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Wedding Planning 3.0: All the Pretty Dresses

photo from Sixteen Candles, courtesy of Universal Pictures {via}

I should actually title this post: “I’ll pay you a billion dollars if I never have to try on another wedding dress.”  That’s because I actually tried on *one trillion of them*… but am now the wiser, and ended up with a damn gem.  But (!) let’s rewind to April, when we got engaged and I embarked on a planning blitzkrieg.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had a gaggle of dresses you love saved somewhere on a secret (or not so secret) Pinterest board since – oh, I dunno – the beginning of time?

But if you’d asked me when I was 25, I’m sure I would’ve wanted a ballgown or Cinderella dress of sorts… but the older I’ve gotten, the simpler and more pared down my taste has become.  What’s the wedding dress version of (my favorite outfit): jeans + a white t-shirt (with some bling)?  Cuz that’s all I really wanted to know.

Which brings us to Debunked Theory #1: I thought I had plenty of time.  Whoops.  My college bestie, favorite setter of all time and trusty Maid of Honor, Mary, asked me in April: “When are we dress shopping!?” and I was like, “Eh, I dunno?  l’ll be home in a few months for my 20-year high school reunion and we could do some shopping with my Mom then.” She gave me a polite chuckle and was like, “oh honey no, that’s too late, you have to start now.”

Um, I DID NOT KNOW DRESSES TAKE 6-7 MONTHS TO BE MADE.  If you’re buying a sample or something off the rack, then you’re good in the hood, but if you try on a sample at a wedding boutique and they’re ordering it for you based on your measurements, you’re going to wait 6+ months for it to be made.  Holy crap, a November wedding (with 6 months to plan) literally *never* would have worked, confident as I was with my decisiveness and umpteen style boards comme ça:

So, after realizing I had to bust moves, I looked at my calendar to see what cities I’d be traveling to in the coming months – because the closest thing to a wedding dress I can shop for in Crested Butte is a bedazzled Patagonia puffy, so I knew I had to hit the streets hard when I was out of town:


  1. Denver (we had a ski weekend + time in the city coming up with Chris’ Family)
  2. LA (for the Elle Decor / Bravo Premiere party for Best Room Wins at Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s showroom)
  3. San Diego (I was flying in to nail down a venue)
  4. Indianapolis (for the Delaware County Hall of Fame Induction – #muncieburrisorbust)
  5. Chicago (for Mother’s Day with Jayne, Mary & her mom, Missy)

PLENTY to peruse between all of those, right?  HEAVENS YES.  But I wanted to be efficient – with my time and with other peoples’ – so – here’s how I mapped out where and how to shop, and some things I learned along the way.


…Or just talk to friends who have shopped for dresses in the hood you’ll be in, and make a list of the best rated boutiques.  For those of you looking in those cities, these are the boutiques we hit (with Cliffsnotes on each, the best in each city starred*, and the fab consultants at each that I loved):


  • **Anna Be (higher end boutique with a smaller curated collection of gowns, cozy & intimate space for trying on and for your guests) – GINA IS LOVELY!
  • A and Be (their little sister – more affordable, little more laid back – lots of Rue de Seine)

Los Angeles:

  • **Kinsley James Couture (amazing selection of designers I loved with price points ranging from affordable to insane) – KIMA WAS SO WONDERFUL!  
  • Grace Loves Lace (Aussie brand, super long lead time to make, super affordable, very beachy)

San Diego:

  • The Dress Theory (lots of Rue de Seine and ethereal / Boho dresses, tons of affordable options)
  • **The Bustle (in Del Mar, little higher end… they also have some bridesmaid dresses upstairs… plus how cute are they?  This was outside waiting for me that day.) – PAYTIN WAS A LOVE!  


  • The Wedding Studio, Clay Terrace (Justin Alexander was my fave designer there + the nicest consultants!  God Bless the Midwest)
  • Blue House (quaint and in an old house in downtown Carmel)


  • **Ultimate Bride (the name says it all – probably the highest end in the city – Monique Lhuillier, Berta, etc)
  • Second City Bride (all steeply discounted samples – mostly from Ultimate Bride – and they’re only open Thurs-Sat)
  • Bella Bianca (they were closed the only day I was in town, but I would’ve loved to have gone here to have tried on Galia Lahav and Rita Vinieris)
  • Dimitra’s (really great, comprehensive selection) – NANCY IS SUPER AMAZING
  • **Mira Couture (HUGE selection of lots of embellished and stunning gowns – all of which I loved) – KHRYSTYNA WAS MY CONSULTANT AND MADE ME SNORT LAUGH AT LEAST 7X.  I ALSO WANTED TO BE FRIENDS WITH HER.

