Thursday, December 15, 2005

The dress-finding saga

I began (reluctantly) looking for dresses early on b/c I heard that it takes a while to order it (4-5 months), then you have to get several fittings after getting it altered. The idea of a dress that you only wear once, and for Chinese brides that follow the custom, only for a few hours on the day of before you switch to another dress, really doesn't appeal to me and seems like such a waste. So when those sites and magazines had headlines advertising the latest gown styles or 1000s of pictures of dresses that you could browse through, I found myself disgusted with them. But slowly, I started to look at some of the pictures and found a few that were OK.

The first place that I went to was RK Bridal, by the Port Authority. I had heard good things about them, especially their service and decent prices. Their site boldly says that they'll match prices and give a discount off that price if you find it cheaper elsewhere. I had an approximation of spending about $600 b/c that is what I know someone had spent for hers.
RK is huge and perhaps it wasn't wise for me to go there first b/c I really had no idea what I was looking for. The person that you're 'assigned' to doesn't really help you very much b/c she says that she's not supposed to, in case she unduly influences you. So the woman told me to go around, pick out dresses, bring them back, and then she can ascertain what kind of style that I prefer and she can help me better after that. This being my first time, it was hard for me to judge what would look good when off the hanger. It didn't help that I was extremely tired that day (I had gotten up way early to check out the flower district -- more on that in some other post) and I had to reach up high to get these heavy, heavy dresses down.

From what I had read, petite people should not get those big, multi-layered gowns, and I thought that bateau tops (the ones that have little sleeve-like thingies so that the collar mimics your collar bone) would work for me. I was wrong. All the ones that I tried on that had that looked bad on me. It could also be that those were cheaper ones and just wouldn't look right on anyone. Anyway, the sequence of dresses that I tried on is now a blur. I remember at the beginning the woman noticed that I was shy about undressing in front of her (and she was pretty funny about that -- she said, 'I don't know why, I'm a grandma and I have 6 grandkids') so she gave me that fluffy petticoat thing to cover my bottom. She said I didn't even have to take my pants off, so I didn't. But that got very uncomfortable very quickly. You'd never imagine all the heat that those layers could trap. So I eventually took the pants off. I didn't budge on the bra though -- she put on one of those tummy-tucking bras over what I had. Practically all covered up, she then helped me into the first dress (I couldn't tell top from down) and clipped the back with black binder clips. I think this one may have been the strapless Mori Lee one with a pink bow and a colored sash on the hem. Even though the changing room was big, it was difficult to see what the dress was like so she told me to go outside and check it out with the 3-sided mirrors. She even made me stand on that elevated circle thing and it was a weird feeling to have all these ppl (the other workers and customers) looking at me. The woman helping me flicked the train and it spread out completely so that I could see how it looked like. I didn't dig the big train though. The other dresses are truly a blur -- some I didn't like immediately, some were too plain (she said it'd be good for a second marriage), one was really nice but too expensive, a Dere Kiang looked nice on me but in retrospect is too poufy for me. After this exhausting few hours, the woman wrote down the model numbers of the ones that I liked so that I could think about it, and then urged me to come back some other time b/c I would feel differently later on. As we left, it started to drizzle, an inconvenience I didn't care for at that point.

The next episode was at David's Bridal, which I was told had good deals. This place was way out in Queens and difficult to get to. The service here was terrible too, compared with RK. When I walked in, there was a woman sitting at a desk but she didn't acknowledge me so I had to go ask at the customer service desk. They said that I could only look at the bridesmaid dresses b/c I would need one of their consultants to help me and of course I couldn't have a consultant until I was ready (I was waiting for my BM to come help me). So I looked at these f'ugly overpriced dresses and then snuck over to the side with the bridal gowns. I saw a really nice dress with a green bow on a mannequin and I thought that I'd take this one but it cost $900+ so I didn't even bother with it. The other dresses were OK and unlike RK, they had different sizes of almost everything. When they were finally ready to help me, they gave me a catalog and told me to pick out 3 dresses that I like by circling them and dog-earing the page. An hour or so later, a very young-looking woman came out to help us. She showed us to the changing area (but not to a dressing room) and said that she'd gather the dresses that I circled. So we played with the tiaras and veils (I can't believe how expensive they are, especially for something quite simple) in the back. When we finally got to a room (it was so narrow, almost like a public bathroom stall, and not the handicapped ones), she gave us one dress and told me to try it on while she got the others. Again, it was weird stripping. The dresses were nothing to write home about but what made the experience fun was trying to sneak in pictures (BM brought a camera, tee hee!). The first few times she didn't turn off the flash and then she tried to pretend to make phone calls while taking pics w/ a camera phone. What was disappointing was the consultant not being able to produce dresses for me b/c she would say we don't have that color in my size (a difference between a champagne sash vs. a white one while RK didn't care if the dress was 20 sizes too big and in a color that you totally don't want, like pink).

