I Tried On (Over) 100 Wedding Dresses In My Search For The One. Here’s Everything I Learnt Along The Way

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This is not my first wedding rodeo. At 26, I got married in the second dress I stepped into. It was by Jenny Packham, made of unfinished chiffon tiers with a strapless neckline and a fishtail cut, and it worked perfectly for my end-of-the-Noughties Tuscan nuptials. Sadly, the fit was better than the flame and by 29 I was going through a divorce, adamant that I would never set foot down the aisle again. But if my thirties taught me anything it’s this: absolutes are a waste of breath. When my long-term boyfriend and father of my two sons proposed on Christmas day, aside from being so shocked I needed a foil blanket to calm my shakes, there was no question what my answer would be. 

What was far less clear is what the hell I would wear. Having worked in or adjacent to the fashion industry for the past two decades, and with almost 80,000 people now following my style on Instagram, you might be surprised to know I was fazed. I really know myself and have a good handle on my personal aesthetic, so why the angst? The truth is, however ballsy you may be, there is something about a wedding dress – this mythical concoction of tulle and taffeta that’s supposed to encompass the essence of your style while also making you look like your very best self – that is quite simply crippling. Even for a woman like me, who has likely worn more dresses than you’ve had hot dinners.

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An ethereal veil at Danielle Frankel.

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“I quickly realised I was in the market for proper drama,” says the bride-to-be, seen here wearing Markarian.

For starters, as a multi-faceted 40-year-old, with all the complexities that entails, I was concerned that no single dress could ever reflect my spirit. Unless a magician could conjure up a gown that said “Amish by day, vixen by night”, finding one that encompassed my, shall we say, oxymoronic personal style seemed unlikely. So, I decided to embark on an odyssey of discovery. I challenged myself to try on 100 different wedding dresses and write about the process. I planned to unravel my own ideas about what suits me, and stay open-minded. My quest would ultimately see me cross oceans and borders, and enlist the help of some of the world’s most revered bridal designers along the way. High street to high end, traditional to edgy, nothing was off the cards.

One piece of advice passed on by Rosie Boydell-Wiles, a stylist and bridal expert at Vivienne Westwood, has been ringing in my ears over the past five months: “Your wedding day isn’t the moment to experiment with your personal style.” She’s not wrong, and yet I initially found it hard to pinpoint exactly what my personal style looked like in the matrimonial context. Day-to-day, I wear feminine frocks by brands like Doên and Sea NY which juxtapose with my tattooed forearms, sharp inky fringe and long blood-red nails. By night, the look goes up a notch to incorporate naked dressing and a Le Smoking sans brassiere. I’m certainly not a wallflower, nor a minimalist, but then I’ve never felt I fitted into a singular style box. Others might say girly, but I don’t feel saccharine enough for that. More unhinged jolie laide perhaps? Know any designers who’ve made that their USP in the bridal market? Me neither.

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Katherine plays the Vivienne Westwood bride.

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Katherine loved Markarian’s Idra dress.

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Trying on a design by the queen of modern bridal, Cecilie Bahnsen.

Courtesy of Katherine Ormerod

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At The Own Studio in Shoreditch.

Courtesy of Katherine Ormerod

My first stop was Honor NYC – whose Instagram account I’d been stalking for weeks – on the back of New York Fashion Week. There, any thoughts of simply selecting a white-ish dress from one of my favourite catwalk designers immediately evaporated, as I experienced the immaculate construction of a made-to-measure wedding gown. I also quickly realised that I was in the market for proper drama. My ceremony is being held in a breathtaking architectural home in the Californian desert this autumn, so any notion of low-key restraint has already flown out the window – we are definitely in go big or go home territory. My favourite dress was a sheer nude tiered strapless style, which I came to realise looked remarkably like my first wedding dress. Even though 15 years had passed, it seemed I was reverting to type.

Back home in London, I wanted to reset, so I booked appointments with some of the city’s iconic bridal designers. At Halfpenny London’s Bloomsbury atelier, designer Kate told me to drown out the noise and focus on the feeling. How did the dress move? Did I feel supported? Could I breathe? Had I considered how it looked from every angle? Her infectious confidence gave me a boost, and I fell in love with a champagne silk halterneck gown called Cheryl. I also learnt that ivory isn’t my colour – something warmer is better on my skin.

Over on the Fulham Road, Sassi Holford told me she loves dressing brides of my age, and women who, like me that day, attend fittings alone. Indeed, too many cooks can create an issue. Early on in the search, I found a dress that I adored, but it was punchy. After three friends recoiled in shock and told me I’d regret it, I did begin to doubt my own barometer. Everyone has an idea of how “a bride” should look, and it is inevitably influenced by what they would choose for themselves. While I did bring friends with me to about a quarter of the appointments (free fizz, beautiful spaces, what’s not to love?) I found it easier to connect with my style radar alone. It turns out that I actually don’t want anyone else’s opinion.

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Wearing a gown by Cinq at The Fall.

Courtesy of Katherine Ormerod

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Katherine in a blush gown by Galia Lahav.

Courtesy of Katherine Ormerod

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A nipped-in jacket and tulle skirt option at Self-Portrait.

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Sampling bridal suiting at The Own Studio

Trend-wise, there were a lot of dropped waists, and the faintest pink blush was everywhere. Another more fundamental shift is the rise of more relaxed bridal studios, with a slip-on-and-go attitude. I visited The Own Studio and The Fall, both in Shoreditch, and revelled in the ease of the designs. Directed by The Own’s co-founder Jess Kaye, I came away dreaming of a bubble-skirted dress slashed across the neckline, which made me feel like Audrey Hepburn. At The Fall, it was the Claire dress by Cinq that seduced me with its Botticellian feel and tendrils of gossamer fine gauze.

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