{image via, “The Top 5 Things That Annoy Bridal-Shop Consultants”}

A note on bridal consultants: man, it can’t be easy shimmying stuff over other peoples’ hips & nips all day, or dealing with the bride’s entourage, the bride’s whoopsie on going commando that day – what have you.  Make sure – if there are any styles you love – ask them to write them down before you leave, and in the sample size you tried (and they *should* write your faves, along with their contact info, on a card anyway).  And they will inevitably follow-up with you in the week or so after your appointment, and EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T LOVE OR PICK ANYTHING FROM THEIR SHOP, always write them back and thank them for their time and effort.  After all, they’re now best friends with your nipples.


Otherwise, you’ll waste everyone’s time, your brain will explode, and also, the bridal stylist will want to punch you in the face.  So do your homework: it is tedious (I think I went cross-eyed doing it) – but go through each of those boutiques’ websites, and look at the designers they carry. Figure out which designers’ styles align with yours – for example, I knew when I went to Anne Be in Denver, I could pretty much rule out trying on anything by Hayley Paige, because most of her gowns are – while really whimsical – poofier and more princess-y.  E.g. what a younger me may have wanted.  And if you’re lucky, some boutiques will list on their website which styles from each designer they actually have as samples (this is rare, but so helpful when they do).  On the flip, I knew Anna Be also carried Ines di Santo and Berta, which I was dying to try on.


Look at the dresses you’ve saved that you love the most – what designers are they by?  Go to each designers’ website and see which retailers/boutiques carry them.  I did this with Lee Petra Grebenau – a designer that a friend of mine who’s a bridal consultant told me to check out.  I’d emailed her to ask guidance on what designers would be a good fit for me based on the styles I liked.  I basically wanted a Berta with a smaller price tag.  Berta is an AMAZING designer out of Israel and every. single. dress I saw that I loved was by them.  She suggested Lee Petra – which has a similar look but is a bit more affordable.


What’s your best feature?  Try to look for dresses that highlight that.  Mine might be my décolletage, so I tried to look for dresses that didn’t come up too high or cover that up.  I also know I don’t look good in V-necks or anything with a big sweetheart neckline, so I told them not to pull anything like that for me.  This basically put me into the strapless or spaghetti strap, demi cup / low-and-cut-straight-across-neckline category, which helped whittle things down.  Also, I don’t really have a natural hourglass – I’m more straight-up-and-down – so I knew I needed a dress that made me look like I have more curves than I actually do – like a corset bodice.


I was torn on this… and leaned more practical when it came to what I was willing to spend on a dress.  I mean, you wear the thing for 5 hours and then never again, so it seems frivolous to spend a boatload on a 5-hour frock. That is… unless you’re going to repurpose it as hallway decor later. Hey – to each her own!

On the flip side, every single person I talked to was like: “You have to get a beautiful dress.  You have to feel like a movie star in it.  And no you may not buy a used dress.” – because I thought I was going to be super practical and non-snobby and do just that: buy a beautiful dress that someone ELSE had worn for 5 hours at a deep discount… it’s the wedding equivalent to buying a brand new car that became worth 70% less the second it drove off the lot.  But I’ll give you a spoiler: I AM SO GLAD I DID NOT BUY A USED DRESS.  Not because I’m above it (you know Goodwill is my favorite store!), but because as soon as I started trying dresses on, I realized you never have ANY idea how anything would fit, how each designer is sized, and most of all: if it’s already been altered, you’re literally screwed.

I was thisclose to pulling the trigger on the (super discounted) Berta below – never worn (is it bad juju to buy a dress from a bride who canceled her wedding?  Eek) – and almost 80% off.  But I almost bought it in a size 6, which is what I am in real life, but I soon came to find out that you can basically double your regular dress size, and that’s your wedding dress size.  Thanks for the vanity sizing, clowns!  I was so hung up on getting a deal that I almost pigeon-holed myself into a dress that (I now know) would never have worked for me.

Back to budgeting – I knew I wanted a fab dress, but I also knew there was no way in HAYLE I was going to spend $10k on a Berta – or even a small fraction of that.  At the same time, I knew I didn’t want to feel “MEH – I settled for this but don’t feel great in it.”  So whenever bridal stylists asked me what my budget was (and they’ll ask you – online when you book your appointment and then again in person), I told them the honest number I REALLY didn’t want to exceed, but I ALSO told them to not NOT show me anything, because who knows… and while this is generally not considered advisable, I’m glad I did this, because I feel like it made me make a more informed decision in the end.  I quickly realized that some $12k dresses were a flop, and some under $2k were my favorites.  You just never know until you look (at everything).

BOOK APPOINTMENTS IN ADVANCE (they book up quick!!  especially on weekends)

…and give them as much info as possible: the style you’re looking for, any designers you love, any styles by said designers that you want them to pull for you, and what budget you’re comfortable with.


It’s the dress equivalent of letting friends set you up on a blind date.  The dress I ended up with was not even one that I pulled, but one that was EXACTLY what I wanted that I hadn’t even noticed, because it wasn’t anything to write home about on the hanger.  I am forever grateful to you, Kima!!!!  My consultant was something like 3 weeks new and sweet as can be.  I now have the most perfect dress ever, thanks to her.  Some other wild cards I tried on elsewhere – not so hot.  But you gotta be open!


Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. Photo: Universal Pictures

In theory, it sounds like a real bang-up time to bring an entourage with you, but I wouldn’t recommend ever really bringing more than 2 or 3 people.  What was fun about trying on in different cities is that I brought a different mini-crew each time and got to have that experience with my mom, Chris’ family, and a few close friends, but it was always small.  And after the first few appointments, I went on a few by myself, which worked great because I blew through those places and didn’t have to worry about being like: “there’s nothing here I wanna try on – thanks for suiting up for this but let’s roll.”


Oh you know – just re-enacting the scene from Sixteen Candles when Samantha’s sister takes too many muscle relaxers on her wedding day.  Karrie & I were amused; not sure the people at Kinsley James knew what was happening.


  1. You can always ask if there’s an upcoming sample sale for the designer whose dress you just fell in love with.  If there is, you’ll probably be able to get something like a 10% discount on it.  If there’s not, you can (politely) ask if they’d be willing to extend the sample sale price to you anyway.  I did this 🙂
  2. If you live out of state and have the dress shipped to yourself, they don’t charge you sales tax on it.  I also did this 🙂


If you didn’t hear me before, hear me now:  You strip down to your skivvies and they literally shimmy dresses over your boobies and tuck and pull it in all the places.  It takes to sec to get used to, and then after a few minutes I was like, “Oh, I get it – I am Queen Elizabeth and too important to dress myself, so please, continue to dress me because I’m very busy and important.” – haaaaaaaaaaaa.  Jk – it’s cuz they don’t want you to bust a seam trying to shoe-horn yourself into their pretty dresses and cuz you can’t zip and clip them yourself.


Howsabout some outtakes?  Cuz pictures are fun – but bloopers are even more fun.  Let’s do a wee slide show, shall we?  This time instead of judging celebrities’ red carpet faux pas from the comfort of my sweatpants on the sofa – I’ll let you judge mine.  Here are a few that didn’t make the cut…..


Have you met Stacy?  She’s the newest performer on Carnival Cruiselines.  The only thing I was missing in this was a pair of nude sparkly pantyhose.


Also, this one made them look lobsided when they’re not.  But the dress itself was actually really wispy and beautifully made.  It did not do much to mask that area below my belly button though.


The A-line felt a little too 2003, but the lace was beautiful and the material felt like buttah.


My face says it all: it’s *just* not quite right.  This was probably the most expensive dress I tried on. $11k or something crazy like that, but it had the most beautifully intricate beading.  Before this dress, I thought I wanted ALL THE BEADING – give me all the sparkly shizz, I said.  I am laid back Cinderella, I said.  But when I had it on I had an epiphany called: “holy crap, this beading weighs more than I do” – and also: “holy crap, beading makes a dress EXPENSIVE” – and last but not least: “holy crap, unless you’re a stick insect, beading actually makes you look heavier than you really are.”  The detail around the waist – in person – was super beautiful.  But if you scoot back 5 ft it just looked like a spare tire.  I did love the antique-y, Victorian feel of it, though. This dress is the reason I’m glad I tried dresses on that were far above my price range. Because (wedding dress) knowledge is power, people.


Hence the face.  Karrie was there with me that day and took this pic.  We just couldn’t do it.


This was one of my favorites.  It’s Rivini (and this was at Dimitra’s in Chicago), though I think 3 different places put me in it.  It felt spare but not boring.  Everything by Rivini is cut SO BEAUTIFULLY and is super flattering.  I loved the shape of the skirt.  But I think in the end, I wanted a little bit more detail, and I also felt like it was great for a big city wedding, or even a Nor Cal wedding, but maybe not-so-much an intimate, France + Mexico had a baby on the beach in SoCal wedding.


This one was actually a contender in person – I loved the cleanliness of it, loved the wee lace detail – but this dress taught me MAYBE THE BIGGEST LESSON OF WEDDING DRESS SHOPPING: it is entirely possible for a dress to look and feel fabulous on, and to not photograph well.  Sometimes it just doesn’t translate in photos.  Which is why it’s SO IMPORTANT to have your homies snapping pics from every angle of every dress (thank you Karrie, Mary, Linds, Nikki & Nikki!)  Because the camera sees things you cannot see in real life.  It’s like the true test – and if it passes that, then you have yourself a contender.


This was actually a gorgeous, gorgeous dress (I think by Pronovias)… but it felt like it belonged in a slow-mo, wispy Estée Lauder ad in all pastels with butterflies flying around. Not on me on my wedding day. I give the bridal consultant props – (Vedorian at Marie Gabriel Couture was one of my favorites) – at first with this one we were all: “oooh!” and then when I was like, “Something about it just isn’t right,” to which she so wisely replied: “You know what it is?  The dress is wearing you, you’re not wearing the dress.” And then we hi-fived and went onto the next.  See why she was my fave?


