Skip to main content

Budget Bride II: Dress for a Mess

Something marked down, something askew, something old, something like-new--anything but a pretentious designer outfit you'll only wear once, with a four-figure price tag! Since my own wedding at age 24, I've attended many weddings of friends and family and seen many different styles of wedding dress--formal, casual, homemade, upcycled, discounted, and haute couture. At all of those different weddings, I have only ever heard family and friends of the bride throw shade on one gown--a very expensive, custom-made, imported piece of couture with a whole fussy and dramatic backstory. There was nothing objectionable about the dress per se, but the rumors of how much money, time, and effort it required sort of elicited snark and disgust among the practical Midwestern guests. Ouch! 

I don't recommend that anyone choose their wedding attire primarily to avoid criticism or to people-please the whole guest list. Your big-day drag should celebrate you and your partner, and it should reflect your own tastes and values and vibe. However, if you are throwing a whole wedding ceremony with a guest list, this day is also about interactive performance. It can be uncomfortable to project a strong message that you don't intend to communicate to your loved ones, so think of your attire as celebrating what everyone you've invited already loves about you. Lean into that rather than leaning into shock-and-awe, unless that's what you're known and loved for. Nobody is going to forget that you're the bride, regardless of how much your gown cost.

And this next tip shouldn't need to be said, but alas, it ever must be restated: Never, ever choose bridesmaid dresses that are intentionally less flattering than your own gown. For Friday's sake. 'Zilla is not a cute theme. If you're fearful of being upstaged, don't choose bridesmaids that you fear will upstage you. In fact, don't even be friends with anyone you trust so little--or for whom you drag around the cold, harsh shadow of envy. For best lighting, surround yourself with people who spark the kind of joy in you that makes you glow from within.

The most exquisitely graceful bride I've ever seen--who elicited gasps of awe and loving tears in the eyes of her guests--appeared as radiant as an immortal nymph in nothing but a slip of vintage ivory silk she'd found at a sidewalk sale or something. Anyway, the wedding vows that she and her groom exchanged were so moving that everyone was crying too lustily to be able to see whether her hem was even ironed. 

A wedding may include photo shoots, but it isn't just one big photo shoot. It's a real, juicy, visceral expression of love that will burn itself like a legend into the hearts of your witnesses, if you do it right.

But if even the magic of tear-jerking won't make you comfortable enough to wear a minimalist gown in front of a crowd, you can absolutely rule as belle of the ball in a fully maximalist ensemble. There are many ways to be a beautiful bride! Just match your clothing style to your personality style. A more colorful, complex outfit can help some brides to loosen up, embrace chaos, and party joyfully into the night. Nobody is going to notice a wine stain on a rainbow polka dot tutu.

Do wear a tidy, elegant gown if that's your jam. But also don't if it isn't.

When my daughter was in preschool, her teacher expressed deep regret that she had always taken care to dress her own young children in neat, clean, matching clothes. She sighed. "What fun is that?" She shook her head sadly at herself for missing out on what is now her favorite look on a child--free self-expression, the less sensible the better.

In my humble opinion, no wedding is complete without hours and hours spent playing with small children, romping outdoors (at least for photo ops), and tackling logistical challenges in public restrooms. It adds an unnecessary amount of struggle to wear something elaborate that you are hoping to keep immaculate.

So if someone in your life hasn't offered to make you a dress for free (without being too precious about it), grab something off a clearance rack or a thrift store mannequin and spend a few bucks on custom details and tailoring--nothing you'd need a magnifying glass to notice. If you're feeling mad body confident, consider a simple, body-con dress. If you desire structural enhancement of your body bits, spend a decent amount on (reusable!) flattering foundation garments, and sneak your cheap gown on over to a regular tailor (avoiding the "wedding tax") to have it molded to your swerves. You can look like a million bucks for only two or three figures, if you put it all together cleverly.

These concepts can be applied to any style or personality. There are no hard and fast rules to fashion, especially post-Covid. So go nuts! Just don't go for broke. Save your money for the honeymoon.

