Vanessa Minnillo's 'Very Emotional' Wedding Dress Decision

07/26/2011 at 01:30 PM ET

Vanessa Minnillo Wedding Dress
Yitzhak Dalal/Hilton Media Group

When Vanessa Minnillo ventured out for that wedding dress shopping trip every girl dreams of, it didn’t go as expected. Minnillo, whose birth mother hasn’t been in her life for more than 20 years, struggled with not having her mom there with her on that special day. “Normally this is something you do with your mother, and my birth mother hasn’t been in my life since I was 9,” she explains emotionally to PEOPLE. “I have been okay with that up until now but for some unexplained reason, it really overtook me. I felt lost, confused and sad. It was very emotional.” With her matron of honor, friend Jennifer Birmingham-Lee, by her side, Minnillo worked with Monique Lhuillier to try and find the perfect dress. “This was the hardest decision in the whole wedding planning … probably because I didn’t have the support of Nick [Lachey],” Minnillo says. “We decided everything together, even his [Dolce & Gabbana] tux. For the first time, I felt a little bit alone.” To gain some clarity, the bride-to-be decided to ask for her groom’s opinion. “I said, ‘What do you want to see me in when you marry me and I become Mrs. Lachey?'” she recalls. And much to Minnillo’s surprise, Lachey didn’t give a generic male response and instead, was eager to say, “Something traditional with a little modern flair.” So following their chat, Minnillo headed back to Lhuillier’s Los Angeles boutique … and the rest is history. “Literally the next day I went to Monique and tried on my three dresses for the zillionth time. As soon as I put it on, I knew this was it.” –Jennifer Garcia

Vanessa Minnillo Wedding Dress
Courtesy Monique Lhuillier

SEE MORE DASHING DRESSES IN ‘LAST NIGHT’S LOOK: HIT OR MISS?’

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