as i’m typing this, it’s sunday afternoon and i’m currently watching a say yes to the dress marathon on TLC for no other reason that there really isn’t anything else on, but also, it’s kind of poetic, right? after years of watching the reality show, i myself finally said “yes to the dress” and let me tell you, it was as amazing, if not more, than i had always dreamt it to be (and that was in part due to the fact that i had the best entourage a gal could ask for -my mom and S’s mom with me every step of the way).
ultimately, i will say, i’m grateful that i came in with a very clear vision of how i wanted to look and feel on my big day. despite trying on a variety of cuts and styles (which, don’t get me wrong, was crazy fun), i remained pretty steadfast with my desired boho-yet-romantic aesthetic and ultimately found a dress that reflected it perfectly. gah, you guys, i am obsessed with my dress and i truly cannot wait to share it with y’all in exactly eight months.
so in case you’re getting ready to start your own wedding dress search or just curious about mine (and if so, thank you!), i wanted to share a few thoughts on the two boutiques i visited. originally i had made three appointments -two on saturday and one on sunday -but i actually found my dress at the second boutique on saturday so we ended up cancelling the third appointment altogether. so for those interested in what the bridal experience is at the dress theory in hillcrest, i apologize but i can’t tell you. instead, i’ll expound upon the two appointments i did attend -at the bustle del mar and elle bridal boutique!
our first visit was to the bustle, located in the heart of the charming sleepy beach town of del mar.
the bustle del mar
101 camino del mar, suite 114
del mar, ca 92014
i had heard many success stories of friends and friends of friends so i was eager to have my very first bridal experience at a boutique that came so highly recommended. when we arrived to our noon appointment, we were immediately greeted with a chalkboard sign with “welcome shawna, our bride to be!” scribbled across it. it definitely set the tone for the day and made me excited to get things started.
matija, my consultant, welcomed the three of us as we walked through the door. she offered us champagne (albeit a sweet detail, i politely declined) and got to work asking me a series of questions to help her determine which styles to pull from their vast inventory. i essentially gave her a summary of friday’s post -highlighting the fact that i wanted to feel comfortable on my big day; in a gown that felt romantic yet effortless. the more i described the vibe of our wedding, the more matija seemed to understand my vision, so i felt confident as she went off to grab dresses to fill the dressing room. after a few minutes, she emerged buried behind a pile of tulle and lace. one by one she presented me the designs, encouraging me to use my veto power to nix any dresses i simply couldn’t see myself wearing. ultimately, however, i decided to try on more styles that were “maybes” than definite “yes’s” for two reasons. one, sometimes the dresses with minimal hanger appeal can be the ones that surprise you the most (in a good way) and two (and most importantly), dress shopping is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and there was no reason to shortchange myself now!
the first two dresses i tried on (pictured below) were by far my favorite from this appointment. both incorporated my two requests -tulle and lace, but also one element that i came to really appreciate –mesh. since i was pretty against getting a strapless dress, the nude-colored mesh ovelay on both dresses gave the illusion of a strapless gown, but the added fabric provided a bit more comfort and support.
after these two gowns, i went on to try probably six or seven more dresses -a couple ball gowns, and a few with more fitted silhouettes. i was grateful for this opportunity if only for the fact that trying on the various styles helped affirm in my mind that my original vision of a flowy slightly a-line gown with a fitted waistline was indeed not only what looked best on my figure, but most importantly, what made me feel the most like me. though i tried on the second dress (the one directly above) again, this time with a veil and fake bouquet, there were still elements i didn’t absolutely love about it. and i don’t know about you, but i don’t think anyone should feel “meh” about their wedding gown.
thankfully, matija understood my hesitation, wrote the details of the dress on a card and offered up scheduling a second appointment in case i wanted to give it some thought. with another appointment scheduled in an hour’s time, we politely declined scheduling another visit -at least in the immediate future. though i had had a genuinely pleasant time at the salon, i knew in my heart of hearts that my dream dress wouldn’t be found amongst the bustle’s inventory.
final verdict: the bustle del mar definitely made this first-time bride feel special with their attention to details -from the personalized chalkboard to the offer of champagne for toasting to a memorable visit. if you’re looking for a larger selection of mermaid styles and ball gowns, the bustle is a great place to start. but i will say, for someone hoping to achieve that “boho” vibe on her wedding day, the bustle unfortunately lacked the dress samples to help me bring my vision to life.
which leads me to my second and final appointment of not only the day but of, well, my life.
