'Mum, you're now banned.' A very honest recap of my first time wedding dress shopping.

Listen to this story being read by Clare Stephens, here.

For reasons I refuse to go into, I have seen every single episode of Say Yes To The Dress

I had always assumed the show was a (brilliant) work of fiction. A fun, comedic drama about overemotional brides spending an alarming amount of money on a dress they planned to wear once.

Over the course of approximately three million episodes, there are brides who change their mind at the final fitting (I aspire to this level of chaos). Brides who become pathologically obsessed with a truly heinous dress. And mothers who hate everything to the point where it’s like… may you pls sort out your fractured relationship in a context that isn’t the television??

But guys. After going wedding dress shopping for the first time, I realised there is nothing fictional about this show. It turns out Say Yes To The Dress is a serious, factual documentary that we should all be watching for research purposes.  

Archival footage of an emotional bride circa 2015. 


From the social tension to the prices to the bridal lingo, the show is the only thing that prepared me for the world of shopping for a wedding dress. And here's an honest recap of exactly what happened.  


It's a Saturday. 

I’m taking my mum wedding dress shopping for the first time and there are three things you should know about her. 

She hates capitalism. 

She hates shopping.

She hates a fuss.

...Yes. Image: Supplied. 


I've asked everyone on my Instagram where I should go wedding dress shopping, and the overwhelming recommendation has been Grace Loves Lace (there's a location in Sydney's Alexandria.)

I have no idea if I can afford it. I have no idea how it works logistically, but there's no time for that because we're already late. 

The appointment is for 12.30, but Mum doesn’t understand the idea of having an appointment for shopping. It’s silly. In her defence, she is driving me - her 31-year-old daughter - to and from the store so I can’t really complain about her lateness. 

But I need you to know that it’s now 12.45 and we can’t find a parking spot. I jump out of the car and run to the shop while Mum starts a fight with a man in a carpark, and when I arrive I'm sweating. 


There are huge mirrors and racks of dresses and my goodness this isn’t a normal shop this is a showroom. I explain to the woman who greets me that I'm very late and also my mum will arrive sometime between now and never.

My personal stylist (okurrrr) shows me to my private styling suite and asks me a series of questions. 

When is my wedding?


What's the venue?

What styles of dresses do I prefer?

Where is your mum and is that her panting in the corner (yes). 

With that information, she goes and 'pulls' five dresses for me, while Mum recounts her altercation with the parking man and takes a seat outside the suite. 

I'm asked to strip down to my undies, which is slightly awkward because I'm 80 per cent sure I got my period on the way here and don't have a pad or tampon, but there's no time for that. We have our first dress. 

The stylist helps me put it on, and it's time for my Say Yes To The Dress moment. She pulls back the curtain to show Mum her eldest daughter wearing a wedding dress for the first time. I'm expecting a reaction like this:



Or this:

My favourite daughter. All grown up.  


But Mum is nowhere to be found. 

After a moment, I realise I can hear her. 

She's outside. On the phone. To a telemarketer. 

I quietly ask the stylist if she can alert my mum to the fact that I'm currently standing inside in a wedding dress, and she does. When Mum sees me, she proceeds to explain that "bloody telemarketers" are "criminals" and lady I don't mean to be rude but I think this is meant to be a moment from the movies.

Once she's finished ranting, she asks, "what am I looking at?" 

I explain that I'm wearing a... wedding dress, but she's confused. She says she can't have an opinion on it if it doesn't fit and THIS IS WHY SAY YES TO THE DRESS NEEDS TO BE REQUIRED VIEWING.

It's. A. Sample. Dress. 

In. A. Sample. Size. 

Once you buy it, you either get it altered or if you have more time and money, they make it to fit you. 

Mum does not know this. So she's unimpressed. I tell her I quite like the back and she points out that if I wore a low back on my wedding day I'd be self-conscious about my posture and okay yes that's correct but why aren't you crying yet. 

Dress #1. Image: Supplied. 


It's time for dress number two, and at this point I have to be a bit more coy sharing photos because despite being cynical of the capitalist machine that is the wedding industrial complex, I'm weirdly superstitious? About my partner seeing the dress? Before I walk down the aisle and he cries? Because I look like an angel? And if he doesn't cry I'll just get back in the car and go home?

Mum has finished her argument with the telemarketer, and quite likes this one. 


It's stretch lace and - like all Grace Loves Lace dresses - it doesn't have zippers or buttons, which makes it exceptionally comfortable. It's a 'fit and flair,' which is a term I know exclusively from the television, and the sample size fits. 

Noticing that both Mum and I are vibing this dress, the stylist adds a veil just like Lori does on Say Yes To The Dress: Atlanta. 

I'm so glad Mum dressed up and wore runners to my appointment. Image: Supplied. 


This is how they do it

This is how they turn even the most unsentimental bride into someone who becomes obsessed with finding the perfect dress. 

And I'm not complaining. 

Never in my life have I had a personal stylist, who cares what I think when I try something on. Never have I had an audience for shopping, unless you count my sister who might stand outside a change room to tell me those jeans look sh*t. 

It's completely bizarre but also fun and everyone shut the hell up because I have more dresses to try on. 


Next, I try a style with a high neck. 

I notice that Mum is on her phone, which annoys me until I realise she's sending photos to my aunty who's a fashion designer. For feedback. 

She approves of the high neck, as do I, but I'm also distracted.

Because at this point, for perhaps the first time in my life, I decide I quite like shopping. When what you're shopping for is the best quality dress you will probably ever own. 


...Please? Image: Supplied. 

I then try a two-piece, which doesn't quite work because my torso is so short that the top overlaps with the skirt. 

WHY. Image: Supplied. 


Finally, I try a Crepe de Chine silk gown that I love. 

By this point, Mum has taken on the role of Professional Bridal Stylist because, yeah, she's sat in this suite for 40 minutes and she therefore understands everything there is to know about wedding dresses. 

Mum pls. You definitely have a parking ticket right now. Image: Supplied. 


My stylist gives me a list of my favourite dresses, with all the details I need to know should I want to purchase one. 

She's not pushy, which is refreshing, and explains that I do need to get in early because it takes months to make a dress to order and/or get alterations. 

Mum is confused. She thought we could just get it off the rack and purchase it and a) Mum, pls, but b) we're obviously going to explore that option too sweetie. 

Ultimately, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I've only ever worn a full-length dress once, and assumed they'd all look silly on a short person. But designers (and stylists) are... geniuses, who know exactly how to flatter even those of us who usually look like Gollum. 


By 2pm, we're back to the car, and Mum still hates capitalism, shopping and a fuss. 

But she just has a few comments on that second dress, because the neckline really was quite flattering. 

Not particula... never mind. Image: Supplied. 

For more from Clare Stephens, including her wedding planning, you can follow her on Instagram