Choosing a wedding dress is something that many women have daydreamed about since they were little girls. It's an exciting, (hopefully) once in a lifetime event that should come with lots of laughs, love and champagne. BUT, choosing a bridal salon to work with takes a bit more research than one would think… especially if you are looking in a big city like I am.
Sure, you may have a look in mind or even a specific dress, but do you know where you can get it? Do you have a budget in mind? Are you on a tight schedule?
I am currently in the market for a wedding dress, so this information is as fresh as it gets. I am shopping in New York City next week and as I am sure you'd assume, there are SO MANY SALONS! And prices across the board. From big to small, vendor to designer, medium-scale to up-scale, uptown to downtown… SO MANY. When I first decided to look in NYC it was because it's an easy flight from Grand Cayman and I would have a lot of options. This still holds true but trust me, choosing my salons has been overwhelming.
If you are at the beginning of your dress shopping journey, take these steps into consideration before you dive too deep into your research.
This is hands down the most important part of the dress shopping checklist. I have found that the average wedding dress costs around $1,500. This is, of course, depending on the designer, quality, and salon (think David's Bridal versus a boutique in NYC – nothing wrong with either, just different in terms of price). Unless price is not a factor for you, you MUST decide what your budget is before you start salon hunting. This is because you may hear great things about Boutique A but then find out that their dresses start at a price that is a grand over what you can afford.
Why set yourself up for disappointment? I am pretty confident when I say that you would not want to schedule an appointment somewhere and fall in love with a dress, only to find out that everything in stock is wildly out of your price range.
It is a little difficult figuring out what a salon's range is because most do not advertise that on their websites. But, you can usually get an idea by doing a quick scan of what designers they carry, then price out some of your favorites on websites like The Knot. Or, you can simply call. I called a salon carrying a designer I was in love with only to find out that their dresses were $2,000 more than I was willing to spend. Bummer, but saves my time.
Designer & Style
Next step, the dress. Do you have a favorite designer, style, or even dress that you have been eyeballing? Find out what that designer costs on average. Does it fit in your budget?
If your answer is yes, search for stores in your area that carry that line. Also take a look at what other designers they carry.
If you answered no to the budget question, hop onto The Knot or WeddingWire, select your price range or silhouette and browse. There is a very good chance you will stumble across something quite similar to your original choice. You may also want to consider versatility and how that works with your budget. Most only wear their dress for the day of the wedding. Do you want something that can be tailored and worn again later?
I would also suggest that you print out some photos of your favorites because salon consultants can take a look at what you are interested in and find something that fits in your price range. Don't let yourself obsess over a certain dress or designer because there are loads of lines out there. The whole point of working with a consultant is to find YOUR perfect dress, within reason. Your consultant may even surprise you by pulling out something you never thought you'd wear!
Appointment & Salon Popularity
Most salons require an appointment in order to come in and try on dresses. You also need one if you want to work with a consultant. There are a handful that allow you to just walk in and dress shop, but not many. Find out how far in advance you want to book because some of the more popular ones (like Kleinfeld in NYC) tend to be booked out for at least a couple of weeks. Most offer a one hour appointment, and some even bar you from coming back for a second appointment.
Wedding dress shopping should be an experience; something you remember for the rest of your life! It shouldn't be a stressful or unpleasant hour. Again, The Knot is a great place to read salon reviews written by real brides! You can search for salons in your city, check out their star ratings, and read about other people's experiences. Whether they felt rushed, pressured into spending more than they wanted, comfortable and well taken care of, you name it.
Now, I do tend to take bad reviews with a grain of salt; you know, only one side of the story. But if I see that 8/10 brides had very similar things to say about a salon, I may reconsider looking there. This is especially due to the fact that salons also tend to handle dress alterations, and you may not want to risk leaving this investment piece in the hands of a poor service. Time is valuable, and you don't want to waste it.
Small factor, but do keep in mind that some salons have a limit for party guests. A lot people like to bring all of their bridesmaids and members of their family on their dress hunt, while others keep it intimate with just a few. One salon that I looked at had a 2 guest cap. So, keep an eye out if you see yourself bringing a larger group.
I am looking at 3 salons over the course of 3 days; maybe more if I really have to, but I am feeling confident in my choices after hours and hours of research. I am on a bit of a tight schedule so I have to cram it all up into a short period of time. I also live abroad, so my options are quite limited. If you have more flexibility, I wouldn't recommend rushing! Remember, this is supposed to be an enjoyable experience!
Happy shopping and congrats on your engagement!
Note: I intentionally chose pictures of dresses that are NOT similar to the ones I am looking at in the event that my fiance makes it through this post. Not trying to give him any ideas ;) Sorry Charlie!