How to shop for a wedding dress like a software engineer

August 31 | Guest post by Stacey Dyer
Welcome Reception Dress by Alfred Angelo, Ceremony Dress by Dessy Collection, Dinner Reception Dress by Ann Taylor. (Photos by Sandra Costello.)
Welcome Reception Dress by Alfred Angelo, Ceremony Dress by Dessy Collection, Dinner Reception Dress by Ann Taylor. (Photos by Sandra Costello.)

I work for a software company, and we regularly ask, “What customer problems are we trying to solve?” Since I am the target customer in this particular exercise, and the wedding dress is my solution, let’s take an Agile approach to wedding dress shopping, shall we?

Customer Problems:

  • I don’t have a wedding dress.
  • I’m a 4 on top and a 10 on the bottom (small boobs, great booty).
  • It may be as hot as 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity.

User Story:

I am an Offbeat Bride and need a wedding dress that will make me feel beautiful without killing me in the Florida heat.

Requirements:

  • allows legs to breathe
  • suits my back tattoo
  • is lightweight
  • takes advantage of breeze with flowing fabric
  • will not fall off me (small boobs)
  • is not super traditional
  • feels nice to the touch (lace looks nicer than it feels)
  • $3,000 or less

Stretch Goals:

  • No bra needed
  • Shows off my legs
Photo from a&bé bridal shop
Photo from a&bé bridal shop

Online Research:

Unsure of what I would actually like versus what will actually look good on me, I turned to Pinterest for guidance. Creating my first EVER wedding board (I freaked out about this), I dug into visual searches for anything and everything that struck my fancy.

Three patterns emerged:

  1. Romanesque
  2. High-Low
  3. Pin-Up

My casual or going-out fashion choices usually fit into these three categories, and while this wasn’t much of a surprise, I’ve learned not to trust how clothing looks on a model or hanger for that matter. I must therefore seek them out in person and prepare for the almighty, sweat-laden try-on-athon.

Photo from Pretty Parlor Bridal Boutique
Photo from Pretty Parlor Bridal Boutique

Shop early, stress less:

I did some local research, mostly on Yelp, to find the best shops (for my very specific taste) in the Boston area. I talked with one of my closest and most fashion-forward friends about the challenges I was facing and asked her to join me on this journey to the ivory aisles.

I made appointments at two major shops on a sticky July morning. (The weather was felicitous, simulating the heat and humidity of our location quite well.) We met up for brunch and had ourselves a mimosa for strategic nerve-removal on my part (I’d never done this before, never thought I would, nor had I ever been in anyone’s wedding). I prepared for this all week, and with a little help from Agile, I created a…

Definition of ready:

  • Shave ALL THE THINGS (if that's your thing)
  • Pasties on aforementioned small boobs
  • Beige thong that flatters (not too tight, not too loose, hides well under white fabric)
  • A sassy satchel filled with: strapless padded bra (when in need of bigger boobs), a pair of heels at my desired height (2 inches and under), deodorant, my phone with a cleared camera roll cache for taking try-on pics.
  • Hair in a similar style to how I envision it (mermaid/fishtail braid off to one side)
  • Earrings in envisioned style (dangly in this case)

I was grateful for the above preparation because of the following things:

  • I basically was naked with friend and attendants in very small spaces.
  • They have shoes there, but I’m not going to wear a 4″ spiked heel! I was glad to have my 1.5″ sandal for reference.
  • Testing dresses after walking in the heat of July was the key to knocking off heavy satin, full length, and mermaid gowns without a question in my mind. “They just zipped me up, and I’m overheating. This is a definite no.”
  • Photos of the try-on-athon were especially impactful thanks to my hair style and earrings; I could see myself in my future photos.
Photo from Mischelle Jillene Custom Gowns
Photo from Mischelle Jillene Custom Gowns

Other things they don’t tell you about wedding dress shopping:

Be prepared to allow the dress shop attendants to do their thing. If they’re good, they understand it’s not about price, it’s about finding a style and shape that fits you. You may initially feel like they’re not listening, but the attendant will make sure you try on any and nearly all applicable options.

That said, speak up and ask for what you REALLY want. I had to dig around for some courage to ask, “Can I try on some of your bridesmaid dresses? None of the traditional gowns are working for me.” It sounded so crazy in my head but made sense after reminding the shop that this was for a destination wedding.

Some shops have bustiers and other types of “upper management systems” at the ready. Alfred

Angelo snapped the hook and eyes of a full coverage bustier before dresses were even brought to me. I was honestly shocked! But I chose to ride that wave for the whole experience in the store, and in turn ordered one for my big day. I would have never known had they not stuffed me into one of those things.

When making appointments to visit a dress shop, ask if they have larger sizes to try on. We ran into this issue at Vera Wang. If you’re a size two and under, you can try on all the dresses you want! Otherwise hold the dresses against yourself, curiously gaze in a mirror, and wonder what it might look like on your body. I attempted to step into one gown, but my size 10 hips wouldn’t allow it, and so we left the store within five minutes of arriving.

In conclusion:

  1. Understand your problems and potential solutions. Outline what your personal requirements are for happiness, style, weather, and sex appeal.
  2. Rock your online research with the help of things like Pinterest.
  3. Acknowledge and honor the patterns that emerge. It means something!
  4. Shop early, like nine months ahead early, so you have time to find the dress when it doesn’t find you.
  5. Establish your Definition of Ready for shopping day. Make a to-do list with all the items and actions to prepare for an intense day of wedding dress shopping.
  6. Speak up and tell them what you want.
  7. But be sure to listen too and ride the wave of service – you may learn great lessons!

