Gown Hunt: Plus-Size Edition

So, as you may have already seen, I said “Yes!” to my wedding dress a couple of weeks ago. In fact, it was the very first major wedding decision that I made, go figure! One thing to immediately check off the Wedding To-Do list, hehe.

Now, I know that for many people, buying your dress before you even have your venue or date solidified is a little bit crazypants, and I didn’t necessarily intend to have my decision made so early on, but that being said, it wasn’t a quick decision either. It took visiting quite a few different salon visits and trying on just a few different dresses before I made my decision, so I’m glad I got started early.

Now, for those of you who may be hoping for a fairytale story all about how I tried on The Dress, knew immediately, cried, and it was all over, I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not exactly how it went for me. I mean, I did find The Dress, and there were tears (eventually), but it didn’t exactly go down the way you see it on TV.

I was actually pretty anxious about the dress-buying process, due to a combination of my love of designer wedding dresses and the fact that I am most definitely NOT a sample size. See, unless you’re shopping exclusively at big box stores like Kleinfeld’s or David’s Bridal (or at a salon that specializes in plus-size gowns), sample sizes dresses are what you have to work with. And for those of us ladies with a little more to love, the wedding dress samples in bridal salons will almost certainly NOT be your size.

Allow me to elaborate for those of you who might not be familiar with the process. Bridal salons usually own dresses in one size, and that size is usually a “wedding” size 10 or 12. Which, in real life, equals about a street size 6 or 8. (How cruel is that, by the way? C’mon, wedding industry! How about a little vanity sizing, eh?)

Soooo, what this means is that if you’re smaller than the sample size, when you try on a dress, your consultant will use clamps and pins to pull in the dress to make it fit closer to your body.

And for someone on the other side, when the sample is too small, the salon will use clamps and pins to clip the dress to your bra, or use other means of securing it, since it won’t be able to zip up all the way.

But what did this mean for someone who is a size 16, like me? Well, it meant that I was admittedly pretty nervous going into the whole dress shopping experience, that’s what. After all, what if I would be physically unable to try on the dresses I liked? You hear horror stories about plus-sized brides going dress shopping and having to do things like hold the dress up in front of them to “get an idea,” since they can’t actually put it on. I was definitely not excited about that prospect.

Complicating things further was the fact that I knew dress shopping wouldn’t exactly be a “classic” experience for me. You know, the kind that you see on SYTTD, where you go in and tell the consultant some things you like, and they pull dresses for you. Stuff like, “I like lace, I don’t like beading, I’m open to a mermaid-style silhouette,” and all that.

But I’ve spent so much time reading blogs, watching TLC, and generally being a crazyperson, that I already knew specifically which dresses I wanted to try — Hayley Paige Dori, Lazaro 3450, Jim Hjlem 8500, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, and so on. So I actually chose bridal salons to visit based on whether or not they carried those gowns (most salons list what designers they carry on their website, so I just called to ask if they had those specific gowns.) Which also meant that I wasn’t able to simply go to a plus-sized bridal atelier to find my gown, because the two that are in this area don’t carry the dresses that I wanted to see.

Anyway, knowing that I loved certain gowns but being unsure as to whether or not I’d actually be able to try them on, one of the first things that I did was make an impromptu solo visit to David’s Bridal (where the above photos were taken as well.) I wanted to be able to try on some different shapes and silhouettes, since they do carry most of their dresses in larger sizes (and they also go by normal sizing there — I tried on dresses that were primarily sizes 14 – 18.)

While I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, this appointment definitely confirmed the silhouettes I liked (A-line and ballgown):

Versus those that, well, just were simply not as flattering (pretty much anything else, haha):

None of the DB dresses I tried ended up being “the One,” (the Melissa Sweet in the upper left corner of the first collage was the one I liked best), and even if I had fallen in love that day, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to commit without first being able to see the other dresses that I already had in mind. So, armed with some knowledge of how different shapes looked on my body, and a lot of hope, I made my bridal salon appointments.

And, lo and behold… the dresses fit!

Lazaro 3450

Sort of!

This Lazaro blew my mind with its ombre skirt, but was reeeeeeally far outside of my budget, womp womp.

I mean, obviously they didn’t fit. But, amazing, miraculously, astonishingly, I was able to get on every dress I had my eye on — with a bit of finagling, of course. They were barely able to zip up at all, so the bodices were basically left totally open in the back and all had to be pinned/clamped on. But! I was able to get a real idea of how the dresses would look… with just a little of imagination needed to reassure my mom that my boobs will (hopefully) not be spilling out of my dress once it’s in my size. Heh.

