It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a bride wants to look her absolute best on her wedding day.
Blame the patriarchy, magazines or maybe just human nature, but when it comes to bridal couture, it’s serious.
The average price of a UK wedding dress is £1,329, according to research last year by Bridebook. For those going the high street route, it’s still almost £800, and even thrifty secondhand steals are £605 on average.
It’s just so easy to spend on your big day because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. Everything you choose has one chance to shine, and for nothing is that more true than your wedding dress. It will only be worn once, but the photographs will adorn your mum’s mantlepiece forevermore. And it’s how you’ll remember yourself on one of your happiest days.
It’s a cliché that young girls dream of wedding dresses when they're growing up. Actually, most brides-to-be haven’t got a clue what they want to wear or what will suit them – and when they discover the prices, they get quite a shock.
But it’s not always the way. We spoke to two women who didn’t pay a penny for their wedding dresses – by being lucky, savvy or putting their skills to the test.
"I made my own dream dress" – Marie, married in June 2016
"I sort of wanted to make it myself but to begin with I thought, 'That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself'. Especially as we were already having a big wedding!
I went to London to try on a few, though mainly because my friend wanted to try on some Eliza Jane Howell dresses. I liked them...but they were way beyond my budget. And honestly, I didn’t really enjoy the experience. It just felt all too old-fashioned and stuffy, everything white and lined up in size order. And everything really tiny!
I went all the way to Durham to try [bespoke designers] House of Mooshki and I really loved them but they were so out of my budget. To get what I wanted it seemed like it had to be bespoke, but the only way I could afford that was to do it myself.
So I went for it! I’m really glad I did – I enjoyed making it more than I expected and ended up going into the industry afterwards, setting up my own bespoke bridal company, Marie Chandler Bridal.
I had been a costume designer but had no experience with bridal so I decided on quite a simple design, no boning or anything like that. It probably took six months to make, in between everything else. My big thing was that I really didn’t want white, and I didn’t want traditional! No wonder the off-the-shelf ones didn’t work.
I really love the vintage '50s-style prom dresses, so I went for that shape and added a detachable train so I could dance in it easily later. We had a festival wedding so it had to work with wellies too!
I felt really good wearing it but I was really nervous about what people would think. By the time I’d finished it I was so exhausted I couldn't even tell if it was nice or not. But everyone loved it, most importantly, my husband! I’d spent months hiding it away and not letting him see it in the house.
The tulle was the most difficult part, and I played about with some styles – but the main difficulty was just trying to get it done on top of a job and organising a big wedding!
I would definitely recommend it. I also found that I absolutely wasn’t alone in wanting something different. I’ve made dresses now for lots of lovely brides who want something a bit outside the norm. It feels really nice to have helped create something that allows them to feel really comfortable and happy on their wedding day."
"I won my dress on Facebook" – Lauren, married in June 2015
"Oh my God I had a complete nightmare trying to find a dress. I must have spent four or five months looking. I went to bridal fairs, which I really hated because they make you put on the dress and stand on the podium. I went to a few shops back home and they were really snooty and it was all just turning into a really stressful experience.
The problem was I’d gone a bit crazy on Pinterest and I liked so many styles, they all became a bit of a sea of white. I didn’t know what I wanted, was fed up of the whole thing and in a bit of a bummed-out place about it all. So I saw a competition to win the dress on Facebook and thought, 'I may as well because I’ll never find a dress I like!' and then totally forgot about it.
A while later I checked my spam folder for something else and there was a congratulatory email saying I’d won! It had been sent a while before so I was worried I’d missed out but it was all fine, I couldn’t believe it!
It was September and the wedding was in June, but I’d already got to the panicky stage of thinking I had to find a dress ASAP, because the dress shops scare you into thinking you’re running out of time. That they need a year to make the alterations.
The competition was a dress brand, so I was able to choose from its collection. And just reducing the choice from 'all the dresses everywhere' to one brand was really helpful for me, especially as they had to be in stock near enough for me to go and try them on.
I tried on four, and realised I was leaning towards the fishtail style, which ended up being the most flattering anyway.
On the day I felt amazing! It was a really over-the-top dress, not what I thought I’d pick. A few people even said that it wasn’t what they’d expected. It was very glam and had a really low back, which is more revealing than anything I’d normally wear.
But you know, you may as well be extra on your wedding day.
Budget-wise, my mum had very generously offered to pay for my dress but I didn’t want her to shell out loads, so that had been at the back of my mind too. This way she didn’t have to pay for a crazy expensive dress and it meant she could contribute to the bridesmaids' dresses, so I felt really good about saving money and using it for something else in the budget.
And the story is great, no one could believe it, it was a real surprise."