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Wedding

Reader, I Married Him

I’m a married woman. After almost seven years together, we took a trip to Antigua with 8 family members and my oldest friend to tie the knot at Cocobay resort, the same resort we stayed at (and fell in love with) in 2013. I’ve explained our reasons for a destination wedding before, so I won’t go into that again, except to say that I have absolutely no regrets about our decision. The location was brilliant, the staff at Cocobay were fantastic, and there’s nothing about the day that I didn’t love. Plus, in July we get to have a whole other day of fun when we celebrate with all our friends in London. Yes, somehow I managed to wrangle two weddings.

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Since this is mostly a fashion blog, I’m basically here to talk about the dress, so let’s get right to it. If you’d told me a year ago that I would get married in a strapless gown I would have laughed in your face, but the more dresses I tried, the more I understood why strapless is so popular. Everything else just seemed too fussy and frumpy on me (especially as I knew I would wear my hair down). Plus, hot weather and sleeves? NOPE.

In the shop, they called this the “swan dress”, because the tiny tulle layers look like feathers from a distance. It worked brilliantly for a beach wedding – the tulle dries quickly and tiny rips along the hem are easily hidden, which was a good thing given how often I was in the surf, catching shells, driftwood, and other things along the way. It also travelled really well, which was a big concern for me. I had this dress carefully packed (read: squished) into a hand luggage case for the journey, and it didn’t even need steaming on the day. This was far easier than struggling round the airport with a huge garment bag that screamed “Look at me, I’m a bride”.

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The gown itself is by Galina Signature, from David’s Bridal. I tried it in the UK store on my first bridal shopping trip, but actually ended up buying it from the USA where it was almost half the price (hooray for international offices and twice-yearly training trips). I thought I would spend a lot more than I did, but after trying on maybe 50 dresses, this was the one I kept going back to. I just couldn’t justify three times the cost just to say I had a designer gown when none of them were quite right. This dress felt completely different to everything else I tried and I think that’s why I knew it was “the one”. Because the detail all came from soft texture, not embellishment, it had a lightness I knew would be important in the heat. Knowing I was likely to get it dirty on the beach, I didn’t want a £3,000+ dress that was too delicate to cope. Honestly I think I knew this was my dress the moment I saw it, it just took some further persuading to get there.

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There was the dreaded back fat to contend with given the tight fit of the bodice (one of my strapless dress fears) but provided the size is right, good posture puts pay to most of that. I did veto a couple of photos when they came back, but overall I was impressed by how well the dress fit in the end (with some help from my sister-in-law, who laced me up like a pro). Because I bought the dress abroad, I actually did all the dress adjustments myself. The length was perfect anyway, but the back needed some changes. Originally, the dress had a zip, which I turned into a lace-up back using a Laceeis kit. This also allowed me to take the dress in to fit as I lost weight. I honestly wouldn’t recommend doing your own adjustments unless you’re a very confident sewist (with your own dressmakers dummy). My mum made her own dress from scratch, but I’m not that confident. The first time I put the needle into the dress, I did so with shaking hands. It worked out, but it’s by no means perfect (especially from the inside).

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I wore mostly sentimental accessories. A gold locket necklace that came from my grandad’s mother was my something old. My something new (other than my dress) was my Aspiga starfish sandals. These were one of the first things I bought, having seen them on a wedding blog and fallen in love.

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My something borrowed was a diamond ring from my husband’s granny. My something blue (and a little bit green) was a hummingbird brooch that my husband found in an antiques shop, which paid tribute to all the hummingbirds that fly around the resort’s gardens.

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I also wore a gold bracelet engraved with the coordinates of the beach you can see in these photos, which came from Mignon and Mignon on Etsy. The sash was from Jenny Packham No.1 at Debenhams. It looks darker in photos than I would have liked, but finding something that was both gold and silver, to match my jewellery, proved tricky. My lingerie also came from Debenhams, and proved to be one of the most difficult parts of the whole look. I tried dozens of strapless bras before settling on one from B by Ted Baker. If there’s one piece of advice I could give to all brides to be its this: think about the lingerie you need, buy it early, wear it for fittings. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can go without a bra if you clearly need one. Work with your body, not against it.

