Insider Know-How: Dress Shopping

As you may or may not know, I work in a fabulous bridal boutique as my day job, and have done for a whole year as of yesterday (yay me!).  It really is a lovely job, with a lovely team, and despite my fears that it would put me off weddings for life, it really hasn’t.  I genuinely enjoy helping brides find their wedding dress, and I’ve come a long way since my very first day on the job when I arrived in a little black number and 3″ heels.  (Note to self: do not wear stilettos in a job where you don’t sit down.)

There’s no hard-sell in bridal- or there shouldn’t be.  For me, the essence of my job comes down to building a relationship with the person standing semi-naked in front of me and listening to what they have to say; to finding out all about their wedding plans and becoming their confidante when Mum is screaming ‘you’re too exposed!’ or friends are thinking more about what they’d wear rather than the person they’ve come to support.  Wedding dress shopping is an emotional mine-field; at times enjoyable but more often than not stressful and bloody confusing!  Every bridal shop works differently and your experiences will vary greatly. You have been warned.

So to mark the occasion of being in a really-rather-nice-job-for-a-whole-year-thank-you-very-much, I thought I’d put together some hints and tips for brides-to-be out there about to make the biggest purchase of their life:

The Dress.

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views, please take lightly*

1. Wedding dresses are expensive- do your research.

Scrap that- wedding dresses are bloody expensive.  Before working in bridal I’d always imagined I’d spend around £1000 on a dress but I am yet to physically see a dress that costs less than this.  I know they exist; I just don’t know where.  We meet a lot of brides who have started dress shopping with a figure in their heads and have quickly upped it when they’ve realised what they get for their money.  There’s a lot of fabric in a wedding dress, and good quality fabric comes at a cost.  Do your research.  When you see a wedding dress you like the look of in a magazine, ring the shop and find out the price.  Once you have an idea of how much you’re going to spend, call the shops you have your eye on and make sure your price range fits with theirs.  There’s no point going to a shop that starts from £3k if your maximum budget is £2k.

2. Have a budget- and stick to it.

At my boutique we always ask if there is a budget at the beginning of the consultation.  This is not to judge you and laugh you out of the shop if you don’t have a huge spend.  This is to keep your shopping experience enjoyable and positive and, ultimately, to help you find a dress.  Yes, you want to try on the most expensive dress in the shop- of course you do; it’s beautiful- but what will you do if you like it more than any other dress you try? It’s very unlikely that you’re going to buy it.  It’s more likely you’ll get depressed.

3. Keep your guests to a minimum- and choose wisely!

Dress shopping is supposed to be fun.  The temptation is to gather a group of your friends and family and to spend a lovely day ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ and quaffing champagne together.  But the reality is slightly different- a) very few shops actually offer champagne (sorry to disappoint you),  and b) do you really want 5 different opinions?  Are you sure you want to be zipped in to a dress that you love, only to be told ‘No!’ or ‘I don’t like that one’, as you step out of the changing room?  We would always advise doing the initial round of shops either on your own or with one person who you trust implicitly (mum, sister, best friend etc). Once you have established what you want and made a short list (short list I said- that’s 3, not 12) of your favourite dresses, then you can ask your wider circle for their valued opinions.

4. To sample sale or not to sample sale…

I’m going to be blunt here: if you have more than 6 months to go ’til your wedding and a healthy spend, don’t bother with a sample sale.  Sample sales are fantastic for brides who are short of time or have a very limited budget. But if you have a specific idea of what you’re after (“vintage lace with a v-neck, and possibly 3/4 length sleeves”), then you’re very unlikely to find it at a sale.  Dresses being sold as samples are generally those that have been discontinued by the designer or have proved unpopular in the shop. Never go to a sample sale if you’re at the start of your dress shopping journey as it’s very unlikely you’ll be ready to buy a dress that day, and you will be pressured to do so.

5. Trust your sales consultant- she is very wise.

Or she should be, if she’s any good at her job!  No-one knows the dresses better than the person helping you.  She’s not a Jedi Knight- she won’t necessarily pull out the dress of your dreams the moment you walk in.  But when you’re approaching the end of your consultation and you’ve ‘quite liked’ some but haven’t gone crazy over any, and your friends are running round plucking more off the rails that they like but have no idea what they look like on, turn to the lady helping you and ask ‘what would you recommend?’ .  If she knows her stuff she should, at that point, be able to suggest something that ticks all the boxes, but that you didn’t necessarily pick out at the the beginning of the consultation.  I tell you, it is the best feeling when that little suggestion becomes your wedding dress.  Which it does.  Quite often.  (Smug? Moi?)

6. ‘It’s how you feel, not how you look.’

This has actually become my mantra at work but it’s true.  There is a reason that many bridal shops do not allow you to take photos:  1- There is a copyright issue.  2- Photos taken on a camera phone in a beige room under dodgy, artificial lighting when you have no make-up on and your sister is too close/far away/rubbish at taking photos are not going to be a true representation of how you actually look in the dress.  You do not need to remember every single dress you try on; you will naturally remember (maybe not in detail, but you will remember) the dresses that felt the best.  And they are the ones that you put on your short list and visit again.  I have seen too many confused brides who have image after image on their phones and who are dismissing dresses because ‘my arm looks fat’ or ‘the third flower from the left is too big’.  If it doesn’t feel right, it probably doesn’t look right.  If it does feel right, and by this I mean if it makes you feel sexy or elegant or demure or relaxed or however you want to feel on your wedding day, well then, you’re on your way to finding your dress.

7.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I’m not diminishing the importance of The Wedding Dress here.  It is, after all, the most amount of money you will ever spend on an item of clothing, ever.  But when you have narrowed it down to your final three and you’re stressing out because you love them all and you don’t know how you’re ever going to choose… Stop.  Take a step back and say to yourself: ‘It’s just a dress.  It’s just a lovely dress that makes me feel happy and special and that I’m going to wear the day I marry Bob/Jamie/Tarquin.’  Because that’s why you’re having a wedding after all; to marry the love of your life.  And he’s just going to be happy that you’ve turned up.

So there you have it.  I’m not claiming to be any sort of dress shopping guru here; these are the utterings of a mere sales consultant.  But I’d love to hear your comments, good or bad 😉  Anyone experienced something similar when dress shopping?  Or do you strongly disagree with anything I’ve said?  Let’s get talking…

In the meantime, have a fab weekend!

Sama xxx