How to have a Garden Wedding…Starting Over {Part One}

I know that I’ve been slacking with my wedding recaps. I have a whole ream of reasons why-work, fabulous weekends, decorating, sunbathing, running…they’ve all been taking up precious time. Honestly though, there’s only really one reason why I haven’t been keeping up with my once-a-week proposed posting schedule.

I don’t know what to say.

Shocking, I know. And you’re probably thinking totally impossible. Me, lost for words? Unlikely. It’s not so much that there isn’t anything to say-it was the single most important day of my life so far-of course there’s plenty to say! It’s just that…well…it feels odd to keep talking about it. I’ve started to write my weekly piece and not really know where to go with it. Except I think that barrier was of my own making. I’m not trying to impart wisdom, I just need to tell you our story.

I’m restarting with my dress story. After Clare’s uber-popular ‘Where did you get that Dress?’ series, we realised that it’s actually very few people who have the ‘perfect dress shopping experience’ -trying on a few dresses, in lovely boutiques with charming staff, crying tears of joy when slipping on The One and twirling in a gilt-framed mirror for their best friends, champagne glass in hand. And that nothing helps a wide-eyed newly engaged lovely lady more than hearing the stories of those who experienced something other than the expected. Some of you might know the bones of my story, let me flesh it out a little for you…

It was the 15th October 2009. A Thursday. Phil and I had been together a little over four years and on that Thursday evening we were going to pick up the keys to our new home. We were excited-and given that the first time we’d stood in the garden of our new house, we’d decided to hold our wedding reception there-I knew that soon enough, there’s be another reason to be excited. I was expecting a Christmas proposal, but thought that it couldn’t hurt to get a head start on the planning…or the dress shopping to be exact!

I had the day off and Phil was at work, we had arranged to meet at the new house in the evening so I planned to spend the day shopping with my friend Sarah. When I picked her up I casually mentioned that maybe, if she fancied it, we could go and look at wedding dresses? Her answering squeal was confirmation of her being totally up for pawing at racks of white dresses-we were off! I wanted to check out the High Street before looking at ‘actual’ wedding dresses, I had the vaguest of whims to customise a simple dress and I love a shift dress…in my head I was Audrey Hepburn. Just a foot taller.

Monsoon-I loved the long dresses, but they simply weren’t long enough. One was pretty enough that it made the shortlist if it could be shortened to just-below-knee-length, my garbled description of it over the phone to my Mum made her think she could ‘probably’ do it…! If you’re NOT  a borderline giant, Monsoon’s current Bridal Collection is absolutely worth a nosey at.

French Connection-Again, prettiness to the extreme, but the most beautiful ones were shorter-too short for me and my 36in pins. More suited to a night on the tiles than an afternoon in a registry office.

Ted Baker-If I’d had the kind of wedding where I needed a second dress for the evening, it would have come from here. I tried on three that were all stunning. The staff were fabulous and hilarious and one girl even popped out to the newsagents and came back with Maltesers and pink lemonade to ‘celebrate’ that I was getting married! I’d happily have purchased all three there and then and decided on The One at a later date, but Sarah pointed out that I’d promised Wedding Dresses. Which for her, meant Strapless. And Petticoats. I assured the guys in Ted Baker that I’d be back, I’d never seen myself in a Wedding Dress when I’d imagined walking towards Phil on our wedding day.

But what the hey, I was only looking-and you can’t get married without trying on even ONE honest-to-goodness big white dress, can you? So off we toddled to a bridal boutique near to where we lived. The stocked all sorts of wonderfulness, including a few designers that I had heard of, despite having zero experience of the Wedding Industry. I knew that (in my head at least!) Sassi Holford meant lace, Suzanne Neville meant corsets and that Jenny Packham meant slinky. Which, in all honesty, was more than the woman in the shop knew. She was eating a sandwich and drinking her coffee, flicking through a magazine when we let ourselves in through the pretty little front door, setting off the old brass bell. She looked up and raised her eyebrows in a ‘Hi’ gesture…and then returned to her magazine. Nice. That should have been a dead giveaway, no? I know this now, but 18 months ago and I a very limited idea of what to expect from an assistant in a bridal shop-and Sarah even less so!

I knew straight away that I’d be celebrating Christmas before I even knew where to start amongst all those gowns. I marched up to Flossie at the till and interrupted her lunch break with ‘Hi. I’m 6’1″ and a size 8. I don’t do strapless and I don’t suit white. Have you got anything I could try on?’ It seemed to be the best way to get what I was after…! She sat, vaguely dumbfounded for about 30 seconds before leaping into action. I say ‘leaping’ and I say ‘action’…there was one dress in the whole shop that she thought would be suitable. Sarah was busy skipping around drinking in the acres of duchesse satin and pearl beading and throwing horrified glances my way when she happened across the matching-shoes-handbags-silk-flowers-and-dresses tafetta bridesmaids range on display, so i was busy giggling at her when Flossie Sulkiebottom unzipped the dress bag that was carrying what would become My Dress. When I had stopped laughing at Sarah’s desperate mouthing of ‘Please don’t make me wear BURGUNDY!’, I flicked my gaze over to the creamy dress hanging behind me. And I nearly cried.

