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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:

CITIES TO SHOP IN

  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.

GET ON YELP.

…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):

Denver:

  • **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!  

Indianapolis:

  • 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)
  • **Marie Gabriel Couture (my favorite in Indy with a MASSIVE selection – and a really good one) – VEDORIAN WAS MAYBE MY FAVORITE CONSULTANT OF ALL SHOPPING TRIPS!  HILARIOUS, MADE ME SUPER COMFORTABLE, AND I WANTED TO BE FRIENDS WITH HER.

Chicago:

  • **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 Brides.com, “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.

DO YOUR RESEARCH AND DO NOT GO IN BLIND and be like, “EHH, I DEH-KNEH WHAT I LIKE.”

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.

WHO MAKES WHAT YOU LOVE? 

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.

KNOW YOUR BOD.

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.

KNOW YOUR BUDGET.

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.

LET YOUR CONSULTANT PULL WILD CARDS FOR YOU!

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!

DON’T BRING A HUGE CREW.

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.”

HAVE FUN.

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.

DO KNOW THAT THERE’S (A LITTLE) WIGGLE ROOM.

  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 🙂

FUN FACT: THE BRIDAL CONSULTANTS DRESS YOU.

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.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

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…..

CRUISE SHIP CHIC.

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.

GREETINGS DADS EVERYWHERE, HAVE YOU MET MY BOOBS?

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.

PRETTY BUT A LITTLE TRADITIONAL FOR ME.

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

THE MOST BEAUTIFULLY BEADED SPARE TIRE KNOWN TO MAN.

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.

WE REALLY DID TRY TO RECONCILE THE SPARE TIRE THING.

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

SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE.

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.

MADONNA CALLED – SHE WANTS HER BOOBIE CUPS BACK.

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.

IS THERE A BUTTERFLY RELEASE COMING AFTER THIS?

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?

YOU GOIN TO YOUR WEDDING OR YOU GOIN TO THE OSCARS?

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!

MORE CRUISE SHIPS, MORE BOOBS, MORE BUDDAHS – STILL NO WINNERS.

INTRODUCING THE LITTLE MERMAID, IRIDESCENT COLLECTION.

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

IF LOOKS COULD KILL.

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

IF YOUR OWN FACE DOESN’T SAY IT ALL….

THEN YOUR FRIENDS’ FACES WILL.  NEXT!

WHEN WILD CARDS DON’T WORK.

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.

NUDE + BLUSH UNDERLAYERS ARE A REVELATION.

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?

WE HAVE A MAJOR CONTENDER.

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.

RUE DE SEINE = GREAT FOR BOHO, GREAT FOR DETAIL, GOOD FOR BUDGETS.

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

LIKE A RUNNER UP ON THE BACHELOR.

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.

TOTALLY NOT WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR BUT LOVED IT.

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.

REALLY SWEET.

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.”

OBSESSED… ALSO, BEST OF LUCK EATING (ANYTHING). 

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.

THE MOTHERSHIP… BERTA!

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.

IN THE FLESH.

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 MY REVELATION IS THIS: BERTA MAKES THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DRESSES ON THE PLANET, AND THEY ARE GREAT IF ALL YOU CARE ABOUT IS TAKING PICTURES. 

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.

GRACE LOVES LACE FOR THE (ALMOST) WIN

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.

IN THE END…

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?

BRIDESMAIDS

{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.

xoxo!

We’re Engaged! OMG LET’S PLAN.

Oh my GYASH. Remember back in 2016 when I was fiddling around on Bumble in traffic on the 405 (standstill traffic Mom – standstill), swiped right on someone I thought was probably an ad – (the kind where they throw J.Crew models in the mix to keep you swiping) – only to discover he was actually a real-live person? A person I immediately sassed, to the tune of: “Oh sweet, you work for Arthrex? You better be glad I switched to Interior Design cuz I’d run you out of the O.R.” –> (operating room… I used to work for his competitor). Hook line & sinker, people! Maybe not, but everyone who’s ever done online dating knows that every time someone’s intro to you is: “Hey, how’s your day?” – a kitten dies. So I guess it got his attention. Anyhow – I soon came to realize this clown lived 16 hours away, but we had such a fun ping-pong-pen-pal-ship over the course of the next week that we decided to meet in person.