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Our wedding day was truly perfect, and (other than maybe going a bit lighter with the bronzing powder) I wouldn’t change a thing about it. If you’re considering a small destination wedding but can’t bring yourself to take the plunge, do it. I promise you you won’t regret it for an instant.

Oh, and did I mention there was a second dress?

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More on that soon!

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Wedding

Why We Chose to Have a Destination Wedding

You’d be forgiven for wondering why someone who doesn’t tan, craves the shade, and has blood that’s crack for mosquitos would choose to get married in the Caribbean. But of all the decisions we’ve had to make when it comes to this wedding, I think the decision to have the ceremony in Antigua was the easiest one to make.

As his lack of appearance on this blog may suggest, my other half doesn’t like being the centre of attention, so we always knew our wedding would be small. Having it abroad makes that easy, especially at a venue that only allows 20 people at a wedding.

We’ll also have been together for seven years by the time we tie the knot. This wedding is not a big public display of commitment (buying a flat together did that). We’re marrying for various reasons, some sentimental and some practical, but the most important thing is that the day itself is about us and it’s as relaxed, simple, and fuss-free as possible. I have a tendency to stress and worry if things aren’t perfect, so anything that can be done to inject a bit of calm into proceedings is a good thing. I’m putting a lot of faith in that “don’t worry, be happy” attitude of island life.

But the big thing for us was cost. Weddings are expensive. Honeymoons are expensive. Put the two together, and you can actually save a lot of money. A destination wedding cuts out the need to suddenly pay over the odds to feed and water the hundred or so people you will inevitably have on your list. We are having a party in London on our return and even keeping the numbers down as much as we could we’re looking at over 100 guests – once your cousins and mates start having kids the numbers spiral out of control very quickly. There is genuinely no way we would be able to have a more traditional wedding in London with all the people we want. As it is, our party (which includes a BBQ meal and drinks) is looking like it’ll cost almost the same as the entire Antigua trip. But even so, by marrying abroad, we’ve managed to keep our budget significantly below the average cost of a UK wedding, get an amazing honeymoon, and celebrate with all our friends in a more informal, relaxed way.

Of course, there are some things you have to consider when you make this decision. People will be disappointed. We are very lucky that our immediate families are able to afford to fly out and join us at the hotel – something we did take into consideration when booking. But we also had to be selfish and risk letting people down. We have grandparents who can’t travel. We picked a hotel that doesn’t allow children, and some of our closest friends have young kids. I think if we weren’t having a celebration at home too, we’d be disappointing some of the most important people in our lives. But I also know that true friends and true loved ones understand that a marriage is not about a wedding, it’s about what comes after.

I’m also pretty sure after shelling out for dozens of big weddings over the years, that many of our friends are just happy all they have to do is show up at 4pm for meat and bubbles. No gifts, no long religious ceremonies, no staged photos. Just all our favourite people and a big excuse to party!

Finally, if you really want to know why we chose to marry in Antigua, you just have to look at it. The 365 virtually empty beaches, the tropical blue waters, the lush foliage, the brilliant people, the amazing food, the bottomless pit of rum cocktails…its a slice of heaven, and I can’t wait to get married with my toes in the sand!

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Wedding

A Guide for Non-Romantics: How To Propose

After getting engaged, I was surprised at the amount of people whose first question was “So, how did it happen?”

I guess I never thought too much about proposals because I was more concerned with the marriage (and, yes, to a lesser extent, the wedding). But after telling the story over and over I realised that it is a lovely part of your relationship story to have a touching, funny, sweet or dramatic proposal story.

What I don’t believe, though, is that you have to stick to tradition, spend a shedload of money, or go big. Sometimes, it’s the little touches that are the best. So when Gemporia, purveyors of gorgeous engagement rings, asked me to share my tips on how to propose, I decided to throw the rulebook out of the window and instead of sharing tips, I’m dispelling myths!

