Since getting engaged, I’ve thrown myself into wedding planning. Our wedding is in May next year, so while there’s plenty of time to organise all the details, some bridal shops advise placing an order 9 months (!) before the wedding to allow time for the dress to be made, delivered, and altered, so as much as it pains me to make such a big decision so soon, I do have to start thinking seriously about my dress. With this in mind, I took a trip to Westfield Stratford City to visit David’s Bridal and try my first few dresses.
David’s Bridal offers a halfway house between the full-on salon experience and a less personal off-the-rack purchase. Their dresses can be bought there and then, or you can order a new one to be delivered a few months later. They also hold plenty of samples, so you can try the majority of dresses in your size, which appealed to me for a first stop when I really wanted to get an idea of what suited me. Nothing in the shop costs more than about £1300, which is obviously expensive, but nothing compared to the cost of designer wedding gowns elsewhere. Most importantly, David’s Bridal stocks dresses from two very exciting diffusion lines: White by Vera Wang, and Truly Zac Posen.
It was the Zac Posen gowns I was most interested in, but I went in with my eyes wide open, willing to try a bit of everything. I had and still have and idea of what I want. But the truth is the soft, diaphanous gowns I love aren’t really made for a girl who’s all boobs and hips, so I guess deep down I knew that I’d need something a little more structured.
I kicked off with the biggest Zac Posen dress of the lot, which I’d seen in ads and knew I wanted to try. As you can see from the mirror, the zip didn’t go up – it had actually broken, so we had to use our imagination a little. Zac’s dresses come with a slightly less intricate version of his trademark built-in corsetry to shape the body. You could essentially wear this with no underwear, but I was given a strapless basque to wear underneath (albeit in a very ill-fitting 36C).
As fun and princessy as this dress was, I knew it wasn’t right for me. It’s too fussy and heavy, and completely wrong for the occasion, as we’re marrying on the beach in Antigua. So it was on to the next.
Dress two was a wildcard choice, a £1,195 Oleg Cassini dress that was the complete antithesis of what I thought I wanted. Strapless, full-skirted, and coloured, I tried this purely because I’d never seen anything like it and I thought it would be fun. And I have to say, though I won’t be wearing this down the aisle, I did kind of love it. As you can tell from my face!
The flower applique on the skirt was really unusual, and the colour (hard to see in the pictures, but it was a kind of brownish pink) was really amazing against my pale, pink-toned skin. But again, it was far too heavy and fussy for the beach, plus the colours felt too autumnal. I almost caved when they pulled out the matching veil though!
Then came the surprise. I was keen to try a mermaid dress, as I like the mermaid/beach concept, but I wasn’t expecting to like it as I’m pear-shaped. The one I picked was, once again strapless, but that’s easily solved with added straps or a little lace overlay. I chose it because it was very soft, simple, light and airy, with none of the fuss and drama of the bigger gowns. It had detail, but it was more in the construction than embellishment. Of all the dresses I tried, it was the one that instantly felt right when I put it on. It weighed half what any of the others did, for a start! Though it’s early days and I’m sure I will change my mind and fall in love with other dresses a hundred times before then, I’m not showing pictures of that dress on the small chance it may end up being ‘the one’.
But just to show you the mermaid shape, after seeing my eyes light up in that dress, the assistant quickly got me into two more. Both were from the Vera Wang White collection and were bigger, more dramatic versions of the same silhouette. As both were very similar, and neither were right for me, we only got photos of one.
Though this is not my dress by any stretch of the imagination, it probably goes some way to show why I fell for the mermaid look. I don’t like the halter neck, the fussiness or texture of the skirt (I prefer those that have a more seamless join from bodice to skirt) but the corsetry and fit of the bodice was just amazing. Now I see why so many brides go strapless. There’s a big difference between wearing this and wearing a cheap bandeau dress. I love the look it gives my upper body, and with the right bra the dreaded back fat wouldn’t be so much of a problem. I genuinely didn’t think my bridal look would ever be ‘sexy’ (and I still want to try romantic, old-fashioned lace) but I was surprised how much I fell for this silhouette.
Overall, I was impressed with the amount of fabric you get for your money at David’s Bridal, and the way the underskirts add volume and lift, and the quality of the heavy corsetry in the designer gowns. The dresses feel surprisingly luxurious, and the tops are supportive. But corners have been cut to keep the prices down compared to more custom designs. The biggest issue for me is that most of the gowns have big ugly zips up the back, rather than lacing. This means you’re almost always going to need to get the dress altered unless you are a very standard size. I’m lucky, as my proportions are fairly even but the fit definitely wasn’t perfect. Apparently, you can get the zip replaced with a lace-up back at extra cost (she couldn’t tell me how much). This is something I would definitely do as it’ll allow for a little weight gain / loss and a more custom fit without unnecessary extra fitting costs.
I would also question the quality of these zips in general. One was completely broken on a dress I tried, and they couldn’t get another to zip up (apparently not because the dress was too small – it was just stiff). When you’re spending over £1000 you expect the best quality, right down to the notions. Having tried two dresses with broken zips, and another with makeup all over the lining, I wonder how many people actually walk out of this store with a dress on the day. I would definitely want to order a new one in to get it fresh, clean and pristine, and that can take up to 6 months.
In terms of service, the assistants are helpful but not too pushy, and the shop itself is big and well-designed. It’s not as luxurious as a smaller bridal salon and the experience is less private, but not everyone likes the intense selling environment of a small boutique, and if you’re looking for a dress in a fuss-free setting, David’s Bridal might just be for you.
For me the real appeal was getting to try lots of dresses in my size at the start of my search, to really visualise how the silhouette looks. I know when I visit other shops I will be pinned into size 10 or 12 samples, and from previous experience helping friends choose dresses I know that some bridal shop assistants can be quite frank when it comes to the dress size and weight of their brides-to-be, so I am grateful that at David’s Bridal there was no discussion of my body or any supposed ‘limitations’ it may present. For the record, they go up to a size 30 in many sizes, so it’s a great option for plus sizes too.
Thanks to my friend Darika for taking all the photos and providing excellent dress advice!