Real Grit: the Sadness of Shopping

For quite some time now, I've wanted to share with you advice, thoughts, feelings, and experiences from former Glitter & Grit brides. It's always been very important to me that we talk about the "real" side of weddings and marriage; the Grit. There's just way too much out there about the Glitter; the decor, the dress, the ring, the flowers... etc., etc., etc., but there's so much more that goes into the actual meaning of the wedding, and into the relationship between the newly married couple. 

I'm so deeply honored to kick off this new feature with one of the most poignant and important contributions from Pittsburgh interior designer, Lauren, who specializes in retail design, and is also the co-founder of a boutique stationery company, Urban Envelope. She originally shared her story on my all-time favorite wedding blog, A Practical Wedding, and I was incredibly moved by the openness and grace of her words. Even if she hadn't been my client, I feel that her experience is a prime example of what many people go through, but no one talks about. If we want to change the wedding industry, we have to start having difficult but meaningful conversations about the real things that we go through and feel throughout the wedding planning, wedding having, marriage building process. 

And now, with a very full heart, I share with you Lauren's story:

image courtesy of Ryan Zarichnak

My mom had cancer twice. The first time I was six. We were living in Minnesota and would go to the Mall of America. We would window shop at the Disney Store and eat at the Rainforest Café. It was magical. It was distracting. And most importantly it made positive memories.

I was twenty-three when she started chemo the second time. We were living in Ohio and we would go to Target. Buy silly things: sandals, mixing bowls, super hero pajamas. It was more practical. But we laughed and smiled and it made positive memories. Honestly retail therapy was as important as the medicine and way more fun. 

When we couldn’t go out, we would sit side by side and shop online. We bought matching bracelets. We both wore them until the end. Wedding dress shopping was our favorite. We would sit in bed and scroll through pages of dresses. We looked at every wedding dress we could find on the Internet. The good the bad the ugly, we looked at everything. I wasn’t even engaged then. It didn’t matter, we had been talking about that dress since I was a little girl. It was our dream to go dress shopping. We had had a plan for as long as I could remember: go to New York City and try them all. Plain and simple. Just the two of us versus every dress in the city.

She passed away before I got engaged. Everyone says being engaged and wedding planning is supposed to be the happiest time in your life. I don’t think I ever cried more. How was I supposed to plan a wedding without my mom and best friend? How in the world was I supposed to find that dress without her? I tried to find blogs, forums, wedding websites, anything that explained to me how to plan a wedding without a mom. Nothing seemed to fit. I don’t have a squad of girlfriends, I’m not close with my sister or cousins, and my mother-in- law is the furthest thing from being into bridal.

So I did it my way. I did it alone. I decided I didn’t want extra eyes on me reminding me. I didn’t want to try to fill the void. I decided to accept the void, and try to embrace it.

image courtesy of Ryan Zarichnak

The wedding industry isn’t set up for alone. The first dress shop I went to, I lied. I said I was on my lunch break and that I wanted to figure out my style before bringing everyone else in. There were so many other girls and their moms in the store. I ended up crying on the floor in the dressing room in the terrible sample mermaid slip. I snuck out of the appointment while the sales girl was getting more dresses.

The second dress appointment wasn’t better. I didn’t want to tell anyone why I was alone. I was too afraid of getting what I call “Dead Mom Eyes.” It’s a look people give you when they find out you lost your mom when you are twenty-three.

When I met with my florist, she said it was refreshing I was alone. That she could really help me figure out what I wanted because there weren’t a roomful of opinions. So I told her. And it was fantastic. She helped me work out beautiful, quiet memorials for my mother. Including rosemary in my bouquet for remembrance, and using the same kinds of flowers that were in my mom’s bouquet at her wedding.

But still no dress. So I ordered them online. J.Crew, Zappos, Nordstrom, I tried them all. I would get a box, try on a wedding dress and go to night class. I would get a box, try on a dress and run to the store. There was no pomp and circumstance. It wasn’t special. They were great dresses, but not only did I feel alone, I felt like I was hiding. I was doing the exact opposite of what my mother would have wanted. She never would have wanted me to not have my moment because of her.

Finally, I was at the point where I had to find a dress. A new shop had opened in Pittsburgh. Their website looked amazing. It is a really small shop with select (fabulous) dresses. Better yet, appointment only meant no one else would be there. No other mom-daughter relationships staring at me. It would just be me and dresses and an amazing shop owner. It was fun. It was quiet and private and thoughtful. And the shop owner was beyond wonderful about matching my energy and understanding and respecting why I was there alone. It helped more to talk about it. To say out loud that “I think she would have liked this one.” To talk about sewing lace from her dress into my dress. To talk about wearing her earrings.

I found a dress that day. The perfect dress. In the end, I stood on my own two feet, and my mom would have been proud.

The day I found my wedding dress I wore the bracelets we had bought during chemo. They had quote from Pooh on them: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

image courtesy of Ryan Zarichnak

Lauren: thank you so very much for being incredibly brave and sharing your story. As much as I know it means to me, I am certain that it will be immeasurably even more impactful for others.


**Do you have a story to share? Please contact us at with submissions of your wedding planning, wedding having, married life experiences.