Dress for a Mess

Sometimes, having a low budget is more fun. If you can't simply purchase fabulousness, it forces you to become more creative and thoughtful about the significance of your big day and the true meaning of beauty. Also, wearing clothing that doesn't cost more than your car frees you to let loose and have fun with less worry and discomfort.


The most important garment is, of course, the bridal gown. There are many ways for a budget-strapped bride to obtain a beautiful gown--by altering a family heirloom dress, shopping second-hand bridal stores, or surfing eBay. Talented brides (or brides with talented family or friends) could opt to create a custom-made gown. Personally, I went with an affordable bridal chain store. What can I say? I saw the blood red (my power color) ribbon on the hemlines and back lacing in an advertisement and fell in love at first sight. I tried on lots of gowns and poked around in second-hand shops, but nothing spoke to my heart like this one.


Another reason I chose the national chain route was for the convenience of the bridal party. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen are people of all different shapes, sizes, and personal styles who were living scattered throughout the country. When we registered, all our party members had to do was find their local branch and pick something out in our selected color. We were able to let everyone choose their own tux or dress from a wide selection.

People are most attractive when they FEEL attractive, confident, and comfortable. Every bride says she picks out a bridesmaid dress "that you can wear in real life!" But if you really want your bridal party to shine, let them have a say in how they look on the big day (and how much they pay for it). I loved letting each bridesmaid's and groomsman's personality shine through. Also, if there are any wardrobe issues, one mismatched piece on one person won't throw off the matchy perfection. (For example, check out the best man's skater sneaks! There was a shoe mishap at the tux place and he didn't get his fancy shiny shoes. But it totally works. I love it.)


OK, back to the bridal gown. Did I mention my gown cost less than my prom dress? At a big chain, you can usually find a wonderful dress at a reasonable price. And if you're not wearing an heirloom or an elaborately designed ensemble, you can be more relaxed and spontaneous on your wedding day. That translates to more fun, enjoyment, and happiness! People stepped on my floor-length gown on the dance floor. My groom and I tromped around in the spring mud outside all night getting into mischief, and we got sloppy with drinks and shenanigans at the reception. We gleefully smeared each other with buttercream frosting.


We got the formal pictures done first, of course, so who cares if the gown and tux survive the night? Laughter and love should take first priority on your wedding day, not taffeta. Fashion adjustments are easier with a lower-maintenance look, too. Just after the ceremony and before the party, a friend of the family gave me a beautiful white shawl she had knit herself. It was a lovely bit of serendipity--I was feeling a little chilly just then, so I put it on until the party moved inside.


My bridesmaids were also feeling good and relaxed in their personally-chosen budget gowns, so the finery did not inhibit the rowdiness that all good weddings must have! I love the throwing of the bouquet--it's lively, fun, and just a tad destructive. I love the symbolism of trashing a beautifully arranged bunch of fresh flowers, which are themselves symbols of impermanence. We know what really matters and what stands the test of time. Clue: it's not the centerpieces, silk skirts, or corsages.


I am proud to say that my ladies got into a knock-down, drag-out tussle on the lawn for that ragged bouquet. Priceless!


While beauty and presentation are of course important in a wedding, so is comfort--where you can get away with it. I would like to note that I did not waste any time, money, or pain on body waxing, spray tans, tanning booth frying, cosmetic procedures, laser tooth whitening, or whatever other nonsense modern brides are supposed to do, before my wedding day. Do the poodly-groomer things before the honeymoon if you must, so that if you turn out looking insane at least you won't run into anyone you know, but before the wedding, you have enough to deal with. I had no rhinestones or complex undergarments beneath my gown--just a plain white corset to hold the heavy thing up. I did not even wear fancy shoes. Now, all my friends know that I love me a pair of sexy, high heeled shoes. But in a full-length gown, no one would be able to see my lovely bridal shoes. So I didn't bother with them.


My bridal shoes were a pair of Skechers that I still wear with everything, from breezy skirts to lawn-mowing shorts.


