The non-wedding wedding dress

It’s wedding season, and nowadays a lot of women are saying that they don’t want to get the typical wedding dress nor do they want to spend a lot of money on something they may wear only once. I came across the exact same dilemma when Mr D and I had our San Francisco wedding (nearly seven years ago now, yikes!). I didn’t have a lot of time to find a dress and quite a small budget. Looking online, any dress that had the label “wedding” or “bride” in front of it was at least $300. Unwilling to spend that much, I took a day off from work to trek across San Francisco in search of the non-wedding wedding dress.

I must have hit every department store, mall retailer, boutique, and vintage store, but nothing stood out. It was early October, and any white dresses left over from the summer were either too short, of summery fabric (eyelet in the fall? not so much), or with too revealing a cut. I ended up, exhausted, at a Banana Republic store, combing through the clearance section and hoping for a miracle. And there it was, smushed up between a sea of black, standing out like a beacon. A long, off-white, satiny dress in my size. I took it to the dressing room and tried it on. I think it was supposed to be a cowl neck thing, but it lay weirdly on my chest and made it look about four times its size (for those of you who know me, you know how ridiculous that would have been). I tried crossing the fabric over to make a crossover neckline and lo and behold, it looked divine. All it needed was to have the hem taken in a bit and it would be wedding-ready. The best part? On clearance with additional 40% discount, my dress was a whopping $29.

Carissa and family at our SF wedding
Carissa and family at our SF wedding

To this day, I love that dress. While I adore the big-skirted custom gown designed for me by our wonderful family friend, the late Myrna Cebrecus, my first wedding dress holds such a special place in my heart. I loved it so much that I wore it again at our Philippine wedding as I was getting ready. The second shooter, Nelson Petilla, is also a fashion photographer, and I had a lot of fun coming up with more edgy photos and poses. I’m so glad I got even more pictures of me in that dress.

Photo by Nelson Petilla | Joey Reyna
Photo by Nelson Petilla | Joey Reyna

Right now, since white is not only a summer staple but a big spring-summer trend, there are definitely a lot more choices for brides of every personality, time of day, and location. Here are just a few, and at under $300, they are affordable as well. They can be worn well after the big day, at a holiday party or dressed up dinner.

The Minimalist

Minimalist Wedding Dress

This simple column dress has a built-in bra so the lines stay clean and crisp. A simple birdcage veil with headband and  metallic sandals (flats, if you dare) to match the metal of your wedding band will complete the “less is so much more” look. Erin Dress $115, Aritzia

The Fashionista

Fashionista Wedding Dress

Exposed shoulders and ruffles combine two big trends of the season. The flounce gives it a little romance and the keyhold detail in the back ensures you look just as fabulous to everyone seated behind you. Studio Cut-out Shoulder Dress $169, Zara

The Bohemian


Put a little flower power into your big day. Subtly sheer and sexy rather than girly, wear this with a full flower crown and rule the day. Laced Heart Midi Dress $168, Free People

The Romantic


The lace details on this dress reminds me of Isabel Two’s wedding dress in Legends of the Fall. Elevate this look with a dreamy golden hair vine and heels that also borrow from another time. Blond-lace Panel Dress $69.99, Mango

The Show-off


For the woman who’s not afraid to show what she’s got, a sexy halter dress with sheer cutouts is just the ticket. Keep all accessories understated—really, you don’t need anything except some sexy heels—and party the night away. Pontus Dress $158, Revolve Clothing

The Lady


Ideal for City Hall nuptials, this dress has equal parts sweetness and sass. A little pillbox hat and veil would be Jackie O approved. Alice and Olivia Bernice Shift Dress $288, Bloomingdales

The Rebel


What dress? Take your cue from fashion-forward Solange Knowles and wear a jumpsuit instead. Nothing as mundane as a veil for you either, so slick your hair back with a gold hair cuff or surprise everyone with an updated take on the tiara. Nimah Jumpsuit $219, Club Monaco

The Vintage Maven


Okay, so not technically vintage. But, this shift with intricate beading looks like it stepped out of a Slim Aarons photo. Neutral add-ons and Bridget-Bardot-inspired hair (up or down) will nail that retro vibe you love. Limited Edition Beaded Shift Dress $230, Topshop



You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *