All dressed up: Five brides recall their gown-shopping stories

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Photo: The Pinwheel Collective Photo: The Pinwheel Collective

In some ways, finding the perfect dress is like finding the perfect partner: You have to try on a few before you get the right one. These five brides’ experiences were no different—it took a couple tries before landing on a winner. One even had her gown custom made. If only it were that simple!

The fairest one of all (above)

Karen Adler

Wedding date: October 11, 2014

Groom’s name: Phillip Ryder

Dress designer: Carol Hannah (former “Project Runway” designer)

Alterations (and cost of alterations): The gown was custom-made for me—no alterations needed.

Did you shop around much before deciding? I searched for months for the perfect dress. In the end, I visited eight shops before finding the right one, from small boutiques to discount warehouses.

Why did you choose it? The beauty of being able to buy direct from the Carol Hannah boutique is that I was able to co-design the dress with their team, taking elements from past dresses they’d done but also working in specific points of inspiration on my side. Plus, they were a ton of fun.

Favorite detail about it: The neckline. I asked Carol Hannah to make me look like a Disney villain (à la Ursula or Maleficent) and the team was able to translate that vision into something beautiful.

How it worked out: It fit perfectly, danced well, and I’m still looking for more excuses to wear it.

Photo: Cramer Photo
Photo: Cramer Photo

Perfect pair

Chloe Hodson

Wedding date: November 1, 2015

Groom’s name: Elliott Watkins

Dress designer: Needle and Thread (reception dress); Ahsan skirt by Watters (added for ceremony)

Cost: $1,800 (skirt), $400 (dress)

Alterations (and cost of alterations): $250. I had a slit added to the dress so that the beading moved a little bit more than it did as the standard dress. The skirt I had taken in at the waist and shortened.

Did you shop around much before deciding? I had three appointments scheduled that Saturday. The first was at BHLDN in Georgetown because they opened the earliest. I tried on three or four dresses and my sister brought down the Needle and Thread dress as a ringer just to see what it looked like—I don’t even think she was really thinking it would be for the wedding. I loved the dress, but it didn’t really seem “enough.” When I walked back into the dressing room I saw the Watters skirt and I realized the color palette was similar, so I popped the skirt on top of the Needle and Thread dress and that was it!

Why did you choose it? I loved the color more than anything. It matched my engagement ring, and I loved that it was unusual. I also loved that we kind of made it up…and that I could take the skirt off for dancing later in the evening.

Favorite detail about it: There are so many! I loved the layers of tulle and the way they moved when I twirled; I loved the slightly pink tone of the beading; I loved that I barely had to wear any jewelry (save for a gorgeous Suz Somersall rose gold cuff).

How it worked out: I know everyone says perfect, but it was perfect. I think it took me less time to get my entire look together than it took my husband to get his suit! The women and BHLDN were great fun and all in all it was a great experience. I even came in under budget, which may never happen to me again.

Photo: Dominique Attaway
Photo: Dominique Attaway

Sparkle style

Shannon Munsell

Wedding date: September 19, 2015

Groom’s name: Kory Swierczek

Dress designer: Hayley Paige

Cost: $3,700

Alterations: About $250

Did you shop around much before deciding? I am not a huge fan of traditional wedding gowns and was looking for something unique but beautiful. I actually first saw this dress on Pinterest and it immediately caught my eye. Unfortunately, the link was not to the designer. By the time I found out who designed it, it took four or five months to actually track it down and find a salon in my area that could get the dress in.

Why did you choose it? I was immediately drawn to the top because of the neckline and the fact that it had delicate straps in the back. I loved that the dress had a beautiful more conservative front but also a sexy back.

Favorite detail about it: The top that was made out of different gems and moonstones was my absolute favorite part of the dress. If you looked closely at the design of the gems, it resembled roses. At my shower my mom surprised me with beautiful matching moonstone and diamond earrings.

How it worked out: It looked unbelievable in pictures; the gems in the top never stopped shimmering. It was actually very comfortable and not too heavy, which was great for both the outside ceremony as well as for dancing all night. I truly felt like a princess in this dress, and am dying to put it back on!

Photo: Lucy O Photo
Photo: Lucy O Photo

Like it a latte

Adrienne Fadoul

Wedding date: December 31, 2014

Groom’s name: Marks Brewbaker

Dress designer: Johanna Johnson

Cost: $4,000 to $5,000

Alterations (and cost of alterations): Approximately $200, to shorten the length and have it taken in on the sides and back.

Did you shop around much before deciding? I found my wedding gown at Hitched Bridal Couture in Washington, D.C. I knew they were having a Johanna Johnson trunk show that weekend, an Australian designer I had been eyeing based on the simplicity and Old Hollywood style of her gowns. I visited two other boutiques before Hitched, but nothing wowed me the way this Johanna Johnson gown did.

Why did you choose it? This dress combined all the details I love: silk, lace, hand beading and a low back. It also had a sheath silhouette, which I knew worked well on me. The reaction I got from my mom and friends confirmed it: They loved it as much as I did!

Favorite detail about it: The color! It’s called latte and it had this beautiful champagne/gold shine. I knew it would go great with our candlelit New Year’s Eve wedding.

How it worked out: I felt great in my dress all day. It was light and very easy to move around in. I added a Johanna Johnson cathedral-length veil in a super soft tulle for the ceremony and I loved how it looked with the gown.

Photo: Eric Kelley
Photo: Eric Kelley

In her lace

Gina Egbert

Wedding date: April 18, 2015

Groom’s name: Granville Valentine

Dress designer: Monique Lhuillier

Alterations (and cost of alterations): $500. Based on my measurements, I ordered a size 4 in the dress. When I tried it on for the first time, it was huge. I had to move the waist up and take the dress in everywhere. I also added a bustle and had cups sewn in to avoid wearing a bustier.

Did you shop around much before deciding? No, I knew this was the dress for me the minute I tried it on.

Why did you choose it? I saw this dress at the trunk show and tried it on for fun. I didn’t expect to love it, but once it was on I didn’t want to take it off! I loved the long sleeves, illusion neckline and how easy it was to move around in it.

Favorite detail about it: The dress looks like it’s lace, but it’s actually all beading. I loved all the different patterns, especially on the sleeves and neckline.

How it worked out: I wouldn’t change a thing! The dress photographed beautifully and, more importantly, it made me feel amazing.