the best thing about getting married after nearly all of your friends is that they are a wealth of knowledge on pretty much every aspect of your special day. i hadn’t even heard of elle bridal boutique when a friend suggested it over gchat one day. a quick google search later and i was taken enough with the store’s shabby chic-esque website to schedule an appointment.
elle bridal boutique
1133 columbia street, suite 101
san diego, ca 92101
located just south of the little italy neighborhood in downtown san diego, elle is a hidden slice of whimsy in an otherwise concrete jungle. though we were a tad bit early to our appointment, chloe, our consultant, came to the door right away and ushered us in to wait in the salon as she finished up some paperwork. maybe it was the fact that chloe was wearing an outfit i myself would wear (a denim dress with leather sandals), but i instantly felt a connection to her as we sat down to discuss the details of my dream dress.
chloe asked questions similar to those matija had (wedding date and venue, styles and types of fabrics i liked), and i rambled off my answers almost robotically. that is until one of her inquiries brought me to tears…
“what do you want people to say when they leave your wedding?”
trying to regain composure, i managed to squeak out my response. “i want them to say that our day was a celebration of our love.” she nodded her head as if to say, “i got you, girl” and in that moment, i knew chloe and i were on the same page. if there was anyone who would help me achieve the balance between boho and romance, chloe was the one.
though elle’s inventory was noticeably less than that of the bustle’s, the overall aesthetic of the gowns elle offered was much more in keeping with my aesthetic. to be honest, that fact alone made trying on dresses at this boutique a lot more fun. as did the fact that the dressing room itself looked more like the inside of anthropologie than a place to change clothes. i will say, after trying on so many dresses at my first appointment, it was much easier to hone in on what i did and did not like in each dress i modeled at elle. though the first two dresses had elements i admired, my entourage agreed, neither felt quite like “me.”
side note: i unfortunately don’t have many photos to share from this appointment. “to share” being the key word. we have plenty of photos of me in the dress i finally said yes to, but clearly those will have to wait for a future post eight months+ from now. my apologies.
perhaps the third time really is a charm because dress number three -the dress chloe had initially pulled for me in hearing the adjectives used to describe my ideal gown -felt different from the moment i slipped it on. i won’t go into too much detail to reserve the element of surprise but i will tell you that like originally thought -it is indeed not strapless and uses the elements of both lace and tulle (actually organza) to create the perfect balance between bohemian and romance. in short, it simply feels like me. so much so that as soon as i came out into the salon to show my mom and future mother-in-law, i immediately burst into tears (it was an emotional day, obvi). my visceral reaction ultimately became the indicator to everyone in the room that the search could end. i had found my dress!
to ensure i couldn’t replicate that feeling with another gown, i tried on two additional dresses just to be sure. but the writing was already on the wall. dress number three was the one i wanted to wear to become S’s wife! now to celebrate!
instead of a champagne toast, the gals at elle help commemorate the big decision in a different way. as i stood in my gown, chloe handed me a canister and advised me to twist the bottom and aim at the ceiling as she asked me a very important question. before she posed the question i had only heard uttered on a TLC reality show, she grabbed my mom’s iphone and began recording. “shawna, are you saying yes to the dress?” that was my cue! as i yelped out a “I AM!” i twisted the canister and following a loud pop, i was showered with a flurry of white and gold confetti. i am actually super bummed i can’t post that video now just because it captures the PURE JOY i was feeling in that moment, but again, i’ll have to wait until after the wedding and my dress has been revealed.
final verdict: clearly i’m a tad bit biased seeing as i ultimately found my dress there, but i cannot speak more highly of elle bridal boutique. for me personally who loves all things girly and feminine and would love nothing more than to live inside an anthropologie store, it was everything i had hoped to experience in a bridal appointment. but as i mentioned before, their selection is a tad bit limited and slightly skewed on the romantic vibe, so if you’re looking for a place with lots of options and want something a little more “traditional” in terms of dress style (satin, ruching, ball gown, etc), i’d also recommend making a couple appointments at a few larger boutiques.
at the end of the day, the best advice i can give anyone about to try on dresses for the first time is to just soak in every minute of your experience. because for me, it was truly the moment that i started to feel like this wedding i had imagined my whole life was finally coming to fruition. despite the fact that S and i have checked off so many items on our wedding to-do list (date, venue, photographers, DJ, caterer & videographer), it wasn’t until i finally saw myself in a wedding gown and cried those happy tears and pictured how S might react when he sees me in the most perfectly “shawna” dress i could have ever dreamed of finding that i felt connected to this whole wedding planning process. and now that i really feel like a “bride,” i can’t wait to relish in the next eight months until i get to wear my dream dress all over again.