True Story: Shopping For Bridal Dresses Made Me Feel Pretty… Darn Awful

July 28, 2014


Did anyone else have as bad a time as I did when shopping for a wedding dress? It can make you feel awful! Here's how to overcome that.

You know, I have lowered my expectations of bridal dress shopping several times. There seems to be a lot of emotion wrapped up in the dress shopping experience for women, some of it being personal other times, it’s just a lot of marketing hogwash meant to sell the “special experience of your special day.”  (Seriously, if I hear “special” to describe my wedding one day when someone is trying to sell me something I may snap.)

Dress shopping can sometimes be the most emotionally loaded part of planning a wedding besides picking an officiant or paying for it.  Most people know that the bride’s dress sets the tone for the entire wedding. Typically, the flower arrangements, cake and bridesmaids dresses are coordinated to fit the look and feel of the bride’s gown.  An elaborate, poofy princess dress should be met with equally exquisite bridesmaid dresses and elegant flower arrangements and yes, a cake that’s equally over the top.  A casual cowgirl who is getting married in a barn would pick something for her dress that would be just as fun, and less-than-formal so her bridemaids could pick casual but coordinated dresses to show off their cowgirl boots.

I knew that picking the wedding dress would help my bridesmaids get their frocks and was prepared that after the budget and the venue, picking my wedding dress would be the next big hurdle to overcome. I had a few types in mind and a Pinterest board full of bridal ideas.  I guess though, I wasn’t prepared for how emotionally involved the experience would be, and despite the fact I’d lowered my expectations to protect my heart, I had no idea I’d feel so damn frumpy in the fancy dresses I’d picked out.

I hadn’t seen my mom for 6 or so years when she passed away last October.  After getting engaged, the thought of bridal dress shopping brought up some emotions, but it was also a good time to put to rest the stomach churning emotions of explaining, yet again, for the umpteenth time in my life that my mom simply wasn’t “around.”  Saying that she was simply gone, God rest her soul, due to death and not personal choices made the void somewhat more socially acceptable.  Well, at the very least, it made it less awkward to tell to strangers who were trying to sell you something.

That being said, I knew I would not be getting some warm, fuzzy dress experience.  I didn’t expect any “OH MY GOD,” moments shared with girlfriends bubbling over some assemblage of tulle and lace- I live in a different state than all of my bridesmaids and the idea of assembling people to watch me try dresses on suddenly seemed overwhelming. My mom hasn’t been around for some time, and I was more than used to explaining that fact- knowing that getting ready for a wedding might open up an old wound.

Turns out, when I went to try on dresses, I wasn’t too emotionally raw.  I went to one of the “bridal chains,” you can find anywhere to get an idea of what would flatter my figure.  I knew I’d be alone in the process and would have to upload pictures of my dresses to Facebook for my awesome “dream team” of bridemaids to give their feedback on.  I came mentally grounded, knowing my dress shopping experience would be all business.

I guess, what I wasn’t expecting at all about dress shopping was how frumpy I’d feel.

Maybe I had unrealistic expectations that a bridal gown magically transformed any woman into a gorgeous, well dressed diva. I mean, how could you not feel beautiful in a $1300 gown?  Well, I guess I found a way.

Trying on dresses, though the staffer was super nice and the dresses were great, made me feel frumpy, lumpy and totally unglam.  I realize that it’s hard to try on something so stupid fancy when your hair and makeup isn’t done up to the nines to match…there is something odd about having normal makeup on and slicking your hair back in an easy ponytail to try on dresses that are fluffy white and embellished with lots of fancy beading- but I just couldn’t envision myself looking good in any of them, despite that fact.

I looked at my silhouette in the dresses and felt like crap.  My figure looked lumpy and awkward.  I couldn’t figure out why all of a sudden, in the fanciest dresses I’ve ever tried on, my confidence took a nose dive.  Honestly, I don’t know, but I have a hint.  Here’s what I’ve been looking at for months:


Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 8.06.10 AM


I realize that bridal dress shopping is all about working the silhouette God gave you.  I realize I have a boxy figure, no waist to speak of and I think I’m starting to realize, that even with the most amazing corset, I would not have a sleek and slender figure like this.  I get that- I’m pudgy and there should be a dress that makes me feel beautiful whether or not I’ve got the measurements of a model.   I guess, I just didn’t find it yet?

I’m not sure if my lack of bravado and confidence comes from the typical marketing that makes us self-shame ourselves that we don’t live up to the pretty figures in magazines, or if it’s just that wedding dresses are weird and it’s going to take some time to find one that works? I’m a bit worried I have something in mind that doesn’t exist… some magical transformative dress that fixes how I see myself in it.

