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I took my fiancé wedding dress shopping — and he hated everything

No matter which dress I tried on, he had something to critique. 

My fiancé went to all eight of my wedding dress appointments at salons across Southern California. Sometimes he joined my mom, a friend or my future sister-in-law. But sometimes just the two of us waded through rows of tulle. 

A man was a rare sight in a dress shop, and the bridal attendants usually reminded me of such. “Oh! He’s your fiancé?” they’d say, with a not-so-subtle look toward the door. “And is he planning to ... stay?”

But my soon-to-be husband wanted to be there. And I wanted him there, too.

It was part of my “all-for-two, two-for-all” approach to wedding planning. When my fiancé and I got engaged, we decided we should both play an equal role in party planning. I was tired of the expectation that the bride would handle the wedding and we agreed it would be healthy to practice compromising. Between his modern tastes and my love of all things boho and floral, I knew my sweetheart and I would have to get creative to find middle grounds. Since we’d be doing this for the rest of our lives, why not start now?

For a while, it worked.

Choosing music was easy (we both love David Bowie and The Shins) and we both gravitated toward the same colorful flowers. For the venue, we found a museum that felt like a compromise between his preference, a historic church, and mine, a casual winery.

But dress shopping wasn’t so smooth. Because we were going against the tradition of the fiancé not seeing the dress pre-ceremony, we always had to explain our situation to the bridal consultant before she tried to shoo him away. And once we started shopping, another problem arose: None of the dresses were quite good enough for him.

I remember stepping out of a dressing room, the first wedding dress I’d ever worn flowing down to my feet.

This dress was a no from my fiancé.
This dress was a no from my fiancé.Courtesy Jillian Pretzel

My mom, sitting on the couch, lit up. “It’s perfect!”

“You look amazing,” my friend said.

I wasn’t sure if the dress was exactly “perfect.” The big tulle skirt made it hard to walk and the sequined material was scratchy but I liked the neckline and the sash around the middle. Plus, I loved my mom’s and my friend’s reactions.

I looked at my fiancé, expecting tears or at least two thumbs up. He just cocked his head. “I thought you wanted sleeves,” he said with a shrug. “And it’s so poufy.”

The air went out of my balloon and I couldn’t hide my surprise at his less-than-pleased response. But I had to admit, he was right: The fluffy, sparkly dress didn’t seem to match our refined venue. And I did want sleeves. I’d shown him dozens of photos of dress inspiration, and every photo featured a gown with lace sleeves.

I stepped off the pedestal and reminded myself that I had wanted both of us to have an equal say in wedding planning — the dress was no exception. I liked the dress, so did my mom, and the stylist couldn’t stop complimenting my figure in it. But if my fiancé didn’t like it, I didn’t want it. After a few more beautiful dresses, a lot of praise from the stylist, my mom and my friend — plus some blasé looks from my future husband — we left the shop empty-handed.

Another no — like all the others.
Another no — like all the others.Courtesy Jillian Pretzel

The following weekend, we made an appointment at another salon. The following week, we visited a third shop. At each place, I tried on everything in my budget: simple cocktail dresses, long gowns with pockets and a couple of blush-colored options. They weren’t all crowd-pleasers but everyone seemed to like a few. Everyone, that is, except my future husband. Some were too matronly, some too sexy. He pointed out weird jewels and unflattering cutouts.

I couldn’t win. Everyone seemed easygoing and happy to see me in any dress — just not the person whose opinion I valued most.

At the eighth appointment, after trying on a dress that my fiancé said was weirdly asymmetrical, I sat in my square little dressing room and cried. I hated shopping for dresses and I was starting to feel embarrassed leaving all these salons without buying something. But I didn’t know what to do.

You guessed it: He didn't like this one, either.
You guessed it: He didn't like this one, either.Courtesy Jillian Pretzel

I wondered if him pointing out the problems was causing the issues. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed the imperfections if he didn’t say something. Yet the things he saw were things I had, or would eventually, notice. But I felt like picking a dress, having this one chore checked off my list, and having everyone else happy with the dress, was worth overlooking some weird appliqués. 

Wedding planning was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Between the ever-changing guest list, family drama, price tag guilt, my inability to find a hairstylist for the morning of the big day, I was drained. So was my fiancé. I guess I’d just wanted an easy win. Why was shopping for a dress so hard?

On the way home, I decided to get to the bottom of this. “Why don’t you like any of the dresses?” I asked my future husband in the car.

“I do! Most of them are great,” he said.

I couldn’t believe his response. “Then why haven’t we bought anything yet?” I insisted.

He shrugged. “None of them are the dress you said you want.” 

When we stopped at a light, he grabbed his phone and opened it to our shared Pinterest list. “You said you wanted a dress with off-the-shoulder lace sleeves, and you wanted the skirt to come to your calf,” he said, pointing to a photo of Grace Kelly in “Rear Window.” “You also said you wanted to have two different looks, maybe a tear-away skirt or something. None of those dresses were what you said you wanted.”

I could have cried again. I realized that he just wanted me to have the dress I wanted. “But this kind of dress doesn’t exist,” I said as we pulled forward through the green light. “I’ve tried on just about every dress and that combination isn’t out there.”

I could feel myself getting frustrated again. “During all these appointments, I never saw a dress that was calf-length,” I said. “I’d have to buy a full-length gown and hem it.”

“Okay, let’s do that,” he said.

“Sure, OK, but then I’d probably have to get sleeves made because none of the lace sleeves I saw were off the shoulder,” I said.

“Sounds good,” he said.

I looked at my fiancé and he looked at me. After all those dress appointments and trying on dress after dress, he made it sound so easy.

We went back to one of the dress shops and bought an inexpensive white ball gown. We then found a seamstress who reminded me of my favorite elementary school teacher. She hemmed the dress until it looked like the swishy Grace Kelly dress I loved and she made an off-the-shoulder lace top, which simply went over the bodice of the dress. “If you want to take it off for the reception, and have a whole different look, you can,” she said.

Me on my wedding day. I ended up having a dress custom-made — and it was perfect.
Me on my wedding day. I ended up having a dress custom-made — and it was perfect.Courtesy Michael and Angela Bautista

The dress was perfect. I loved the shorter hem and the lace sleeves were exactly what I’d envisioned. I’d wanted to combine my husband’s and my styles to create the perfect mesh of us for this party, and while my dress was technically all me, it represented my partner too, maybe more than I consciously realized at the time.

The two of us have been together since high school and in the 10 years between meeting and marrying, every so often, I heard the advice not to settle for a comfortable relationship. Through college, I watched friends break up with their partners after years together, shrugging and saying, “Well, what was I going to do, marry my high school boyfriend?” In my mid-20s, the only friend I knew who had also been with her boyfriend since high school, suddenly found herself single. “I didn’t want to settle,” she said.

I think a part of me wondered if I was too comfortable in my relationship, going along because it was so easy to be with someone I’d loved since I was 17. But dress shopping together made me realize that my husband wasn’t the type to let me choose the easy option. He wasn’t going to let me settle for a dress that seemed fine; he wanted me to be in the right gown for me. I think he’s always known he was right for me too.

Now, five years after our wedding, with two little girls, I keep a big portrait of my husband and me on our wedding day over the fireplace. I still love the dress I wore and I still love us. We’re the perfect fit.