Now, I do think that it just happened to be good fortune that the silhouette I loved was also the easiest for me to try on (since the size of my hips/butt doesn’t really matter with ballgowns), but if I had been looking for a more fitted style, I would probably have been SOL.

Anyway, from there on out, it was basically just a matter of trying on the, um, not small number of dresses that I had my greedy eyes on, hahaha.

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3108, Hayley Paige Londyn, Monique Lhullier Bliss ballgown, Hayley Paige Dori (white), Jim Hjelm 8500, Hayley Paige Dori (alabaster)

And I did also try on additional dresses that the consultants recommended, some of which I also really liked:

Clockwise from top: Lazaro 3018, Watters Carina bodice and Ahsan skirt, Hayley Paige Lennon (omg this sample was so small), Lazaro 3100

So yeah, as if I hadn’t been annoying enough throughout the dress-buying process, as it turned out, I basically loved every single dress I tried on. Oops. So trying on dresses turned out to be more like a process of elimination rather than a “This is the one!” kind of experience.

I was able to say goodbye to some because they were too expensive (the easiest way to eliminate options, haha), some because they didn’t feel quite “bridal” enough (though I still looooved the gowns), and some just didn’t have quite the “unique” factor that I was looking for. And eventually I narrowed down my choices to just two dresses!

I actually ended up trying on both of my final contenders multiple times because I was so enamoured with them both, and had a pretty difficult time deciding between the two of them because they were so different. Which, I know, sounds super cliche, but it’s true! They have totally different aesthetics and general feel, even if the silhouette is similar.

We did do our own little version of “jacking me up” (as Monty from SYTTD Atlanta puts it, haha), with the whole veil/belt/hairpiece reveal and, I am happy to report, that I did finally have my tearful reaction (hooray!) to one dress in particular. But I was still torn because while I did have that visceral reaction to one dress, I kept thinking that the other dress was more in-keeping with the overall theme and vision for the wedding.

So I left the final bridal appointment having decided not to decide just yet. I wanted to take the weekend to think about it, and I’m definitely glad that I did because…

… as you probably already suspected, eventually a decision was made! Turns out that over the weekend, I couldn’t get one dress out of my mind (the one I ended up crying for), and I knew that was probably a pretty good sign. So, I headed back to the salon and officially made my purchase!

I won’t be revealing my dress here on the blog on the off-chance that Sean suddenly decides to start reading here (he doesn’t normally follow my blog, but you never know…), but I will share with you what the runner-up was:

Hayley Paige Josie

The Hayley Paige Josie was in close, close contention for being my wedding dress, due to it’s incredible fully beaded bodice (these pictures really don’t do it justice) and beautiful color (it comes in both white and moonstone.) I also thought it had a really glamorous feel, which fit very well with the overall wedding vibe I was thinking of.

Ultimately, though, I decided that this dress had so much wow-factor, it was almost overwhelming. I also thought it would be harder to accessorize with, since the bodice of the dress is already so blingy. And when it came down to it, the dress I chose just felt entirely more “me,” which definitely makes it feel like the right choice.

So, I put my deposit down and couldn’t be happier with my decision! The agonizing part now is going to be waiting for it to come in! Designer dresses can take anywhere from three to six months to come in, and then have another month or two of alterations after that. Whew!

It does bear mentioning that I had to pay a “size surcharge” on top of the cost of the dress, which, let me tell you, didn’t feel super great. Apparently with Hayley Paige any dress over a bridal size 18 come with an extra fee. Which, I gotta say, does kind of feel like BS to me, because you could be a street size 10 or 12 and still have to order a bridal size 18 depending on your measurements.

See, to be safe, wedding dresses are usually ordered based on the size that matches your largest measurement (since it is infinitely easier to take in a dress over letting it out.) Actually, that was a bit of a dilemma in and of itself, because my hips measured several sizes above my waist, but the consultant said that it should be fine to order the dress based on the smaller size because of the silhouette. Anyway, what’s done is done with regard to paying the fat tax surcharge, and I’m still happy with my choice. It just wasn’t the most self-esteem boosting part of the experience, haha.

So there you have it! My “I Found the Gown” experience from beginning to end. Well, from beginning until I get it in my hands, and then the alterations process can begin, haha. Hopefully, I was able to accurately portray my gown shopping experience. There aren’t a ton of resources out there on what dress shopping is like for a plus-size bride in general, let alone for someone who has as, ahem, particular tastes as me, so I’m hoping this will be a helpful accounting for at least one other person out there? And if not, at least I got to post a lot of pictures of gorgeous dresses, so that’s fun. 😛

What was your gown shopping experience like? And what did your wedding dress look like?