(And I figured there was about a 30% shot he could be a serial killer who might chop me up & put me in a freezer), but thankfully, I had one Dan Mulligan do some unsolicited 007 recon, aka Mully called all his med device cronies in Colorado to get the skinny on Chris (he passed with flying colors). So that clinched it – we finally met.

I think doing long distance in general is hard enough, but starting that way seemed like the most impractical thing ever… but in a way, it helped us get to know one another the old school way, like it was 1994 (on the phone).  We carried on flights back and forth every few weeks and split time between San Diego & Crested Butte for about a year and a half, until I left my Technicolor SoCal flip-flop-and-bathing-suit life and relocated to the fairytale mountain wonderland of Crested Butte, which is cuter (and snowier) than any town in any Hallmark Christmas Movie you’ve ever seen.  And then another year and a half later, on top of a mountain in Telluride, we got engaged.

He (Chris) also turned out to have the kindest soul of anyone I know and is the most laid back, down-to-earth and fun guy ever – who shares my lunacy and affinity for Gus (to a heart-exploding degree… and if you saw him with kids, your uterus might explode). He is endlessly supportive, has a rock-solid moral compass, loves his family and friends with the fire of 1,000 suns, has an effervescent curiosity about the world and an eagerness to get to know everyone, and such an appreciation for nature… he also has a complete inability to sit still on vacation (next time we’re on a beach I’m seriously going to drug him)… but also, such a quiet humility (and serious lack of vanity), which I have always loved. He always apologizes first (I STILL CANNOT BELIEVE THIS. HE LITERALLY JUST DID IT 5 MINUTES AGO.) and he takes the things to heart that you say, then actually does / implements them. I’m not even kidding. But I mean, we can’t have it all, because he also thinks wet towels dry best wadded up in a ball on the floor and will never remember to put the glass lid back on the canister of Q-tips in the bathroom, but I’ll pick my battles.  The man is an endangered species. He is as good as they come.

I’ll stop gushing, but oh wait!  Could we all please do a slow clap for his ring game?

For someone who never cared much about rings, I love, LOVE this thing. It has mixed metals (the little prongs that hold the oval are platinum so they’re more discreet, and the band is gold) and every person who sees it asks if it’s vintage, which gives me a tickle in my shorts.

MOVING ALONG…  the thing about getting engaged at the ripe age of 38 is that I have a very clear vision of what I want, and all the nitty gritty details of the thing do not stress me out – which I think they do a lot of brides – so I’m fortunate in that way.  Not sure if that’s a product of my job and being used to putting a million details (and spreadsheets) together, or if it’s thanks to all 897,464 weddings I’ve physically attended or been a bridesmaid in. I’ve for sure been able to take note of all the amazing things my friends have done…  Let’s roll through them, shall we?

 

CUES I’M TAKING:

 

1. Destination Weddings are the BEST. Because you get to stretch the festivities out for a long long weekend, because everyone who’s there has time to hang and get to know one another, and because being in a beautiful place far from home puts everyone in vaycay mode renders them super relaxed. Chris & I are so on board with this.  Anyone who brings any stress to that week is getting tossed into the ocean… omg I’m kidding!!! (Sort of…)  Karrie & Tim did a destination wedding in Anna Maria Island, Florida and it was one of THE most fun weddings I’ve ever been to… if you’ve never seen their wedding video, do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to watch it:

Last year, our friends Kait & John got hitched in Harbour Island (Bahamas), which was a crystal-blue-water-magical backdrop for their nuptials and such a fun getaway. PS how fun is this girl? Most chillaxed bride with the most killer taste, ever.

Our other friends Caitlin & Tom got married in Mendocino (Northern Cali) last Fall, which was also one of our favorites: the venue was so stunning and laid-back, and we got to spend so much time with the oh-so-warm & gracious bride (and really everyone at that wedding was so awesome)… I mean, look at this happy little tart! I DIE over her photos, by the insanely talented Anni Graham.