Such a great “almost”!  This one was at Second City Bridal in Chicago.  I really did love this one, but it was super structured and not super comfortable.  I also kind of felt like I was going to the Golden Globes.  Also… it did photograph well, but you know what’s telling??  …my face.  That’s the other thing you should pay attention to in photos besides the dress itself.  Your face says it all about how you feel about it, even if you don’t realize it when you have it on.

Back was pretty though!



That said, I did actually love this dress.  But more for an Ariel Mattel doll, or for Ariel on her wedding day, not mine.


Then I might have murdered someone.  Please take this off of me immediately before anyone sees.




Sometimes they put you in bespoke things you never could’ve picked for yourself… like the dress I actually ended up with.  Other times… this.


I always thought of wedding dresses as white on white on white.  But the more I tried ones on with nude or blush detail underneath, the more I liked them.  They’re just more flattering to most peoples’ skin tones.  I thought we might have a contender until I sent this to Karrie (the week after she and I had already found what would end up being my dress) – and she was like, “Gurl take that off. It’s not in the same hemisphere.” HAAAAAAA – if you can’t count on your best friends to tell you the truth, who can you?


This one I did LOVE.  It was a little more modern and a little Spanish-influenced, which was a fun idea for San Diego.  I hadn’t seen or tried on anything else like it.  Also, could we please all get a slow clap for Tinkerbell?  She’ll be taking pictures with kiddies at the Magic Kingdom later – BAAAHAHAHHA.  I made her try that on because I thought I wanted to put people in that color.  She’s a good sport.  Also, this gorgeous contender is Justin Alexander’s “DARWIN” – #99068.  Tried on at Mira Couture in Chicago.


But ultimately not for me. They do have really really beautiful, unique lace detail though – and always a flattering bust.


Would’ve made a great winner, but maybe she’ll be next year’s Bachelorette.  This one was also Rue de Seine, and felt very San Diego.


It did, however, prevent me from – well, walking – which could be important that day. I can’t imagine trying to do the running man in this thing.  I LOVED the structure of this and the foof & volume and detail at the bottom – it felt super unique and kind of edgy to me – but comfort was high on my list, and so sadly I had to leave this guy behind.  It may’ve felt differently when altered, but I still wanted something a little breezier.  This was the Ada from Tara LaTour at Anna Be in Denver.


I did love, love love this.  Super comfortable, pretty lace detail without being too much, but it was a little frump.  Especially in photos.  Alterations could’ve fixed that and maybe if I was getting married (outside in a field, at a farmhouse etc) it would have worked.  This was Jane Hill‘s “Valentine.”


This was the one dress that gave me a super hourglass that I don’t actually have, which made it tough to leave behind.  But it was a MAJOR, major contender.  This might’ve been the dress version of jeans + a white t-shirt, which made me love it.  Looking back, this is the only dress I’m still thinking about that I didn’t get.


All I wanted was a &^%$ Berta.  I couldn’t get away from it.  They were all so effervescent, so flattering, and so perfect.  Everything I found that I loved – when I looked it up – was a Berta.


I loved the way the Berta looked on… this one is the 19-08.  It did things to my post-Winter, mac-and-cheese-loving body that were obviously not real.  It was my little future-sister-in-law, Emily’s fave (because of the sparkles and the princess vibe, I would imagine). But scroll down for a revelation….


And it hurts my soul to say that, but beyond their beauty…  They’re not easy to walk in, so I can’t even imagine trying to dance in one.  I also actually couldn’t physically sit down in this dress.  They are so, so so beautiful though. In the end – (cost aside), it was too princess-y, too dressy and not comfortable enough for me.  And so I waved the white flag on my love affair with the B-word, while I played TAPS.


Out of Australia and perfectly beachy, Grace Loves Lace was the first boutique I hit – and I was thisclose to getting this dress.  I have friends in Colorado who were like: “That brand is so reasonable, we almost got one and flew out twice for fittings, because it still would’ve been less than a dress at a boutique in Colorado.”  The one thing I will say is that you MUST wear Spanx, because these dresses don’t have a ton of structure and aren’t super forgiving.  But their “Hart” – which was brand new when I tried it on – was an almost winner for me.  I could’ve thrown on some glittery flip flops with this and called it a day.  It felt like pajamas.


I’m actually glad I hit 897 dress boutiques, though I’m DELIGHTED to never, ever have to do it again…  And I bet Mary and my Mom are glad too, because we did about 6 bridal appointments in 2 days and they watched me try on no less than probably 48 dresses, which must have been fun for 10 minutes, quickly followed by absolute torture. But while the dress-trying-on-marathon was exhausting, it only served to solidify my profound love for the one I ended up with, because I knew for SURE that no stone was left unturned.  And no, this one below isn’t it but it was very very pretty.