I Found the Gown

Soooo, quite a bit of exciting stuff has been happening in the Powell household over the past few days. First off, Sunday night was Yelp’s Fire & Ice Ball, the HUGE 1000+ person event that I’ve been planning for the past couple of months!

It was, in a word, AWESOME. So many amazing businesses were there offering delicious food, sips, hair styling, massages, tarot card readings, painting classes, and more. Entertainment ranged from a string quartet to a rockin’ DJ to parkour performances to a FIRE DANCER (true story!), and it was just an awesome, awesome time.

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Did I mention it was awesome? 😉

Plus, in addition to getting to promote awesome businesses from all across Northern VA, we raised almost $3500 for the SPCA of Northern Virginia!

And as if surviving throwing Yelp Northern VA’s biggest event of the year wasn’t enough excitement for one week, a couple of other fun things have been happening around the Powell household. For example…

mia big sis

I am super happy to announce that my sister, Jen, is pregnant again! My beautiful niece Mia is going to be a big sister (to another little girl, yayyyyy!) come the end of August/early September, and our family could not be more thrilled.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen that Jen and Mia are in town visiting, so we were finally were able to snap a photo of this adorable pregnancy announcement. And by “we,” I mean, Ben, our brother and actual professional photographer. I call the above photo, “Skeptical Mia.”

A picture from tea on Thursday that Jenny wouldn’t let me post on social media because she hadn’t officially announced yet, haha.

I’ve actually been trying (and probably failing) to keep this news under wraps since DECEMBER, if you can believe it. My family all found out about Jen’s new bun in the oven when we were down in Macon for Christmas. I KNOW. Clearly my sister does not share my desperate need to put my entire life up on the interwebs in realtime, haha.

Speaking of which… the third piece of exciting news from the past few days is that… I purchased my wedding dress!

Spoiler alert: this is NOT my dress, hahaha. Fit & Flare = not my friend.

Unflattering silhouettes did not stop me from finding The One, and I totally said yes to the dress. And my credit card statement next month will remind me of it dearly, I’m sure.

Now, let it be said that I did not PLAN to have my dress be the first thing that I’d be crossing off my wedding checklist. After all, I haven’t even chosen my wedding venue yet (I’m pretty close to making a decision though), which means I technically don’t even have a date yet (although I’m pretty sure what it’s going to be.)

So, yes, I know that venue/date is usually the first (and, um, most important) step in wedding planning. But I really wanted to go dress shopping while my sister was in town, given that she’s my Matron (ha!) of Honor and general goodtime bestie.

My dress shopping entourage: Taylor, Jen, Anne, and my fabulously hatted mom!

So, we crammed in various bridal appointments over a few days before the Fire & Ice Ball took place, and I tried on a LOT of dresses. Turns out that while I do have a particular style I gravitate towards, within that style I basically like everything. So making a decision was actually very challening for me! Anyway, after I was able to try on all the dresses I was interested in (and I was interested in a lot of them, bahaha), I agonizingly narrowed it down to a couple of top contenders. Then, after the madness of my Yelper Party had died down, I went back to the bridal salon to finalize my decision!

I plan on going into more detail about my whole dress shopping experience later (I have some tidbits to share on what it’s like to go dress shopping as a plus-size bride, how my embarassing love for all things wedding kept me from having what I’d considering a “traditional” dress shopping experience, and how I didn’t have a “this is the one” ugly crying moment… well, not at first, anyway) but for now, let us just rejoice in the first official wedding decision having been made!

It works out that I took care of this early, anyway, since my dress is going to take up to six (SIX!) months to come in. Womp womp. At least I have lots of beautiful photos of it to keep me warm at night, right?

So, there you have it! Quite some exciting happenings, um, happening around these parts lately! And they’re just going to keep, er, happening, because this weekend I’m off to Texas for Sean’s cousin’s wedding in Dripping Springs (between Austin and San Antonio, as I understand it). The first wedding I’ll be attending as an engaged lady!

The rehearsal dinner is taking place at The Salt Lick, which is a famous BBQ place that Sean has literally been telling me about since we started dating. Needless to say, I am PSYCHED about that (pre-wedding diet, what?), oh yeah, and I guess there’s also the whole meeting the rest of Sean’s family and going to a celebration of love thing. 😉

Hopefully I’ll get to check in here again before I leave for the Lonestar State, but either way, I’ll see you soon!