If you're planning an outdoor wedding like mine, you must already be aware that you cannot, unfortunately, control the weather. My wedding day on May 5th happened to arrive with a decent temperature, but it was overcast, windy, and threatening to storm. Having on inexpensive clothing, makeup, and hairdos takes some of the stress out of unpredictable weather. It can also add drama and interest to the mood and photographs. My veil kept smacking the minister in the face and threatening to rip out of my hair, but it was just a cheap polyester thing anyway. The wind is what made my veil look beautiful in our wedding photos.


As I mentioned in "Budget Bride I," all of my jewelry came from my mother-in-law, including my wedding and engagement rings. Some of it was costume jewelry she had given me as fun gifts--the woman is an old pro at being poor and fabulous, and she knows how to buy and wear accessories! This cameo of the Muses, though, was my "something borrowed"--an antique family heirloom.


I would recommend to all young, fresh brides that you never purchase any jewelry for your wedding day--let people who love you decorate you with glitzy or meaningful pieces. It makes them feel good to play a part in the bride's beauty, and it makes the bride feel loved and valued like a Wal-Mart diamond tennis bracelet never could!


Unique and personal fashion does not need to be expensive. My groom, the love of my life, generally wears army surplus cut-off camouflage shorts. So I surprised him with a camo-patterned garter to find toward the end of the night. Infusing little touches of humor into your wedding fashion keeps things light and fun.

The memories of that night will outlast any saved pieces of fabric or dried boutonnieres. So embrace the chaos of authentic celebration on your big day and dress for a mess--everything will NOT go as planned. But one thing is certain: a relaxed, joyous, genuine smile is the most beautiful thing you can wear on your wedding day. Keep it real!

Happy dressing!

Comments

  1. You got married in a conservatory? That's pretty cool.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah! The wedding and reception were at Michigan State University's horticulture garden. Decor that is alive is the best.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

$Monday: Corona Summer Self-Care

Nobody wants to hang out in a waiting room at the height of this pandemic summer. One of my friends just dodged an outbreak by procrastinating on having her cat's claws trimmed. Now everyone who's been to that vet during the past few days is supposed to do the two-week quarantine routine. Now on top of copays and the usual discomforts of obtaining care for our furry friends and our human selves, there's the risk of catching the cooties. Definitely go and get any treatments that you need, but it's great to not need as many office visits. I'm doing what I can do at home to take care of my own health and have all of my stupid, silly summer fun in relatively safe ways--like having a redneck pool party in the lawn with my daughter and husband. Here are some other ways I'm staying healthy, safe, and sane while maintaining social distancing and a spark of faith that my kid might somehow be able to go back to school next month: keeping active with silly st

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

TBT: Full House

Remember when co-housing, roommates, and multi-generational family homes were good ideas? Those living arrangements still have their advantages, but during a pandemic, it is much safer for individuals, romantic partners, and caregiver/dependent units to have their own spaces, amenities, and entrances. I miss the days when that wasn't so. I hope that one day soon, this pandemic will end, and the Great Recession-era post below will once again be relevant... at least for some people, at some times in their lives. I'm sure it is still relevant on well-governed, geographically isolated island nations such as New Zealand and Iceland. Oh, to be in one of those nations at this time! I sure do miss hanging out with my friends and having overnight guests, but in this very particular moment, I am grateful to live in a single-family home with only my husband and daughter and to enjoy the ability to stay put in it most of the time. I sure did not see an out-of-control pandemic coming

TBT: Fast-Forward Fashion

This blast from the past is funny, because my personal style and shopping habits have evolved quite a bit since my 20s--in fact, full circle to the advice in the first paragraph I wrote, which I went on to reject at the time. In my 20s, I enjoyed extremely silly fashion. I'd look at Vogue magazines and then imitate designer looks in ridiculous ways. I tried to anticipate near-future trends, which I nailed in the first picture here, where I've "put a bird on it" before the meme was born. Yus! ...But. Now that I am a fully fledged adult with a more relaxed budget, I hardly ever shop for clothes or accessories, not even at thrift shops, where I am now more afraid of picking up bugs. I still have a lot of clothes, but I rely heavily on swaps and hand-me-downs from friends and family. Occasionally I browse garage or church sales in communities I trust to sell clean garments. The world is now drowning in excess clothing, so it's easy to rake in quantities of barely-wo

