By Anne Morrissy
Whether you dream of a huge, elaborate celebration or an intimate, thoughtful gathering, the perfect gown is a vital element of every wedding. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of gown shopping:
Plan it out. Before you dive in to shopping for a wedding gown, make a list of things to consider, including: the location/season of the wedding (will you be outdoors? will you be in a very conservative church? etc.); your maximum budget for a dress (including alterations and headpiece); the shades or colors you prefer; and the shapes or styles you gravitate toward (though be flexible on these last two points!). Also choose who you will take with you to the salon appointments – many brides find it’s best to invite 1-3 trusted friends or family members who will give honest, gentle feedback.
Research bridal salons and make a few appointments. Smaller local bridal salons will offer a more genuine, personalized experience and are often willing to work with you on price, but their gown selection can be light. Larger bridal salons may carry a wider range of sizes and a larger selection but their sales staff are more likely to work on commission so you may experience a more high-pressure sales environment. It’s best to make appointments at multiple salons to see the full range of gown options. At each salon, be honest about your budget and resist the urge to try gowns that are vastly outside of that range.
Listen to the salon staff. While it is helpful to go in with a general idea of what you’re looking for, remember that the salon sales staff are experts and see hundreds or even thousands of women every year. Many brides find that the styles they go in coveting don’t suit them for one reason or another, and they often end up preferring the options the salon staff hand-selects for them instead. Similarly, because sizing of wedding gowns is so erratic, salon staff will have the best knowledge of which sizes to try.
Choose wisely. In a one-hour salon appointment, brides will typically try 8-13 gowns. At each salon you visit, ask if you can take reference photos to help you remember each design. Once you have seen a sufficient number of gowns, narrow the options down to your favorite 3-5 and make your choice from these. Be honest about your preferences, and don’t let anyone pressure you into buying a gown you don’t love.
Order your gown. Once you’ve found the gown of your dreams, don’t wait too long to order. While it’s possible the bridal salon may have the gown in stock in your size, it’s much more likely that they will be placing the order with the manufacturer, which can be a slow process. As a result, it’s best to order your wedding gown six to 12 months before you plan to get married.
Plan your alterations. Before ordering your gown, make sure to ask the salon about the price and process of alteration once the dress arrives. Alterations generally run from $300 to $600 and should be factored in to the overall budget. In addition to general fit accommodations, alterations also include the gown’s bustle, which can be quite complicated depending on the design. Alteration appointments generally begin about four months before the wedding – expect to attend 1-3 fittings before the gown is finished.