By Rachel Jackson


It’s the most thrilling dress shopping that you will ever do in your life – the time spent tracking down your perfect wedding dress.  I should know, I have just embarked on this rollercoaster ride for myself, having accompanied, assisted, advised and of course writing about many such trips in my time.


I kid you not – within less than 24 hours of phoning closest friends and changing our Facebook status to ‘engaged’ my most fashion-conscious friend, the erstwhile editor of a popular fashion magazine, had been on the internet researching dresses.  Before she had even seen me in person or, far more importantly, the ring!


Her eagerness made me smile, but it did trigger something in me too.  That diet I had been meaning to get around at some point miraculously started on the Monday morning and all because somewhere in the fog of excitement and phone calls I was aware that not a million years from now I would want to look my best in a lovely dress.  The upshot is that whilst the date has not yet been set, my carb intake has been significantly reduced!

The wedding dress holds a unique place in the female psyche.  It is rooted deep back in the days when we loved fairy-tales and bedtime stories – the magical princess did not wear jeans, she wore an impossibly beautiful gown,  especially when she met her Prince Charming.  We may all be big girls now with careers and bills and diaries on our smartphones, but most of us are still suckers for a bit of fairy-tale magic and that goes double for when we are planning our own special day.


This really is an area where as well as being a tradition it is, frankly, a kindness to our future grooms not to burden them with any dress details.  Someone obviously worked that out a long time ago, which is why it remains the done thing to shop for the perfect wedding gown with one’s Mom, best friend or other close female loved ones.  We are biologically equipped to cope with the rigors of differentiating between dozens of dress which, even to the most willing and eager groom, would probably look quite similar to him from a distance.  We love all the itsy-bitsy details – that’s the fun part.


So, where to start?  Timescales are a good one.  Before you can commit to any dress, or indeed before any retailer or dressmaker can commit to providing you with one in your perfect, wedding-ready size – you need a date.  Even if you can only get within the ballpark of the month this will help, since some options may need months of preparation. If you are getting married in a matter of weeks, you should just skip a few hundred words and run, fast, to the bridal shop!  No, in all seriousness, whatever your timescales there will be a great option for you (although breeding your own personal, hand-reared silkworms to produce the unique material may not be an option if you’re in a hurry)…


Talking of ridiculous extravagances, the next thing to think about is the budget.  If money is no object then all the options are open to you – which is not actually that easy.  Every single woman worth her salt has overlaid the old fairy-tales with images of Carrie from the first Sex and The City movie, pouting and swirling her skirts in an array of designer dresses.  For most of us that is enjoyable and highly watchable fantasy, but if you too have Vera Wang on speed dial, then get ringing.  Same goes for anyone who is owed a favour by Sarah Burton, who dressed the century’s most-watched transformation, when Kate Middleton became the Duchess of Cambridge and a future queen of England.


For the rest of us, we can have an awful lot of fun deciding what we want within budget.  The average cost of a wedding dress is $1,300, which gives a fair amount of scope.  However, we are all different, so once you have prioritised where you want to spend the money set aside for your wedding – and agreed it with whoever is paying – you can discern whether your dress spend will be significantly more, or less.


When you have the magic number, it is time to let a few ideas in.  You may have long dreamed about the style of dress you are after, but once the dream is on the verge of becoming a reality, this can change considerably so don’t be afraid to view it from a fresh perspective.  Do buy wedding magazines and see what you like the look of.  Do ask trusted friends to be brutally honest (hopefully in a nice way) firstly when you voice your ideas but even more so when you get to the trying on stage.  Do look online, browse take your time and enjoy the earliest stages of being a bride-to-be.


When you have formed an idea of what you might like, you can take it to the next stage and think where you might be able to find it, or your version of it within budget.  This is where it gets interesting.   If you have some solid ideas about the style of dress but have room for flexibility, you may be ready to go to a wedding fair where 100s of styles of dresses will be available to look at. They can often be great places to find a good quality gowns at a reasonable price and the choice is unparalleled.


Of course, you may simply spot the wedding dress you desire in a bridal boutique. There are so many different types these days to suit a huge range of budgets, so you may well find what you want quite quickly. Don’t make any quick decisions though - even if you think you have found The One, make sure you try a few others on for size (although this only applies to dresses in this instance)!


However, it is entirely possible that the perfect dress you have in your head does not yet exist in any boutique, or that you long to own a complete one-off, in which case you need to have your dress made.   This is a process that usually takes months, with a number of discussions, meetings and fittings but the great plus is that every bride ends up with something unique, that ideally fits like the proverbial glove, even if you are losing weight as you go along.  In terms of cost, using someone local may cost far less than the $1,300 average, but the wonderful thing is that having a dress made is no indicator of budget as of course it can run into tens of thousands (again, just ask the Duchess of Cambridge).  It is entirely scalable to suit what you need and there is no giveaway label.


You may start browsing and end up going for the dressmaker option, or you might find something fantastic at the first wedding fair you go to.  That’s the most exciting thing – it is impossible to tell exactly where your own prefect dress may suddenly appear.  But it really will appear.  Just leave yourself plenty of time, have an open mind, take inspiration from images and get dress hunting, armed with a sense of humour and a few good friends!  Before you know it, that long-ago fairy-tale will be draping you from head to toe – enjoy every moment.


Rachel Jackson, a British-born writer is currently enjoying a lively rural life with her fiancé Pete and his 15 year-old twins. Having bid farewell to London following the completion of a French and English degree at King’s College, she has been living out her childhood dream of being a writer pretty much ever since. Her first break into fiction came about in 2001 when she was engaged to write short stories for her Editrice, the wonderful Rowan Pelling. Rowan flatteringly described her in The Independent on Sunday as “an ebony Monroe, [a name] attached to beautifully written prose”.

Since this time she has gone on to write a wide range of articles for Marie Claire and other women’s magazines, whilst continuing to pursue a career in fiction. She has written over 1000 articles on a wide variety of subjects including fashion, travel, relationships, lifestyle, literature, restaurants and more, both in magazines and online. She has won an award from the Royal Literary Fund and The Arts Council and is signed to the London literary agency Curtis Brown. Recently engaged, her current favourite subject, happily, is weddings.