Getting to that Mendocino wedding made the whole weekend an adventure – which is another thing I love about destination weddings – it’s the journey to them!  We did a meandering drive from San Fran up the coast with an old friend of Chris’, stopped into a few little tasting rooms and tucked away beaches on the coast on the way up & back. It was heaven.

2. Smaller, Intimate Weddings. This is great in theory and tough to do.  Guest-listing, so I have heard (and am already starting to experience) is maybe the most difficult and stressful part of the planning process. How on earth do you do it? There are so many people we love who have been close to us during different parts of our lives… and if you invite so-and-so, then you have to also invite so-and-so… and before you know it, you have a list of 500 people and you’re going to be in debt for 500 years to throw a 5-hour party. And the thing is, every huge wedding I’ve been to has felt (to me) kind of impersonal, because I knew the bride and groom didn’t even have time to say hello to everyone, let alone have quality time with their nearest & dearest. Or eat. Which just made me feel overwhelmed for them… like it was a party for everyone else, but not for them. I once heard someone say there’s nothing more depressing than seeing brides and grooms shaking hands with people they’ve never met before at their weddings, and I wholeheartedly agree…. But to each his own.

Money isn’t fun to talk about, but the ugly truth is that the guest list is the #1 factor in your budget – for each person you invite, it’s not only the food & booze dollar amount per head, but every additional person is also an additional place setting, more decor, more chairs, more tables, more allthethings.  Chris and I are at this juncture in our life, too, where everything is happening at once: we’re also shopping for a house, probably going to start a fam sooner than later before my eggs go up in flames, I just opened a storefront, blah blah blah. So, nuts! Do we spend our down payment money on a 5-hour party and then start saving all over again? (…I say yes!) Just kidding, I say sort of …e.g. let’s find a way to be smart and do both. The wedding thing you only get to do it once, and it is LITERALLY the only time everyone you both love will be in the same place at the same time.

As a note, the average American wedding these days costs just under $35,000. The average Southern California wedding (what’s up, La Jolla!) is closer to $50,000…. Or, 50 “wedding dollars” as my friend Kendra calls them to take the sting out. I think a lot of the ones we’ve been to the last few years go up from there. Catering & alcohol accounts for probably about 40% of your budget, so guest count is a huge factor. I got a few good bits of advice recently from friends that I think are worth noting:

  • One friend said they had about 120 guests, which was a good number, but that 60-75 would’ve been ideal. Then followed with: “If you ever have to ask yourself, ‘ehhhh, should we invite so-and-so?’ – then the answer is no.”
  • Plus ones are given if the couple is either engaged or living together.
  • Another friend reminded me that life will inevitably have ups & downs, and marriage will be hard, so to only invite the people closest to you who will stand up for and support your marriage during those tough times.
  • Another friend said, “if you’re on the fence about anyone on your guest list, ask yourself if it’s worth it to you to cut them a check for $500 to attend your wedding.” Sounds brutal, and I’m pretty sure I choked on whatever I was chewing when I heard that, because while that is jarring, it’s not inaccurate.

This chart is actually super helpful… especially with the: “When was the last time you spoke?” and “Would you want to spend 15 minutes alone with this person on your wedding day?”

But while budget is obviously a consideration, I’m at peace with and far less concerned with the money part, and WAY more concerned with the vibe of the tribe that’s there.

3. Weddings That Have a Great Flow. And behind every great flow, there is for sure a great planner. Personally, I think having a planner is e-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l. Your wedding is a HUGE investment – and so short lived – and so to me, hiring a day-of or month-of planner is the best way to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch, and that you ACTUALLY get to enjoy it. It’s not unlike hiring a designer when you are building or renovating a house: why on EARTH would you spend all that money and not have someone quarterbacking the thing to make sure you’re making sound decisions on things that have so much permanence and allocating your budget properly?

Chris & I both love a wedding with a good flow – where guests aren’t confused about where to go or what to do, and where there’s always a glass of champagne or something to nosh at the ready. Where the bride and groom don’t have to worry about anything that day except having a great time. ALL OF THAT is because there’s a coordinator on site who’s orchestrating every single minute of the party and handling it à la Olivia Pope, or J.Lo. I can do a ton of the legwork – the budget, the vendor coordination, the styling – that stuff’s easy because it’s so much of what I do every day… but at some point, I don’t know what I don’t know about the nuances of weddings, and I need someone to pull it together and take the reigns so I can hang with my peeps and not have to like, take calls from the caterer who has a flat tire, which would make my brain melt.

