Like many aspects of wedding planning, shopping for a wedding dress hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Perhaps I’ve binge watched Say Yes to the Dress more than I’d like to admit, or maybe I’ve seen Bridesmaids one too many times. Whatever the case, I had always envisioned having that “This is the one!” moment alongside my closest friends and family. I’d be at a sparkly, decadent bridal boutique—meticulously decorated in blush and champagne tones, of course—in front of a three-way mirror as my mom and BFFs looked on, gawking at whatever tulle mermaid sweetheart lace confection I had fallen for.
The reality has looked, well, different. My fiancé and I haven’t decided whether we’re having a wedding party, so I don’t technically have a maid of honor or bridesmaids just yet. Of course, I know who I plan to ask and who I’d ideally like to have with me for dress shopping. But I quickly realized that trying to get all these people—who are scattered throughout the country—together in one room on a day that somehow worked for everyone’s schedules was a total pipe dream. The fact of the matter is that I’m competing with demanding jobs, grad school classes, family obligations, and various other commitments that simply outweigh watching me twirl around in ball gowns for a few hours.
“I decided to shop for a wedding dress on my own because it was less pressure,” Jess Polledri, who’s getting married next March in Portland, Oregon, tells Brides. “My family mostly lives thousands of miles away in New Jersey. My friends live here in Portland and in several other cities, so it would have taken a lot of coordinating to get both friends and family to come with me.”
Polledri ultimately picked an A-line ivory dress covered in white and iridescent sequins from a local Portland bridal shop. She sent photos to her friends after she decided take the plunge and buy it, effectively decreasing the odds of anyone pushing back too hard. And she has no regrets about her shopping strategy.
“I had a nice time looking by myself,” Polledri says. “I preferred this because I could do it on my own time, and I didn’t feel like I had to organize any special events or try to fit something into anyone else’s schedule. It felt like a special thing to do on my own.”
When I made my first appointment to try on dresses, I was hopeful that one of my close friends in New York would be able to join me in Washington, D.C., where I’m based. Although she initially thought that she could, she sadly had to back out at the last minute due to a work conflict. I was disappointed, and the experience immediately made me think that if I couldn’t get one friend to commit, how in the world could I ever manage to get an entire squad to show up?
I’ve since tried on dresses three times. For that first appointment, I brought a local friend whose eye and sense of style I really admire. I returned to the same boutique a few weeks later with my mom who was in town for Thanksgiving, where I showed her my favorites and tried several new options as well. Having that experience with my mom was special, and after it was over, I realized that shopping with a whole crew wasn’t actually something I even wanted. And honestly, I’m probably better off.
“Depending on the squad, I would say 50 percent of the time they can be more confusing than helpful,” says Giselle Dubois, CEO and founder of Spina Bride. “Unless your squad knows exactly who you are and knows what you want to look like on your day, then I would say leave them at home and surprise them at the wedding. Seventy-five percent of our brides tend to come with their squad the first time they are shopping, and then they either come on their own or with their mom to make the final decision.”
While the idea of that mythical Say Yes to the Dress moment was hard to shake at first, I now feel completely comfortable with my decision to keep the process personal and intimate. I went alone to my third appointment, and I’ve got to admit: It was a pretty empowering experience. I felt like I was in total control—I didn’t have to try on dresses that I wasn’t interested in simply to assuage a friend’s desire to see me wear it. I could focus on the task at hand without worrying about people getting along or maintaining non-awkward conversations. Most importantly, I could really listen to the only voice that truly matters in this situation: my own.
“The brides who shop solo have already done their research on the designers we carry and are serious about making timely decisions,” Dubois explains. “The brides who shop in groups tend to eventually come back on their own to make a final decision, and they almost always say they need to focus on what they really want instead of how others may see them.”
I found several dresses at my solo appointment that are strong contenders. I am this close to making a decision, and I know that when I do, it will be the right one because I didn’t allow too much outside noise to get in the way. It wasn’t the experience I thought it would be, but it actually ended up being what’s best for me and my personality. And that’s exactly what shopping for your dream dress should be all about.