Next (a few days later), I decided to check out Bridal Garden, the place with donated samples and used dresses. This place had the promise of potential designer gowns for a fraction of the price. The selection was small and after combing the two rows of dresses, I only found 3 dresses for a decent price. The dresses were OK and the prices not bad but they were just ordinary strapless ones. One had a gorgeous, full train that looked even nicer pinned up but the front didn't do it for me. This place was steaming hot and it was fun to sneak taking pics again but I left empty-handed. No wait, she gave us a stupid wedding magazine full of bad advertisements and poorly written articles. The worst part was that it was pouring when we left. I was totally soaked when I got to the train station. Is there a pattern of rain and dress shopping?

Jersey Garden mall was my next stop that weekend, on the suggestion of BM whose friend bought a dress there for $100. I was not so lucky. We made plans to go there very early in the day so that we could also visit IKEA and possibly swing by David's Bridal in NJ where there was a $250 off sale going on. This place in the mall was like a smaller version of David's Bridal, with just a few dresses in the back of a store that sold other stuff like casual clothes and prom dresses. The pregnant salesperson was very friendly but I couldn't find anything that stood out. Everything was way too big (it was like an off-the-rack store, like David's, so you either buy what's in the store or order it from their other stores) and ordinary-looking. The most memorable thing was walking back and forth in my socks, dragging the huge dresses along the carpet and getting a lot of static cling and shocking each other in the process. And standing on their uneven, ghetto platform (it was comprised of several blocks put together), I almost lost my balance and fell. The nicest dress that I tried on was also their most expensive ($600, I think) and on display in the window. I wasn't enamored by it though, and I didn't like the color (champagne-ish). The rest of the trip that day was more interesting and we didn't go to the other David's, so it was fruitless in the dress department that day.

After being discouraged, I took a little break. I toyed with the idea of just buying a white evening gown (I saw a couple that looked nice online) and even went to Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks to try stuff on. One place I saw a mermaid style dress that I kinda liked (if it didn't show off my tummy roll) and another place had a gold-colored strapless Vera Wang that made me look a little wide but felt so comfy. It was not until I heard of a sample sale at Saeyoung Vu in SoHo that I was reawakened to my quest. Even though the description sounded like you didn't need an appointment, when I showed up, they said that I did. So I made one for the next available timeslot and went shopping for the next hour. What I liked about this place was the simplicity of the dresses and how you could pair up really interesting colored sashes to dress it up. The person helping me was quite helpful, showing me the various ways that you could tie the sashes (a bow in the back or on the side, or trailing down the back flowing with the train, or an obi sash in the fashion of a Japanese kimono). Because the dresses are so plain, she said that I could make it fancier by getting a long veil (she let me try on a floor-length one). She also pointed out that Asians don't look the best in ivory because it sort of blends in with their skin so she suggested white or off-white for me (off-white looked slightly better on me). I also learned about the various fabrics out there. Duchess satin is what is the most commonly used material out there (though I think cheaper places like David's use a polyester satin) but I think most of the dresses at Saeyoung were made out of silk so they were very light and comfortable. I learned that dupioni silk is the nubby, slightly shiny material that I thought would make good bridesmaid dresses. My favorite dress (over $1000) had a puddle train (so cool -- it just hits the floor and doesn't extend out so you have the dressiness without the cumbersome qualities and you could still pin it up in the back) and a dropped waist (it's a lower waist and she thought that I looked best in this, probably b/c it hides my tummy and mimics my long waist). The natural waist, though a good coverup for the tummy, didn't give me enough definition there. I also tried on a weird-looking mermaid dress with bows in odd places, which I didn't like at all, but was glad that she made me try it on. After this short time (it was probably just .5 hour), my feet were killing me in the 3 inch heels that she provided for me to try on (I kept imagining how I'd trip somehow, break an ankle, and tear the bottom of the dress). Thankfully there weren't more dresses left to try on and she sent me on my way with a card that contained the facts about the one dress that I liked, along with 2 fabric swatches stapled to the card to demonstrate the difference between white and off-white. Even though I didn't buy anything, and I was pretty sure that I wouldn't buy a dress from them, I left feeling accomplished, since I learned what works for me and doesn't work for me. I may end up buying a sash from them though, since the concept is so cool and it looks pretty neat too.