Debunked Theory #2: This was my biggest takeaway from wedding dress shopping – YOU DO NOT NEED TO SPEND A JILLION DOLLARS FOR A FABULOUS DRESS. Sometimes, you get what you pay for… but I did not find that to be entirely true about wedding dresses. I thought I was going to have to settle, or that the $7-$10k dress would clearly be that much more amazing than a $2k dress. Not really the case at all, and that’s why I’m glad I tried on all those bazillion dollar dresses. Cuz I was like, “Eh. MEh.” What I ended up with was on the lower end (price wise) of everything I tried, and was (if you ask me!) the most beautiful and timeless one of the bunch.

Man, if you thought that was long – just imagine being there in person.  Shifting gears… let’s talk about anyone else’s dress but mine, shall we?


{image via Empire Online}

I thought I wanted to source mismatched discount designer gowns, like all of these below… which really would’ve been SO lovely, and I would’ve been totally up for the legwork to do it. But most of these are Prada or Moda Operandi, which cost more than my ovaries… but they were great for inspo!

I also thought about doing a Rent the Runway bunch of them – which would’ve been a super easy solution, but most of their stuff is so heavy on the blush-tones, and they had almost nothing in the seafoam / baby blue color palette I was gunning for.  This is the best I could come up with – which someone else should totally use:

One of the appointments we did in Chicago was at Brideside…  Mary clued me into this fabulous place – which is kind of like an aggregate bridesmaid joint that has ALL the Jenny Yoo, Watters + Watters, Amsale, etc – and has them all organized by color, so you can mismatch and create a fun palette.  They have locations in Chi-town, NYC, Boston and Charlotte.  Bonus: their consultants handle all of the ordering & coordination with your homegirls, so that’s off your plate.  Here’s my best girl with all the blues they had.

Still, it felt too dark for April.  And I kept asking if this velvet guy from Jenny Yoo came in 100 shades of seafoam… like a toddler asking someone something 17x and hoping to get a different answer.

I tried one on myself (that one up there with the deep V) and that clenched it.  THOSE. THINGS. FEEL. LIKE. BUTTAH.  It’s called “English Rose,” but it looks terra cotta in some lights, blush in some and grapefruit in others.  But I mean – DAYUM – look at these.

I really thought I wanted to go mismatched and not do dresses that overtly looked like bridesmaid dresses, but I loved these so much that these are what we went with.  BECAUSE THE NEXT BEST THING TO PUTTING VELVET ON FURNITURE IS PUTTING IT ON YOUR PEOPLE!  It’s not an easy color to wear in the Spring sans bronzing – so spray tanning may be in order.  And maybe Spanx for good measure (you better believe I’ll be in a full bodysuit of it myself), because even though velvet feels like buttah, it’s not super structured.  But I mean, look at this lady – she’s about to pop and it looks beautiful on her!

Last… I’m in love with Chris Driscoll, but I am also super in love with my girlfriends.  I feel like they’re all the reason I am who I am – if I’m a good person, and if I know how to be a good friend – it’s in large part because of them.  The fact that I’m not in a ditch, was never thrown in jail, and have (cough) plenty of self-confidence and think I can do anything I set my mind to: also, them.

There are 8 of them – from all phases of my life thus far – and it was important to me to make asking each of them to be bridesmaids more special than just: “Hey girl wanna be in my wedding k thanks.”  So, I ordered these cards from Etsy, and wrote (rather lengthy – who would’ve guessed?) notes to each of them about how much I loved them, and asking them if they’d stand up with me.  I literally cried for days writing them – like the sap I am.

The really fun bonus was that most of them sent me either video or photo responses like these, which I loved and will keep forever.

Welp, that’s enough out of me today!!  I hope, if you’re shopping for a dress, ANYTHING in this post was useful to you!  And if you’re not shopping for a dress, I hope you popped some popcorn and got a few snort-laughs out of the (white carpet) flops.

So much more wedding biz to spitball about!  Look for these topics in future posts:

  • What’s a Budget?  Love, Stephie
  • To Kid or Not to Kid?
  • Flowers are more expensive than ovaries
  • Registries make me feel funny
  • Oh sh*t, I forgot about videography – and other things I nearly missed the boat on
  • Mock up your tabletops
  • Lounge furniture: to schlepp or not to schlepp?
  • When DIY becomes MYC (make yourself crazy)
  • Engagement is a good time to work on stuff.


Wedding Planning 2.0: All Roads Lead to La Jolla!