4. Weddings That Don’t Feel Disjointed. IMO, if the venue has too many components or far-reaching seating areas or cigar bars or what have you, it just ends up too compartmentalized and people dissipate. Like a middle school dance. I love it when everyone is kind of hanging together.

5. Weddings That Have a Killer Band or DJ. This makes or breaks the party, and is a HUGE priority for both me & Chris. I remember one invitation we got last year had a line on the RSVP card that asked: “Tell us the song that’ll make you get up and dance?” – which I loved. PS: the answer is Footloose. Always. Turn that song on and I am a wind-up toy on crack who just lost her mind.

6. Weddings That Feed You at Crappy Hour. God bless things like hot dog stands, taco trucks, passed slices of pizza, etc. Especially if people have been on the dance floor all night, they’re usually starving by the time the party is over. If I could have Pizza King Royal Feasts brought in and passed at the reception, I would be happy as a clam. Or pigs in blankets.

7. Weddings with Amazing Speeches. Pass the tissues. Listening to the speeches might be my favorite and most memorable part of weddings. I’m gonna get roasted so hard, and it’s gonna be SO FUN.

PS: I kind of want to hand out vintage hankies for that very reason.

 

THE VIBE

 

Every person or vendor I’ve talked to about this wedding so far has asked what the vision is. The best I can muster is: France + Mexico had a baby on the beach. Like, in the blue lagoon. Give me fish tacos on mismatched antique dishes, tons of string lights, melting taper candles in ornate vintage brass candelabras and a laid-back but intimate, elegant feel to all of it. Like this:

{ Ceremony }

Give me all the tattered, laid back beachy business in the form of lanterns, simple arbors, white gauzy things blowing in the breeze and waves in the background. Cuz what else do you need.

{ Gussie }

We quickly nixed a Caribbean or a Mexico wedding, which would’ve been amazing but it’s a deal breaker not to have our best buddy in tow.

{ The Bridesmaids }

Yep, I still wanna do them. Lots of people feel like they’re silly when you’re in your 30’s, but I say bring on the besties, all clad in coordinating gear. I want to do anything but the normal bridesmaid-looking dresses: gunning for mismatched, embellished, rad dresses in the watered-down, cerulean palette. As laid back as I want this shin-dig to be, I do want the feeling of it juxtaposed with some pretty dresses.

Brideside is a good option: they’re more like an aggregate site for all the bridesmaid dresses out there, vs just shopping them from one designer e.g. Jenny Yoo, but to me it still feels a bit more uniform than I want… visiting there in Chicago in 2 weeks so I’ll let you know how it shakes out.  Rent the Runway is also an option I love, and they have a ton of options in the blush category, but sadly very little in the blue/green family.

We had one friend last year who had her bridesmaids all in mismatched white outfits – some were flowy dresses, others were gorgeous silk pants and angora sweaters – and it was super laid back and chic in Northern Cali in the Fall. I LOVED that. I wouldn’t even rule out doing the bridesmaids in mismatched ivory get-ups either.

{ The Dress }

Ya’ll know I let it all hang out and will tell you anything, but this one I gotta kinda keep under wraps. Generally speaking, the dress has never been my biggest priority. I don’t wanna feel like I wore a potato sack – I mean, you HAVE to feel fab – but I also can’t justify spending some insane amount of money… (though, you can always resell it and recoup some of funds). Now that I’ve been trying on a few, however, I will say one thing: BERTA. Signed, F*DGE. Co-Signed, What’s a Budget?  Bahahajahjhahah – kidding, kidding.

{ The Flowers }

I KIND of don’t care about flowers either. That’s one expense I can shave down, I think. Plus who’s really looking at flowers when you have a roaring ocean in the background and swaying palm trees everywhere? Lots of folks have suggested I get a gaggle of stems at the Farmer’s Market, or at least to choose in-season flowers to save some dough.

