Short version for the easily bored: I bought my wedding dress. No, there aren't any pictures.
Long waffly version:
I wasn't expecting to have bought my dress already. Truth be known, I thought it was a process that would take months. But, I felt I should start that process sooner rather than later, so my Future Mother-In-Law (FMIL) and I decided that we would begin dress-hunting once she returned from her summer holiday. While we weren't averse to the idea of second-hand or internet-ordering, we felt it would be a sensible start to try on a few different styles and see what worked on me.
The first issue I had to sort out was the extremely limited access to bridal shops. I phoned all of the ones I could find listed locally. None of the ones in my home town were wheelchair-accessible and only one, maybe two, in the next town over were able to tell me that they had access. Not to be put off, I made August appointments with both of those. One of them cancelled, so eventually we just went to the one remaining shop, which was Eternal Bride in Warwick.
They were lovely. I don't think they were experienced with disability issues and it would have been tricky to get through the store if I was using a more typical bulky type of powered wheelchair, but they were friendly, polite, non-intrusive, and made every effort to accommodate me. I was impressed.
They even managed the Holy Grail of assistance - they asked me what I needed and then they paid attention to my answers.
We tried on loads of different shapes and styles of dresses from the racks and got a really good idea of what works well, and what I should avoid. Then I had a bit of a rest while FMIL and Debbie (the member of staff helping us) went upstairs to look through the sale dresses (three-figure price tags rather than four). They came back with about six dresses, all of which I probably would have chosen myself at that point. And once they'd been tried on, one of them was considerably nicer than the others...
Unfortunately it was a discontinued style so I couldn't simply plan to order it nearer the time, and, due to the fact a huge train skirt won't work with the wheelchair, it would have required some £150 of alterations on top of the not-inconsiderable price of the dress itself. I was tempted, but felt that I should not spend that kind of money without thinking about it, consulting Steve, and going to more than one shop. Debbie very kindly agreed to hold it for us for a few days and FMIL and I started frantically trying to find somewhere else to try dresses.
Since the biggest issue with the dresses in Eternal Bride had been the huge floofy skirts and trains, we decided that our best bet would be to try a department store. We figured this would carry outfits that were more "cream-coloured formalwear" than actual bridal gowns, and perhaps have a more modest price tag. Monsoon, for instance, used to carry a small range of dresses that would be equally suitable on a low-key bride, a grownup taking First Communion, or someone attending a prom. I'd already had a look around local department stores with this in mind, but hadn't found anything, so it was back to the phones. It seems that many department stores now only carry a bridal range at their flagship stores, but I was able to make an appointment at House of Fraser in Birmingham.
Advice: don't bother. It was all £1,000-plus floofy dresses with huge trains, and an added rather baffling feature was that many of the dresses had SHARP beading and sequins under the arms - I didn't even wheel anywhere but after half an hour of trying-on I had loads of angry red marks and scratches on my inside upper arms. Dejected, FMIL and I met up with Steve for lunch in the Bullring, where we spotted Sonique.
Sonique mainly do prom dresses, or to put it another way, they have a huge range of formalwear, in colours including white shades, many of which do not have trains and do not floof out by a metre or more. They're also that bit more affordable. And the staff know their stuff - rather than having us rummage through all of the hundreds of dresses in the store, the lady we spoke to listened to our list of features we liked and disliked and then picked two dresses off the racks and invited us to come and try them on.
Sonique are not champions of accessibility. Like every other store in the Bullring, they have level access built in from the word go, and they have kept their aisles uncluttered. However the changing cubicles are one-person size with no seat and solid swing doors, which meant that since I needed physical help getting into the dresses, I was basically expected to take my top off and then stand propped in the corner of a cubicle with the door open while the assistant got the dress over my head and did it up. I still had my jeans on underneath and I wasn't feeling very impressed...
... then I turned around, saw my reflection in the big mirror, and had the fabled "this is my dress" moment. While I stood there gobsmacked, stick in one hand and doorframe in the other, the assistant looped a matching wrap around my arms and it was perfect.
Trying not to get overexcited, but no longer so bothered about the lack of privacy, I got rid of my boots and jeans and carefully sat down in my wheelchair. It was still perfect. I could still move my arms. I could still breathe and lean and twist as much as I usually can and it wasn't at risk of tangling in the wheels. I stood up again. It was even the right length, and it didn't interfere with where I need my stick to be.
I tried on the other dress, just to be certain that it wasn't simply a case of me being relieved that I was trying on a dress that was comfortable. Nope. The second dress was nice enough as dresses go, but not WOW nice. I put the first dress back on. Miles better.
After a bit of consideration, FMIL and I decided that we'd tried on a truckload of dresses, this was the best one by far, we weren't likely to top it unless we got into the realm of full-on bespoke dresses and even then it wasn't guaranteed... so I bought it.
I'm not at liberty to disclose any major details about it (if Steve finds out what it looks like, FMIL will kill us both) although if anyone's interested, compared against a Dulux colour chart the nearest matching shade is "chalk burst".
I was a little bit anxious about phoning Eternal Bride to tell them I wasn't buying my dress from them after all, but they continued to impress me with her polite, friendly, professional approach and I really can't praise them enough. Even though it was Sonique who happened to stock the actual dress I chose, it was Eternal Bride, and particularly Debbie, who made wedding dress shopping a fun and accessible experience for me, and I'd recommend them to anyone.
Done/arranged/have a PLN:
Food and drink
Hair (sort of, I have a stylist but not a style) and makeup
Gloves (in progress)
Still not even properly thought about:
All the flowers
Shoes, lingerie and jewellery
Nice walking stick
Venue floor plan