I went to two FANTASTIC shops in London - please forgive me if I don't post names here but I am suffering with a great deal of guilt about how amazingly helpful they were given I am not going to be buying a dress. I had to go shopping - I had no choice, but I don't need to rub it in anyone's face.
The customer service was absolutely second to none and I will hopefully be assuaging some guilt by returning to both for accessories and by recommending them to you good people. DM me on Twitter or email me if you want the info.
I will write a post listing their names in a few weeks/months, when any soreness they may feel if they see their names up here now may have subsided.
I had expected less from London shops - my first bad experience and testimonies from friends had told me that shops oop north were friendlier and shops in London were hoity toity, pushy and unhelpful. I could not have been more wrong. The shops up north were perfunctory and pedestrian. The shops in London put a lot more effort in and tried a lot harder - accessorising dresses that I had initially dismissed in a way that made me utterly rethink my choices.
It's dangerous to generalise about a region being this way or that, but we mentioned this disparity in one of the shops and it led to a discussion about how you can't get away with crap service in London. Look at the plethora of amazing cheap restaurants - competition means you have to be good. Anyway, this is a sideline.
What made it so different was two things: the different standard of dresses and the different standard of service. I was helped in and out of dresses a lot more (I was even offered bridal underwear to try dresses on with in one shop) and properly dressed. Despite my fears about being seen in my pants, this 'dressing' was a very good thing. A good dress shop will make judicious use of ribbons, pins and side panels to make a dress that is two or three sizes too small look beautiful - and look like it fits. They will also show you how the dress will look finished - add ribbons, flowers, straps, suggest you put your hair up and then pin a veil on - in a way that made this more of an experience. I stood on a box and was coo-ed over. It was quite nice to feel nice in the dresses.
Up north, I was left to my own devices. Here I was properly attended to. It made something I was wary about into actually, dare I say, a really pleasurable day.
So if you want some straight up advice about buying dresses then here are my TOP TIPS, kids.
1. Do not plan to visit too many shops in one day. I did two on each day - four shops in total. If you know they have dresses you like then this is more than enough. I was so shattered after each day (you spend the whole thing standing up) that two is more than enough. Plan a nice lunch inbetween.
2. Do not take too many people with you. Two is optimum and make sure they are honest. Also, if everyone brought five people then the shops would not be a nice quiet reflective place. They would be a zoo.
3. Listen to the ladies in the shop. If they are good, they will tell you what to try on and what to avoid. You will probably, if you're like me, ignore them and want to try on some things that are wrong anyway. Then you will learn that they are right.
4. That said, do try on some different things. Some shops will keep giving you strapless meringue after strapless meringue. Look for different styles.
5. Nice underwear. Seam free white pants, sturdy white bra with removable straps.
6. Try to go on a weekday for at least one of the trips. You will get a quieter shop with much better service and it feels a bit more of an event. I enjoyed this feeling more than I expected to.
7. Squat. When you put on a dress and you think you like it, try having a little squat or sit down (there probably won't be a chair, so squat). Can you breathe? Do you feel a bit sick? If you think this is 'the one' - then try to keep the dress on for a few minutes and move around in it; don't just stand there gazing at yourself. You will have to wear this thing for many hours. If you're hitching it up and sweating after 10 minutes then maybe rethink.
8. Do not do what I did and leave it until the last minute. Go sooner rather than later. You can always go again. It focuses your mind somewhat. Even if you think you can't go because you're a size 18 or 16 (as I did) - ignore the little doubting voice in your mind. There are shops that will stock dresses for you. Find them and go.