I Went Shopping For My Wedding Dress Alone – Here’s What I Learned

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I don’t really like weddings. The scope and scale for potential public humiliation just seems too great a risk to me.
Yet here I am, in an upturned library of half-written invitations, my phone fizzing with quotes from florists and flautists. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted to be declaring my love in front of family and friends but the pomp that apparently comes with it – even post-pandemic, which hasn't provided the cultural reset on wedding days that I had privately hoped for when I got engaged – is hard to grasp, and harder to organise.

To certain impressively left-brained people, the work involved in planning a wedding is actually enjoyable. For me, the aisle is unspooling before me like the train of a runaway gown. My fellow procrastinators will know how wedding planning flips between boring admin and equally boring family politics. But there is one bit that’s been long lauded as the bridal tonic: shopping for the dress
I prefer my tonic with gin and, as it happens, the dress was always the bit I dreaded most. Stepping into a wedding dress for the first time would make it all seem disturbingly real; I feel the corset tightening as I write.

Above the ideological discomfort, there are more practical concerns. I am chronically indecisive and require a number of distinct nods of approval (from fiancé, friends, dog, anyone who I can get to listen) before purchasing anything of note. I haven’t bought clothes without an emotional support shopper for as long as I can remember.
With this in mind, I tried the Say Yes To The Dress approach, bringing an entourage consisting of my mother and grandmother to a small, pretty boutique in Norfolk for my first stab at dress shopping. I felt more like I was in an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras as my post-lockdown weight was kneaded and folded into boulangeries of puffed-up tulle (and not in a chic, Molly Goddard way). Tears of what I hoped was pride rose in my mother's eyes as I stepped into the princess gowns of her dreams, tainting my decision on what I actually liked or wanted. The one dress I did enjoy – an LA-style, bohem, nude-illusion number with sequin hummingbirds hovering over the tits – received an immediate no from Grandma with a 'what would your late grandad have said?' kind of glare.

I adored this glare, and my mother's tears, as much as the next kid with mummy issues. I was overcome with a feeling of luckiness that I had them both to experience this with. I came close to dropping £2,000 on a dress I didn't really like (and couldn't afford), if only to memorialise the occasion with three generations of women whom I love and am unendingly grateful to.
Nonetheless, I felt round two of wedding dress shopping simply had to be done solo. A scary thought. I took a random day off work and booked a last-minute appointment at a shop in Bromley (the Paris of Kent). From the website, it looked like a high drag Santa's grotto – a nostalgic bloom of glitter, 'Live, Laugh, Love' signs and prosecco.
As I approached, from out of the doors of the big white shop popped an intimidating bubble of women, bursting with the childlike thrill that comes from playing dress-up.
With the reservation open on my phone like a golden ticket, I tiptoed apologetically inside the love emporium. There were large groups of women everywhere: mothers crying, grandmothers glaring, ad infinitum. Through the haze, I was greeted by a kindly, elderly, Kentish stylist.
"Do you get many people coming in to try on dresses alone?" I asked as we sidestepped a gaggle of gorgeous bridesmaids.

"It's the best decision you could have made," she smiled. Kind Mrs Claus.

I was shown to my own private area, lined with around 100 dresses of all shapes, sizes, colours, textures. I was told to walk around the rails alone and to go with my gut.
After selecting a few options, I stepped behind a sheer pink curtain as Mrs Claus delicately passed in gown after gown for me to try. A satin one that showed off the curvature of my pot belly in a way that Pulp Fiction's Fabienne would have been proud of. One with a plunging V-neck that went down to the navel, peeping the cusp of my bellybutton. A high-necked Victorian one with ruffles. A sweetheart corset with plenty of bass. I twirled around in each, parading to my silent audience of 100 dresses – the headless ghosts of erstwhile brides, encouraging me onwards. I stepped onto a wooden box and let the trains swell around me, settling like fresh snow. I didn't really care for any of them but I loved me in every single one.
My favourite of those that I tried was a simple A-line dress, embroidered with a mess of cornflowers. Sensing I was about to have a moment, Mrs Claus left me alone, totally alone. It was silent, and I pulled back my own veil in front of the mirror. I looked at every inch of my body – my undyed hair, my quick-makeup face, my bare feet – before staring myself dead in the eye. This is me: solo, in love, overwhelmed, powerful.
I didn't buy the dress; I think I might just rent one. But there I was, in a white gown I never thought I'd put on, shoulders back, unresisting, tits pointing to the sky, falling madly in love with myself.

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