Last week I told a story of a bride who came to MD, but who had some fairly unreasonable expectations of what kind of service we can and should provide to brides like her. While her situation was rare and unique, it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about the inside world of the bridal industry.
If you are a bride preparing to purchase a bridal gown from a local shop, here is my personal advice for you based on my experience in the industry:
1.) Feel free to do some research, but remember that your bridal consultant likely has years of experience in the industry. At Madeleine's, Juhree, our store manager, has been in the business for over 13 years. Elizabeth, our owner, has been doing it even longer. The newer consultants are trained directly under Juhree and it is very extensive training. Understand that their knowledge is broad- there are hundreds of dresses out there, but they are trained in the fine art of finding "the one." When someone asks for advice about how to prepare for a bridal appointment at MD, I always say, "Come in emotionally and financially prepared to find your dress." Did you know that 60% of our brides purchase one of the first 5 dresses they try on in our store? And the vast majority of those brides purchase the very first dress they try on? A good bridal consultant will listen carefully, will know the shop inventory in and out and she will already have a dress in mind that is perfect for you within a few minutes of talking to you.
2.) In addition, countless brides find themselves saying, "This is nothing like what I thought I would wear, or what I envisioned." An open mind is key. You've likely never worn a bridal gown before and once you put one on and realize how different it looks and feels from your regular clothes, you might surprise yourself by choosing something unexpected. Again, trust your consultant. Your friends and family know you very well, so they may also have the same ideas as you. Your consultant doesn't know you as well and this is actually an advantage. She is looking at you through fresh, new eyes and she just might see something you didn't even know was there. Regardless of how you end up choosing your dress, realize that if it makes you feel beautiful, that's what matters most. Embrace that feeling rather than getting caught up in the idea that it's "not what you envisioned."
3.) Decide on your budget before you start shopping. Also, decide what the budget includes. If you tell your consultant that your budget is $2,000, she will bring in gowns up to that price. But if in your mind you've decided you want the veil and alterations included within that budget, mention that so that the consultant actually sticks to gowns closer to $1,000-$1,200. The worst thing in the world is trying on and falling in love with a gown outside your budget. Alterations are costly- anywhere between $400-$600. Head-to-toe accessories can cost another $600-$1,000 depending on your taste and what you decide to wear. It's simplest to give your consultant the true gown budget and have a separate budget for alterations and accessories. A good bridal consultant will not show you anything outside your price range unless you specifically ask them to. It's rare, but there are times when a bride just isn't finding what she wants at her price range. The bride may decide to increase the budget, or the consultant might say, "I have a dress that I think you will love, but it is $200 over your budget. How do you feel about seeing it?" Finally, in regards to budget, there are often "hidden costs" that have to do with custom changes. For example, if you order a gown with a special length- either shorter or longer than standard, there will almost always be an additional fee, usually $150- $300. If you are a plus size bride, there may be an additional charge for certain sizes. It will vary from one designer to the next as to what is defined as "plus size." If you decide to make subtle changes to the design of the dress such as adding or removing straps, modifying the neckline or silhouette, or adding or removing embellishments, there are typically extra fees associated with those changes.
4.) When it comes to color, there are literally dozens of shades of white. Wedding gowns come in colors such as white, ivory, cream, candlelight, alabaster, pearl, oyster, diamond white, and countless others. The majority of gowns are sampled in a color other than true white, and this is because colors like cream and ivory tend to flatter a wider range of skin tones than true white. Additionally, every designer defines those colors differently, and may even offer several different versions of "ivory" that are each slightly different because of the fabric. Don't worry about the name of the color as much as whether or not it is a flattering shade on you. When it comes to matching the shade with your accessories, again, do not worry about the name of the color, simply focus on what looks best with your dress. You may have a dress that is ivory, a sash that is diamond white and a veil that is cream, yet somehow they all look perfect together.
5.) Time is of the essence when shopping for a bridal gown. Do not put it off or you may find yourself in a sticky situation. The safest bet is to purchase your gown as close to one year before the wedding as possible. If you have an especially long engagement, then shopping too soon can result in gown remorse- your style and of course fashion in general may change within that time, or there may be many newer options are out there that you may feel as though you pulled the trigger too soon. Conversely, waiting until the last minute can put you in a pickle as well. Most bridal gowns take at least 6 months to arrive. Rush fees are hefty, and at certain times of the year, most designers stop allowing rush orders altogether. And God forbid there is an issue with your dress- if you order with a few months cushion, there is time for the bridal shop to rectify any problems. Finally, most seamstresses require a minimum of one month to alter a bridal gown, and many charge additional rush fees to complete the work any sooner than that. If your wedding is during peak season, you could find yourself paying multiple rush fees- one to get the dress to the store in time and another to get the seamstress to finish the work quickly. And of course there's always the possibility that most qualified seamstresses will be booked at the time that you need the work done. It would be tragic to have to take it to your third or fourth choice only to discover that there is a reason that seamstress isn't quite as busy, if you catch my drift. The best time frame is as follows:
- One year prior to the wedding, purchase your wedding gown.
- Six months before the wedding (once the gown has come in) try on your gown and finish shopping for all of your accessories.
- Five to six months before the wedding, schedule your fitting appointments with your seamstress.
- Two to three months before the wedding, begin your alterations.
Finally, it's important to understand that just like any other aspect of the fashion industry, the only constant within the world of bridal gowns is change. What was true yesterday is outdated today and the best way to remain informed is to seek out the expertise and knowledge of true professionals in the industry. Nothing makes me happier than hugging a bride the day before her wedding when she comes in to pick up her gown. I love those days because when she leaves I know that every detail of her dress was taken care of and that she is going to look and feel amazing on one of the most important days of her life. It's a special thing to be a part of that and I am proud to be someone that brides can trust to achieve their wedding day dreams.