It feels a bit like the run up to Wedding season at the moment. Wedding fayres are everywhere, my sister Ms Moo seems to spend every other weekend at them advertising her services and the radio is full of adverts for wedding services.
I got married last September after two years of planning. And it dismays me to see how much other people spend on their wedding day under the illusion that they need to do so.
I occasionally watch ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’. It’s a guilty pleasure. And I watched a lot of it during my wedding preparation, as much so that I would know what NOT to do, rather than what to do. For those who haven’t seen the programme, a bride and bridegroom to be are separated for three weeks and the groom is given £12,000 to plan the wedding. Everything from the venue to the celebration to the dresses, cake and entertainment. The only thing he can’t do is tell the Bride.
£12,000 is roughly two and a half times what our budget for the wedding was. Including our honeymoon. People ask how I did it. Particularly how I managed the way I looked. So I figured there might be a post in that idea for any brides-to-be who are planning their own big days. So here are my top tips on how to look your best without bankrupting yourself in the process for the sake of one special day and one big party.
1: Invest in a good photographer
What’s going to last, apart from your memories, after the day is over? (Apart from your marriage, natch!) Photos. Wherever you are making economies, do not make this one of them. You will need a good photographer. If you want to look your best forever in everyone’s memories of your wedding, including yours, then you will need them. I hired a professional photographer, but I was very lucky to already know the fabulous Miss Rain, who runs Luna Photography, as my sister’s business partner. Miss Rain was spectacular – pleasant, discrete, thorough, friendly, approachable, professional and – above all – willing to listen to what we actually wanted without pressuring us.
If you’d like to see her work, here’s an example:
All together now…
2: Don’t think you have to go to a wedding dress shop to find THE DRESS
I love my wedding dress. I loved wearing it, I loved the way it looked on the day and how it looks in all of Miss Rain’s delicious photographs.
It cost considerably less than £200 and was made to measure to my exact specifications, with alterations for the colour of the lining and the trim. My dress had no corset, I could dance, drink and dine without feeling like I was about to burst out of my clothing. And yet I still felt like a wonderfully elegant Bride.
When you are thinking about your wedding dress, make sure that you do your homework. Look at the photos online before you go anywhere near a sales-woman’s patter. And do this ALONE. Make sure you get what you want, what suits you personally both in terms of style and personality.
It might be that your perfect wedding dress is not what you would think of as a stereotypical wedding dress. There was one design that was really popular when I started looking:
We’ve all seen this sort of dress in the magazines, right?
Bare shoulders, low back, corseted, long train, figure hugging…
I could not look good in a dress like this if I tried. I am not thin, blonde, shaped like this or able to function without eating and breathing. So I decided to go look elsewhere. I didn’t go into a single wedding dress shop, because the dresses in the window all looked like this. And if that was the best they had to offer, I didn’t want it.
If you feel the same, I highly recommend looking for small businesses who will make your dress as YOU want it, not talk you into a dress you didn’t really want. I found my dress designer on Etsy, after spotting her shop on Ebay. My bridesmaid’s dresses were made by the delicious Boo Boo Kitty Couture. And they cost less the be made-to-measure for the girls than it would have cost to hire them from a high street boutique.
Team Bride – with added ice creams!
3: If you can stretch to a makeup artist – DO!
Yes, we can do our own makeup. We do it every day. But this is not every day, and it is the day when everyone will be looking at your face. This is the day when it is better to have the best of quality makeup rather than the stuff we put up with and have to nip to the loo several times to replenish during the day at work or the night out. You won’t have time to do it, you won’t think to do it, and the last thing you want is bleeding lipstick, smudged mascara or flaky skin as you get hot, dry and busy during the day.
I did have a makeup artist in the form of my sister. She was generous enough to do the makeup as my wedding present, but honestly – I would have found the money for her if she had anything else in mind. All of us looked amazing, all day. No shine, no smudges, no rogue colours clashing. No smears, no flakes. I looked just as fresh at the end of the day as I did when I started out in the morning.
