Monday, February 23, 2009

Wedding Dress Success (with Houseguest Blogger Lea)

My life-long buddy Lea was in town visiting this weekend (and we all know what that means). She's a physics grad student and was in Baltimore for some genius conference and made the jaunt up to search for the perfect dress for her upcoming wedding, and I was happy to host and accompany her on the search. I wanted to have her do a post about "Cocktail Party Physics" so I could use her to sound smart, but she opted for wedding dress shopping tips instead. And since I once worked at a bridal magazine and was I bride not that long ago myself, I figured I could pipe in on this one.

me: How do you suggest a bride begin the search for her perfect dress?
Lea: The first step is to look at bridal magazines and tear out the dresses you like. Pull it out even if you only like one detail, like the lace or the shape of the skirt. You'll start to get a sense for what you like, and, equally importantly, what you don't. Keep in mind your own body shape, and the style and formality of your wedding- a ballgown with a cathedral-length train will be out of place at a wedding in a park.
me: What next?
Then make an appointment at a just one bridal shop, and casually try on a few dresses. Bring some of your inspiration to show the consultant, but don't be a stickler. Let the consultant make recommendations for what she thinks will look good on you, but also walk the floor and pull out a few dresses you want to try on.
me:And be open-minded.
Lea: You and I had similar experiences- we both thought we would never wear a strapless wedding dress...
me: because you're well-endowed on top, and me for the opposite reason...
Lea:...and we both ended up finding out that, when they are well-made with the proper boning and structure in the bodice, strapless dresses are extremely flattering on anyone.
me: Right, in the end, my wedding dress was strapless. What should a bride do next?
Lea: If you find dresses you really like but don't quite love, write down the designers' names and do some additional research into their line.
me: has a really great database of almost every bridal designers dresses from the last few years.
Lea: The designers' websites all have "where to buy" lists, but most bridal shops only have a few of each designer's dresses, so if you want to see the full line, it's a good idea to find a showroom. If you really love a particular designer it may be worth traveling (like I did) to the showroom or flagship store- if you are going to spend thousands of dollars on a dress, it's worth spending a couple hundred to make sure you find the right one. Most bridal consultants will tell you about all the alterations you could have done to the dress- adding lace or sleeves, or whatever, but I think you should really avoid that.
me: When we were dress shopping we saw some women getting dress fittings who were freaking out because the alterations to the original design were not what they had pictured. There are so many great dresses out there- you can find something amazing that will suit your needs without having to drastically change it. What are other tips for dress shopping?
Lea: Bring a friend or family member whose opinion and style you trust. Don't bring more than 1-2 people, though, because everyone wants to be helpful, but that many voices and opinions can become overwhelming. And wear underwear that won't be a distraction under the dresses, but that you don't mind those people seeing you in. If you are shy, it's totally acceptable to request that your friends wait outside the dressing room.
me: You can even request a small private dressing room when you make the appointment, so the consultant sets you up that way.
Lea: And try to buy a dress from a consultant that you like working with and trust. At the very least she is going to be zipping you into dresses at your appointment, and most likely, you will end up working with her for alterations and payment. Some of the consultants come at you with a used-car-salesman kind of vibe where they really pressure you to buy right then. A good one will encourage you to try on other options and let you take your time in making up your mind.
me: How do you get a good deal?
Lea: Even if you find the dress of your dreams, don't just plop down the cash right then- do a little research. In this economy, it's also worth asking for a deal. I find that I am frequently offered discounts without asking- the prices are usually kind of negotiable. Also, find out if the designer will be having a trunk show soon- the bridal shop will usually give a discount during the show, and may throw in other perks, like a free veil, or having the dress made-to-measure. I think that floor samples are only a good deal if they are in amazing shape. A dry cleaner isn't going to be able to turn a dirty, ripped dress into something new.
me: Also, since I bought my dress in New York, and had my dress shipped to California (where my wedding was), I was able to avoid paying sales tax.
Lea: After you buy the dress, follow up with the consultant a few times to find out when you should expect it to come in.
me: It can normally take anywhere from 2-6 months.
Lea: But there have been a few scams recently where people discovered that the bridal shops never placed the order for their dresses, and just pocketed the money, so also read online reviews of your bridal shop before you buy.
Me: Very scientific.

Note: The dresses above are from (left to right), Carolina Herrera, J. Crew, Jenny Packham and Oscar de la Renta. For those interested, Lea is deciding between two gorgeous dresses that she tried on in while in New York. My work here is done...