wedding gown

Photo: Saul Padua

Wedding gown shopping isn’t a fun experience for every bride, and it’s not always about size. Dress shopping can be a very emotional experience for some women, and not always in a good way. Brides tend to be hyper-sensitive during wedding planning, and a less-than-pleasant dress shopping experiences is often more than they can handle.

You absolutely need moral support when you’re shopping. And there is no correct number of friends or family to take dress shopping with you. I’m a big fan of taking no more than two people – your mom and a bestie – because it’s my personal opinion that a bride doesn’t need too much feedback from the peanut gallery. You’ve watched Say Yes to the Dress, and you know what I mean when I say a large group increases the odds of somebody bringing negativity into the bridal salon. And ain’t nobody got time for that!

Most of the time, wedding gown shopping frustrations are more about the actual shopping experience, and less about finding “the dress.” Brides expect to be treated a certain way when they’re wedding gown shopping, and when a store doesn’t deliver that experience, it’s a problem. Sometimes, it’s not the shop’s fault. There is a certain etiquette to wedding dress shopping, and if a bride isn’t following the standard procedures, she may not get the warm fuzzy responses she wants.

5 Questions to Ask the Bridal Shop

First, call and make an appointment with the bridal shop well in advance so that you won’t be annoyed if they’re too busy to accommodate you right away. Better shops limit their appointment schedule and do book up. Most shops do not encourage walk-ins. So many brides have complained that the sales staff were “rude” when they just popped in, even though they “weren’t busy.” But you have no idea if you happened to walk in during the one 10-minute break they had to refresh the salon before the next wave of brides with appointments walked in.

When you call, ask the following five questions about their shopping experience to avoid surprises:

Photo: EP Anderson

  1. Do you have samples in my size? Many shops only carry bridal size 8 samples, and that’s a real life size 4. Some shops have a limited number of samples in other sizes and styles so that brides can get a clear idea of how they look in a strapless, or trumpet-style gown, even if they can’t actually try on their actual dress.
  2. If you don’t carry dresses in my size, how can I try anything on? Shops have various methods of accommodating larger brides, but do not make an appointment with anybody who says they use the “paper doll” method. It’s a cruel and inhumane experience that has humiliated more than one bride. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, be sure to read this blog to get the gory details.
  3. May I take pictures of myself in the dresses I’m considering? Some shops won’t allow photos until after you’ve bought the dress.
  4. Will I be able to look through the dress inventory myself and select what to try on? Many upscale shops do not permit brides to browse the racks – they ask you to describe the style of dress you want, and they bring you selections until you find something you like.
  5. Will I have privacy when I’m trying on dresses? Some bridal boutiques are not set up for brides to model dresses privately with an audience, and you have to step out into a larger salon to see the dress from every angle. If the sample dresses won’t zip on you, it can be an uncomfortable experience with an audience of strangers.

Some of the store’s responses to your questions may not sit well with you – and that’s okay. There are LOTS of bridal shops to choose from, and they all have different policies. You can even order wedding gowns online that are returnable, so if you really don’t HAVE to go through the traditional wedding gown shopping process if it sounds like a nightmare to you. But chances are that if you call a few different bridal shops, you’ll find someplace willing to accommodate almost all of your requests, if you give them notice and ask respectfully. Do not make an appointment to shop someplace that feels hinky during the first call.

If you go to your pre-scheduled appointment with a bridal shop, and they aren’t prepared for you, or don’t treat you the way you feel a bride deserves to be treated, simply leave. Don’t make a scene and ruin somebody else’s perfect bridal shop experience. Express your opinion with your wallet and don’t spend any money there.

Don’t let this blog scare you – many brides have easy and fun wedding gown shopping experiences, and there’s no reason to believe yours will be any different. But if you do your homework ahead of time, and ask the questions I’ve suggested above, there’s a good chance you’ll avoid unnecessary drama over dress shopping, and have a better time.

Good luck and happy wedding planning!