Getting married again at 52 was a surprise but it did give me the opportunity to right a wrong from my past wedding. For some unknown reason, I didn’t have a wedding “gown” the first time around but instead had someone make me a dress. I had cut something out of a magazine (completely ignoring the fact that it was on a professional model who was 6’ tall and thin and blonde) and asked my dressmaker to make that dress, but short and in PINK. He also added a removable train and puffy sleeves so basically I looked liked Snow White in a Pepto Bismal bottle. It was awful. Not to mention the 80’s hair and makeup … I cringe when I look at those pictures.

This time I was getting a wedding gown. Not just any gown but the PERFECT gown. This shouldn’t be too hard, I wore gowns a lot to charity events and always found lovely ones. I just didn’t understand how different Bridal Gown Shopping was!

First of all, the gowns never look like they do in print for some reason. And then there is the whole sizing thing .. I am a size 2. Trust me (except for maybe David’s Bridal), there is not a gown in my size to try on so you have a dress on with industrial strength metal clips in the back holding it on. Very difficult to imagine what it would look like when altered. And then most places have a “no picture policy” until you purchase it. I mean the dress you are going to have the most pictures ever taken of you in your life and you can’t see a photograph before you purchase it? That really would have been helpful.

First Gown - I didn't see this picture until months after purchasing ... the mirror lies!

First Gown – I didn’t see this picture until months after purchasing … the mirror lies!

My first stop for a gown was in New York City. A girlfriend flew up with me and we went to a few different shops. But the first place we went was overwhelming. It was the size of a football field and crammed with gowns of every designer, color, etc. I had brought pictures of gowns I liked and even though my friend encouraged me to try all different styles on, I had tunnel vision and ended up trying on mostly fit and flares. I had also thought I wanted a halter style because a lot of my regular gowns were a halter and that was always flattering. Anyway, 2 hours later and a very nice salesperson, I walked away with gown #1, a gorgeous Watters “sample” gown that was marked down to just $400 (from $1200) because it had just been discontinued. I was pretty happy and even though we went to two other stores, I was fairly confident that this gown was the one. Until I got it home and got copies of the pictures that my friend took of me in it. I was shocked; the gown didn’t look as good as I thought it had in the mirror! A trip to the seamstress confirmed my mistake and even after a few meetings with ideas on how to alter it, we finally came to the conclusion, this dress was not going to work. So less than 6 months from the wedding, I am back on the prowl for a gown and now in Orlando.

Three of the 4 gowns!

Three of the 4 gowns!

I had always planned on a 2nd dress to change into after the cocktail hour so that I could dance the night away with no fear of ruining my dress or dealing with the train (bustled or not, it is still not a great thing to dance in). So dress #2 was found at a remote dress shop that had a clearance rack and a ballgown style dress (yes by this point I was trying on all types of styles) that was pearl encrusted at the top and layers of tulle on the bottom. We kind of rebuilt the bottom half of the dress but in the end it worked well for the reception dress. But still no ceremony dress and panic is setting in.

The Perfect Gown! Finally. Justin Alexander

The Perfect Gown! Finally. Justin Alexander

We did all the major bridal shops in town and either were turned off by their service and/or their prices. I really couldn’t see myself spending more than $1500 for a gown and was really hoping for one under $1000. I then went to East Orlando and had a shop hold a couple of gowns for me so my friends could all weigh in. We liked one the best (a Christina Wu) and I bought gown #3. Now this is a gorgeous dress and it looked good on me. But something still nagged at me. I had tried on a size 14 Justin Alexander that I kept thinking about. Now it is 3 months before the wedding and I do the online search for that gown in my size and finally find it and order it. The  minute I put it on, I knew that was the gown and now I had TWO gowns to sell.

It took about 6 months but I did sell both of them to two VERY happy brides who ROCKED the dresses that didn’t work for me. So while I lost money (and time) on the deal, I console myself with the knowledge that I made two other women very happy.

What did I learn from this experience (and am now lucky to share with my step daughter)?

  1. Cut out pictures but remember these people are models! Try to find pictures of the REAL wedding brides. And forget ordering on the internet — unless you have tried the gown on in person, they never look like they do on the internet. Besides many are fakes and knock offs and that could mean poor quality.
  2. Listen to my friend – try on all the styles. While I kept searching for fit and flare gowns, I ended up with an A Line. So try them all on. My step daughter said no lace but at the last moment tried on a dress with lace that she fall in love with. So don’t be stubborn, try them on.
  3. Don’t be pressured to buy – especially if it is not a one of a kind sample sale gown. And even those they will usually hold for a day so you can come back.
  4. Try to shop places where they allow pictures so you can see quickly how that dress looks on you. Photos can pick up things that the naked eye just doesn’t and you need this dress to look good in photos.
  5. Don’t bring a crowd, try to bring only one or two people with you. And make sure it is someone who will be truthful without being pushy. Just because THEY like it, doesn’t mean you have to.
  6. Make sure your hair and makeup is done nicely when you shop and ask them for a veil and flowers so you can see the whole effect. My step daughter really felt adding the veil changed the whole look of the dress.
  7. Remember you can embellish the dress with a belt and jewelry so don’t be afraid to keep the dress simple.
  8. White doesn’t really look good on anyone – 99% of all the gowns sold are off white or diamond white so don’t let that color be your guide.
  9. The dress needs to be comfortable. The last thing you want on your wedding day is a dress that is so tight you can’t breathe or sit down. Or one that itches.
  10. Start early! Many gowns take 3-6 months to come in so you want to start early just in case yours has to be ordered.


Joann Marks is the founder and co-owner of Music Box Invites – the ONLY custom musical invitation company!