$Monday: We Can Rise Above Death Cult Capitalism

Mmm, doesn't the smell of a bonfire make you feel punkin' spicy? Growing up, I internalized the United States cultural values of hard work as its own reward, high scores, and monetizing everything. From the age of 13, I scrounged for paltry wages (childcare, tutoring, arts and crafts sales, retail and food service and office temp jobs) while earning high grades at expensive private schools. I learned to feel guilty about "wasting" time relaxing without multi-tasking or enjoying a hobby with no intention of turning it into a hustle . I didn't have enough time to eat or sleep properly, and it made me sick and tired all the time. I was curious and drawn to new experiences, but I always felt ashamed of spending any time or resources pursuing an interest that offered no clear path to a paycheck or an award that would reflect a flattering glow upon my forebears. I had a healthy rebellious streak, but I learned to justify my transgressions with proofs of respectability a

$Monday: Testing a New Kitchen Design Before Renovation

My husband and I planned to renovate our worn-out kitchen this year, with my dad's help. And--oop!--we all know what happened to everyone's plans for 2020. There is no way I can keep my family fed properly through the pandemic in my designed-circa-1990, tacked-together, corner-cut, stingy-cheap, crazy, nailed-it-wrong kitchen nightmare that has been crumbling, grumbling, rotting, rusting, and breaking since we bought this house in 2008. We have to do something, so we turned a setback into an opportunity to slow down and beta test some of our new kitchen ideas with temporary staging. It might look insane, but who cares? We won't be having the queen over for tea anytime soon, so we can take time to play with space and function before we commit to building permanent structures and finishing surfaces. For example, open shelves are not practical for everyone. They don't hide clutter or protect things from dust. However, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and prefer

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe . I've demonstrated that " You can't afford a poor diet ," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity , and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment , and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air. Before the pandemic, air pollution caused mostly by fossil fuel burning was killing about 200,000 Americans a year , and now it is accelerating American Covid deaths by over 15% . Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who a

TBT: The Best Free Medicine (Hint: Not Hydroxyclean)

It's not Hydroxyclean. Or any kind of disinfectant. Or hydroxychloroquine. It's not anything hocked by our joke of a president. But it is jokes about that and anything else that makes you laugh instead of rage. Humor has become more important than ever to my family's mental and emotional health during this global crisis. My tastes may have matured (or... something) since my days of watching Sacha Baron Cohen movies--now I prefer watching YouTube shows Trixie and Katya Save the World (WOWPresents) and I Like to Watch (Netflix) and following @knee_deep_in_life on Instagram. My husband and I laugh so hard we cry over a well-timed fart joke. Our nine-year-old daughter is a bit more sophisticated, but she shares the dark side of our sense of humor; we all adore Christina Ricci's iconic portrayal of Wednesday Addams. The news is, as usual, full of horror that isn't funny. Right now, the two main themes seem to be pandemic tragedy and racist violence. My husband and

TBT: Buddhist Meditations

Zen meditations! Inspirational quotes! Sick burns! Buddhism offers them all. As many American college students do, I enjoyed studying and practicing Buddhist rituals in college. As a recovering Catholic from a weirdly fundamentalist, Germanic-ish family tradition, I found the "bells and smells" of Buddhist temples familiar in a comforting way and the anti-dogmatic edge of Zen exhilarating in a refreshing way. I learned that extreme prayer and self-control are not owned by Christians, nor is smug superiority. What valuable lessons for a young person to learn. So valuable, in fact, that in our late 30s, my husband and I are still paying the bills for our private college educations. Can you put a price on ancient wisdom? Is that a koan? In my earliest adulthood, I took solace in the meditations below. Please enjoy them here on the Magic Nutshell, free of charge. Buddhist Meditations The Buddha sought a middle path between asceticism and materialism. All over the world, people a