Engineer or not, what are YOUR dress shopping tips?

  1. As the antithesis of a software engineer I went into this planning to read it for fun but really? This makes SO MUCH SENSE. Breaking it down this way, especially getting it all into some neatly formatted writing seems like such a wonderful technique that I plan to use it when I'm ready to go dress shopping.

    8 agree
    • Hannah! I'm sooooo glad to hear that even as a non-software person you understood the concepts behind all these moving parts! I was hoping this would be helpful either way. 🙂

      3 agree
  2. So I may borrow your user story for my own dress shopping adventures. Work is just switching to AGILE and the more I learn the more crazy OCD industrial engineer in me likes this approach. I think I will be making a Wedding KanBan for our DIYs.

    I know I am crazy…glad to know I am not alone

    2 agree
    • You are not alone, and KanBan is a blessing to the Agile world. If you haven't checked them out already, I've written a few posts on my blog about Lean UX, pre-mortems, and how all this jazz fits into Agile, but more importantly, every day life. I feel like a fancy nerd, but what the hell! We've gotta celebrate our organizational tendencies 😉

      2 agree
  3. This is great advice! I am going to reference this before going dress shopping for sure. Especially sizes…I am not thrilled that in weddings dresses I'll be a 16 or 18 and charging more for "plus sizes"… though why are they called plus sizes?! To make women feel bad is the only reason I'm aware of. The whole thing is infuriating.

    1 agrees
    • I hear you loud and clear on the "plus size" front! It's exhausting. We're just women who need dresses damnit!

      One additional note: I ended up doing a bit of research on brands that have larger sizes before making my in-store appointments, and then after getting there wished I had asked if they also had Brand XYZ in sizes A or B. That Vera Wang experience was AWFUL!

  4. This is fantastic! I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one with a Wedding Kanban board and lists of requirements. I wish I had some female coworkers to share this article with… I don't think the guys in my office would find it quite as funny (in an awesome and useful way) as I did. Mind you, it's a great technique and advice for lots of people!

    2 agree
    • I say share it with the guys! Especially if any are engaged or recently married. You'd be surprised how many men wish they could have participated more in planning if the approach was less pink pin stripe and more "get it done!"

      1 agrees
  5. As a software engineer i love this so much! Did you have an acceptance criteria as well?
    I'm just starting to wedding plan and incorporating some scrum/agile techniques for general planning sounds like a great idea. I do this at work for planning so why not for a wedding?

    2 agree
    • You know, I didn't establish acceptance criteria and think that would have helped. Nearly all the dresses I looked at were bridesmaid dresses, and thus they were crazy under budget. I ended up purchasing three dresses, only to decide later which would be for the welcome reception, the ceremony, and the post-wedding reception. Had I stuck to acceptance criteria I'm sure I would have made more solid decisions!

      1 agrees
  6. I absolutely love this approach!

    My search was a titch easier than most:
    1) Find a red sari
    2) Make sure it's pretty

    Still, had I gone the traditional white dress route, this breakdown would have rocked some serious socks! 🙂

  7. I love this!

    Did you ever post about the final dress you ended up with? Did it meet every requiremenet?

  8. This! My own tips-
    1- It's more tiring than you would think. If you hit a wall mentally or emotionally and are just *done with this*, respect it and go take a break- lunch, coffee, or even home and come back to this fresh tomorrow. You can ask the assistant to write down the names of the dresses you were looking at and give you her card so you can pick up later where you left off. I probably should have done this and prevented my stressed-out crying jag at home that night- I had a little voice say "I really hate this right now, I don't want to deal with this" about 5 minutes into my afternoon appointment, and should have tapped out then.
    2- That said, if you're just a bit irritated it can't hurt to push through to see what's on offer despite the annoying floofy trappings. Don't reject everything before you try it, but speak up with what you do want.
    3- They don't expect you to buy a dress on your first shopping trip, think more like car shopping or apartment hunting than normal clothes shopping – it's a large purchase so you are expected to think and look a lot before you come back to the place you pick. The assistants will happily note the dresses you like for you and give you that list with their card.
    4- Some places don't allow pictures, or not in some areas, so be aware of that.
    5- If you don't want traditional, try going evening gown shopping instead at a few nice department stores. You get a different variety and can save a bundle that way- think hundreds instead of thousands for a dress. This is how my mother found hers.

    • On your department store advice – we hopped to Nordstrom Rack and Saks 5th Ave after the standard appointments because I knew I wasn't really looking for super traditional. There wasn't much luck, but I did find a futuristic Barbarella-space suit kind of dress I totally regret not purchasing!

  9. I just came across this post and my first thought when I read your requirements list was, 'we could totally have handled that'. THEN I saw that you were in the Boston area. GAH. Where was I? Oh, wait. I was getting my new studio together (we'd moved back here in late June). Teach *me* to be off the radar for like a minute.

    Really glad that you did find a dress that worked for you in the end. And glad I found this post. Thank you for writing it; it's an awesome read and reminded me of what lots of brides are dealing with.

    • Lori! Thanks for the kickass comment. This post was one of the BIGGEST signals that there was a need for a way to explain the HOW behind each part of wedding planning rather than telling people WHAT to do. In fact the comments here were so inspiring I wrote a workbook! Head to the vendors listing here to learn more: http://vendors.offbeatbride.com/listing/astrowed Cheers Lori!

      • Holy cow what a great idea to write a book like that! I wish I'd known you when I was getting married. I'll be glad to point all of my clients to it!

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