Is it normal to feel awful after trying on wedding dresses?

I honestly have no idea if I should just lower my expectations after months of seeing slender models in the same dresses, or if I just haven’t found the right gown.

I’d love your advice on this once, because, ugh.

24 comments so far.

24 responses to “True Story: Shopping For Bridal Dresses Made Me Feel Pretty… Darn Awful”

  1. Sarah says:


    You are most definitely NOT frumpy, but it’s okay that you’re feeling that way right now. The wedding industry is crazy. There’s a whole subset industry of wedding diets, after all. It’s all built on the perfect ideal, and how much you’ll spend to get to that point. Don’t fall into the trap. My dress fit was slightly off (I ordered it online from Modcloth, after all), but I still love my pictures because they encapsulate memories of one of the best days of my life.

    You are smart, talented, hard working, and beautiful. You will find something that works. Do you know of any celebrities that you could consider similar to you in body type? Mindy Kaling, maybe? You could take a look through some of their photos, and see what flatters them on the red carpet. Then you’ll have a better idea of what might make you feel prettiest.

    But, on the other hand, you should wear what you like. Even if you don’t think it’s “flattering”, if you find a dress and you absolutely love it and it fits you, I fully believe you should go for it. Just like every body is a beach body, every body can wear everything. It just takes confidence (and it’s reasonable, too, if you feel you’re lacking in that department – so many people are).

    Bottom line: Don’t be embarrassed by your body. You’ve run like, what, 5,000 miles with it? Your body is GREAT!

    • Shannyn says:

      Seriously….Sarah…day made, thank you. I didn’t even think to look for similar shapes with styles I like. I love Mindy Kahling! I found styles I liked (celebrity wise) but they’re slender types like Kate Middleton but I know I can find similar styles that go with my body type.

      You rock. 🙂

  2. miranda says:

    Totally normal, the first few times I tried on dresses I HATED it, I HATED them all, I though the tulle skirts would looks nice and feel fun and it felt and looked awful. So I kept looking, the last time I was in Chicago I actually went to BHLDN and besides just being a beautiful store the girls were so nice and I did find the dress I most likely will purchase. Keep looking and don’t think you need to change eventually you’ll find what works for you.

  3. Chelsea L says:

    So sorry you’re having a hard time finding a dress! I think society puts ridiculously high standards on how the bride looks during her wedding day (there are many TV shows about how a bride looks, but none on how a bride feels). My suggestion is to look at the dresses you already own – which ones make you feel beautiful and how are these dresses similar? Then look for a wedding dress with those features!

    • Shannyn says:

      Thanks so much Chelsea, I will totally do that! And yes- there is so much on the looks, but not the feelings… so, so true!

    • Rachel says:

      I second what Chelsea said! Look at your own closet first – look at things you wear that make you feel awesome, see what shapes those are, and apply that on top of wedding dresses.

      (None of my friends who had weddings enjoyed their wedding dress shopping experiences, and most of them ended up doing something non-traditional for a dress because that made them happier. My point being, there are a lot of expectations around buying the dress and what an amazing experience it should be, and to that I say “ppppppbt”. Don’t let the dress shopping experience taint your joy!)

  4. Ali says:

    I honestly never really bought into the allure of the wedding dress. I wanted to pick out one that I thought was pretty, I looked pretty in, was comfortable and wasn’t too expensive. I went to David’s Bridal and tried on about 5 dresses and picked the first one I tried on that day. I don’t think the wedding dress totally makes the entire wedding and certainly not the entire marriage (as some would believe). I think it’s crazy how intense some women get about finding the perfect dress. I don’t think it exists to be perfectly honest. You’ll look beautiful at your wedding! Just buy one that feels comfortable to you and that will shine through. I’ve seen other friends squeeze into these dresses that are too tight and don’t fit because they are popular styles and you could tell!

  5. Gretchen says:

    Oh no! The whole wedding industry is crazy! Women get so crazy about finding the perfect dress, dieting, and creating the perfect day. But really, it’s all a bunch of hype! As an outsider looking in, you’re definitely not lumpy! In fact, you look very sophisticated and classy to me! Keep your chin up!

