To be a glamorous bride for less, I flew to Taiwan

taiwanese bride park solo

Since getting engaged last September, planning for my wedding has taken over my life.

From scoping out wedding venues, to tasting banquet food, to meeting vendors, I've spent my last eight months planning the big day.

But here's one thing I haven't spent a single night worrying about: my wedding dress.

Surprised?

That's because I'm Taiwanese American and am in on a little-known secret.

It's called the hun sha 婚紗 package. Traditionally, hun sha means bridal portraits.

Gallery: My whirlwind 24 hours at the bridal shoot in Taiwan

Unlike Western traditions, Taiwanese brides-to-be go through these sessions before their actual wedding day. The photos are seen as a status symbol as well as a way to capture the brides' youth and glamor.

taiwanese bride last shoot

In my case, I chose a deluxe package that included not only the photography but my actual gown rental as well. As part of this package, I was able to choose from some of the most glamorous wedding dresses that are available for rent. My three selected gowns are altered to fit me and shipped to my house.

Here's what a full package looks like:

*A full day photo shoot, which includes four separate gowns, two tuxedos for the groom, full hair and makeup with touch-ups all day long
*Three wedding gowns -- for the ceremony, reception, and the after-party
*Two veils -- a long and short one
*Jewelry and hair accessories
*Two flower girl dresses
*Bridesmaids dresses
*Three photo books, in different sizes
*Two enlarged prints -- a jumbo 24x30 inches and one that was 8x12 inches. Both come with custom frames
*Thank you cards, guest books and digital files
The entire elaborate affair cost us $2,600.

Yes, we did have to fly to Taipei, and each ticket cost $1,300 round trip. Not only was it an amazing experience at an exotic place, it also beats the cost of buying or renting a bridal gown and a having photo shoot stateside.

taiwanese bride two dresses

The cost of just one bridal gown of the same quality in the United States starts at a staggering price of $5,000, which excludes tax and additional alteration costs. A wedding photographer in New York starts at $4,000, which often does not include the actual prints.

We chose LinLi, a reputable full-service wedding company that's been around since 1987. Due to its popularity, we had to make our portrait appointment six months ahead. But there are over 1,000 wedding photography studios to choose from in Taipei alone, all offering different price points.

That's because it is customary for bridal parties to rent instead of purchasing in Taiwan.

The U.S. rental industry, too, has been gaining in popularity. But choices are limited for bridal dresses at the popular site Rent the Runway. On another site, Borrowing Magnolia, prices for outfits range from $400 to over $2,000.

taiwanese bride red dress fly

The princess experience

We were told to come to LinLi, one day before the actual shoot to choose our outfits. On our arrival, we were warmly greeted by Nico Hsu, who has been our direct point of contact.

She takes us to a beautiful room filled with dresses. A lot of dresses. For a girl who grew up with princess aspirations, this was a dream.

taiwanese bride dresses

The gown specialist, Diana Yi, had prepared a rack full of dresses based on inspirations I sent her over several months.

I happily dived right into the pile of ruffles and bling and before I knew it, three hours had passed before I finally made by final selection of two wedding gowns and two evening wear outfits for the shoot. After my final measurements were taken, the chosen gowns were carted off to be altered overnight.

I also chose the three separate wedding gowns that would be shipped for my actual wedding, which takes place on July 18th, 2015.

The next morning, we had a 7 a.m. start time at LinLi. My makeup artist/hair stylist, Wing Xiao, was waiting for me and she made me feel like a movie star for the rest of the day.

taiwanese bride lunch time 2

Wing and her assistants started by tucking my hair into rollers and applying my makeup. Each gown has its own hair and makeup plan. It was going to be a long day.

The photographer, Heather Huang, and her assistant had the music blasting. The constant click-click-click of the camera made me feel like a supermodel. Heather constantly directed my poses: "美女 (mei nǚ - pretty girl), touch your fingers, stick your stomach out, laugh, look down!"

My first shoot is indoors and the second one is outdoors - so a new set of hair and makeup and an outfit change. She sprays me down with sunblock and bug spray before she took us to the nearby Daan Park. The 90-degree humid weather made the next hour extremely challenging. My dress felt like a giant mop, sweeping up all the leaves through the park. My fiancé John del Carmen was such a good sport, battling heat in a full suit with a vest.

taiwanese bride outdoor shoot

We headed back in a cab to LinLi after our outdoor shoot was done. Exhausted and hungry, I was very excited that lunch was waiting for us. Unfortunately, they put me in the next dress before allowing me to eat. "Just in case you have trouble squeezing back into the dress after you eat," they politely explained.

By the time we wrapped up, it was 5 p.m. and we were spent. But I was able to spend a day playing dress up princess bride.

I will never forget the whirlwind 24 hours I spent as a glamorous Taiwanese bride.

taiwanese bride park bench

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