I could have bought the products myself, but that would have cost a fortune in and of itself, and I only needed it for one day. Also I wouldn’t have had a clue how to put it on properly. And that is more than half the battle.
4: Once you’ve found one thing you like, ask the place where you got it for other suggestions. And ask everyone you know for recommendations. You don’t have to take them. But there might be some good gems in among them!
My dress designer recommended the person who made my tiara.
My sister recommended Miss Rain and Boo Boo Kitty Couture.
My mother-in-law found someone she knew to make The Cake. My own mum made the Other Cake.
One of my oldest friends drove me to the wedding and the reception.
My bridesmaid’s sister designed our invitations.
My husband’s colleague was in a band, who played the reception and allowed us to have complete control over the set list.
One of the things that made our day work was that all of our ‘suppliers’ – many of whom were friends – worked together as a team and were aware of what each other was doing. We paid the people who provided services for them (or they were provided as wedding gifts in lieu of us having a gift list). But we knew exactly what we were getting, and because of that it was tailored down to size rather than us having to up our budget to get the elements we wanted.
5: Look for small suppliers
My floral hoop, the corsages and the decorations were not made by a flower shop, or a professional florist. They were put together by an ethical gardener, from Pixee Garden Maintenance. Why? Well, because she knew exactly what sort of plants and trees would be in bloom and in flower at that time of the year and she had access to organic, affordable and fresh material.
When you pay a florist, you’re paying for someone to put natural products together in a fake way in order for them to look natural. If you want flowers, you can just have flowers. If you know what sort of look you want, you might want to think about putting it together yourself. The flowers are for one day, your bouquet will be the centre of attention for all of one hour, tops.
6: Consider comfort and practicality over style when it comes to your feet.
Here’s an idea. Your dress will, 99 times out of 100, be a long dress if you want a traditional wedding dress. So your feet will be covered. Hence – why are you forcing your feet into delicate little high heels which will hurt like holy fuck by the time you are wedded?
My shoes were from Shoezone. They cost £5, they were flat slip ons. They were comfortable, elegant, suitable for one day’s wear. Good for dancing, good for walking.
Far better than something like this, which was the first image that came up when I searched for wedding shoes:
Walking down the isle? I’d have been walking into A&E in those!
7: Go with what you know for what people won’t see
Continuing a similar theme – how much does the average bride spend on her underwear?
Too much. That’s how much. Yes there’s something sexy about wearing nice underwear under your wedding gown and knowing that your husband (HUSBAND!) is the only person who’s going to see it, but that’s no reason why your bank account needs to hurt. Some of the sets I looked at were as much as £70 (!) which was half the cost of my dress…
Having swallowed my pride, along with my notions, I took myself off to Matalan.
Less than £20 later, I had new tights, a matching bra and pants and a new silky slip. Everything a bride could need. They were new, fresh, pretty, with bows and little ribbon bits, trimmings of lacy material and – most importantly – I knew that the Matalan brand sizes would be exactly right for my shape and size. I didn’t spend the day tugging at my waistband, pinching my waist, fidgeting with bra straps or feeling like I was being manhandled out of shape by my own clothing.
8: Second hand is good enough for accessories.
I spent a long evening trawling through the Ebay listings for handbags. I got through 129 pages with 50 items on each page, before I found what I wanted. A wee bag in cream with a flower and leaf design. It cost £5.
The fact that someone else had used it before me did nothing to detract from its suitability for the job. It looked just as beautiful with my dress and the rest of my outfit.
When you’re a bride, the last thing you want is to spend the day itself feeling fake, artificial, uncomfortable and uncertain about anything to do with your clothing. Unfortunately this seems to be what’s required now and an entire industry has sprung up perpetuating this high cost version of the fashion industry myth that looking good is expensive.
I had a wonderful wedding day. My makeup looked great. My dress was what I wanted. My bridesmaids looked amazing. My decorations were gorgeous. The photographs were, and still are, amazing and something I will treasure forever.
I did not need to spend a fortune to achieve any of this. And neither do you. You just need to think a little bit outside the box.
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