Things I learned when I ended up in a traditional wedding dress. Or: How I stopped caring and learned to love the white dress

Updated Feb 18 2016
Guest post by Marie Heyman
Photo by MetroStyle Studios.
Photo by MetroStyle Studios.

I thought I would wear pink, blue, or red, certainly never white — and there was no other way I could be true to myself. Well, I bought my pink dress, and then a week later I hated it. Not because it was pink specifically, just because I felt a pit in my stomach whenever I looked at myself in it. I then returned the dress for store credit a month and a half later (thank god for a lucky return policy in a non-traditional wedding shop), and bought one I loved — a white wedding dress.

Since I spent a lot of time fretting over not being "different enough," I figured I'd share how I stopped caring and learned to love my traditional wedding dress…

1. It's okay if you end up with a traditional white dress

My dress is very lacey, white, and frilly, and big, and like nothing I originally thought I would wear. But it turns out whatever I thought I would wear came out of my very active imagination. What I thought I would wear was based on nothing, not the venue, what my fiancé wanted to wear, not the theme, just, "oh god, I need this now." Of course that could have been right, but it was not for me. Until I offered myself some breathing room to figure that out, I panicked for the aforementioned month and half that I had to stick to my guns and wouldn't let myself off the hook. How could it be that what I "always wanted" was a lie?

2. It's okay to get a girly/tomboyish/short/puffy/whatever kind of dress

This seems a given, since we're on Offbeat Bride here, but I really couldn't let this go. Me? A video-game playin', feminist toatin', sailor-mouthed son-ova-bitch wearing a white dress? "No way," I said, "I don't want to be one of those brides." I am offbeat, I am non-traditional, I am rock and roll. Meanwhile, I set some kind of unreal standard for myself and beat myself up for not following it. Of course it turns out that being different also includes being the same, if that's what you want to be. I found that you can be all of those things and still wear a white long gown if that's what you want to do. In fact that's part of the whole point. Huzzah!

3. I don't need to stick it to anyone

A marriage is about love and people becoming a legal family. Problem is, my fiancé's parents are really laying the tradition on us hard. Suddenly, the wedding was becoming the Fiancé Family Show instead of the Joining of Two Individuals Who Started This Thing show. Part of my plan to stand out and show my own personality was to wear a pink gown. I didn't realize this consciously at first, but it was my way to sticking it to the parents. As in, imagine Mr and Mrs Smith's faces when I come down in a colored gown? Oh My! When I finally took some time to sit down, look at dresses, and find out what I wanted, it turns out the color was the last thing that mattered to me. Which leads me to my next point…

4. It is okay to change your mind

Even if you had your crying moment, and everyone you went with said the dress was perfect, it's okay to go home and feel upset that your decision wasn't right. Yes, not only did I say it's okay to get upset over a dress, it's okay to figure out you had a dream dress, but you didn't know it until you bought one you didn't like. Even if it was perfect in the store and you cried and even if [insert person who never cries] teared up — it's your dress and you should love the way you feel about it on your wedding day. If you keep thinking "what if," it is only fair to explore the IF. You may even find your first choice was right, but you won't know unless you let yourself get concerned enough to look around.

5. In fact, many people change their mind

I have to be honest, I have a very particular sample of people for this lesson: only five brides actually. But of those, only one was happy with the first dress she selected. Every other woman I spoke to told me a secret story about how she either returned her first dress, or ended up going to a fancy salon she never thought she would set foot into, etc. My theory is, there is so much wedding stress going on and so much social pressure to find a fabric version of "The One" that even those of us who didn't think buying a wedding dress is a big deal get swept away, and have to take some time to find where their own opinions and emotions begin. I am here to tell you that this is okay and very normal, because apparently those two points are a big secret.

6. It's okay to care about the dress

There are plenty posts which I have read and which have taught me how it's okay to sometimes let things go. In fact, it's important for your sanity. But if you don't want the thing you let go to be your dress, that's okay. You can care about and not care about whatever you want, as long as you're feeling happy.

  1. I can totally relate to number 3!
    My fiance's parents (whom I love and adore) are much more traditional than myself, and even my fiance for that matter.

    As for my dress, I had my heart set on certain elements that I *HAD* to have. I got lucky and found a beautiful dress online that my all of my requirements and it's a princess gown. I love it shamelessly! It's also extra special because my father purchased it for me and he passed away two days later.

    I did however purchase a second dress from Lindy Bop for my reception that ties in more with my vintage themed wedding. Part for my own comfort (my dress is almost 7 pounds, floor length, attached train) and I don't want my dress to get too dirty either. I also really, really wanted a pin up girl type dress and an excuse to wear a crinoline. So I got the best of both worlds without having to spend a small fortune.
    I honestly can't wait to get married!

  2. It's so comforting to read this because I went through something similar and felt so uncomfortable for a) not liking my non-white outfit when I put it all together, and b) buying not one, but two replacement top/skirt combinations. The hardest part was definitely getting over my perception that I wasn't the type of person to wear white, and I'm glad I finally managed to prioritize how I felt rather than how I thought I should feel. Nice to know I'm not alone!

  3. This. Always this. About everything:

    "Of course it turns out that being different also includes being the same, if that's what you want to be. I found that you can be all of those things and still wear a white long gown if that's what you want to do. In fact that's part of the whole point. Huzzah!"

    I'm thinking about a white dress, too. For my second (gasp!) wedding. And I'm okay with it!

