I know you don’t believe me – no one did – but honestly it was nothing more than a designer window-shopping expedition, embarked upon for a bit of fun. For a few ideas. For inspiration. For a girlie day out in London with MoH and Mrs Adams. It was most certainly not going to turn into a major purchasing milestone. When MoH and I boarded the 8.15am Chiltern Train at Birmingham Moor Street Station on that cold November morning, I was resolute. Even if I happened to stumble across the most beautiful one in the world, financial constraints were such that there was absolutely no way that I would seriously consider buying one from a designer shop. I am talking, of course, about my wedding dress.
Given my love of clothes which, I confess, has at times teetered on the cusp of obsession, you might have thought I’d have chosen my dress early on or at least have had some clear idea as to the kind of style I was looking for. Not so. Even after amassing the dozens of wedding magazines which are now either strewn, like an assault course, across our sitting room floor or balanced precariously on the edge of every available surface, I was fairly clueless. All the hours spent devouring those glossy images of picture perfect brides had, however, helped me to determine what I wasn’t looking for. And I reckon that knowing what you don’t want is sometimes as good a place as any to work out what it is that you do want.
Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush. By anyone’s standards I do sit very squarely in the ‘mature’ bride category. Whilst I have no doubt that there are plenty of other older brides who could carry off one of those figure-hugging strapless little numbers with great panache, I am not one of them. It would be more a case of mutton and lamb than feline and foxy.
Whilst sleek and slinky isn’t my bag, neither are those Scarlett O’Hara type dresses that lie at the opposite end of the bridal style spectrum. Some brides might regard such gowns, with their enormous hooped skirts, as being the definitive image of true romance, but for me there is a practical barrier which would dissuade me from choosing such a gown. Now we’ll not dwell upon this delicate matter for more than a moment, or go into an unnecessary degree of detail, but I’m sure you can appreciate that being fixed to a giant hula-hoop underskirt all day renders manoeuvring into narrow spaces – such as a toilet – somewhat problematic without considerable assistance. On that ground alone, I must conclude that the Gone with the Wind look is not for this Bride-to-Be.
Before proceeding with this tale any further, I’m going to press the pause button and share with you a dress I came across during my quest . . . I offer it to you without comment except to say that it’s not quite my cup of tea.
I digress. Let’s get back to the story in hand. As the weeks and months galloped past, it became clear that my perfect wedding dress wasn’t going to leap out at me from the pages of a wedding magazine. This was no passive activity: I needed to adopt a more proactive approach by analysing exactly what I wanted from The Dress. And as I mulled this matter over, I realised that I didn’t just want a dress that was stylish or elegant, I wanted dress that would express something of me, as well as a dress which would sit comfortably within the overall style of the wedding we are planning.
Given that my Jim’ll fix it moment would be to dance en pointe in a stiff sticky-out tutu, I initially thought that a ballet-inspired dress might be just the ticket. It would certainly express something of me. So I was quite excited to stumble across an outfit modelled by Keira Knightly which incorporated a billowing tulle skirted dress with a delicate little cardigan. Admittedly, the choice of blue is a little unusual, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the overall effect is rather fetching. Practical and pretty. As ours is to be an October wedding, I am rather drawn to the idea of an extra layer to keep me warm. People tell me that my adrenalin levels will render me oblivious to any autumnal chill in the air, but I’m not convinced. And yet, gorgeous as it is, I had to admit that thematically a ballet inspired dress, with or without a cardigan, might be little discordant at a wedding otherwise devoid of any other ballet references. Whilst H2B is always most obliging, I think he’d draw the line at a pas de deux in tights for our first dance.
Next up was the possibility of an empire line dress which would harmonise beautifully with the neo classical architecture of Compton Verney, the venue for our wedding breakfast. For a while, I did get quite carried away with the notion of a regency style wedding: there are plenty of dresses around that would fit the bill and I could just picture me and MoH looking like dead ringers for the Bennett sisters. My enthusiasm waned a little, however, when it occurred to me that if I over indulged during the wedding breakfast a very high-waisted gown might not be the most flattering style for a bride with a tummy full of sausage and mash.