Myth one: You must spend a fortune on a ring

The ‘rule’ is that the person proposing should spend a proportion of his or her income on the ring. Depending on where you look, that figure ranges from one month’s salary to three. Basing what you buy on your earnings does make sense, but perhaps not to this extent. Lest we forget, the original ideas came from a 1930s advertising campaign by De Beers. De Beers sells diamonds. Of course they want you to spend all your money on a ring.

It comes down to two things: circumstances, and the bride’s style.

If my fiance spent three months salary on my ring, we wouldn’t be able to pay our mortgage. We wouldn’t be able to have our beautiful destination wedding. And I would walk around wearing a piece of jewellery so expensive I’d be scared to do anything with my left hand. Of course, there are some women out there who love luxury, expect a big rock, and won’t be truly happy without one. If they are marrying someone who is able to buy them the ring they dream of, then they should go for it. You’re going to wear this rock for the rest of your life. But for me, jewellery has always been more about sentimentality than cost.

I already have two engagement rings on my right hand – my nan’s and my great grandma’s – and I love them. For me it was most important that my ring worked with them as they’re mixed metals. I didn’t want a big, modern style with a huge diamond. After we decided to get married, I picked out two affordable vintage diamond rings on Etsy that had the same feel as the ones I already wear, and my fiancé picked his favourite. Here it is, in situ next to a modern ring from Gemporia.

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I adore my ring, everyone has commented on how perfect it is for me, and the money we saved will go towards our honeymoon. As for my wedding ring, I’m going to wear the gold band that matches my nan’s engagement ring. Consider it my ‘something old’.

Myth two: You have to get down on one knee

Though I know my future husband (argh!) wouldn’t want me to go into exact details about the moment we got engaged, I did already reveal that it happened in a lagoon in Thailand, so it wouldn’t take a genius to work out that he probably wasn’t down on one knee at the time. Did this make any difference to the moment? Nope!

While I do believe there should be some ‘ceremony’ to a proposal to make it special if possible, I don’t think it has to be the traditional down-on-one-knee moment, unless that feels right for you as a couple. Getting down on one knee automatically draws attention, not to mention the fact it implies what’s coming next. I would have been beyond embarrassed if I was proposed to in public with the whole shebang!

Myth three: You have to plan everything in advance

Sometimes it’s as simple as picking the perfect moment and jumping in at the deep end when it feels right. If you plan every last detail, the moment something doesn’t go according to plan you could get flustered and ruin things completely. There have been some incredible dramatic proposal (just look on YouTube) and while they’re absolutely amazing, they’re not necessary. What’s necessary is love, commitment, and that feeling of “right now is the right time”. While I doubt many girls would hate a beautiful choreographed proposal, I also think a lot would be happy with just a simple “will you marry me” from the man they love.

Myth four: You have to tell everyone immediately

We didn’t tell anyone about our engagement for almost a week, and it was nice to have that little bit of time just for us, which also allowed us to come up with a (basic) wedding plan before we told parents and friends. Some people may want to share immediately, but if I can give one piece of advice, it’s to make sure ALL close family know (especially the older generations) before you take it to social media. I made a lot of calls before I put up that facebook status change. Not everyone likes to find out about the movements of their nearest and dearest second hand from that random second cousin twice removed who you forgot follows you on instagram.

Myth five: You should never propose on a birthday, anniversary, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day or at someone else’s wedding

One person’s tacky is another’s sweet and sentimental. Do whatever the hell you like! The latter is the most controversial, but I’ve known it happen, everyone’s still married, everyone’s still friends. As with everything, it depends on the people!

Myth six: You should propose after a certain period of dating (18 months, 2 years, etc)

As much as I would like to say “absolutely not” to this, I think the real answer is “it depends on who you’re proposing to”. Some people have certain expectations, and if you’re in a relationship with a traditionalist who has a life plan, there may come a time when you feel pressured to put a ring on a it. But it’s 2014, and each relationship is different. Don’t let outside pressure force you into proposing unless you genuinely want to be engaged and eventually get married. Because the moment that ring is on the finger, people will start asking about the wedding!

