, but is that enough of a reason to love or decide on a dress? What helped me a lot, actually, was looking at the gown on the designer's website, where they linked to a few Instagram posts of real brides wearing that dress on their wedding day. Looking through their photos I realized that what you see most of, of course, is the front of the dress. While this gown seemed absolutely breathtaking against my straight hair, minimal makeup, and in the salon setting, it was kind of under-whelming when placed in a ceremony-setting with bridesmaids, florals, and professional hair and makeup.

So, while I told my mom and Kelly that I was pretttttty sure it was "the one" before they left to pick up take-out after we got back to my apartment (leaving me on the couch pouring over photos feeling confused, anxious, and over-whelmed), by the time they walked back in the door I told them...... I was IN LOVE with the very first dress I tried on!!! Major plot twist? Yes. All day I kept going back to the photos of me in that first gown, and trying on similar necklines at BHLDN made me think back to it, as well. Seeing it on other brides, too, (by way of the designer's website and Instagram) I realized how truly stunning it was. We all did love it when I first came out in it; but because it was the very first wedding gown I tired on, in the moment I wondered if that was the reason we were so exited about it. I think that I also didn't allow myself to fully love it at first because it wasn't what I had gone in looking for. But, the more I looked at myself in the dress, and re-watched the videos and live-photos everyone took, I noticed that this was the only gown that really made beam. And, as I said before, I didn't want to take it off. I have a video of me saying that to prove it! I went from being incredibly stressed to unable to stop looking at photos of this dress. Unfortunately, this meant one more sleepless night due to excitement.

We still had Flair the next morning, so it was now a sort of game of "beat the dress."

Sunday morning Flair in Boston, MA Four Dresses

I already knew that I would have a positive experience at Flair because this was where my sister got her dress and we all really liked it there. It's on the smaller side which gives you and your group a more personal and private experience. And, while I was working with a different stylist than my sister, her stylist from a year ago was also in the salon when we got there! I purposely scheduled my appointed at Flair to be the last one because I was pretty confident that this would be where I would find my dress-- after all, they carried my top three gowns on my spreadsheet. Actually, they had carried my top three gowns up until a few weeks before my appointment when I realized they had deleted them from their inventory on Pinterest. I called as soon as I noticed this (in a panicked state, mind you) and my stylist, Zoe, confirmed that they had just gotten rid of those gowns to make room for new ones! Ugh. Luckily, Zoe was able to order samples to borrow from the designer to try on. I had to pay $75 for all three gowns to be shipped, but that meant that if I chose any gown at all from Flair, the $75 would just go toward my dress.

Out of all three salons, I tried on the least number of gowns at Flair. This was because after two appointments we had basically narrowed in on the fabric, shape, and neckline I liked, so we were able to eliminate some that I would have otherwise wanted to try on. This left me with two or three real contenders. Zoe asked me to put on the dress that I thought had the most promise, first, which I ended up appreciating as a strategy! This would give me time to step away from it, as a favorite, and then come back to it after trying on a few other gowns... and that's exactly what I did. The first dress I tired on at Flair was ranked as a 1* on my spreadsheet (again meaning one of my very favorites... it was a scale of 1*, 1, 2, or 3), and we all loved it. I tried on a few more that I could safely rule out, and then I returned to that dress. Zoe added accessories and handed me a bouquet, and Kelly and my mom were pretty convinced. I did love it, but I would be lying if I said that it actually inched me even closer to that first dress at Cristina's. Looking in the mirror it was the right shape, cut, and neckline, but it just didn't measure up for me. I told Zoe that I had to go back to Andover to try on that first gown one more time, because I had only put it on once! And she and I agreed that once I put it back on, I would know for sure which one was my dress.

Monday morning: The Dress...

So.... if you saw my Instagram post you know that in the end, I fell head over heels in love with that very first gown I tried on, and I said yes to the dress. I couldn't WAIT to get back in it, and I emailed Cristina's to see when their next available appointment was. I was bummed, though, that my mom likely wouldn't be able to go back to Andover with me because they're not open on Mondays and she was heading home to Maine on Monday morning. So, the plan was to try to get an appointment after work one night that week and Kelly would drive down and meet me. To our surprise, though, Cristina's daughter, Taryn, emailed me back and said she would be happy to meet us at the salon at 11am on Monday---- they opened the salon just for us! This made it all the more special because my mom and I were the only ones there, along with Taryn and her dad, when I was able to put the dress back on. Unfortunately Kelly had to work, but we were able to FaceTime her! And as soon as I saw myself in the dress, before I even came out of the dressing room, I absolutely knew it was the one.

It was such a relief to know that I didn't have any more doubts, at all, and that I loved every single detail about the gown--even the detail that we plan to custom-add ;). It was funny, too, because this gown was my mom's favorite from the very beginning. As mother's do, she knew best. We FaceTimed Kelly to show her once I was in a veil, and we were all so, so happy.

In the end, I'm really thrilled to be working with Cristina's; my gown will arrive in about 4 months, so in the middle of February, and they'll be doing all of my alterations in-house. They also press and store both the gown and veil until I'm ready to pick them up for my wedding day. They also offer 15% off for my bridesmaids' dresses, so that's definitely something we'll be exploring!

My final take on the other two salons? I would highly recommend Flair-- they have a ton of beautiful gowns and designers, and the two stylists my family has worked with (Kaitlyn and Zoe) were incredibly knowledgable. Both of them could tell us about the fabric of each gown, and also show us how each dress would actually fit and look on us, which can be hard to tell when you're wearing a sample that is 2-4 sizes larger than you would order. When it comes to BHLDN, I do think that it is a great option if you end of loving a dress there exactly how it is. I also think that their specialty really is a more bohemian or romantic bride who is looking for a lot of lace and beading-- and they offer these styles at a more affordable price-point compared to other designers who use these details. I wouldn't rule it out, as an option, but I think it's also helpful to look at at least one other salon so you get a feel for what else is out there quality-wise.

FEWF. That was a long and sort of round-about post, but it was honestly a long and round-about journey to find my dress! At the same time though, it was a whirlwind spanning only three days. The best part? I still have zero regrets. They tell you to stop looking at gowns once you choose yours so that you don't confuse yourself, but even when I do see a dress pop up on Pinterest or Instagram it only makes me that much more excited to wear mine. Nineteen dresses later, and who knew that I would choose the very fist one. See you in four months, beautiful. :)


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