Me holding what I thought would be my dream dress, before I tried it on.

Some brides are dreaming of their perfect wedding dress long before their future spouse ever comes into the picture, but I’m not one of those brides. Sometimes I imagined what I might wear, but it never became something that consumed hours of flipping through magazines and scouring Pinterest to find something I loved. But having a dress that I was happy with was (and is) still important to me.

So last year, my mom and I went wedding dress shopping for the first time because there was a sample sale at one of the bridal shops in town. We went over to the sample dresses in my size and I immediately found something that I saw in the shop’s window earlier that year and it caught my eye. We found our place in line and easily waited 20 minutes just to get into my dressing room. I shimmied into the dress and found it was too long for what i wanted, the cap sleeves were too long, there was a tear in the back, and the store was asking at the top end of my small budget. I came out of the dressing room and my mom looked happy, but the sales person there started prodding me without hesitation and told me I would have to wear heels with this dress. I’m sorry – but who are you to start telling me what I have to wear on the biggest day of my life?

I left the gown in the dressing room and decided it was too much money for something that required too many alterations. We went over to another bridal shop down the street that was also busy, likely as a run off from the sample sale. Nobody made time for us, except when I tried on a dress. I was told again that I couldn’t wear certain things with it, and as the salesperson clipped and zipped me, I was horrified at the reflection in the mirror and took it off immediately. You know that scene in Sex and the City when Carrie has an allergic reaction to the wedding dress? I finally knew exactly how that felt.

We went to one more place and when I told the manager there my wedding date, she said “oh, you have lots of time,” and then went on doing something else. She didn’t even want to take my money, so why should I give it to them?

I went home and cried. I wasn’t happy at all – with myself, with my body, with weddings. I told my fiancé I didn’t even want a wedding anymore and that we should just get married at city hall. But, of course, the dust settled. My mom sent me pictures she took of me in the first dress and I couldn’t stop looking at them. I just needed to find a dress that worked for me.

Then, my friend opened a small business making wedding dresses and accessories. She

The sketch that my designer made for me.

was always crafty and had recently made herself a gorgeous cocktail dress. So I met with her and we figured out exactly what I wanted. I showed her pictures of how I wanted to look and how high I wanted my hem to be (it’s a tea-length dress!) and how the shoulders should look. I told her about my experiences and she agreed – this isn’t how a bride should feel.

If you go into bridal shops and you feel like cattle, like I did, you have other options. Look into your community for small businesses who can give you exactly what you want. Depending on the design of your dress, it may not always be cheap, but if it’s high on your priority list, it’s worth the money. They have a smaller client base, so you’re more important to them than a big bridal store. And most importantly, they want you to be comfortable. So, no, I didn’t say “yes” to any dress. Instead, I sat down with an expert and designed the dress of my dreams – no compromising necessary.