Myth seven: The man has to propose to the woman

Firstly, who says a marriage has to be between a man and a woman? Secondly, if you are a woman who likes to take control of the situation, there is nothing to stop you from being the one to pop the question. If you want a seriously awesome story to tell people when they ask you how you got engaged, they don’t really get any better than “I asked him”.

Myth eight: You have to ‘propose’

Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting down, having a conversation about the future, and deciding mutually that you want to get married. While a nice proposal story is lovely, it’s not vital!

Disclosure: I wasn’t paid to write this post, but Gemporia did gift me the ring in the picture.

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Wedding

All The Wedding Dresses That Almost Made The Cut

I’ve chosen my wedding dress! After numerous appointments, lots of different styles and a little bit of soul-searching, I finally made a decision. It won’t surprise any of you that I ended up picking one of the first few that I tried, but it took a long time to convince myself that the right dress really was one of the cheapest and definitely the least like the picture I’d had in my head when I started looking. During my search I tried on around 40 dresses over six appointments (I know) and as I could only pick one, I wanted to share some of the other great styles I tried and loved. There were so many great designers on offer that I really wanted to do a little focus on them for any other brides currently on (or planning) their search!

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Eliza by Eliza Jane Howell

(tried at Boa Boutique, Richmond)

Eliza Jane Howell was one of the first designers that I identified as being “the one”, and I deliberately booked appointments at two boutiques that stocked her dresses. She essentially makes nothing but the exact Old Hollywood style gowns I’d imagined myself wearing, and I fell in love with her beautiful ’40s designs. Unfortunately, my body didn’t. I tried 2 or 3 dresses but the only one that worked on me was this, the Eliza.

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This was the dress I agonised over the most. I loved it, but it would need serious alterations to the shoulders, sleeves and hem, I kept tripping over the incredibly delicate tulle train, and in hindsight, it was far too fussy and embellished for a beach wedding. I came away on the day seriously considering splashing out on this. But when I look back at these pictures it looks too much, overwhelming me with all the detail.

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Lusan Mandongus

(tried at TeoKath, Wimbledon)

This is another dress that made it onto my pinterest board very early on. I was completely in love with it from the photos and knew that the style was perfect for the beach; a bit sexy, with the vintage feel I love. But there was one big issue, and I knew this before I even tried it on. This is not a dress for a girl who has E cup boobs! I didn’t let this stop me trying it, and actually it looked a lot better on than I expected, but it wasn’t the one. No amount of sewn-in cups can make a slinky dress like this work on a less-than-slinky figure. On to the next…

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Annasul Y

(tried at Teokath, Wimbledon)

I never would have picked this dress up myself, least of all because at this point I was still against anything strapless, but after trying similar shapes with sleeves, I started to realise the fuss around the shoulders wasn’t actually doing me any favours (as I plan to wear my hair down). So the consultant suggested I try this, and it ended up being my favourite in the shop. It was hard to work out from the small sample how flattering it would be, but I loved the delicate details like the lace trim on the hem of the skirt, the soft pleated tulle at the waist, and the simple shape with very soft layers.

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Pronovias Ledurne

(tried at The Wedding Dress Shop, Wimbledon Park)

And now for something completely different! I loved the ridiculous drama of this dress, though it wasn’t exactly my mum’s favourite. The bust has feathers pointing upwards, which I thought would be really fun in Antigua where the resident hummingbirds have actually inspired the overall theme of the wedding. The mermaid shape looks much better on me than I ever expected (and there’s great fun in looking like a mermaid for a beach wedding) but the full skirt with all the layers and pleats made this too heavy, and virtually impossible to pack for travel. I still love it for its drama though!