  6. Mara says:

    I definitely agree with Chelsea’s advice about looking though your closet and figuring out which dresses make you feel ah-mazing and what about those dresses flatters you most, and with Sarah about looking at celebrities who may have your type.
    Also, you WILL know which dress is “the one” when you try it on – don’t get discouraged!!
    Reading what you wrote about your “boxy figure” made me think about my own figure and the struggles I went through in trying to find my own dress for my wedding.
    I am not very busty ( 32A) and trying to find something that fit was impossible (literally). I ended up wearing a push up bra, then over that a padded bustier to be able to fill out the top part of my dress!
    All that time I kept thinking that my body was the wrong shape – that there was something wrong with me – now looking back, I realize that there was absolutely not thing wrong with me or my body. I realize now that I fell into the trap that society has set for women regarding the way we supposed to look. Don’t fall into the same trap!!
    Wishing you all the very best and sending happy and positive thoughts your way as you continue to search for your dress 🙂

  7. Stephanie says:

    Argh, posted earlier but must not have submitted it.

    Anyway, I absolutely agree with what Chelsea said. Those mermaid gowns are beautiful, but most gals just don’t look right in them. They accentuate all of the areas where most women have issues. In my (over 10 years) experience in event coordinating, I’ve learned a few things:

    1) Try on multiple silhouettes at the store to figure out which shape suits you best. Toss out those ideas of what you think you want the dress to look like. When you decide which silhouette suits you best, it will narrow the field considerably

    2)Go get a practice updo done at a beauty school or at your hairstylist before shopping. Wear appropriate undergarments. Put a fair amount of makeup on. The lighting in those dress shops is never ideal. Pale gals like you and I need some help. Part of your not feeling ‘beautiful’ is that the whole look isn’t together yet. It’s not because you’re not pretty – because YOU ARE! It’s like going to shop for a swimsuit with unshaved legs and bedhead. Nothing is going to look quite right.

    3) The overall look will be better if you find a less expensive dress and but spend extra to have it tailored correctly. A pricey gown that gapes under the arms or in the bust because it cost too much to alter won’t look as good.

    4)The ugly truth about wedding dresses is that they design them assuming that we are all super thin and have huge boobs. Right . . . I wore a 10 when my husband and I got married. My dress was a size 14.

    5)It’s okay that the experience wasn’t what it was ‘supposed to be.’ It never is. You will find the right dress. And when you find it, you will just know. It took me three outings to find the right dress. I was so discouraged. And then, there it was. I wasn’t even sold on it seeing it on the hanger. But when I put it on, I knew. You will too!


    • Shannyn says:

      You made such excellent points! Hahah, huge boobs and super thin… SO TRUE..who is actually like that but the dresses are designed that way?!

      Ya, I think it’s hard to envision what you’ll look like all dolled up with normal hair and makeup when you try on dresses.

      I’m hoping I’ll find the right one soon, you’ve given me hope!

  8. Carrie says:

    I can say that getting married a little over 10 years ago before the dawn of Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc was a blessing because it limited my “visual” expectations. Meaning I looked at a few bridal magazines but really I went in blind. I knew my budget, that I didn’t want strapless, and that I did want some “poufiness”. Other than that it was up to the woman working at the store to just hand me dresses to try on.
    That being said, don’t lower your expectations, but re-evaluate them. Mermaid dresses aren’t flattering on most people regardless of their size. I agree with Stephanie that you kind of have to throw out the idea in your head, find the style the suits you and go from there. There is a dress out there that will be flattering and also work in the mermaid type of style
    Also, is there anyone in the area that would join you shopping. I think that going alone is making the experience that much more difficult because you are going into it aready feeling “different” than the girls there with a whole entourage of people.

  9. Miss Thrifty says:

    The right dress is out there: you’ll know it when it finds you. But if none of the dresses in the bridal shops are up to snuff, you can always go off-menu! That’s what I did: all the tight, heavy, scratchy gowns at CRAZY high prices weren’t my thing either. I found my wedding dress on eBay for about $40: it was a wedding dress from the 1920s. Needed some work (perhaps unsurprisingly!) so I found an amazing seamstress in Battersea, South London, and she basically turned part of the train into a new bodice. Point is, you don’t have to buy your dress from one of those shops, if nothing there is working for you.

    Somebody above made a really good comment about working out what silhouette looks best on you. I would add: give a thought to vintage silhouettes. You can get some amazing vintage dresses, tailored to make you look amazing, with a seamstress’ help. Personally, I think you would look absolutely stunning in a 1950s dress, but that’s just me. 🙂

  10. Lauren Boxx says:

    Big hugs to you! You’re going to figure this out! Don’t fall into the pit of hopelessness! I agree with so much that has already been said! That mermaid dress is no good for about 90 percent of us. I also agree that I was thinking something with more of a ’50s vibe for you!

    With my budget I knew that I was going to have a hard time finding something that looked nice, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $1,000 on a dress. In the end I got really lucky and was able to borrow my step mother’s mother’s dress last worn in 1959 and it was perfect. It had a very pretty Jackie Kennedy look to it and I didn’t even have to get it altered.

