Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Change of Scenery, A New Perspective, & The Decision Made! (Part III. - The Search For the Perfect MOB Dress)

A few weeks into January, I took a trip to El Paso, Texas to visit my Mom. At this point, I had only a few weeks to make my final decision on whether I would keep The Finalist dress (the sapphire blue chiffon with satin waistband) or return it to Dillards within the alloted time to get a full refund. My sister was in town too, and we visited several of the bridal stores and dress boutiques there. I didn't have my hopes too high, but I thought maybe I could at least find something new and different from the styles I had been seeing in the Dallas stores. One boutique there was really, really nice and I would recommend it to anyone – it is called “Ella Blu” on North Mesa on the West Side.

It was there that I had my most pleasant MOB dress shopping experience…and I think there are several reasons why. My sister being there with me definitely made it more special. The fact that we practically had the store to ourselves was awesome. (When I had visited the Terry Costa store in Dallas the previous Saturday, it was a zoo – I had to fight the newly engaged bride crowd as well as early prom-dress shoppers.)

The dressing room was the roomiest one I have been in yet..the size of a small living room, and it actually had a sofa in it. The salesclerk was perfect – she was attentive without being annoying. She was not snobby at all and made me feel perfectly at home and comfortable there. And the dresses were elegant yet contemporary, neither too frumpy nor too slutty. She kept bringing me dress after dress that I liked and that fit my figure much better than any of the others I had tried on. Who knew that one of the best shopping experiences of my life was not in Big D or NYC, but in dusty old El Paso, Texas!

And, in trying on those dresses, I found myself gravitating away from liking the flowy chiffon to the more formal, fitted satin/taffeta styles. I think the only reason I left Ella Blu without a dress that day is that I found some I liked, but not one I absolutely loved. Since the prices were WAY over my target budget (like twice as much or more), it would have to be a dress I absolutely loved for me to buy it. But it was so much fun, and not a wasted experience at all -- it was a turning point that gave me a new perspective on what looks good on me, and what would fit in well with the vibe of Amanda's wedding.

On the plane flying home, I told myself that my dress would likely be the sapphire blue chiffon from Dillards, unless something else dropped in my lap in the next few days. It was the closest thing to what I had been looking for so far, at a price I was comfortable with paying. But, something about it still just didn’t set well with me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was at this point.

Well, with less than a week to go before the deadline of needing to return the Finalist and for Dillards to give me a full refund, I happened to be on the David’s Bridal website for some reason, and decided to glance through the MOB pages to see if anything was new. Well, sure enough...there was a new dress on there. Or at least, one that I had never noticed before. It was an elegant taffeta dress with rouching and a side gather which culminated in some simple beading, and a shawl collar that went into cap sleeves. The color shown was a dark platinum gray which I liked, but to my delight, the dress was also available in Ink blue! Even better!

That evening I went back to our local David’s bridal store – they said it WAS new, and they had plenty of samples to try on. The clerk was very attentive, as much as she could be in the David’s Bridal no-frills sort of way. There was the usual problem of needing alterations, but otherwise I really liked it a lot. It was age-appropriate but not matronly, very formal but not overly stuffy or blingy. The quality of the dress seemed to be decent. (I think with David’s, the quality depends on the price…you get what you pay for.) However, even though it was higher-end for David's, the price of this dress was actually a bit less than that of the other Finalist! And, I actually had another customer approach me to say she loved the dress on me -- I had never had that happen before in all of my other shopping experiences.

A few days later Amanda happened to be in town, and I took her with me to David's Bridal to try the dress on for her. I liked it even better this time. She had liked the sapphire blue chiffon dress on me too, but we both agreed that the tafetta’s formality and elegance fit the tone and style of the wedding better than the flowy chiffon would have. The chiffon was a beautiful party dress, and would have been a great choice for another, less formal occasion, but not for this wedding. Without further hesitation, I ordered the taffeta dress.

Right after leaving David’s, we took her wedding dress to the seamstress for the first alteration fitting. I got another glimpse of my beautiful Amanda in that exquisite, intricately beaded, perfect ballgown she would be wearing for her special day, looking like a fairy-tale princess, and knew that I had made the right choice. I would complement her style.