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Watters Brooke

(tried at Emma Elizabeth Bridal, Twickenham)

I think before I even tried it on that I knew this dress wasn’t quite right, but my mum hadn’t seen me in a full-on princess dress and I thought it would be fun to see how it looked. The great thing about these styles is that they make the upper body look incredible. I loved the twisted bodice and the fit of the corset top and this was actually one of the most flattering styles I tried. The skirt was surprisingly beautiful and didn’t look as crazy as it does in photos, but I knew that it’d be a step too far for my wedding (and more importantly, my fiancé, who is a less-is-more man). It was very light, though, despite all the layers, and I think if I was a few years younger, I might have considered it!

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Terry Fox Silver Siren

(tried at Boa Boutique, Richmond)

If I was getting married in Winter, in London, I would probably be wearing this dress. I absolutely LOVED how simple and sophisticated it was. Satin wasn’t top of my list when it came to fabrics when I started my search, because it’s so famous for being unflattering. But Terry Fox uses high quality, beautiful fabrics that float, rather than cling.

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Unfortunately the sample was too small for me (see the back view!) so I couldn’t really get a true idea of how it would fit, but I loved the seaming detail around the hips, the keyhole neckline, and the ’30s inspired silhouette. Terry Fox makes dresses to the bride’s custom measurements, which would promise an incredible fit. I felt like a glamourpuss in this dress, but I just couldn’t see it on a beach. I’m so glad I tried it on though, because I now know if I ever have a big event that styles like this do work on curvier figures, you just need to invest in a good cut!

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Mia Mia Tamara

(tried at Emma Elizabeth Bridal, Twickenham)

I’d tried a lot of lace the day I tried this, and as more and more of the dresses didn’t work, I knew I needed to try something completely different to get myself out of the funk. This dress was the antithesis; full skirted, no embellishment, just a really beautiful heavy silk with a sheer panel at the top. The fit was an absolute dream, and when Emma added a floral sash in my exact colour scheme, I did find myself wondering for a nanosecond if I really could get a dress this big and heavy into a hand luggage box. The answer, of course, was “probably not”. But if you are having a more traditional wedding and want something along the Grace Kelly / Maria Von Trapp lines with no silly sparkle but plenty of class, please try this dress. It’s a total winner and makes your waist look absolutely incredible.

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Pronovias Ocampa

(tried at The Wedding Dress Shop, Wimbledon Park)

This was the first wedding dress my mum got to see me in, and I think it set the bar pretty high. Pronovias was one of the labels I’d known about for years but always thought was out of my price range (along with Claire Pettibone and Jenny Packham) but I was surprised to discover that many of the dresses are under £2000. That’s still an obscene amount of money to pay for a dress you’ll wear for one day, but a drop in the ocean compared to the likes of Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier and co. Ocampa combined a few of the things I loved; drop waist, tulle skirt, lace detail, not strapless…but overall it was just too much. Close, but no cigar!

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Enzoani Harmony

(tried at The Wedding Dress Shop, Wimbledon Park)

I tried this in a size 12 which was a little on the tight side, which could go some way to explaining why I let it go so quickly. Looking back, this is one of the dresses I feel the most excited about, but the simple truth was it just felt too much like a party dress, and too sexy for a wedding. You can’t tell so much on the model, but there’s a split to the thigh which shows Angelina Jolie levels of leg when you move. It’d be easy enough to stitch it down, but it still felt a bit too Marilyn Monroe. The waist hugs really tight, the top shows a lot of cleavage and the back is low, emphasising the hips and bum. I have a crazy waist to hip ratio, and a dress like this on a body like mine is just a bit too badonk-a-donk for a wedding. After all, the in laws will be there!

I’ve listed all the bridal boutiques I visited for any future brides looking for South London shops to explore. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the lot in terms of service, but really it comes down to the styles and designers you’re looking for. One piece of advice I would give: if you like a specific dress from a specific designer, call ahead to check they stock it (and find out what size the sample is) to avoid disappointment. I was lucky and there was only one dress I didn’t track down, but it’s not always that easy!

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Wedding

Wedding Dress Shopping at Debenhams

On my quest for the perfect bridal gown I ended up visiting six shops. Though my final dress may have been one of the first I tried on, I’m glad I gave myself the experience of visiting lots of shops and trying lots of different brands. Not only did I really learn what works on my body, I also discovered a lot about the process I can share with my fellow brides-to-be.