My hope was renewed and I was comforted that if worse comes to worse, I could buy a plain white evening gown and call it a day. So I zealously checked for the white dresses that I had found. They kept getting sold out or they didn't have my size. Then one day, the white tulle Vera Wang one appeared. I spent hours at work trying to order it with co-workers constantly interupting me. Finally, I got the dress and I tried it on at home, taking pictures for BMs to see. My mother hated it, like all the other pictures that I had shown her before (she kept saying I looked wide in it and she would always say there used to be ads on TV for nice looking gowns for $99; she was probably thinking of David's Bridal, who no longer do the $99 sale). I thought it would suffice if I didn't find anything (they have a 90 day return policy) and I could dress it up with beads or something. When I uploaded my pics, I noticed that the bottom portion was see-through. :)

Next, and almost, last stop was the Vera Wang Bridal sample sale. Held twice a year for crazed ppl willing to line up for hours at a godforsaken time (we got there at 6ish in the morning and there were already 100 or so ppl ahead of us) in order to save up to 75% off. We got there all groggy and half asleep, but still able to befriend some ppl and meet (unintentionally but pleasantly) old friends there. So after waiting these hours, we were finally let in. Despite their guidelines of taking only 3 dresses at a time per group and congregating in the dressing area in the back for no more than 45 minutes, I spent a good portion of time there while my BMs went and brought dresses back for me. It was a very tiring adventure, dress after dress, baring my flabby belly and barely covered breasts (my strapless bra was not behaving!) to a roomful of crazy women carefully guarding their finds. Meanwhile we were not by a rack so we just piled the dresses we found on the floor. In the end, BM's friend spotted a dress that someone no longer wanted and retrieved it. I ended up getting this, despite the tears in the organza overlay because not only did I like the way that I look in it, but it was a great deal. It was originally $3000+ at Neiman Marcus but we couldn't find the sample sale price (all the other dresses had a price written on the inside tag) so we had to ask for it from someone outside. When BM came back with a price of $875, it seemed too good to be true. (We later saw that 1100 was written in an obscure place on the inside in ballpoint pen.) They all told me to get it, even though it was beyond what I originally wanted to spend (and still more w/ the fixes). I think what ultimately convinced me is that all these people kept coming up to me to ask if I was going to keep the dress. The tailors at the sale estimated the fixes (including the shortening of the hem) to be $550! I hoped (still do) that a Chinese tailor can do it for a fraction.

After this, we checked out the bridesmaid dresses, which were $25 each or $100/5! At first, they tried on these pastel green ones which just looked weird and too light for a fall wedding. They did not expect to have to try on stuff that day so it was amusing to have the tables turned and have them change while I remained dressed. In the end, I got 2 floor-length deep red dresses for the BMs and a purple one for my evening gown portion of the evening. The BMs each have a different style but the color is the same for that unity yet uniqueness.
Originally I had envisioned them in an orange silk, knee-length dress but the red ones are fine and they are OK with it, so that part is done! My purple dress is strapless and has a little flippy skirt thingy in the back. All of these need major alterations (my dress is a 14) but they are still a good deal, in my opinion.

So while part of the dress saga is done, how to make it perfect still remains. I'll outline that next time, along with the nightmare that I had about it recently.

1 comment:

Sam said...

thank God for that! man, i was poooped!!!