Dress Dread

Back in February 2018, I was so joyful at the excitement of getting engaged! My partner, Tim and I had made a really adult decision about deciding to get hitched. We both knew straight away that we were looking for a low-key and relaxed day.

To give you a bit of context to the story, Tim and I had moved to the UK for his work for 1 year so I was organising what I could via email. So far, so good. Until.. The dress.

So I thought I would do the typical thing, get a bridal magazine, flick through and swoon over the dresses. However, I got to the end of the damn thing and thought to myself, ‘there is absolutely nothing in here that I would be seen dead in.’ No offence to this particular publication, but what the hell?!

All I wanted was a simple but well cut design with a high quality fabric. Not much to ask I would have thought. Enter stage left, instagram. I managed to find a few designers that were creating the look that I wanted albeit at a designer price.

Our wedding was at my family home in country South Australia. Photo by Kate Pardey

Nevertheless, I went into London one morning with a friend who happened to be visiting from home. The boutique had a lot of what I was looking for so I selected a handful to try on. While the fabrics and designs were what I was after, I was so disappointed that they didn’t have a sample size in ANYTHING that would even remotely fit. As I naively learned, you order the dress size which matches to your largest measurement (the hips for me) and then they attempt to adjust the rest to you.

So after nothing I tried actually fit in a way I could get an idea of what I would potentially buy, I politely thanked the lady who helped with the booking and went on my not-so-merry way. I quietly had a panic attack that I would never find anything that I would a) like and b) could afford. The experience also got me thinking that the way the ‘wedding industry’ works is completely flawed. Not only would I have to order a dress that would be miles too big in every way, other than my hips, I would then have to pay for fittings to get the dress to finally fit me. Surely this is not an economical way to work. The wasted fabric, the wasted time, the extra $$$ mounting up.

Feeling completely deflated about the whole experience, I thought about throwing the whole ‘dress’ out of the door. I decided to have a chat with one of my dear friends, Sarah, about the ordeal I had been through as she’s an excellent sewer. More than anything, I wanted to ask her if my experience seemed normal to her. I showed her the dress I liked most and told her what the process would be if I went through with the purchase. She was gob-smacked! As I shared my frustrations and fears about getting a dress, Sarah could see how terrified I was to try any other bridal store.

This is the part where two people collaborate at the right place at the right time. Sarah was in the throes of beginning her bespoke clothing business and I was in need of a dress that felt like me. She offered to make my dress. It was the first moment since the engagement where I felt joyful about ‘the dress.’ I trusted her completely to make something that was ‘me’.

The experience that followed was excitement, joy and relief all rolled into one as we dreamt up the dress for me. No it wasn’t expensive, in fact it would have been at least a third of the price of what I was looking at. It also had the additional benefit of understanding the project from conception to completion. I really had no idea what went into the making of a one off garment. This gave me a new appreciation for the craft. Sarah was so generous in all the explanation she provided to me about what we were doing. We talked about style and personality and I’m sure that the resulting dress was that much better having been made lovingly by a close personal friend who understood me.

It made me think about all the other non-waifs out there (yeah, most people) and how they deal with the pressure to fit these sample sizes that are only there to tell you how much you don’t fit the expectation. I still, to this day, hate shopping because nothing fits me. It has always frustrated the heck out of me that men have standardised sizing and women don’t. If you’re a 30, you’re a 30 in everything! High street stores need to stop shaming women about their bodies with their ridiculous sizing. Keep it measurement based. How many women do you know that can recall their vital statistics when it comes to size? I daresay only the sewing community do or people that get their clothing made-to-measure frequently.

With fast fashion having such an impact on landfill, it has made me consider made-to-measure clothing as a more sensible idea. Yes, it can be a little more expensive, but it’s clothing that has been thought about, not mindlessly purchased because, ‘it was on sale!’ The trend of people moving to capsule wardrobes makes a lot of sense.

If there’s anything that I can pass on to other women who are searching for, or about to search for their wedding dress, it would be this:

You are not the wrong body shape, you are perfect. The wedding industry is thriving off the pressure we feel to be ‘magazine perfect.’ Find someone who understands you and you trust to be your compass on what looks great on you. Trust what feels good to who you are, not what you are expected to be. And finally, consider having a made-to-measure dress where you’re in control. I can personally vouch for it!

Our wedding day. Dress by the lovely Sarah Diane Creative. Photo by Kate Pardey.