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The Dress Chronicles

Former brides answer our nosy questions about their wedding attire

What goes into the choosing of a wedding dress? We cooked up an unscientific survey and inflicted it on our friends and acquaintances in an effort to find out. We asked whether they took a risk with their wedding dress, whether they were glad they did and what they liked best about their dresses. The survey comes first; responses follow.

The Survey

1. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 = looking like yourself (on a really good day, of course) and 5 = guests hardly recognized you, you were so radiant, rate the way you wanted to look on your wedding day.

2. Pick the three that best apply to your thinking as you were gown shopping:
I wanted to look: gorgeous; beautiful; sexy; sophisticated; like me; understated; I wanted to surprise people; I wanted to blow people's minds; I wanted to feel relaxed.

3. Did you take a risk with your dress (i.e., poofy, low-cut, clingy)?

4. If so, glad you did? If not, wish you had?

5. Greatest anxiety about your wedding dress:

6. Spanx/no Spanx?

7. What did you really love about your dress?

The Responses

Betsy Lynn Clyde Centofanti, Washington, DC
I have had two weddings and two wedding dresses. FWIW, I was 28 the day of my first wedding and 36 the day of my second. I'll let you guess whether or not that made a difference.~ That and being 16 weeks pregnant...)

One to five? Wedding #1: Wanted to look like a 5. Wedding #2: Wanted to look like a 1.

Three sentences? Wedding #1: I wanted to look beautiful, I wanted to look like me, I wanted to show off my figure. Wedding #2: I wanted to look like me, I wanted to feel relaxed, I wanted to set a celebratory mood.

Risk? Wedding #2 I wore a red cocktail dress by Max Azria for BCBG (on a pregnant bride!)

Glad you did? Yes.

What did you really love? For the first, I felt rather fairy tale beautiful.~ (I also started hyperventilating right before walking down the aisle!) My father, a physician, started telling me jokes to calm me down.~For the second, I felt like me--just reveling in what I knew would be a memorable, beautiful day and trying to take it slow.

Maureen Davidson, Santa Cruz
One to five? 5, definitely

Three sentences? I wanted to look beautiful, I wanted to look sexy, I wanted to look like me.

Risk? My biggest risk was not having time to look for a dress till the night before! I found it in the sale rack of Nordstroms.

Glad? I felt fabulous...and it's entirely me to be secretly chuffed that I only paid $50 for it on sale.

Anxiety? When am I gonna have time to shop? My old boyfriend was coming, and I wanted him to feel an extra bite of loss.

Maura DeWandler, Austin, Texas
One to five? I'd say a 2... better than my best day, but definitely still myself.~I did not want guests or my husband to wonder who the sultry stranger in warpaint strutting down the aisle was.~

Pick three? I wanted to look like me, be beautiful, and be comfortable.~

Risk? Nope, no risks whatsoever. Very glad I did not take any risks

Anxiety? My greatest anxiety about my dress was discovering at the final fitting (two days before the wedding) that I had gained some weight in my hips and it was all bunchy and ill-fitting. Completely noticeable, like I had shoe-horned my way in. They had to slit both sides of the tighter-fitting slip layer to give me enough room.~ In the end, the seamstress did her magic and in the end, you never would've known.~

Spanx/no spanx? Hells yeah, Spanx! See previous question. Loved the most? I loved the lacy, old-fashioned femininity of my dress (typically not my style... I'm definitely not a frilly femme).~Apparently, the technical name of the particular lace is "alencon lace," and it made me feel every bit the blushing bride.~ Oh, and I loved loved loved the fact that I didn't have to wear any sort of bra or contraption underneath, it had built in cups, nothing else needed.~ Except when my husband dipped me low during our dance, I think my nips may have made a sneak appearance out the top.~ Oops.

Marcelle Fiedler, Albuquerque, New Mexico
One to five? 1

Three sentences? I wanted to look like me., I wanted to feel relaxed, and I wanted to look beautiful. I really did not want a white dress, but Seth made me. So I said I would look. Once shopping I got carried away and could not decide on a dress.

Take a risk? I had a petticoat that made it poofy and impossible to go to the bathroom. Just read on Wikipedia that the petticoat was designed (in the 1500's) to complement a large bust (something I do not have). Well, it did make the dress poofy.

Glad? I like my dress but it was not exactly my style. I go caught up in the wedding thing and bought a dress that was simple yet not simple. Anxiety? That it would fall down. At the last minute I added straps to a strapless dress.

Spanx/no Spanx? What is spanx?

Love most? I loved the color and how it tied up the back. But I tied it too tight because I was afraid it was going to fall.

Gretchen Giles, Santa Rosa
One to five? 5, duh.

