25-year-old Josephine Pepa ordered a $7,000 custom bridal gown for her September wedding.
Ten weeks before the 500-person event, Pepa had the final "nightmare" fitting.
Pepa described pearls "flying off" during the session and had to purchase a last-minute replacement.
Josephine Pepa, a 25-year-old pharmacist, ordered her dream custom bridal gown for her September wedding.
But when she showed up to the final fitting - just ten weeks before 500 guests would arrive in Garden City, New York, to watch her wed 31-year-old Michael Jandovitz - Pepa found a "horrific" dress that didn't match her expectations at all.
Pepa's gown nightmare began when she opted to order a custom wedding gown.
Months earlier, Pepa was feeling discouraged with trying on gowns.
"Nothing I tried on fit right or made me feel confident," she told Insider over email.
After a friend showed Pepa the "absolutely beautiful" custom gown a designer had made for her, Pepa made an appointment. "It felt like a no-brainer at that point," she said.
Plus, she'd already fallen in love with an intricately embroidered Valdrin Sahiti gown.
"The reason I didn't order the dress from him is that he works overseas and, ironically, I was worried about the dress not looking like it did in the picture once it got to me," Pepa said.
Instead, Pepa paid $7,000 for a custom-made "replica" of the Sahiti gown from the designer who'd made her friend's dress.
But in her final fitting, only the second time she saw the dress in person, Pepa was horrified.
In her first fitting in December 2021, Pepa said the designer assured her it wouldn't look anything like the skeletal gown she tried on. "No questions there," she told viewers in a November 14 TikTok. Six months later, Pepa said, the designer requested her final fitting - only the second time she'd be trying on her wedding dress - to be pushed back a month.
Pepa described the dress she pulled on in her final fitting in July, accompanied by her mom and bridesmaids, as a "literal nightmare," in her TikTok.
"I was honestly mortified," she told Insider. "You could see right through the dress to the cups, the collar was jagged, the pearls were flying off the dress, and I looked like I had a baby kangaroo pouch because of the way the corset was attached to the skirt."
In a note Pepa later sent the designer, she also mentions the designer telling her that the see-through bodice was designed that way because "adding pearls there would make me look big because of my large chest." Adopting a joking British accent, Pepa told viewers in a November 22 TikTok of the comment, "Not good for my body dysmorphia!"
The gown didn't resemble what she'd asked for, and she didn't think it was well-constructed, either.
With a little over two months left before her wedding day, Pepa said she started hyperventilating.
"I kept trying to think of ways we could fix it, and I tried relaying my thoughts to the designer, but she stormed off - saying she 'won't be listening to my attitude,'" Pepa said.
Initially, Pepa said her friends and family tried to be exceedingly supportive. "It wasn't until the designer and I got into an argument," she said. "That everyone showed their honest, unfiltered opinions and rattled off reasons as to why the dress was as heinous as I thought it was."
Devastated, Pepa said she told the designer that day that she wouldn't be wearing the gown to her wedding, and followed up with a text to restate that three days later.
"You and I both know that is a sad excuse of a wedding dress, with endless design flaws regardless if it matched what I initially ASKED you to recreate," Pepa wrote, in part, in the message. "Not only are they two completely different dresses but my dress alone is an embarrassment for both of us."
"You yelled saying that the dress I showed you I wanted was actually just used as 'inspiration,'" Pepa continued. "When were you going to tell me it was an inspiration and couldn't actually be done?"
"I was fine with changing the vision of the dress if it was too difficult, I understood it was an undertaking," she wrote. "However, it is YOUR job and responsibility to acknowledge the extent of your capabilities and to communicate them to your client."
You can see a screenshot of the full note in Pepa's November 22 TikTok.
With ten weeks to go before her 500-guest wedding, Pepa began her wedding dress search anew.
Two days later, back to the drawing board, Pepa said she drove to the Wedding Salon of Manhasset and found two dresses - a "one-of-a-kind" Marchesa wedding gown, and a Vera Wang reception dress - both of which she wore on her wedding day.
All in, Pepa's new dresses ended up costing her "twice the amount" of the custom-made gown, in part because of "intense," short-notice alterations.
"In the beginning," Pepa told Insider. "I was incredibly frustrated - mostly because of the way the designer carried herself and how she handled the situation."
But, she credited her loved ones with keeping her spirits high. Pepa said her mom was her "saving grace," reassuring her there were still thousands of dresses to try. Her then-fiancé, Jandovitz, drove Pepa and her bridesmaids to a new wedding-dress shop that weekend - and waited in the car for three hours - "in case of another meltdown and if I needed him."
In the end, Pepa thinks everything happens for a reason.
Eventually, Pepa said she did end up receiving a full refund for the custom dress. And, despite the late-hour stress, she believes that "everything really does happen for a reason."
"I look at my wedding photos now and thank God I ended up getting the new dresses," Pepa told Insider.
"The dresses were the opposite of what I thought I wanted," she said. "I always shied away from strapless gowns because I'm bustier up top, as well as ball gowns because I didn't think the fit did anything for my figure - lo and behold I ended up getting a strapless ball gown."
"As dramatic as this sounds," she said. "I think I believe in divine intervention after this chaotic situation."
As for the wedding, Pepa said it went off without a hitch.
"I feel like not many people get to say this," she said. "But the wedding went so smoothly, everything felt like a dream and I had no idea that was even possible with a wedding as massive as ours."
Plus, at first, it made for a good private joke. "In the back of my head, I did get a good laugh when I thought about everyone's reactions if I pulled up in the original custom-designed dress," Pepa said of her wedding day.
And, now, with a story that's gone viral on TikTok, it's also made for a pretty fun public one too. Commenters have expressed sympathy for Pepa and, taking her cue, they've also joked with her about a stressful experience.
For other brides, Pepa recommends doing "heavy research" and communicating often.
"Communication is key and I learned the hard way," she told Insider. "The most important feeling to have in your dress is feeling confident when you're in it."