Monday, July 28, 2014 · 2:28 p.m.

The ugly truth about beautiful wedding dresses

Used dresses can be key to sticking to wedding budget

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Brides-to-be: That elusive "perfect wedding dress" you're searching for doesn't exist.

This wasn't my favorite dress that I tried on, but it was budget-friendly at $349 and fit well. At some point during my wedding planning, I finally realized I wasn't "settling" for a dress if I discontinued my quest for "the perfect" gown. (Photo: Brittany Shaw Newman)

Having tried on a couple dozen of them recently, I now firmly believe this to be true. I think the notion of a perfect dress was fabricated by dress companies and dress magazines to make us think we have to spend more money, go to more high-end stores and waste more Saturdays in the vain hopes that the next one we put on will be "the one," the dress we've been dreaming of since childhood, the dress that will magically transform us from fiancée to bride. We are taught to think that this amazing feeling will wash over us when we put on the "right" dress and that we shouldn't settle for anything until we get that feeling.

It simply amazes me how much emphasis is put on this comparatively small facet of a wedding day. I've seen countless TV shows and blog entries detailing that the dress was a significant chunk of the budget—often more than the venue, food, favors—you know, the aspects that actually affect the guests at your wedding.

And I can't help but see the correlation between these "perfect" dresses that cost thousands of dollars and the number of designer dresses listed on Wedding Bee classifieds and Tradesy—by brides who, I can only imagine, have realized what a frivolous expense the dress was and are eager to make some of the money they spent on it back, now that the big day has passed.

Here's what I wish I had realized sooner about wedding dresses: They're all pretty. They're all pristine and fluffy and various shades of white and classy and elegant and pretty much everything I am drawn to. But some of them won't look that great on you, so you can eliminate those; and some of them will need too much alteration, so you can discard those.

And ultimately, you just have to pick one and then STOP LOOKING for that feeling because you aren't going to get that feeling because there is no. such. thing. What you are really going to feel, if you get a feeling at all, is that you look beautiful in what you have on and that it might be something you consider wearing down the aisle.

There are a couple of reasons it's important to realize that there's not just one perfect dress for you. First of all, I do think the reason so many of us are tempted to spend so much money and time on dress searches is because we are expecting a certainty to wash over us, and we can save ourselves a lot of headache and our wedding budgets if we realize that a cheaper dress is still a beautiful option. And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I don't believe, and don't want other brides to believe, that there's only one dress that you'll look the most beautiful in on the happiest day of your life. With your hair professionally done and your makeup impeccably on and your heart filled with so much excitement and love, you'll look beautiful in anything, be it a $5,000 ball gown or a $29 sundress. 

This line of thinking ties into the stigma associated with used wedding dresses, too. How can "the one" have been someone else's first? Isn't there bad juju associated with a dress someone else has already worn, especially assuming that it might be on consignment because the bride who wore it is no longer happily married? But how can a dress—thread, satin, tulle, crystals, etc.—be tainted because someone wore it before you? The dress itself holds no power over the outcome of your marriage, so it's important to get past the stigma of thinking only a brand new dress will do—especially if you're sticking to a budget. Buying a used dress is also a great way to not only avoid mass retailers like David's Bridal but also avoid the expense of smaller, independently owned boutiques.

The wedding dress I bought was not a dream come true. It wasn't even my favorite dress of all the dresses I tried on. But it was at a decent price point and had a fairly classic look to it, which was important to me (because remember that those high-fashion dresses so many of us are drawn to will be laughable one day).

And now that the wedding is a few months behind me and the pictures are all back, I can say with 100 percent honesty that I in no way regret not spending four times the amount I actually did spend to get a dress I liked a little better. The dress was still lovely, the pictures still take my breath away, and my memories of that day are only partially focused on what I was wearing. There's so much more to a wedding than the dress—and more to a marriage than how you looked at the wedding.

It's no secret that I'm frugal, but whether you're a budget bride or not, the dress just isn't worth the agony we're taught to believe it is. In writing about the stress of weddings and appearing on HuffPost Live to discuss the topic, I've talked to many in the industry and consistently heard that brides buy a dress, keep looking at dresses on Pinterest, second-guess the dress they already have, go try on other dresses, maybe even buy another dress ... and I was just as guilty of these things until I realized I was striving for something unattainable.

Just like I spent all of those months stressing about having the perfect day, THE DRESS was just as unreachable as the perfect wedding. I am the queen of control freaks, but too many things are out of your control when you're bringing 200 of your closest friends and family into one room for a party for everything to go as perfectly as you want. Though the way you look in the dress is way more in your control than what your great-aunt wears or your photographer's arrival time, don't box yourself into thinking there's only one magical dress for you that you have exactly [insert number of months until your wedding here] to find. 

For those of you whose big days are in the near future, I beg you to stress less about this detail of your day. You'll look beautiful in anything because happiness radiates—and your happiness should be because of the groom, not because of the gown.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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