Um, where did we leave off? …oh right. I wanted a small, intimate, laid-back wedding on a remote beach catered by a taco joint. Like this:

Welllllllll – what did Bud used to say? “Honey, wish in one hand & sh*t in the other and see which one comes true first.” BAAAHAHAHAHHAAH #snort

So many of you have asked how planning is going, and if I’m “so overwhelmed” – and the answers are great! and not at all… (though there are a bajillion more decisions and a bajillion more dollars involved than I realized).  I haven’t done a post or an update since this one right after we got engaged, and a LOT of planning has gone down since then. I’m stupid excited about the wedding and it will be SO FAB – but it’s def shaking out a little differently than I’d imagined. Probably all for the better but we def got funneled (in a decision flow chart sort of way) from said-remote-exotic-beach wedding w/ tacos to a slightly larger affair in La Jolla, California (where I lived when I met good ‘ol Chris Driscoll). WHO KNEW THIS QUOTE WOULD EVER COME TRUE:


1. Passport or No Passport? Well… as anyone who knows us knows – it’s really all about Gus. Any wedding in Mexico, the Caribbean or anywhere outside the U.S. wouldn’t be somewhere we could bring our right hand man, so that meant we needed to find a venue stateside. #gusgusforpresident just became #gusgusforbestman.

2. San Diego or Charleston? Doing a beach where it’s warm (and in a place where I have enough connections to manage a lot of the planning) gave us an east coast option (Charleston) and a west coast option (San Diego). I lived in San Diego for 4 years and Charleston for 10, so I have a leg up in either place.

The weather on the left coast, however, is just so much more temperate and SO much more predictable. 68-72 and sunny with no humidity and a snowball’s chance in h*ll of rain is basically what you can expect out of San Diego 362 days out of the year. Whereas Charleston is HUMID – swassy, if you will, about 9 months out of the year. And there are also hurricane seasons and higher chances of rain to contend with, which doesn’t give me any warm fuzzies when it comes to an outdoor wedding. Plus, the thought of sweating through my clothes or my hair looking like Whitesnake on my wedding day was not too appealing, so San Diego won out. Not that this wouldn’t have been super hot wedding hair.

Also… you can obviously always make your wedding whatever you want, but when I was researching venues in both places, I just felt like Charleston (one of the most fab cities on the planet) inherently lends itself to a little more fuss & formality – cuz it’s the South. And I just don’t want ANY of that for this particular day. Also, everyone + their mom + their mom’s brother’s uncle’s cousin gets married there. For good reason, because it’s a beautiful, charming place, but give me laid back SoCal crisp air that smells like saltwater or give me death.

3. November or April?  Um.. exsqueeze me who knew venues book out LIKE TWO YEARS IN ADVANCE. It is insanity. I swear that betrothed toddlers the world over lifted their little legs and peed on some dates. For example, as of today (July 17, 2019) this is what the 2020 calendar looks like for one of the venues we considered. Geesh, good luck with your Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmastime nuptials next year folks!  Cuz those are just about all the Saturdays that are left. Forget 2019 – it was booked in 2016. Fer Fox sake.

A good friend of ours who got married last year told us NOT to waste time picking a venue; she said they waited a few months to “just enjoy being engaged” and during that time, a lot of the venues they wanted got nabbed. Between November (only Fridays available, anywhere, but it’s off season and rates on everything are better) and April, Chris felt like November was “too much of a rush” (and on the inside I was like PSSSSHT puh-lease, I have had this planned in my head since birth, give me 10 minutes and I’ll have it together. Wanna see my Pinterest boards???  fjkdl;sjfldjsflkja)… I can write that in this blog because Lord knows he doesn’t read it. And I should probably be thankful for that.

In the end, April won out: so that we could do a Saturday, so we had time to kind of chillax and enjoy being engaged, but in large part so we’d have more time to save more cheddar, because there are few certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and the fact that Weddings are highway robbery.

They just are, and I know everyone who’s ever gotten married knows that, but why was I confused? I’m finding a *few* clever ways to save (ditch the cake! …monobotanical flowers or in season anything… cut the guest listliterally just googled “DIY Milk Glass Votives” 15 minutes ago… and naturally, baking cookies and showing people my boobs….. kidding!!), but ye know.

At some point the cost of a wedding with 100 or so people just is what it is, and I actually think it’s tacky to talk about money – BUT – how do you blog about the wedding process and NOT talk about it? It’s such a huge consideration for anyone planning one, and it plays into every single decision. So whatever I can pass along that’s helpful, I will. Everyone else’s wedding blog I read I’m all: “JUST &$^# TELL ME HOW MUCH IT REALLY COSTS SO I KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT.”  Who knew a damn chivari chair was $8, a bistro + cushion $12, and a ghost chair $20? …and other mind-numbing insanity. But I HAVE to say this because it’s actually true: I’m obviously trying to be super smart about wedding spending, but I really am completely at peace with the fact they’re just expensive parties to throw. And this one is really important because it is the ONLY time in our entire lives that we’ll get to have all our closest friends & family all in the same place. Yolo, yo.

4. Waterfront Venues? Bueller??  I had this brilliant idea to take a page out of Karrie & Tim’s playbook and rent a big beach house for our families for the week (so chill and so communal), and have the ceremony outside on the beach, and the reception rager on the grounds of the house outside. I found THIS HOUSE – on Windansea Beach in La Jolla (my fave) – which would’ve been so, so, so perfect. Not only a place to save some cheese (cuz you’re killing the place-to-sleep + wedding venue fee birds with one stone), but I also have just wanted it to feel less like a bunch of pomp & circumstance, and more like an intimate REALLY FUN dinner party at our house.