Pick three: gorgeous/beautiful/show off figure

Risk? Yes. I bought a halter style form-fitter that was black with white stripes that ended in geometric poofs below the knee.

Glad? I felt gorgeous in it but I don't really think that it did me any favors.

Anxiety? That at $500, it cost exactly as much as the entire rest of our wedding.

Spanx/no Spanx? I have absolutely no idea what that is and am loathe to google it. I did, if this is a "foundation" question, have to wear the most obscene garment from my thighs to just under my breasts. My husband has still never seen this piece of stretchy horror. It's like the kind of thing a surgeon would give you to wear after extensive liposuction. Love most? That it was all about curves, and being short and stout, I gotta be all about curves.

Vicky Hoppin, San Jose
One to five? 4

Pick three: beautiful/show off figure/understated

Risk? Had to go with a strapless bra (quite the trick with size double d's) as dress was netting at the top.

Glad? Strapless was not a smart option.

Anxiety? Strapless bra was going to lose gravity

Spanx? Had never even heard of Spanx 12 years ago.

Love most? Despite the fears of the strapless adventure, I really loved the way the netting at the top looked sexy yet contained.

Traci Hukill, Los Gatos
One to five? 2

Pick three: beautiful/relaxed/like me

Risk? Plunging neckline; also bought the dress three sizes too big and had to have it dramatically altered.

Glad? Neckline worked out fine; in pictures I'm afraid the dress looks like it was a little big on me.

Anxiety: Terrified I would start my period. Or trip. Also, I didn't know what I was going to do with my hair until an hour before the wedding! That was a mistake.

Spanx? No

Love best? The dress made me feel beautiful and regal and very much in tune with a certain part of myself that I don't always remember exists. Also, my god, that fabric! I just felt good to put that dress on.

Michelle Parnell, Austin, Texas
One to five? 5

Pick three: /beautiful/sophisticated/relaxed

Risk? No.

Anxiety? None, really.

Spanx/no Spanx? Spanx always.

Love most? Second wedding and I have worn it again! Classic St. John suit.

Tamara Righettini, Austin, Texas
One to five? 1

Pick three: beautiful/relaxed/like me

Risk? No risk.

Wish you had? I wish I had looked in the mirror and saw my gut in time to do something about it.

Anxiety? That I wasn't going to find it. I didn't want a real wedding dress.

Susan Shoen, Sapulpa, Oklahoma
One to five? 3

Pick three? Beautiful, me

Take a risk? I didn't practice walking up stairs in it!

Glad? I wish I had! I started to trip and my prince (that turned into a frog 25 years later) caught my elbow and steadied me. I'm not sure, but there was probably a tiny collective gasp from the audience. I forgot to lift the front of the dress for the steps because I had my bouquet in my hands (because I hadn't handed it to Kathi like I was supposed to).

Anxiety? Collar not pressed!

Spanx/no Spanx? What the heck is that?

Love most? I felt like a princess.

A friend who prefers to remain anonymous:
Thinking about these questions makes me realize how ambivalent I was about the man I was marrying...and that ambivalence must have gone into my choice of dress. It was a gauzy, ethereal, ivory-colored thing with a floral design, three-quarter sleeves and a scoop neck. Nothing sexy about it. Not a dress that would stop any traffic. For the life of me, I can't remember what I was thinking when I bought it. I had no idea who I was, and that airy, insubstantial dress seems to emphasize that fact.

Jessica Sather, Austin, Texas
One to five? 3

Pick three? I wanted to look beautiful, I wanted to feel relaxed, I wanted my choice of dress to be meaningful.

Risk? Yes! I wore my mother's wedding dress (her wedding was 35 years prior).~ Her dress was simply a vintage 1930s dressing gown/slip.~

Glad? Absolutely glad--couldn't imagine it otherwise.

Anxiety? Finding a seamstress who works with vintage silk and lace.

Spanx/no Spanx? Considered, but ultimately chose not to.~ It's Texas summer--c'mon!~ Also, I wouldn't wear Spanx on any other day, so didn't want that to be a lasting impression.~ I choice pantylines!

Love best? I love that it was my mom's. I felt like I was carrying a bit of my past into my future with me.

Tabi Zarrinnaal, San Jose
One to five? 2

Pick three: classic bride/better version of me/ skinny

Risk? Considering this was the only occasion where I could get away with wearing a big poofy dress, I went poofy and strapless but really simple.

Glad? YES YES YES!!! i didn't have to worry about sucking it in and it was the most romantic dress I could find! I was so comfortable all night!

Anxiety? It was 100% silk and I didn't want it to look shiny in pictures, and I had lost too much weight and it was getting too loose on me.

Spanx? No.

Loved most? I loved that it was romantic and simple. It had no beading or anything... just a silk flower on my waist that matched the one in my hair.

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