    The point is you dress may not be where you think it is, but your dress is out there! Who knew mine was in the back of my step mother’s closet? You’ve got tons of great, creative ideas here so something is going to fall into place. I’ve got enough faith for both of us. ((Hugs))

  11. Tiina says:

    I just got my wedding dress this past weekend and the first place that I went was truly awful. None of the dresses fit like they did in my mind. You just have to find the right store and the right dress. It’s out there 🙂

  12. Jen says:

    Shopping for wedding dresses was the worst part of my wedding (20 years ago). The dresses only were available to try on in a size 8, and they ran small, so really, a 6. I wore a 14 in regular clothes and a 16 in wedding dresses, so it was really hard to get a sense of how they would really look on me. And the saleswoman really made me feel bad about my size.

    Things are a little better now, but there are still so many expectations that brides will be super-thin. You are pretty and fit — don’t let this process get you down.

    I would recommend an A-line dress or a fit-and-flare shape — both are very flattering. A good salesperson will help you find flattering shapes — sounds like yours was not helpful.

  13. Aerevyn says:

    The dress in your picture is soooooo pretty, but it would take a braver woman than me to try it on in front of someone else! : ) There ain’t no place to hide a flaw there! Dresses like that look great … on mannequins.

    I haven’t been reading your blog for long, so this next is “take it with a grain of salt”: I see you as more exuberant and joyful than this dress, less constricted. Maybe your last shopping excursion wasn’t to say that you were frumpy, but you haven’t met the right dress for you and the wonderfulness that you are, the universe pointing you in a different direction.

  14. Kara says:

    I’m so sorry your experience dress shopping wasn’t successful. I’m plus size, and was dreading wedding dress shopping for months and months. When I finally started looking, I was bombarded with size 0 models in tiny dresses. I knew these would look horrible on me, so I set my sights on strapless, empire waist, and a-line dresses.

    I went to 4 stores, three of which were actually nice experiences, and one was absolutely horrid. All the dresses the brought me (just brought, didn’t help me try on, or give me advice as they should’ve been) were absolutely disgusting. They made me look like a sausage. No matter how many times I told her to bring me a-line dresses, she only grabbed plus size sausage dresses. Horrible experience. I left it tears.

    I found my dream dress where I experienced amazing service (no mention of my “special day”!) The advice I can give you is to get a dress that will flatter your figure. Be open to different types of dresses, but know what will look good. My first few dresses were all over the board, but we were able to figure out what was flattering and stuck to that. Also, you’d be amazed what a belt can do for defining waists, especially if you’re worried about being “boxy”. Good luck!!

  15. Sally says:

    You have LOTS of time so don’t worry, you will find something you like. I didn’t even try on a dress until October, about 8 months before the wedding. I was lucky in that I found my dress at the first place we went, but I also think the lady knew what she was doing. I had a dress I came in for, it looked awful on me! But the sales lady saw what I wanted (illusion back, fitted body, slight train) and she gave me something I never would have picked but loved! Actually, it took 2 tries to see that it was a really cool, unique dress and flattered my style. I would avoid the bridal chain stores. If your budget is $1300 or so, you can find something at one of the bridal boutiques that’s better made than David’s or Alfred Angelo or Demetrios (only chains I know). I was in the same range and got a lovely Maggie Sottero dress.

  16. This is how I feel shopping in general, so I’m not exactly looking forward to wedding dress shopping in the future. My figure isn’t exactly what I want, but I’m learning to live with it AND love it. Part of doing so it figuring out which styles flatter me, and a lot of the time, the fashion we see everywhere just doesn’t fit my figure. I’m trying to steer clear from those styles from the get go so I don’t get disappointed. Good luck with the search! There’s a dress out there for you!

  17. I can’t even imagine going wedding dress shopping! I’m sorry that it was not the best experience. Sending you virtual hugs!

    My mom ordered me a J Crew dress online a couple months ago in my size (at the time). I think (or at least hope) it’ll look fine and we can get it altered in the few months before my wedding that I’ll be in the States. I’m not having any moments trying on dresses, but at least I can stop worrying about it… I’ll have something to wear! Not most brides’ ideal situation, but I guess I’m not most brides 🙂

  18. Alyssa says:

    I wasn’t really into the whole dress shopping thing either. Even though I went 3 times (I really wanted to be able to go with my family and my fiance’s family but went to try on dresses before then) it wasn’t all that glamorous.

    I think you should focus on feeling comfortable! I wanted a dress I was able to dance in so that was my focus!


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