  4. I had a LOT of drama associated with my dress. I'd been engaged before, knowing it wasn't right, but my mum was so excited that she wanted to take me dress shopping anyway. We found a pretty good dress, she ordered it a size smaller (because she was convinced I was going to lose weight – ugh) and a few months later I broke off the engagement. She kept the dress at her house 'just in case'.
    Fast forward a few years, I'm engaged to someone I actually want to marry, but scarred from dress shopping the first time. I take a friend (no mother) who pressured me into looking at dresses. We find one that will work, the biggest fluffiest dress in the store, which I never would have pictured wearing, and I order it. Months later, while talking to my fiancé, I discover that he doesn't like puffy dresses and I immediately regret the dress. I did also like the mermaid dresses, but that's in the past too. Fast forward a few more months, and we discover that it's not an issue – the shop never placed the order for the dress, just took my money and tried to do a runner. I was running out of time, so I demanded (with my fiancé and his dad with me) that I try on and take one of the floor stock dresses instead of the dress she was meant to order. With the two most unlikely dress shopping partners, we finally found one dress that fit – a mermaid with a gorgeous long train. In the end, it all totally worked out. But I do realise I was extremely lucky.

  5. I definitely did not imagine I would end up with a white dress. But, then I saw it online and I just loved it. I took a shot – ordered it online, sight unseen. And, it was perfect. It was tea length, which I had always wanted, but the fact that I feel in love with a white dress came as a shock to me. I gotta say – I still felt pretty rock n' roll in my white dress!

  6. THIS! So much! I never thought I'd wear a very "bridal" wedding dress. I wanted something long and white, but not really wedding dress-like. The one I have now (after also returning my first option), is quite a lot more bridal than I would've thought when I started looking. Also #3 applies to so many things. I get really annoyed by the ginormous expectations that surround weddings and the "things you HAVE to do", plus the pressure the WIC puts on you to spend outrageous amounts on stuff you will use for maybe two hours max (ceremony floral arrangements, I'm looking at you!). This makes me pissy, and angry, and rebellious, and it makes me want to stick it to whoever is trying to push me into something at the time. I'm slowly learning to take a deep breath in those situations and remember that I'm not in this to stick it to anyone, but to spend an awesome day with FH, and our family and friends. It's hard though.

  7. thanks – I've been having a smaller inner panic I'm starting to look to 'bridal' when the rest of the wedding is quite relaxed. This has helped.

  8. This! This whole article! SO RELATABLE.

    I wanted my dress to be so different. Maybe not an unusual color, but definitely edgy and out there. When it came down to picking a dress, I was torn between two very different ones–one with a full skirt and long train, and one that fell more flat and had a super deep v in the front. I picked the latter, and when I sat down to sign the paperwork, I panicked and realized I had picked the wrong dress. So now I have wound up with a far more "traditional" look…but my hair is going to be electric blue so how traditional can I really be? 😉

  9. I am so glad someone wrote this!!! I had a really non-traditional dress search which more than makes up for my traditional dress, but still found myself worrying about it. My dress was donated to me through Brides Across America (any military partners out there reading this, check em out!) and while I did get to pick from a selection, there weren't really any non-traditional options. I almost went with a short party dress they had but it just didn't feel right. I felt like if I chose that it would only be for the sake of having a non traditional dress and not because I loved the dress itself. Looking back, I am so glad I didn't choose a dress solely because it wasn't traditional….In the end I grew to love my poofy, princess GREAT WHITE DRESS (as we called it) and looking at our pictures, there's no doubt that while my dress may be white and frilly I am anything but traditional 🙂

    • OMIGOD! I've been freaking out because I've had my eye on a dress on ModCloth for years because it was non-traditional. White, but not exactly the norm. I ended up buying a sparkly thing from David's Bridal and have been struggling ever since with the idea that I "compromised." I was never a prom person, not generally frilly besides an unhealthy obsession with Tangled, and never imagined myself in the dress I ended up with. But I want to indulge my inner frill for the wedding. And your comment on buying something non-traditional for the sake of it hit me in the gut. I had been mentally shoving myself into a dress that didn't really fit with what I truly wanted. Thank you. My brain feels better.

      • Yay i'm so glad!! I definitely felt exactly as you described, but by the final fitting I realized I was not compromising on anything and was being truer to myself than if I had tried to fit into that traditional idea of "non traditional" lol

  10. I had my heart set on a Royal Blue dress but when it came down to it, I had three factors to consider – price, style, and color. It was becoming a 'pick two' issue, so I went for the style of dress and the budget I wanted to stay in and I'm in love with my dress. My bridesmaids are wearing royal blue!

  11. I think OBB has their finger on the pulse of my anxiety, they always manage to post exactly the article I need exactly when I need to read it. It's like magic.

    I'm finding with almost every part of wedding planning, but especially with the dress, that I want to do things as non-traditionally as possible, not in order to be genuine to myself, but just to be contrary. I have no idea who I am trying to stick it to, exactly, I think I just really hate that part of me wants to enjoy the girly-ness of wedding planning and the dress. I don't want to be girly gosh-darn-it.

    Except that I really do. And I love my girly, poofy, wedding dress.

  12. I'm in the minority, because when I saw an image of my wedding dress flash by on my Facebook feed, I knew it was the one. I never set foot in wedding dress shops nor did I try any on. I was measured for that dream dress, never trying on a sample, and received it a little over a week before my wedding day, and it was perfect! I got married in a glorious red strapless satin ball gown with an asymmetric layering of the massive skirt. And I found a pair of never-worn red Fluevog Babycake boots a month before the wedding date, and had a friend mule them across an ocean so I could wear them on the day. No second thoughts and no regrets. This time around (my second time around, 20 years after the first traditional white dress wedding) I felt nothing but joy because I know exactly who I am and what I like, and I trust that. It made wedding planning so much easier because I could be quick and decisive and trust the results.

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