The first thing I would advise is to stagger appointments slightly. I think it’s important to really enjoy each appointment and give yourself some time to think between gowns. I made the mistake of making four appointments in one day (because my mum and bridesmaid were in town) but the result of that was that we were rushed off our feet all day with little time to think! By the time I made it to the lovely guys at Debenhams, who invited me to the Berketex Bridal salon in the Oxford Circus store, I was knackered, confused, and ready for a sit down.

Luckily, this was the right place to go when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. Like David’s Bridal who I wrote about previously, this salon offers a slightly more relaxed setting for trying dresses. They have the big, roomy fitting rooms, the helpful shop assistants and the privacy of a “brides only” space. But it also felt less rushed, they had gowns in plenty of sizes, and also plenty of dresses at a more realistic price tag.

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By the time I got to Debenhams I had a better idea of what suited my figure. The days of dreamily choosing fussy lace designs with delicate sleeves, illusion overlays and trumpet hems were gone. I’d had to face the fact they looked frumpy and ill-fitting on me. The relaxed, diaphanous 30s gowns I loved looked like I’d slipped on a dress belonging to a woman twice my age. I’d quickly learned that the things I thought I didn’t want (strapless, sexy) worked much better on my body and made me look like a bride. So I went straight to the mannequin that held the Sasha Perez ‘Tori’ dress (£999).

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This was the only sample but the assistant had no issues taking it off the mannequin for me to try. I also grabbed a whole host of other dresses, from princess to column, from £200 to £2000. The Tori was my favourite, but some of the others came a close second. My main aim was to really compare the two price tags and see if you can spot the difference, and I was pleasantly surprised by what you could get on the lower end.

However, what I would say is this – when you’re buying a lower priced dress, it won’t necessarily look cheap, but only if you keep it simple. The more detail, beading, sparkle, applique, gathering, pleating and embroidery you want, the bigger your budget needs to be. If you’re looking for loads of bling and embroidery and beading on a £250 dress, this is when you run into problems, because the materials are obviously cheaper and the attention to detail a little lower. If you keep it fairly simple, you might be surprised. I tried on a £200 a-line gown which looked like it cost twice that. I was also impressed that some of the lower priced gowns (like the Marissa) had lace-up backs, as this is usually the first thing to go in favour of a zip when you’re trying to keep prices down…but is important to me because it give you some wiggle room (literally) and can save on expensive fittings.

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I came away from the Berketex salon feeling surprised at what they had on offer right there in a department store, but then we stumbled across Debenhams own bridal gowns (not part of the salon) and realised we’d just scratched the surface! As well as carrying Phase Eight (whose vintage-inspired wedding dresses I love even if they don’t love me back) the Debut collection offers up some great dresses, from tea length ’50s frocks to pretty grecian styles that would be perfect for the beach. The joy of these dresses, aside from low price points, is that you don’t need an appointment to try them on, and you can buy them off the rack then and there, making them perfect for rushed weddings, last minute nuptials and “oh God, I hate my dress and I’m getting married tomorrow” moments. I’m sorely tempted to pop back and grab myself a reception dress for under £200!

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Wedding

Wedding dress shopping at David’s Bridal

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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Travel, Wedding

Adventures (and Proposals) In Thailand

Following our trip to China for my brother’s wedding, we took a detour via Thailand on the way home. It seemed such a shame to go so far and only visit one country, and since we’d used our holiday fund to pay for the trip, it made sense to add a holiday on the end.

So, with many thanks to an amazing travel agent who managed to get us everything we wanted at a price even her colleagues couldn’t believe, our next stop was Phuket.

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My first impression of Thailand? It’s hot. I’ve been to my fair share of hot destinations but the humidity levels in Phuket completely blew me away. I couldn’t even lie in the shade without sweating. A pale-skinned girl like me is not made to function in places like that. I felt virtually incapacitated by the heat, and spent most of my time in pool or sea. This was no bad thing, not when you had a pool that looked like this.

