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My husband and I decided to get married at the court house before having a bigger, more traditional and more expensive wedding in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. For my courthouse wedding, I purchased a beautiful dress from a local New York designer D. Auxilly in early July. She was absolutely wonderful to work with. She was prompt, professional and after I purchased the dress, she made sure it fit perfectly to my body. Honestly, 10/10 recommend. Her work is impeccable.

So I thought I would return to her for my big ceremony dress. But towards the end of the month, Pantora Bridal announced, via their Instagram page that they were having a sample sale. Years ago, a former coworker told me about this Black-owned bridal shop in BrookIyn before I even started dating my husband. And I stored the name in my phone and followed them on Instagram years later. And while I had been swooning over their work since  I pressed that follow button, I was hesitant about even going because I had already committed to D. Auxilly. And I assumed that most of their dresses which are ornate and unique would be out of my price range. But my sister, who is the real MVP of this story, told me that I should at least check it out.

So on July 28, 2018, the date of sample sale, my sister and I made the hour + long journey from Harlem to Brooklyn. Y’all know the summer in New York is no joke and we stood outside in a short line that had formed outside of the store’s entrance. In case you didn’t pick up on my subtlety earlier, it was hot y’all. And I was truly concerned about being a sweaty, stinky mess by the time I was trying dresses on.

Thankfully, the air was blasting once I got inside. And it’s important to mention that the energy of the staff was also excited and welcoming. And there was water. Thankfully, the other brides didn’t do a the frantic mad dash to the racks you sometimes see on bridal tv shows.

Now, in retrospect, it seemed like everything happened at lightening speed now. But seriously within 10-15 minutes of looking, my sister found an option. It was a heavily beaded and sequined gown that featured a deep v-neck in the front and a partially exposed back. There was a mesh panel covering the skin on both sides. But what set this dress apart was the fact that it had a cape which was also beaded. I loved it.

For year, again before I met my husband, my mother made her mother of the bride wishes explicitly clear. She wanted me in a princess gown, complete with the poofy bottom and all. I’m short. Like 5’1.5 and not only was I not interested in being swallowed up by a dress, I wanted to be able to show my shape.

But after my sister found the first dress, I stumbled upon another one. It was poofy like my momma wanted but what made it so different was the fact that the top was entirely mesh. It had small sequins organized in diamond shapes across the front and jeweled accents on the straps and on the back of the dress that formed into the shape of a heart.

The layers of tulle at the bottom didn’t dissuade me from having to try it on. Plus, it didn’t hurt that as I was admiring it, the shop owner and designer Andrea Campbell showed me a picture of how stunning the dress looked on an actual person.

With those two options, my sister and I sat down, waiting for the next available consultant to see us. In that time, I realized I didn’t wear underwear that day and made a detour to Rainbow. The consultant later told me that most women don’t wear underwear to their fittings but I wanted to be as considerate as possible.

I decided to try the poofy dress on first because it would likely take the most time.

Pantora Bridal Fitting

Source: Vanessa Wells / Vanessa Wells

Pantora Bridal Fitting

Source: Vanessa Wells / Vanessa Wells

Pantora Bridal Fitting

Source: Vanessa Wells / Vanessa Wells

It was beautiful. My mom, who lives in my hometown, couldn’t be there so we Facetimed her. Seeing me in that big gown was all she needed and she immediately started crying. I would include that image but she was in the midst of doing her hair. So I’ll save her the embarrassment of looking “unfinished” on the internet. But here are a few pics my sister took of me trying this dress on for the first time.

Again, this was not what I planned for myself. But when I didn’t want to take the dress off, I knew I had to have it.

But I still had another option to consider: the caped dress my sister chose.

Pantora Bridal Fitting

Source: Vanessa Wells / Vanessa Wells

Pantora Bridal Fitting

Source: Vanessa Wells / Vanessa Wells

I loved that one too. And that’s when I started to panic. I had to make a decision. Seeing the indecision and stress on my face, my consultant asked me what I was thinking. I told her I loved both dresses and didn’t know which one to choose. That’s when she asked me my budget.

To be honest, I had gone back and forth about how much I wanted to spend on a dress. There was a part of me that simply wanted to save money. But my sister told me something one day that really. A friend of ours told her that as unique as I am, I couldn’t have a dress that didn’t match that.

I told the consultant that I didn’t want to spend any more than $3,000.

She told me that with the sale prices of both of those dresses, the total for two of them was $2,900.

Boom! I could get both–which was something I’d always imagined doing but put out of my mind once I started taking note of how expensive weddings are. We said yes to the dresses and made our way back to Harlem. It was a triumphant day.

Pantora Bridal Fitting

Source: Vanessa Wells / Pantora Bridal Staff

Later, my mother in law and my new Aunt said that they wanted to have a dress made for me in my husband’s ethnic group’s traditional color/pattern. My sister sent my measurements and they mailed me a mermaid-shaped dress.

I decided to accessorize it with a show-stopping, statement necklace from Aphia Sakyi, who I had seen featured on singer Ledisi and after I purchased my own, Ciara, Janet Jackson and one of the members of EnVogue.

After three rounds of alterations appointments for the two Pantora gowns, an additional alteration for the South African one, concealer for my areolas and some nipple covers, you can see how it all came together on the following pages.

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