You’ve done the research. You’re an expert on ball gown silhouettes and sweetheart necklines. Now the time has finally arrived-it’s wedding dress shopping day! But like the rest of the wedding planning process, shopping for a wedding dress is slightly more complex than shopping for your basic pair of slacks. Know what to expect before you hit the stores! First, you must decide where you are going to shop; here are the most common options:
Independently Owned Full Service Bridal Shops
These stores offer a full range of services for the bride and the wedding party, with designers and prices ranging from moderate to high-end. While off-the-rack is possible, these stores typically special-order wedding gowns for brides and attendants, so you should be prepared to wait a few months for your gown to arrive. You will mostly likely be able to purchase all of your bridal accessories, such as shoes, veils, undergarments and jewelry, and an in-store seamstress will consult with you on custom alterations.
Couture Bridal Shops
Couture bridal shops represent a subsection of independently owned full service bridal shops. Offering the same range of services, they carry exclusive designer labels at higher-end prices. These bridal boutiques are usually found in major cities.
Department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and JC Penny offer wedding gowns, while others such as Lord & Taylor and Hecht’s only offer bridesmaid dresses. These gowns are usually bought off-the-rack; however, your wedding dress may be specially ordered from another store if your size is not in stock. Most of these stores offer in-house alterations.
Discount Bridal Outlets
Discount bridal outlets offer a mix of discontinued national brands and privately labeled merchandise at reduced prices. While you will not find the same level of service found at privately owned bridal shops, you may be able to find the designer wedding dress of your dreams at an affordable price. Dresses are bought off-the-rack, so you may take the gown home the day your purchase it. Since these stores typically do not offer on-site alterations, make sure you can find a trusted seamstress.
Nationwide Bridal Chain Stores
Bridal chain stores manufacture, import, and sell their own private label wedding gowns. While the style selection is more limited than in other types of stores, the prices are usually lower. Be prepared for a lower level of service and little sales assistance, but the ability to buy off the rack at a reasonable price can be a good option for short engagements.
Custom Gown Designers
For a one-of-a-kind wedding gown, you can collaborate with a custom gown designer to specially create a wedding dress just for you. You can find such gown designers in most major cities. Be sure to select a designer whose vision you appreciate and trust.
What to expect once you’re in the shop:
o Make an appointment, and, if possible, try to shop during a weekday. You will receive more attentive service if your sales associate can dedicate his/her time especially for you.
o Consider bringing the lingerie that you will wear at the wedding. This will help you determine exactly how the wedding dress will look and feel on the big day.
o Bring someone with you whose opinion you respect and trust, but avoid bringing an entire brigade of “experts.” Too many opinions will distract you.
o Many bridal boutiques will not simply allow you to browse through the selection of wedding dresses; rather they will bring gowns to you one at a time. At these boutiques, a sales associate will sit down with you to discuss your style and will bring you dresses that reflect your vision.
o That said, allow them to bring you many styles. While you may have an idea of what you want, you never know what looks best on your body style until you try it.
o Most likely, you will not try on dresses in your actual size. Stores typically carry sample sizes (8-10), and the sales associate will pin it to your body.
o Don’t forget that you will have to be fitted – up to 3 times – before your wedding dress fits perfectly. If the store has an in-house seamstress, ask for an alterations estimate.
o Wedding dresses tend to run small, so be prepared to order a size that is larger than you normally wear.
o Go with your gut! If you need to be convinced that a wedding dress looks good on you, it’s probably not “the one.”
o If there is a specific feature you want changed, you can usually request it. Keep in mind that any design changes will increase the cost of the wedding gown.
o When determining the cost of your wedding dress, remember to factor in the cost for the veil, which can run up to $500 and beyond, and other accessories such as shoes, headpiece etc.
o Sleep on it. Most stores have a no return policy, so you need to be sure before making your final decision.
o Once you have found “the dress” and made your final decision, you will usually pay a 50% deposit on the dress.
o Afterwards – the store will take your measurements to order size – don’t be tempted to order one too small in hopes of losing weight.
o Remember that the dress usually takes a few months to be made, so make sure you leave enough time for alterations.