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But I would have liked to explore a little more. We could literally manage a few hundred metres in the heat without needed to retreat somewhere with air conditioning. Our hotel was at the top of a hill, and I’d read that it was a short walk down some (very steep) steps to the resort and beach. Let’s just say I only took this short cut once. Going down, fine. Coming up in 42 degree heat when you’re as out of shape as me? Not a good plan. Bikram Yoga ain’t got nothin’ on this! Luckily there was a shuttle bus and plenty of tuk-tuks to get us up and down when needed.

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One thing that did slightly disappoint me was that the food we had wasn’t quite as amazing as I was expecting. While I know the days of 100 baht getting you the best green curry of your life are long gone in a built-up resort like Kata Beach where we were based, I was expecting to find the food tastier and more authentic than the stuff I’ve managed to whip up at home. We had a couple of very good meals and a couple of very mediocre ones. Everything else was just fine. That said, you forgive a lot when a three course meal for two comes in under £25, including a cocktail in a hollowed-out pineapple.

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Now onto the good stuff, because I don’t for a second want to make it sound like Thailand isn’t an amazing place. We were very lucky to visit when we did – days before the military coup that’s resulted in a 10pm curfew and soldiers on the streets – and I’m thankful for that.

Firstly, there was the snorkelling. I used to have snorkelling lessons as a child and many of my memories of childhood holidays centre around snorkelling trips, so I do have a tendency to judge a holiday destination based on its snorkelling potential. The snorkelling in Thailand was the best I’ve ever experienced. In terms of sheer numbers of fish swarming around you at all times, it even topped the Great Barrier Reef. The variety of sea life wasn’t quite the same (no turtles or rays on our trip) but that didn’t mean a thing. I’m used to surface diving to see all the best stuff. Here you just stayed as still as possible and stared as hundreds of fish swarmed around you. It was incredible.

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Then there was the scenery. You won’t see anything like this in the Mediterranean! Thailand is so green, from the tree-covered hills to the water itself. Obviously one of the best moment was stepping foot on Maya Beach, the idyllic cove where they filmed The Beach. Though it was pretty rammed with people this didn’t take away from how incredible a place it is. And as terrible as the casting of the film was (seriously, read the book!) walking in the footsteps of Leo DiCaprio definitely pleased me.

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For me though, one place in Thailand has a special place in my heart, and that was the lagoon we swam in near Phi Phi Ley.

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That amazing looking place is where my boyfriend became my fiancé, the perfect way to end an amazing trip!

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Travel, Wedding

My East-Meets-West Adventure in China

My older brother moved to China in 2013. Wanderlust is one of the rare things we have in common, though my trips tend to involve meticulous travel arrangements (including my legendary laminated currency converters), good shopping, incredible beaches and the passing chance that someone might speak a bit of English, while he is the kind of confident sort who will throw himself into the most challenging travel situations without the slightest thought. The thing is – and I hope he won’t mind me saying this – he’s also a bit of a jammy git. He has natural charm that usually helps him through these situations, and China was no exception. He ended up falling in love with more than just the country, and a few weeks ago 14 family and friends flew to the far east to join 240-odd Chinese people to watch my brother tie the knot!

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We (the boyfriend and I) started our trip in Hong Kong. Travelling to Lanzhou, where the wedding was taking place, would require domestic flight connections as there’s no international airport, so I decided to ease us in gently by stopping off at East-meets-West melting pot on the way. We only had three days in Hong Kong and the first was spent getting over the inevitable jetlag, so I don’t think we really saw what the city had to offer, but what I did decide quite early on is that the best bits of Hong Kong were definitely the more traditional Chinese areas. We stayed in Kowloon, on the mainland, and our one trip to Hong Kong island left us feeling like we could be anywhere (Canary Wharf, mostly). I had much more fun in Mongkok’s built-up shopping areas and markets (though I managed to resist the thousands of Mulberry and Celine fakes). There wasn’t enough time to really explore the city, though we did manage a trip on the Star Ferry, lunch at the lobby bar at the Intercontinental Hotel (stupidly expensive artisan burger shown below!) and a trip to a branch of Etude House to buy ridiculous lipstick.