Anyhoosit – I can’t say the owner of that property responded kindly to my request. I eventually resorted to begging, offering a huge refundable damage deposit, to sign in blood that we wouldn’t screw up her house and would put port-a-potties outside, etc etc, but girlfriend was Fort Knox. And I found that to be the case with every property owner: literally no one these days will let you host an event at an AirBNB. If they do, they charge you something like $100 a head just to let people in the door. Otherwise, they all have rules that you can’t even have more than like, 3 guests over beyond the capacity of overnight guests in the house. It’s all nonsense but I guess that deters people from throwing a Jake Ryan-esque train wreck party on their property.

Also, a beach rager like this was out of the question, because no beaches in San Diego allow alcohol, even if you have a permit to post up and throw a shin dig there. Long story (never) short, I was striking out big time.

Outside of AirBNB’s in San Diego or posting up on a beach, I found a handful of really stunning waterfront venues, but many of them (like Scripps Martin Johnson House) were already taken (basically through the end of time). So I narrowed to:

La Valencia – this gorgeous pink hotel perched on top of La Jolla Cove where we could do a ceremony in the sand and reception inside…

La Jolla Shores Hotel – not as schmancy but they’d still let us do a ceremony in the sand outside, and reception here…

…and Darlington House – which is a private, historic Spanish property a few blocks from Windansea in La Jolla.

5. All Inclusive vs. Standalone Venue. Doing a hotel wedding probably appeals to anyone who wants to make the planning process easier on themselves: Hotels have all their packages all dialed in: you don’t have to worry about renting tables / chairs / linens / all that noise, because they have it all there.  But to me, I didn’t hear “easy breezy decision making” – I heard: “You mean I get to choose between a white tablecloth or an ivory tablecloth? EHMAHGAH DOES THAT MEAN I can’t do mismatched vintage floral plates or farm tables?” Whoops.

If you go the hotel route, you also don’t have to agonize over which caterer to hire because you’re already married to using theirs (for better or for worse). You also have to get all your alcohol from their bar which means buying all their booze at retail – e.g. $15 per vodka tonic times all our alcoholic friends = I should register for the fanciest cardboard box to install under the bridge we’ll live in after the wedding. But what *really* pushed me away from the hotel idea was what one very wise planner said about the lack of privacy: “Both of those hotels are beautiful, but you WILL have beach goers and hotel guests in wet bathing suits traipsing into your event, and you won’t be able to do anything about it.”

And what NAILED THE NAIL in the hotel wedding coffin was when I priced everything out – (via the longest nerd alert spreadsheet you’ve ever seen that included every fork, knife & spoon):

  • All-inclusive (cookie cutter) hotel wedding, vs.
  • Private standalone venue where you have to bring ALL our own stuff – tables, chairs, decor… hire your own caterer, BYO-booze, etc.

And you wanna know the kicker?!  THEY CAME OUT TO *LITERALLY* EXACTLY THE SAME PRICE.

Then the decision was easy: we can not only do the entire thing EXACTLY how we want and bring so much more character in, but we also have more of an opportunity to control the pricing during the coming months while we carefully select and compare the vendor quotes on things like lounge vignettes, caterers, etc – versus being locked into one huge all-inclusive cost upfront. And, the ability to bring your own booze is HUGE. Hello – Costco lets you return unopened bottles of wine (and I think BevMo does too), plus we’re lucky enough to have some hookups in the liquor industry.

Here are some more pics of the little gem of a venue we booked… What I love is that it’s not huge, has TONS of character, and literally will feel like we had a handful of our friends & fam over for dinner in our backyard. DO YOU EVEN KNOW THE MAGIC I CAN WORK ON THIS PLACE????????

5. Tacos? TACOS?? – The first question I asked Darlington House was if I could have The Taco Stand (best fish taco in San Diego!) cater the wedding. They politely re-directed me to a list of 20 or so “approved caterers” for the venue. That right there kicked me from my pipe dream $20 a head for a casual taco bar to closer to about 5x that for a sit-down dinner… But I get it, and there’s something I’ve always loved about a sit-down dinner as a guest at someone else’s wedding. It seems like it slows down time a bit, which is great, because it lets you hang with the people at your table and get off your feet (aka 4″ heels) for an hour or so… As opposed to mingling in circles for hours, standing in a buffet line, etc. The other shocker about buffets is this: THEY ARE NOT A HUGE COST SAVINGS, if at all.  The caterers actually have to supply more food than usually gets eaten. I priced out plated dinner vs. buffet vs. stations and found the price difference to be pretty negligible. I also clung to my taco dreams till the bitter end – and even had a few caterers price out farm to table Mexican fare – which came out the same as Surf & Turf.  So, surf & turf it is.  OH BUT DON’T WORRY! Because these are still getting passed during cocktail hour. Tuna tartare mini tacos + spicy margs. DREAMS DO COME TRUE, PEOPLE.