Our good friend Kait – who got married in Harbour Island last year – had almost entirely flowerless decor (except for her boutquet) and I literally didn’t even notice because the wedding was so beautiful: she used primarily things from the local landscape. GENIUS.

That said… if I did a few flowers, I’d love some peonies (totally out of season – so I’m already not taking my own advice) or king proteas. The bouquet below is bananas.

{ The Reception }

If I could pitch a big tent (ooooh a clear one!) on the beach, or just do it on the beach in general, I would be in heaven.

Except you can’t do glass or alcohol on any San Diego beaches (that’s right folks – La Jolla it is!)… And what I REALLY wanted to do – for the sake of intimacy and the sake of saving *literally* tens of thousands of dollars – was to have the reception outdoors on the grounds of (whatever beach house our families are staying in that week). I found this one and it’s perfect (complete with private beach access), but the lady won’t allow events. Nor will any homeowner or property owner, anywhere… despite my incessant attempts to offer a larger refundable damage deposit and promise to rent port-a-potties:

C’est la vie. So to that end, there are a few venues either on or across the street from the beach will do the trick. PS: Know what all of the below have in common? STRING LIGHTS. Magical and magically available at Wal-Mart.

{ The Tabletop }

I’ve had so many people tell me not to fuss over the tables, and I won’t (too much) BUT the decor is kind of my jam, cuz it’s my job. Plus, you gotta rent plates & napkins anyway – why not rent cool ones for the same cost? Give me all the mismatched vintage china, milk glass candlesticks and mixed metal glassware.

I totally love Hostess Haven out of San Diego – I doodled up a few schemes from their offering:

A good friend of ours who did a mountain wedding last year actually BOUGHT a ton of her decor – because you can buy it for almost the same price that you can rent it – and in the end, you can sell it to recoup some of the costs. So it’s a lot of legwork and probably a total PITA, but I may go that route for a few things…

*COUGH* I may have already nabbed a dozen or so mismatched vintage napkins with crochet trim on eBay.

{ Food & Drink }

My other half is a whiskey connoisseur, so maybe a bourbon bar for him? This one is from Calder Clark Designs (hey girl heeeeeey!)

Otherwise, I’ll say it: as much as I love food, I don’t really care about the food. It’s just that it’s so fleeting!  I mean, I’m not trying to feed people spray-can cheese on Ritz crackers, but I could care less about doing a bazillion dollar 4-course meal. BRING. ON. THE. TACO. BAR.  Or at least Mini Margs & Mini Tacos passed at cocktail hour – BE STILL MY HEART.

Truth be told, I’d DIE if my favorite taco joint could cater the whole she-bang (laid back and would save a bundle), but I’m quickly finding that almost all reception venues require you to either use their food & booze, or pick from a certain list of approved caterers. Also, Chris is a little bit of a traditionalist and thinks we have to feed people more than tacos… and I’m all, “IF ANYONE DOESN’T LOVE TACOS THEY’RE NOT INVITED!!!” Haaaaa j/k – but seriously – who doesn’t love tacos?  So either way, looks like I’m getting channeled into the $chmancier food category.

{ Dessert }

I so do not care about the cake. Does anyone even eat the wedding cake?? I can’t remember the last time I’ve even seen the bride & groom cut the cake. So unless Cru Cafe wants to ship me in an Orange Sherbet Cake, this is a corner I can cut via a little round cake from the grocery store with some flowers slapped on top:

Or since I’m gunning for farm-to-table Mexican fare for dinner (I haven’t given up), maybe we do churros for dessert? Or these little malasadas in coffee.

This dessert table I have always loved. It looks like it’s in my Nanny’s backyard and that’s probably why.