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My parents met us in Hong Kong, and we made the journey to Lanzhou together. After the luxury of Emirates A380 planes on the trip out, I was slightly concerned about the cheap, short internal flights (we had to connect in Xi’an). But China Eastern did us proud. Then, on arrival in Lanzhou, the fun really began! We visited during a public holiday, so the whole city seemed to be celebrating.

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We were staying in a mystery hotel that had no online presence, so I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived. It turned out to be gorgeous, and right in the thick of things, across from one of Lanzhou’s main squares (complete with huge Gucci store). The hotel was also the wedding venue, and to be honest, we barely left the place for our three night stay – when we did, it was to buy the cheapest and most amazing pork buns (baozi) I’ve ever had, or ogle the shelves of the huge underground supermarket and buy exotic junk food. I heard on my trip that only 1% of tourists to China venture to Lanzhou. If that’s true, it’s a shame, because they’re missing this…

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…which is beef lamian, a Lanzhou speciality. It’s safe to say this was one of the culinary highlights of our trip. The name lamian refers to the hand-pulled noodles, which we saw being made by one of the incredibly talented chefs. They’re served in a rich, spicy, chilli-laced broth, to which you add pickles, vinegar and chunks of cooked beef to give extra flavour (in most cases the beef is cooked in the broth, then removed for serving). Here’s a great post from a Lanzhou resident explaining the phenomena of the recipe. I am desperate to try and recreate it at home but I know it won’t be a patch on what I had in Lanzhou.

Being part of a Chinese wedding was an experience I will never forget. Family is such a huge part of Chinese life, and we were welcomed like old friends. My parents visited in January and met everyone so they had a head-start, but I’d only met my future sister-in-law on skype so it was all new to me. This didn’t matter one bit, within minutes I could see why my brother had fallen in love with her, and I’m so happy to have her as part of my family now too.

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The traditions of the wedding were quite amazing to behold. The grooms family stay home to receive the bride and groom before the ceremony, so I missed out on much of the early fun, when my brother and his gang of groomsmen got ready together then went to coax the bride from her home, hunt down her shoes, and serve tea to her family. Luckily, there’s a video that shows all of this, which I absolutely have to share (sorry for pre-roll ad, I can’t control this)!

Then, tea was served to my parents too, before the official ceremony began. Usually this would happen in the apartment that the couple will be living in once married, but as they will live in Beijing, not Lanzhou, we had to make do with the bridal suite!

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The ceremony itself was conducted mostly in Mandarin (with only 14 English speakers and over 200 Chinese, it was only fair) but I confess to shedding a tear when the bride and groom said their vows in English. Then, the best man and my dad did their speeches with translation by two friends. Dad’s baby photos went down well with the audience, despite the language barrier!

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Being at the wedding – and indeed just being in Lanzhou where Western visitors are a rarity – gave me a small insight into what it must feel like to be famous. The rule seemed to be that the taller or blonder you were, the more people stared. I had my photo taken with lots of strangers, and everyone wanted to talk to us or toast us! It made the wedding banquet an interesting couple of hours. No sooner had you put something in your mouth than someone else was there to coax you to empty your glass with shouts of “gan bei!” I learned very quickly to only keep a tiny splash of wine in my glass at any one time!

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Dinner offered up a chance for the first wardrobe change of the day. Because you can’t have a Chinese wedding without some beautiful embroidered silks…

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…or, evidently, a custom made pink party dress and that other far eastern favourite, karaoke!

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For most of the Chinese guests, the wedding was over by 5pm (time to sleep off all the Baiju) but the rest of us had only just begun. We managed four solid hours of karaoke (Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ was a strange if successful choice for me) before going back to the suite for a few more hours of revelry. I gave up around midnight, but from what I heard (and overheard singing down the hotel corridors in the early hours) the final guests had to be kicked out at about 4am. Well, if you travel almost 5,000 miles for a wedding, you expect a good party, and I think my family definitely delivered!