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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wedding Gown Shopping 101

Shopping for your wedding gown can be one of the most exciting and fun tasks on your wedding planning to-do list. But it may not be as simple as you think. What are your expectations of finding your gown? You may not realize it, but your expectations are probably based on your experience of normal retail shopping. But nothing could be further from the reality that is wedding gown shopping!

Bridal salons vary, just like other department stores. When shopping at Kmart, you wouldn’t expect the same level of service or product as you would when you shop at Saks Fifth Avenue. The same is true of bridal salons. In the D/FW market, we have three echelons of bridal salons: the entry-level or lower-priced gown salons, like David’s Bridal and Alfred Angelo; the moderately priced or mid-level salons, such as Demetrius, Mockingbird Bridal and Lulu’s Bridal Boutique; and the higher-end salons of Neiman Marcus, StarDust Celebrations and Stanley Korshak. Salons are generally privately owned and do not function like “normal retail.” For instance, orders usually take three to five months to arrive, the merchandise cannot be returned and the gown will not fit perfectly when it arrives.

One thing that sets bridal gown shopping apart from looking for, say, a little black dress, is that what you wear on your wedding day is a “gown”, not just a “dress”. And gowns are a big deal. Generally, you can’t just go to a store, pick out a wedding gown in the size and color you like and take it home. Bridal gowns should be ordered six to eight months in advance of the wedding, hopefully right after the venues are selected – although the bride should be able to wear what she wants regardless of where she is getting married. Selecting a gown is about one-third of the process; next comes accessories (shoes, jewelry and veil) and then fittings and alterations. But more on that later.

You should be forewarned that trying on gowns can be a bit awkward. At the entry-level, because the gowns are inexpensive, the salon may have a size run for try-on purposes. But at the moderate to expensive salons, unless the bride is 5’9” and a perfect size 8, the sample gown will not fit. Because these higher-end bridal salons don’t have size runs, the stylists have to be very clever to try and make the gown look good on the bride’s shape, giving her an idea of how an appropriately sized gown would look. If the bride is small, she will experience having the excess material pulled and tucked while she is clamped into the gown; if she is larger, she will be squeezed into the gown and then clamped in the back to her bra. In about 90% of the cases, the gown will be three to six inches too long, so the bride will be asked to stand on a platform so she can see how the gown will fall or drape normally.

Sometimes brides come in with a picture of their “dream dress” from a magazine. This works out in about 25% of these cases. Many times, the dream dress turns out to be a nightmare, because of being an unflattering or incompatible style for the bride’s body type or other similar issues. Most bridal gown sales people are experienced in helping a bride determine what works best on her figure. Come in with an idea of what you like but be open-minded and let the salon’s experienced personnel suggest some styles to try on. Often, they will know exactly the type of gown that will make the bride feel most stunning. If the salesperson doesn’t know fabrics, construction, how the gown can be altered and such, move on to the next salon. Where your gown is purchased is as important as what you purchase.

Once the bride finds her gown, it will be ordered based on her measurements. Then she will need to focus on accessories. Veils, headpieces and jewelry are important, but after selecting your gown, shoes should be next on your list. You must purchase your shoes before you receive your gown and have them with you at your first fitting. You’ll also want to have any foundation pieces with you at the fitting to ensure you’ll have the perfect fit once your alterations are complete. Select your veil and jewelry six to eight weeks before the wedding or the bridal portrait if you’re having those taken in advance of your wedding day.

Shopping for gowns can be fun and you want all of your friends’ opinions, right? Wrong! Often brides want to bring an entourage, but that is not a good idea. Usually a best friend (who really knows your style and will be honest with you) and a mom are the best people to bring. Too many people make selecting a gown confusing and often, feelings get hurt. Everyone has an opinion, no one likes the same thing and the bride gets lost in the confusion! Often the guests want the bride to try their suggestions on and either the bride doesn’t want to or the cost of the gown is an issue. Buying a wedding gown is serious. Save the “girls’ outing” for the bridesmaid dresses shopping or maybe bring the gang in when the selection is between the final two dresses. Another special idea is the keep the gown secret until the big day, making the bride’s entrance a really big “ta-da”! In this day of show-all, tell-all, wouldn't it be nice to have a little mystique around “what does the bride’s gown look like?”

A few other words of advice from a salon’s perspective: if an appointment is required, be on time. If you are late, you may miss your time because the next appointment is entitled to have her time protected. If you need to cancel, please do so, rather than just no-showing. Salons often have waiting lists and some other bride would be grateful to have your slot should you be unable to make it. And by all means, please wear underwear; rarely does a salesperson want to see a naked customer!

Yes, buying a wedding gown is serious business. You’ll be making a big decision and a commitment that will drive many other details of your wedding. But it can be fun, too! Just by doing a little research and planning ahead, you can take your time to find the gown that will make you feel most confident and beautiful on your wedding day. And what bride doesn’t want that?!

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