I feel a little guilty that I didn’t keep at least one of the Dillard’s dresses, but I felt a peace about My Dress from David’s Bridal that I did not feel about any of the other dresses that crossed my path in this long, complicated search! And, here it is (although I ordered it in ink blue):

This is kind of going off topic, but I have to share this bizarre story. That same weekend that I was in El Paso, there happened to be a wedding in Kansas of the daughter of an old friend of mine. When I got back home from my trip, I logged into Facebook. People were starting to post pictures of the wedding. I thought how beautiful my friend Pam looked in her dress! Then I took a closer look. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was wearing the silver/gray MOB dress with the bolero from David's Bridal that I had originally liked last Fall when I first started looking.  (See Part I of my MOB Dress Search posts.) Then it came back to me what the David's Bridal clerk had told me…”there’s one in Wichita, Kansas.” I also recalled Pam posting on Facebook that her daughter had found her dress on clearance at a bridal store in Wichita for her; Pam didn’t really have to go shopping for her dress at all. (Lucky Duck!) This would have been about the same time I was looking for the dress last Fall.

I went so far as to contact Pam, asking her if she was willing to sell the dress to me, but she is a smaller size than what I would need, and she has plans to wear the dress again. I had to say goodbye to that dress once more. But you know what? The vision in my head had changed somewhat, and I was OK with it in the end. I was pretty sure it would not have been the right choice after all.

Who Knew It Would Be So Hard? (Part II. - The Search for the Perfect MOB Dress)

As the season turned from summer to fall and the Holidays approached, I began running around to many stores and bridal shops in my area. I found a few dresses in the designer lines I had seen and liked on the Internet, but not the particular styles I was looking for. And I discovered that these designer lines were for the most part, out of my price range anyway.

I had heard good things about the Alfred Angelo store in Frisco, and one of my good friends found her MOB dress at this store. Most of my friends recommended Alfred Angelo over David's, but honestly I can't see much difference in the two mega bridal chain stores. It turns out, all A.A. has is separates for MOB’s, but there was one set that actually was a contender. The color is shown in green in the photo , but I would have obviously ordered it in a medium to dark blue. It was flattering on me, but still would have required major alterations for the top to fit me right, and the more I thought about it, the fabric and total lack of bling just wasn’t very “special” for being a Mother of the Bride dress. And when I found out it was stretching the top of my budget, I was even less impressed.

I expanded my search into Dallas to the mega stores for formal dresses like Terry Costa and Whatchamacallit, and upscale department stores like Nordstroms, with still no success. Either the dresses were too much, or too little. (Speaking of bling and cost!)  I tired very quickly of wasting my time, energy and gas on shopping.

I took a breather and went back to looking online. I discovered there were some online bridal apparel stores with lots of options, like TJ Formal, Ashley's Mother of the Bride, and House of Brides. Usually their prices are a bit better than what you’d find in the local bridal shops too. But again, I refuse to order something I have not tried on, especially since these formalwear websites usually have a No Return policy, or at best will charge you a hefty 20 to 25% "Restocking Fee" if you return the dress within their narrow 3 to 5 day deadline!

So, my next plan was to try to narrow the dresses down to a few styles, and then email and call bridal stores in the area to see if they had them, go try them on, then I could order them online if they suited me, but I never could seem to locate samples locally for me to try on. When I could get the stores to answer my emails or return calls at all, nobody had it or anything I was interested in.

And I was running into another issue…  I was quickly running out of time for a dress to arrive in time for alterations before the mid-May wedding.

Then another idea struck me -- some of the major department stores such as Nordstroms and Dillards have a far wider selection of affordable evening attire online than they do in the stores, they arrive soon after you order them, you try them on, and then return them within 30 days for a full refund if you don't want them. So, one day, I ordered $1000 worth of dresses online from Dillards. They arrived within 5 days, and I tried them on in the privacy of my own home. Amanda happened to be home and so I had a fashion show for her.

I have to admit there were some contenders in that bunch. One of them became a Finalist in my search and almost became The Dress. It was chiffon in a sapphire blue, with short flutter sleeves, and a wide satin waistband with a faux diamond brooch on it. 
The other dresses I began returning, one by one as I eliminated them, to my local Dillards store. Actually, not a bad way to shop…and I will definitely keep that in mind for the future!

Before making my final decision, I took the Finalist to a local tailor to see how much the alterations would be to make it fit me better, and got bad news. It would be almost another $100 dollars!

I was getting so frustrated at this point that I enlisted all the help and advice I could get. Several of my friends had offered to go MOB dress shopping with me but our schedules just didn’t work out, so I actually posted some dress photos on Facebook, and had people give me their opinions! 
(Continued on Next Post!)

How Hard Can it Be? (Part I. - The Search for the Perfect MOB Dress)

The next group of entries probably will seem pretty self-indulgent, and those who know me may be wondering why I obsessed so much about finding the dress that I would wear to my daughter's wedding. I still don't really know why. It is something I had looked forward to for a long time, and I think it IS important for the Bride's mom to look special on the big day. But there are so many considerations involved...formality of the wedding, coordinating with the colors, you don't want to outshine the bride, etc. etc. Basically, I just wanted to get it right.

