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The final pageant dress.

I grew up in a family of models, body builders, dancers, and pageant girls, so when it came time for us to plan our wedding, I thought that picking out my wedding dress would be the easy part. Boy was I wrong.

While beauty pageants and dance recitals can prepare you for getting dressed up in pretty outfits, what I didn’t realize, was that it would also desensitize me to the excitement of wedding dress shopping.

By the time we were planning our wedding, I had attended 5 high school proms and been in at least that many formal wear competitions. That meant that while most girls had gone through the process of dress shopping 1-2 times before they got engaged, my mom and I were operating a well-oiled machine at that point.

To make matters worse, I was working at a wedding dress shop at the time, so my weekends were filled with helping other brides try on dress after dress while all of their friends oohed and ahh’d.

When it was my turn to go dress shopping, I already knew what 3 styles looked the best on my frame, where I wanted to look, and who I wanted to bring with me. I tried on 3 dresses each place I went, and while the sales clerks all remarked at how efficient I was, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with me.

Here I was, trying on the dress that was to be my Cinderella moment with tears and all of the emotions that go along with it, and all I could do was make sure my mom photographed it from every angle to make sure I didn’t look fat—— ummmmm what?

I picked the dress that my mom and bridesmaids liked the best, but I was still left feeling like I had somehow failed at being a bride. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I was working with another former pageant girl to find her dress that it hit me-- we had spent so many years going through the motions to pick the dress that was good for the time being, that we weren’t focused on a dress that would be THE dress.

A few weeks later, when we got the call that my dress had come in, I called my mom and scheduled a time when we could both go to pick it up. When we walked in the bridal salon that day, I saw it— my Cinderella dress. It was completely different than the one I had come to pick up, and was about 1/4 of the price, but it was my dress.

I called my fiancé in a panic, and he said the three greatest words that every woman wants to hear “Get them both.”

So that’s what I did! The more traditional wedding gown I wore for my bridal portraits and for the wedding itself, and the one that made me feel like a princess was what I wore the next day at our second reception (yes, we had two wedding receptions— more on that later).

The whole process of dress shopping taught me a valuable lesson: that we all walk into the season of engagement with very different backgrounds. For some, they have dreamed about going shopping for their wedding dress since they were a little girl. For others, it’s just another Saturday marking things off of a to do list.

But the one thing that is hopefully the same across the board, is that it will be the last time we will all be going shopping for a dress that is that special. And that is certainly something worth celebrating!

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