That’s where we are so far! The budgeting is hard, the guest list is hard, blah blah blah… but we HAVE to make it all fun, right??  I told Chris we should sit down together and figure out what we’re comfortable spending and what’s most important to us, slap a number on that budget and then just pull the triggers so we don’t have to fuss for the next 11 months, cuz that’s not worth it. To recap:

Best Advice I’ve Gotten (So Far) on Weddings:

  1. “For every hour you spend planning the wedding, spend another hour working on the relationship. So many people get caught up with the right dress, the perfect centerpiece, that they forget it’s only a party at the end of the day.” –Read this somewhere… I repeated this to Chris and he was like, “yeah babe for sure – we’ll be doing plenty of hours of hiking this Summer.” Bahahahhaha.
  2. “Stretch the event out as long as possible.  It will go so fast for you and even 4 days won’t be enough time with everyone.  So host a destination, days-long event, so you can have one-on-one time with different people as they trickle into town.” –Caitlin Johnson
  3. “Splurge on the photographer.” –Roni Haskell // “Photography is the only thing you take with you.” –Caitlin Whiteside – I am SO ON BOARD with this.
  4. “Hire a videographer!!!” –Everyone.  And sadly, everyone I know who hasn’t done videography has had major remorse afterward; everyone who has says they still love watching theirs – or watch it every anniversary and reminisce. The other amazing point someone made was that: as the bride & groom, you’re so busy that day / behind the scenes getting ready etc that you actually miss seeing so much that goes on. But videography gives you that and lets you not only relive the day, but have a window to everything you didn’t see.
  5. Hire a planner. –Everyone
  6. Have your bouquet professionally done, but use Farmers Market flowers or in-season flowers or local greenery for your bridesmaids, tabletop, and any other florals you need.  –Kait McGrath + Melissa Pevic + Michaela Fraser. You can even have a little shin-dig with your bridesmaids and put bouquets and arrangements together. You can also repurpose your bridesmaids’ bouquets as centerpieces.
  7. “Don’t worry about making anyone else happy. Be weird and do whatever the hell makes the two of you happy.” –Mia Martino Howe (Love this one!)
  8. “Use your gut and don’t do a single ‘should’ ” –Laura Hammer-Hill
  9. “The entire wedding will take cues from the bride and her demeanor. So if she’s freaking and stressed, everyone else will feel that. And if she’s super relaxed and happy, everyone else will feel that, too, and follow suit.” –I don’t even remember where I heard or read this, but I think it’s one of the most profound pieces of wedding advice I’ve ever heard. 
  10. “We planned our wedding around what was convenient for our parents, but it was not what we wanted. If we had it to do all over again, we would’ve done things completely differently, and done the whole thing somewhere else.”
  11. “No one eats cake.” –Kait McGrath
  12. “Take a half a Xanax while you’re getting ready.” –JoJo Hodges (this one made me snort)
  13. “Do a first look.” –Everyone I know who has done one.  It’s the bit of advice I keep getting: that when you walk into your ceremony, seeing everyone you love in one eyeshot will trigger major waterworks and be overwhelming in and of itself; that that alone is enough to take in, but add to that seeing your almost husband or wife for the first time that day, and it would be overload. So because both of those moments are so special, everyone seems to advocate breaking them up into two. The first look is also one of the only times that day you’ll (almost) be alone and have an intimate moment between the two of you.
  14. “I wish we’d had gone smaller crowd, less formal, just close friends and family on a beach.” –Dawn.  Note: this one is the most resounding theme I hear, time & time again. Every person I’ve talked to says they wished they could’ve had a more intimate, smaller wedding.
  15. “I don’t remember the food at all–it may have been sandwiches (hot and cold) cheese balls and crackers, and veggies and fruit trays. I really don’t remember. All I remember is dancing. Lots of dancing.” –Missy Phillips Cooper
  16. “Carefully curate your playlist.” –Melissa Hobley.  “Start your music must-haves playlist now. Write every song down as you hear or think of it so you can prioritize later because you’ll have hundreds you’ll want to dance to.” –Amy Kitchen
  17. “Regardless of the details you decide on, more important things are happening here – like learning how to communicate better, set limits, make joint decisions, compromise, listen to one another, etc. Use this as an opportunity to learn how to work together as a team day-in and day-out.” –Amy Kitchen

You deserve a trophy or at least some orange slices if you made it thru this post without a nap or a pee break.  Thank you guys for all of your wonderful well-wishes and gracious help so far!!!!!! We are stoked. And semi-stressful as this stuff can be (*violins*), I have never loved me some Chris Driscoll more than I do now.

xoxoxo,