6. Beach Ceremony dreams, however, don’t always come true. We could have totally done a beach ceremony + a Darlington House reception, because they’re only a few blocks apart. But there ended up being so many reasons why that just wasn’t the best idea.

  • First, all the schlepping. There’s also a pretty steep staircase down to Windansea, and lots of big rocks & tide pools, which makes it not only tricky for the rental folks to drag chairs up & down, but for old folks to drag themselves down.

  • Beyond that, we would’ve had to double up on chair rentals – cuz it’s not like the rental folks would wait for everyone to leave the ceremony, then schlepp the chairs back up said stairs, run over to Darlington & set those up… They could, but as one wedding planner cautioned me: “It’s inelegant.” HA. It’s also just a fuss, but if we’re not moving ceremony chairs –> dinner chairs, then renting double the chairs = a cool extra $1200. No spanks.
  • Windansea Beach is STUNNING – but the waves are huge and therefore loud – so loud that you can’t hear much.  And there’s also really no way for a sound fella or gal to get electrical down there.
  • Probably most importantly, it’s just the timing and the flow. Changing venues would’ve cost us precious time and made for a more disjointed evening, which we didn’t want. We also would’ve needed to hire transportation to move everyone from one location to the next (despite their relative short distance apart). We just want people to come in and be able to relax. So, I resolved to take some pics down on the beach and do the whole da*n thing at Darlington.

So, that’s wassup and it’s gonna be pretty rad. The venue is super intimate and works best with about 120 guests, so that’s kind of where we landed – which for SURE pains us, because even though we thought we wanted to do something smaller, it’s REALLY HARD to sit down and write out a guest list, hard to tell people that we’re not having any kiddos at the wedding (the most eloquent I’ve seen it on an invite is: “Kindly, this is an adults-only affair“), and it’s even harder to wrap our heads around the fact that we won’t be able to include everyone we love, and everyone who’s had a place in our lives at one point or another.

I also have a different perspective now as a wedding guest – it’s not even the cost side of things, it’s like – dayyyyyuuuummm, this is the MOST important day of your life, and you guys had to sit down and agonize over who to include in it, and you sent US an invitation. Not that I haven’t before, but I will now feel so extra honored and humbled to be invited to anyone’s wedding. And so not offended when I’m not, because I know it’s just not always personal – you never know what kind of budget or criteria someone is dealing with.

That’s enough outta me today, but I have SO MANY OTHER THINGS to kick around another time. These posts will probably be more of a stream of consciousness for me and hopefully a help to anyone else planning a wedding (‘spesh in San Diego). But if you made it this far without a bathroom break or a nap, then I commend you, my friend. Other stuff I would love to dig into another time is:

  1. Where is the “fab rehearsal dinner outfit roundup” post? Oh right, it doesn’t exist. Don’t worry – I’ll make one.
  2. Where are all the non-depressing / fabulous Mother of the Bride dresses?  This is partially a PSA for Jayne.
  3. Wedding Websites: why Zola is so bad ass, and why I don’t have early onset arthritis, thanks to free recipient addressing at Minted.
  4. Wedding hashtags – why they sound stoop and trivial but actually aren’t, and how to come up with a good one.
  5. Catering: what to serve, how many options to give people, and why I got the whip cracked on me for wanting to give options at all (and why she was totally right).
  6. Things you need to BUST A MOVE on as soon as you have a date set.
  7. Rentals – renting aka lighting $$ on fire vs. schlepping things there myself.
  9. Wedding Dress Shopping – tips and tricks to save, fab designers, etc. I hit the best ones in Chicago, Denver, LA and Indy.
  10. Where is the objective “review” of all things people register for?  e.g. I should already know, but I need someone to tell me things like which great quality towels we should register for. Not that the tattered beach towels with holes we have aren’t cutting the mustard. I’ll also do a few sample registries (like the one I did for Rent the Runway a few years back). Cuz those are fun. 
  11. Bridesmaid Dresses – how to do something super unique.
  12. Planners – what questions to ask and how to vet them, what they take off your plate that I promise you DO NOT want to do, the ones I met with in SoCal and loved (I was sad I couldn’t hire all of them, though I do love the one we did for month-of, Lisa Friesen), and how to make the decision when it’s a dead lock.
  13. Photography (and videography): The ONLY TANGIBLE THING YOU TAKE WITH YOU. We hired Anni Graham and I am so thrilled I can’t take it. Will also list all the videographers whose style I think is killer.
  14. DECOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is how she’s shaking out so far… and imma tell you all about it one of these next times.

Chris and I are heading to SD this weekend (for legit 36 hours, with Gus in tow) and are BLOWING thru catering tastings and (for me), hair & makeup trials, so I’ll have that to yap about next time too.