Of course, the former Miss Middleton’s choice of wedding gown, with its nod to Grace Kelly, also influenced my thinking. A lace, v-necked, long-sleeved bodice with an A-line skirt is to me the epitome of elegance and refinement. And yet, I wasn’t sure that the regal look was quite what I was seeking. My dream dress is altogether softer and more fluid. It’s the kind of gown that a fairy queen rather than a human queen might wear.
Having gathered all these ideas I decided that the way forward might be to have a dress designed for me and, as luck would have it, I discovered that a former colleague, Jenny Bone, was setting up a wedding dress shop in Bridgnorth, Shropshire called My Little Wedding Shop (www.mylittleweddingshop.co.uk). Jenny is trained in dressmaking and has specialised in corsetry so as well as stocking a beautiful range of wedding dresses by the highly acclaimed designer Lynn Ashworth, Jenny also creates bespoke gowns all of her own. Jenny and I had talked about the possibilities and had agreed that the best way forward would be for me to try on as wide a range of different styles as possible: dresses with tulle skirts, empire line dresses, dresses with long lace sleeves – the whole shabang – to see what really suited me and for Jenny to then design a dress which combined those elements that best flattered my size, frame and body type.
So it was that mid-morning last November I found myself alighting at Blackheath Station in south London with MoH to meet Mrs Adams. At this point, I must acknowledge, with grateful thanks, the work undertaken by the aforesaid Mrs Adams in organising what turned out to be a key event in the wedding planning journey. For having seen photographs of some of the wedding dresses I particularly admired, Mrs Adams had identified a number of key designers with stockists in London and had subsequently drawn up an impressive itinerary for the day which spanned both sides of the Thames. First stop was Blackburn Bridal in Blackheath, stockist of a wide range of designer dresses.
For the benefit of those uninitiated in the whole process of choosing a wedding dress, I should perhaps explain that in London at least, shopping for The Dress is a retail experience like no other. You can’t just wander into one of these designer shops and spend all afternoon trying on dozens of dresses willy-nilly. Oh no, you have to make an appointment well in advance – and pay £25 for one on a Saturday – to secure an hour long slot which gives you enough time to try on about five dresses. The trying on itself is also a novel experience. Designers of wedding dresses provide what everyone in the business refers to as sample dresses – one sample dress per style in a medium size into which brides-to-be of all shapes and sizes can either be squeezed or pinned (literally) so that they can get some idea as to what the dress would look like if it were made specifically to their measurements. Now there are many aspects of choosing a wedding dress that are real fun but being pinned and tucked into a wedding dress isn’t one of them. I found stripping down to my waist and standing half-naked, behind a curtained area with a wedding dress consultant more than a tad embarrassing to say the least.
But all my embarrassment simply melted away the moment I stepped out of that fitting room at Blackburn Bridal wearing the first of the five dresses I had picked off the rail of sample gowns. What followed was an hour of pure delight, accompanied by the sound of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from MoH and Rachel each time the curtains were drawn back to reveal me wearing a different style of dress. But although all of them were beautifully made, stylish with huge attention to detail, none particularly sprung out as being The Dress. That said, I was quite taken with a long-sleeved lace jacket by Cymbeline. Designed to fasten up at the back, it did look rather elegant when I tried it on over a simple A line dress cinched in at the waist with a satin tie. But as I looked at myself in the mirror, what I felt towards my reflection was some sense of approval and of suitability. It was not the wave of emotion that I had been told to expect upon finding The Dress. Perhaps, I mused as we walked back to the tube, this whole ‘You’ll know when you see it’ moment was a bit of a myth. And, I reasoned, maybe a more rational and level headed approach to choosing The Dress was preferable to basing any decision on an emotional response anyway. Certainly from a financial point of view the lace jacket and plain dress ensemble made sense, the combined cost being within budget. Ha-ha! I thought, my friends were wrong. No impulsive, extravagant wedding dress buying for this Bride-to-Be. Far from letting my tendency to overspend completely off the leash, the wedding had in fact reined in all such impulses and it was clear that the prospect of being Mrs Moore had wrought a change in Miss Davis. So with that thought in mind we moved on the our next appointment: Sassi Holford in Kensington for what turned out to be the most magical of afternoons.