Wedding dress shopping with your mom is great. Wedding dress shopping with your BFF or sister is also great. But, I'd have to say, wedding dress shopping with an actual wedding gown designer, especially one as amazingly talented and genuinely sweet as Hayley Paige, is nothing short of a dream come true. Believe me.
I met Hayley at the fabulous Haute Bride boutique in Los Gatos, Calif. on a sunny Monday morning. I was nervous. I had a mildly horrible first dress shopping experience at a different store — in which I almost ran out and called off the wedding because I looked like a sparkly walrus in the first dresses I tried on. So I was freaking out a bit over round 2, especially because I was trying on gowns with the very person who created them. No pressure.
Luckily, my time with Hayley and her exquisite gowns renewed my faith in the process and taught me more than I could've imagined about the art of wedding dress shopping.
Here's what I learned from my experience with Hayley Paige:
Don't let sample sizes get you down.
Unfortunately, it's pretty impossible to walk into a store and try on a sample dress that fits you the way you'd want it on your big day. It's just not realistic. Hayley informed me that stores can pay thousands of dollars for one sample, so it's not uncommon for them to only stock one size of each dress. And even though stores tend to stock a bigger size that can be clipped and made smaller on the slimmest of ladies and will also fit the curvy girls, it's not a perfect system.
Hayley told me: "It's so important to remember that if you're loving everything except the fit [at the store], it's okay because when it comes in your size and they alter it to your body, you're going to get it fit exactly the way you want." Samples are just samples, guys. And, yeah, my butt didn't fit in a couple of the dresses I'd hoped to try on that morning. It just wasn't happening. But, there were plenty of other options that did work and it wasn't at all the end of the world.
Be open-minded and try unexpected silhouettes.
Hayley started out by asking me which styles I favored. I told her I gravitated toward mermaid silhouettes and preferred simple designs over super fancy and bling-ed out creations. But since she knows her own line so incredibly well, I asked her to choose dresses for me and we'd go from there. As Hayley told me, "We're playing dress-up anyway, and you can be pleasantly surprised."
She was right. I wouldn't have picked out her Luca gown in a million years, but I put it on and was immediately in love.
So, it's not to say that you should go around trying on dresses that are wildly out of your comfort zone/personal taste/budget. Don't do that — unless you want to try on one ridiculously over-the-top ball gown because you can. Instead make sure not to get stuck in your preconceived notions about the dress of your dreams, which brings us to Hayley's next tip...
Try not to zero in on ONE dress you saw online... on a model.
Hayley told me: "Even if you have your heart set on a particular dress and you go in, until you're that girl standing in front of the mirror trying it on, you're not going to really know how it looks on you. And a lot of images are so doctored and altered now, it creates this fantasy in a way that if you don't fulfill that fantasy on that day when you go try on the dress, it can be really disappointing. Keep the mindset that you're going to look different in the dress than anybody else and you're going to bring your own magic to it different than anybody else."
Look past 'hanger appeal'.
Another piece of wisdom Hayley imparted: don't judge a dress by its cover how it looks on the hanger. She says certain gowns have less "hanger appeal," meaning they look blah hung up, but are completely fantastic when you try them on. Sometimes a garment truly needs to be on a body to come to life. Think about this the next time you turn your nose up at a gown that has the features you're looking for but doesn't do anything for you on a rack.
Don't obsess over pictures you snap in a sample dress.
"A lot of girls who take a lot of pictures during their appointments get so focused on how it's looking in photographs that they're second-guessing themselves," Hayley told me. "On your wedding day, when you're all dolled up and you have great lighting and everything is perfect and you have an amazing photographer there, it's going to look different there than it did in your appointment with your phone."
So, if you try on a dress and love it, but see a picture taken in the low-lighting of a bridal store, don't freak out and decide you actually hate it, your arms, and everything about your entire existence. Take a deep breath instead and then go look at the dress in natural light and make a reasonable decision based on what the dress could be — when it's your size and hasn't been tried on by hundreds of other people.
Don't be afraid to go all out.
It's important to not "go so crazy that you lose your own identity," but Hayley said taking risks for your big day can be good. "You definitely want to have a wow factor, you want to take your personal style and up the ante and really dazzle," she said. "I don't think it's the time to play it safe at all. If there's ever a day you're going to get away with something more risky or wild, it's your wedding day. Something that's way too much of a risk I wouldn't recommend, but I definitely encourage girls to take a chance and feel like they're doing something that's a little more fashionable or a little unexpected. I try to give them the support to do that."
When you find THE dress, you'll know.
After trying on — and loving — a few Hayley Paige dresses, I had to ask her how the heck you just choose one. Well, I was asking the woman who wore five stunning gowns over her wedding weekend...but she did have wisdom for those of us who have to choose. "You'll know when it's your dress," she said. "It's a lot like falling in love. You just kind of know. You really get the butterflies, you get the feeling like 'This is definitely my dress,' just like you knew 'this is going to be my husband.' Allow yourself to be dazzled."
Don't let a bad experience jade the rest of the process.
If you've tried and tried and still aren't finding THE dress, Hayley said: "You will have a great moment. There will be times that you're disappointed —there's always going to be something like that with the wedding, because there's the high expectations on everything. Even in my process there were things where I was a little disappointed or they didn't go exactly as planned. But at the end of the day, it was the best day ever and I didn't care. Just move on and learn from it and don't let it affect you."
There's a true art to wedding dress designing.
One of the coolest things about spending a couple of hours with Hayley was getting to ask her questions about the design process — how she brings a dress from a sketch on her notepad to a gown ready for you to wear on the best day of your life. She explained that some dresses evolve in the creation process, some get scrapped before production, some get reinvented in a following collection, etc. Some people might think it's "easy" to simply design white dresses season after season, but that couldn't be farther from the truth, even if it seems to come second-nature to Hayley.
Last Pro Tip: Make sure you can sit in your dress.
One last thing I couldn't leave out from my time with Hayley: When you do find the dress for your big day, at your fitting don't forget to do the "Sit Test," which is exactly what it sounds like — make sure you can sit down in your gown. Being able to breathe is good too. Even the most gorgeous Hayley Paige dress in the world will do you wrong if it's way too tight.
Hayley Paige dresses can be found in boutiques across the country. For a list of stores that carry her designs, look here. If you're in the SF Bay Area, be sure to check out Hayley's gowns and the rest of the gorgeous collection (not to mention owner Lindsie Jones' beautiful handmade accessories) at Haute Bride in Los Gatos.