Jenny Packham’s ‘Odessa’. Swoooooooon.
She was BEAUTIFUL. I wanted to lick her. Seriously. Inappropriate, maybe, but it honestly felt like my life wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t get to wear this dress, every day for the rest of my life. Flossie Mopeydrawers left me to it, Sarah was drooling over a Sassi Holford gown and didn’t notice as I slipped behind the changing curtain. When I came back out, encased in Odessa’s divine silkiness, she actually screamed. Mostly out of shock, she thought I’d left the store without her. But it was a little bit out of amazement-the dress was epic in it’s ability to make me look elegant and fluid and graceful and a little bit beautiful.
AND. She was a reduced sample. That was it then. Looking back, I cannot even to begin to fathom what I was thinking. But at the time, it was totally natural to call my Mum and ‘eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek’ down the phone, begging her to leave work and come and have a look. She couldn’t get away, so my Dad came down to have a little look-see. Poor Daddy, he arrived in the shop, looking for all the world like he’d been expecting to walk into B&Q;, and he was faced with me in a floor length ivory ballgown and Sarah, who was bouncing off the walls like a 4 year old on Smarties. Suffice to say, he left 20 minutes later with his credit card having suffered a Wedding Dress Deposit sized bang on the head. Odessa was mine.
Categories: Marriage, Wedding Planning, Wedding Reports
5 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Katie
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Oh Aisling, I also went into bridal shops telling the assistants I do not do strapless or white. I am far too pale and pasty for white. I also said I dont do big dresses, halterneck, or bling. My mum told me it was getting embarrassing, as I was turning my nose up at all these dresses (which my mum ofcourse loved). The issue I had was that they were trying to get me into strapless dresses, as they could add straps to it. I wanted the straps to be part of the dress. I was such a fusspot, and had such a clear idea in my head as to what I wanted (basically this ).

    I found my dress in a bridal shop, although it was not a label anyone has heard of (it is a discount dress supplier), and the shop was not a plush boutique bridal shop with champagne and gilt mirrors.

    The dress didn’t tick all my boxes, it has a little bit of bling, on the shoulder straps rather than cap sleeves, and it is not silk chiffon. However as soon as I saw it on the hanger I knew it would suit me, and was “the dress”.

    Sorry for the waffled post, I think bridal shops can be a wonderful experience, however if you want something different from the standard wedding dress, it can be frustrating.

    I can see Odessa really working for you. I am jealous – 6’1 and a size 8 (so willowy). I’m a comparably short 5’11, with short legs and long torso. I loved the Jenny Packham dresses, but alas they do not suit a busty size 14 so well.

  2. Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I told the shop assistants that I didn't do anything sparkly and got looked at like my head had fallen off. Thankfully, I found my kindred spirit who herself had married in Suzanne Neville 10 years ago and I found my perfect princess dress without a hint of embellishment!

    In fact, I'm off to send you a picture now. It's only fair she (the dress) gets oohed at a bit more


  3. Katie
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Littlewifetolittlemama – I know exactly what you mean, I was still shown dresses with bling, but less bling. The bling was usually under the bust, and I didnt want mine emphasised!
    Hope we all get to ooh your dress. I love Suzanne Neville dresses.

    I looked at ebay and preloved second hand dresses, but when I found a dress that I liked, it was not the right size. I wanted a size bigger than me, and for the previous bride to be same height or taller, so that I could get it altered to fit perfectly.

    A good friend of mine struggled with finding her dress, and she did not want any embellishments. She found her dress in a bridal shop, and had the imagination to have it altered to suit her requirements – it had a massive train, but she had most of it cut away with a puddle train in its place, and the large bow at the back removed. Again hers was not from a well known dress supplier, and cost about £500. Not that you would have been able to tell – she looked sensational.

    In one of the shops I went to, the owner said that they’d had another bride with similar ideas to me, and she’d bought a bridesmaid dress in the ivory colour, and then splurged on beautiful accessories (fresh flowers in hair and diamond earrings). I was quite tempted to copy her, but I couldnt do it on my mum. She really really wanted me in a traditional wedding dress.

    Sorry, for another long comment, I really should be working, far too easily distracted.


  4. Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I really upset one lady in a bridal shop when I told her I didn't want anything too….'typical wedding dressy'….she got quite upset and told me that I was obviously in the wrong place.

    Twas not the highlight of the dress getting experience.

    Also – HOW beautiful is that dress? I mean, really, really beautiful. I do love a bit of Jenny Packham.

  5. Anna K
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I bet you looked bloody sensational in that dress. I would look like a trussed-up Christmas turkey. Totally jealous of your elegance, Mrs A. You should model.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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