Under the Moon

Haaaappy Friday! I’m still recovering from the emotional trauma that was back-to-backing the Vampire Diaries season finale (WHAT THE WHAT?!) and The Office SERIES finale (all the sads), so I thought I’d post something light and fun today. It’s aaaaalmost like a Fashion Friday post, except instead of me awkwardly posing for you all, all the fashion you’ll see in today’s post is still firmly on their hangers.

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Last night I had the opportunity to attend an event at the South Moon Under store in Merrifield’s new Mosaic District. If you’re local and haven’t been to Mosaic yet, by the way, you need to get there STAT. It’s awesome — every week I feel like there’s some new hip trendy something-or-other opening up. Someone give me a floppity jillion dollars so I can afford an apartment there, k?

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The event was a special Rebecca Minkoff trunk show being hosted by the Real Housewives of Northern Virginia blog.

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Alas, I didn’t win any of the exclusive Rebecca Minkoff handbags they were giving away, but I did get to look at pretty clothes, nosh on some snacks, and hobnob with some local fashion bloggers, so that was fun! Bloggers also got a little swag bag at the end, which was a super nice touch.

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And, of course, because I am physically incapable of walking away from a sale (they were offering everything in the store 20% off during the event), I did end up making a couple purchases of my own.

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I debated for a long time between the lion head earrings and the elephant earrings, before ultimately deciding to get my elephant on. They’re so cute! I also picked up a pair of sassy combat boots that will be making an appearance before long, at which point you can tell me if I’m pulling them off at all… or if I’m just deluding myself, hahaha.

A fun night! I feel like this weekend is going to end up being very well-rounded, actually. Last night I got my dose of fashion and whatnot, and tonight I’m shooting photos for a classical concert series. Look at me, so cultured! Now, if I can just squeeze in some time to see the new Star Trek movie, I’ll have it made in the shade.

Have a great weekend!

Mall Madness

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the epic circa-1996 (or 1989, depending on which version we’re talking about) board game.


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No, I’m talking about the intense, mind-blowing madness that is Tysons Corner during the month of December. Steve and I (we are friends now — hooray for progress!) were set on braving the crowds last night to do some Christmas shopping.

Santa's Closed
Uhhh.

Well, we would have braved the crowds, that is, had there been any. I honestly was predicting mayhem and madness, but it turns out even in December the mall is pretty dead at 8:30 on a Monday night. In fact, the only thing that was actually crazy were the deals! (Ba-doom ching!)

FREE PUPPY?!
Unfortunately, the deals weren’t crazy enough to get me an actual puppy. Stupid fine print.

See, when our family does Christmas, we do it BIG, and I’m trying not to let my financial situation put a damper on things. Speak of the debt thing, actually, I have an update on that front: As of last week, I have officially paid off my credit card debt! Daxter’s hospital visit threw an unfortunate wrench in my debt-clearing goals (to have both my credit cards paid off and my dad paid back by the end of the year). Thanks to my very patient and generous Papa, however, I’ve at least got those little plastic temptresses under control!


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Ne’er shall I carry a balance again! (Er, I hope.)

Right, so… what was I talking about again? Oh right, spending more money. Ha! I mean… it is still Christmas, you know. I’m trying to be very conscious of my budget, while still coming up with fun, personal gifts. So I’ve been deal-shopping, sales-shopping, and perusing Pinterest for ideas. I think that I’ve been doing a pretty good job so far!

Christmas Shopping
Success!

And okay, I’ll admit right here and now that I wasn’t able to refrain COMPLETELY from buying some things for myself. Fact: wearing a too-big coat makes you look too big too (say that 5x fast!), and feeling frumpalicious during cookie season is not so good for the self-esteem. Also fact: coats are crazy on sale at Old Navy right now! I did, however, abstain from some of the more ridiculous awesome stuff I wanted.

Herro Tree!
Be proud of me for walking away from this. It was rough.

So all in all, it was a successful shopping trip! Also, a successful continuation of my Instagram self-tutelage, as you can see. I still have three family members left to get gifts for (two human, one canine) but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

What’s your holiday shopping strategy? Are you an early bird, with your presents all wrapped up by December 1st? Or a last-minute gifter? An online-shopper or an in-store bargain hunter? Last year, I had almost 100% of my Christmas shopping done by Cyber Monday, all thanks to Amazon. This year, I’m running on a much later schedule, with a few gifts that I’ve purchased online but I’ve had to do a lot of shopping in-person to get ideas! Oogh, the stress!

The Worst Four Letter Word

I have what one might call an indulgent personality.

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Er, to say the least.

