Titi Mary Tran/ Nguoi Viet English
The time for the wedding dress has come.
After the reception and ceremony, the wedding dress probably is one of the most difficult items to find and one of the most expensive wedding costs the bride-to-be has to budget. And the journey to find the right wedding dress is no less of that journey finding the right man.
I speak from experience.
My research into wedding planning taught me that brides shouldn’t spend too much on the gown. After all, it’s a dress that you only wear once in your lifetime.
And before you start the dress hunt, here are some do’s and don’ts brides should keep in mind
Do: Know your gown styles/silhouettes
After trying on at least 10 different dresses and describing what I had in mind to the stylists at every store I went to, one finally asked me, “So you like A-Line?”
Up until that point, I had no idea what A-Line was.
As it turns out, there are eight silhouettes for the wedding dress: ball gown, A-Line, modified A-Line, trumpet, mermaid, sheath, tea-length and mini. Knowing the style that fits your body and dream makes it much more efficient and saves you a lot of time.
And yes, I am an A-Line.
Do: Expect a rocky journey
Every bride has a wedding story. Mine started out with local bridal shops. The first one was introduced to me by my younger sister, whose friend is an owner of a bridal shop in Little Saigon.
Though owner warned me that bridal dress sizes are two or three sizes bigger than what a woman normally would wear. Even with the caution, going from a size 6 to size 10 in an instant was a little hard to swallow, especially since I was trying to lose weight for the wedding.
Luckily, I tried the first dress and it fit perfectly, with minor alterations here and there. I had no desire to try on any other dresses after the first one. That was it. The owner even agreed to throw in the veil and tailoring for free. The total would be about $385. I was happy. My sister even said, “You’re so lucky.”
But my future mother-in-law was not very keen on it. She said the fabric was a little wrinkly and that could represent a rocky marriage. Also, it was sleeveless and too revealing with many sparkles, I second thought.
“Your fiance won’t like it,” she said.
The dress hunt I thought I had accomplished started again. This time, A-Line wasn’t the goal. It was clear what I needed to find: long sleeves, proper, not too many sparkles, smooth fabric, a size 8 to 10 and affordable.
Do: Decide whether to rent or to buy
Up until now, I hadn’t decided whether to rent or to buy my bridal gown. I was trying to stick to my budget, which already had gone over $20,000.
Most of the dresses in the Vietnamese bridal shops in the Little Saigon area give their customers two options: rent, from $300 to $600, or buy, which can range from a few hundred dollars to as much as your budget allows. These shops had plenty of bridal gowns in sizes 2 to 6, but not many options for size 8 and up. Custom bridal gowns need at least three to four months to make. And I had neither the size available nor the time.
Do: Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
My high school friend recommended a shop on Pacific Boulevard in the Huntington Park area of Los Angeles County. Historically, this place is known for rare finds among Latin Americans. And the whole street is filled with Quinceañera and bridal shops.
I had never heard of this community. I wonder if Pacific Boulevard is to Hispanic people in Southern California is what Bolsa Avenue is to the Vietnamese..
We arrived on Pacific Avenue one early Friday afternoon. I counted at least 10 bridal and quinceanera shops within one block the second we stepped outside of our car. One after another, right next to each other.
I knew I’d find the perfect dress.
My excitement quickly deteriorated when I asked the owners of the shops if they had any bridal gown collections to try on. Their typical answers: “We’re custom made here.”
One small and not-so-hidden shop caught our attention. We met with Iliana, who said she was the dress designer and could make the dress of my dreams. We learned she was a student at Cal State Los Angeles majoring in film and theater, but not fashion. She said she had been helping her mom sewing wedding gowns and quinceanera dresses since age 13.
After detailing just what I wanted, Iliana promised she would send me the computerized design by the next day. I could pick up the gown next month before our special day. The next fitting would be a week from that day.
Surprised, skeptical and feeling like I had hit the jackpot all at the same time, I asked for the price.
Her answer: “$350 to $450.”
I put half the money down. That night I thought to myself, “I can’t believe my dream dress is being made.” I was feeling lucky.
Five days later, I had no design from Iliana. Stressed, I checked out the reviews online, something I should have done before I put down the deposit. And my stress elevated to a panic attack.
One review on Yelp said, “ Not a bridal boutique but a con artist!!”
My experience with Illiana to this point was exactly what others had said online.
How I really wish I checked out the online review before placing that order.
Don’t: Wait for the perfect one and expect no alterations
I mentioned earlier that finding the right dress is like finding the right partner. And I took this philosophy to heart. I decided that if I could not choose the right dress, I should be open to alterations.
Turns out, alterations costs more than the gown itself.
With the disaster with Iliana behind me, I went to a large bridal store in Orange County that was having a spring sale events with trunk-show designs and off-rack silhouettes. I found a lace, A-Line dress for $500, which wouldn’t break the budget. It was the $600 alteration fee that did.
I walked out of the store with the unaltered dress, deciding to call on everything I learned in home economics classes in school and from my aunt, who was a tailor, and alter the dress myself. The job I did to cut from the bottom of the dress and hem it, as well as adjust the shoulders, actually turned out pretty well.
‘P.S. I eventually did hear back from Iliana. I might have two dresses now.
Up next: Cross-religion wedding rituals, what to include.