Maybe it can best be summed up by something funny I read recently. It seems in the last decade or so, the MOB is taking more of a back seat in the wedding planning as the couples tend to want to be in control (and rightfully so), so really the main thing left for the MOB to do is find a killer dress!

After a long hunt I finally settled upon and ordered my dress. This was after 4 months of trying on 30 or so different dresses in local shops and even some stores out of town, and an online search that began soon after the engagement was announced almost 7 prior. As many people have commented, it is often easier selecting the brides' wedding gown than it is for her mother to select her dress, and that certainly was the case for us.

In one of the first bridal shops we went to looking for my daughter's wedding dress, back last summer, I remember the bridal store manager advising me not to wait too long to start looking for my dress, because it will be harder than I think to find it. But like most MOB's I suppose I was hoping to lose a few pounds before starting the hunt, and I thought to myself, "Yeah right. How hard can it be?" You choose a color, you choose a style, what’s so hard about it? After all, I live in a major metropolitan area, so there ought to be plenty of stores and dresses to choose from, right? It's not like I'm back in Kansas again, Toto. (Yes, I used to live in Kansas.)

Besides, I knew I could not really get serious about choosing the dress until after my daughter had chosen her wedding gown and the bridesmaid attire was settled on, because that would tell me the formality, color, and style I would need. I was excited to begin the shopping…but figured it could wait until these things were settled…besides there were other more pressing wedding planning tasks to take care of first.

I did start looking online fairly soon in the process, just to see what was out there on the market. This preliminary online search turned up many options that I thought would look good on me, and you could order them in a rainbow of colors. I just assumed I would be able to easily find these styles and try them on in stores or bridal shops locally. Piece of cake!

Within 2 months of becoming engaged, my D had chosen her princess ballgown, and even though we had not chosen the final design for the bridesmaids, we knew that they would be in floor length dresses, in a light blue color. We also knew this was going to be an early afternoon wedding.

So my challenge was to find an affordable, floor length dress that was special, elegant and fairly formal, but yet not over-the top with bling. I had decided on some shade of medium to dark blue, to complement the wedding color scheme of light blue and ivory. I did not want a low back, halter or strapless, preferring to have my shoulders covered somehow – either with a bolero or at least cap sleeves. And I thought chiffon would be best – lightweight, for this Central Texas wedding in May.

The problem with getting too specific in what you want is that you seldom find it… especially when there are other challenges too. I had a few things working against me:

First, I am not a tall beanpole - you know, the body type that can basically wear anything and look good; the body type that most designers make their clothes for! I am petite and curvy and short-waisted. Try finding a traditional Mother of the Bride dress in petite sizes. Almost impossible. And, I have packed on a few extra pounds in the last few years, especially in the midsection.

The second obstacle was that right now, short MOB dresses are in. There are LOTS of affordable short MOB dresses and suits available in the mainstream department stores. The long, formal gowns, however, are not so plentiful outside of the bridal shops. There are a few long dresses in the department stores and boutiques, but a lot of them have more of the prom/pageant dress feel and show a bit more skin than I would like. The ceremony will be in a Baptist church, after all! On the other hand, most of the long dresses in the Bridal Stores look quite frumpy. Or they have a lot of bling and beading on them. And the bridal stores seem to tack on an extra hundred dollars or two to their already outrageous markups just because it is long.

While researching wedding photographers, I happened upon a Mother of the Bride dress in one of the photo galleries that I thought would be absolutely perfect. A pewter (grayish/blue) chiffon with rouching at the waist, a crisscross bodice and a ¾ sleeve bolero. Just a touch of beading on the edges. The color was a bit lighter than I first imagined myself in, but it would still work with the wedding colors. It was understated and elegant, almost everything that I was looking for.

I must spent hours Googling the description of the dress, and finally found it. Of all places, it came from David's Bridal. Aha! I thought my search was over. I went to our local David's store as quick as I could to try it on.

They did have one shopworn sample (should have been my first clue) in the store in a champagne/ivory color (which was awful) and it was way too big for me. I went to the front desk to inquire whether any other stores in the area carried the style so I could try it on in my color and size. There are several David’s in the DFW metroplex, so I thought it was very do-able.

The clerk looked and looked on her computer. There were no stores in Texas or Oklahoma that had that style in stock. The closest store she found was in Wichita, Kansas. (Kansas?!! -- you've got to be kidding me.) She suggested I look online.  Struck out there, too.  Evidently the dress was being discontinued and all they had left were plus sizes.

Unfortunately, even though I resolved myself that I would not be getting that dress, it was now stuck in my mind, so then everything else I looked at, I began to compare to it. Little did I know that very dress would cross my path again in a most unusual way.

(Continued on Next Post!)