While we already know where that particular personality trait (flaw?) has landed me when it comes to the food side of things (does 246 lbs ring a bell?), what I don’t often touch on is how being self-indulgent has affected other areas of my life. I don’t like to talk about finances because I come from a very fiscally responsible family, and it’s embarrassing to admit how far I let myself slide. But hey, I figure if I can post pictures of myself at my highest weight in a bikini on here, I should be able to openly discuss what is probably the most taboo term in the Powell household: credit card debt.

Credit Card Tombstone
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I’ve talked about my issues with disordered eating many times over. What many people may not initially realize, however, is that beyond the physical, emotional, and mental toll that binge eating takes on a person, it takes a huge financial toll as well. After all, it’s not like “binge food” was an item on my grocery list. No, instead I would drop $15 a pop at drive-thru windows (give yourself a second to calculate just how much fast food $15 can buy), charging pizzas and chinese delivery to my credit cards, and the costs, just like my weight, simply continued to rise.

Mo' money, mo' problems

Of course, while I spent a lot of money on food, that wasn’t the only culprit for my unabashed spending. Unfortunately, gluttony begets gluttony, and it isn’t just reserved for things of a culinary nature. Once I was out of college and making my own money, food therapy ceased to be enough to fill the emotional void on its own. Between going a little crazy with my holiday gift-giving and my obsessions with Sephora, pedicures, and designer shoes I never actually wear… Well, suffice it to say, retail therapy became the name of the game.

Footish
Yes, you’re reading that insole correctly. These have gotten one wear. ONE.

Seeing several of my fellow bloggers be so honest about their sordid financial histories convinced me to do the same. After all, I’ve always said that honesty is what you get here whether you like it or not, haha. So I’m going to stop beating around the bush: I accumulated over $6,000 in personal credit card debt before I could even begin to admit that it had become a problem. It’s okay, family. You can judge.

Now, I realize that compared to the kinds of debt that many others are dealing with, $6K may be a mere drop in the bucket. That being said, I hope that everyone realizes that carrying ANY credit card debt from month-to-month is too much. After all, we’re not talking school loans or mortgages here. This is not good debt. This is you’re-throwing-your-money-away-kind of debt. This is the kind of debt that comes back to get you. And I can tell you now from personal experience that being stressed over credit card debt is not exactly what I would call a boon to weight loss.

I'mma getchu!

Fortunately, not too long after I made the decision to salvage my physical health, I resolved to do something about my rapidly declining financial health as well. Unfortunately, life did not take a break while I was getting to that point. In order to leave my horrible, soul-crushing post-college job, I actually had to pay the company in order to quit before my 2-year contract was up (can I get a “WTF?”). Daxter had a life-threatening accident when he was 14-weeks-old, putting him in the doggy ICU for three exorbitantly expensive days (and of course, I hadn’t gotten pet insurance yet. Fail.) My father generously loaned me some money to help me out in the interim, so that’s an entirely different debt that I’m working towards paying off.

While these things may have slowed down my progress slightly, I am still moving forward. Er, downward. My credit score is still high, since I have never defaulted or had a late payment, and I’m continuing to whittle down at the balance I owe. It’s taken a while, but over the past eight months I’ve managed to reduce my credit card debt by two-thirds. By the end of 2011, barring any surprises, I should be free & clear of all non-mortgage debt (holy crap, just typing that out feels amazing!) And that’s all in spite of my lingering penchant for purchasing unnecessarily expensive things, haha.

Froofy
Because we all know they aren’t buying their own sweaters and designer dog beds.

Okay, okay. I jest, but believe it or not I really am trying harder than ever to stick to an actual budget and watch my spending. I use Mint.com to track my purchases and accounts, and have the app on my phone as well. I’m also tracking my debts and payments in an Excel spreadsheet to make sure I am not overspending the funds that I need to keep in my checking account for things like, oh, my third of the mortgage. But it’s difficult. Not only is it hard to restrain myself from spending mindlessly, but it is challenging to maintain my healthy lifestyle while on a budget. Eating locally, organically, and/or healthily is relatively expensive. Race registrations are expensive. And let’s not even get started on my sushi requirement. I know that I don’t really NEED to buy organic apples or new running shoes or my own juicer, but it doesn’t mean I don’t WANT those things. And that whole indulgent personality thing? It just makes it hard to tell myself “no”.

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I’m working on it.

Do you feel that a tendency to overindulge when it comes to food sets you up to overindulge when it comes to spending? Please don’t feel pressured to share, but if you feel comfortable doing so, I’d be so, so interested to hear from others who are going through or have gone through anything similar when it comes to debt.