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shopping for your gown

Your wedding dress will quite possibly be the most important, and expensive, gown you'll ever own. Which means you'll want to ask a bunch of questions before you make an actual purchase.

about the store, ask:

  • Do I need to make an appointment?
  • What are the store's hours?
  • Which designers does the store carry?
  • Does the store carry dresses in my price and size range?
  • Will the store have any trunk shows soon? (At a trunk show, the designer and/or a company representative is on hand to show their entire line -- not just styles the store carries.)
  • Can I look through sample dresses myself, or am I restricted to gowns the salesperson selects for me?
  • Does the store provide shoes and undergarments, or should I bring my own?
  • If I like a dress the store doesn't carry, will it order a sample for me to try on?

about the dress, ask:

  • Who designed the dress?
  • Can this dress be ordered with different sleeves, neckline, or train length?
  • How long will it take for the dress to arrive?
  • Can the order be rushed if necessary?
  • Will the dress I order look exactly like this one?
  • Can I see a fabric sample?
  • Does the dress have a matching headpiece?
  • Does the store carry headpieces?
  • If not, can the store suggest other places to shop for headpieces?
  • How much do dress alterations cost?
  • What alterations can be done?
  • Can I get a written estimate for alterations?
  • If I decide when the dress arrives that I want to change the sleeve or train length, how much will it cost?
  • Can alterations be made to the headpiece?
  • Can I borrow the dress for pre-wedding pictures and return it to the store for pressing so it looks fresh for the wedding?
  • If my bridesmaids order their dresses through this store, do I (or they) receive a discount? Free alterations?
  • What are the cancellation/refund policies?
  • How much is the deposit?
  • When is the final balance due?
  • Which credit cards does the store accept?
  • Does the contract (receipt) list the designer's name, size, price, color, fabric, manufacturer, style number, and delivery date?
  • Will I continue to work with the same salesperson when I come in for fittings?

getting ready, dress

Shopping 101: Getting Started


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You've got the ring on your finger, now you're ready to go gown shopping. Piece of cake, right? Here's what to know before you go.

Photo: Teale Photography

If you're like many brides, you've been envisioning what you'd wear to your wedding since before you bought your first bra. Then again, maybe you've never thought about it at all. Either way, a lot of pressure can accompany dress shopping. After all, the gown you put on for your walk down the aisle will be the true centerpiece of the day. This one article of clothing is probably going to be the most expensive and talked about thing you'll ever wear.

To assist you on the quest for your dream dress, we've got answers to your most pressing questions. When should you start? Where should you go? And what can you expect once you get there? For the lowdown, read on!

When to Begin

Two words: shop early. Nine to 12 months before your wedding is ideal since you'll need about six months to spare for fittings. Why? Unless you buy a ready-to-wear dress or a sample gown, wedding dresses are custom-made. And once your dress arrives, it's going to have to be altered -- usually several times -- until it fits you perfectly. That said, many companies can turn a dress around more quickly if need be. But if you have less than six months, start shopping right away and try to be flexible about your dress choice. Here's a tip: Avoid weekends and evenings if you can swing it. Bridal salons get insanely busy -- especially if you're marrying in a popular wedding month. If you can take time off during the week to shop, you'll get more of the salesperson's time and attention.

knot note

Don't be shy when it come to asking questions. You're making an important investment. If you don't get the "right" answers (or don't feel comfortable for any other reason), you may want to take your business elsewhere.

Where to Go

The most popular place to shop is the bridal salon, known for its personal service, tranquil setting, and wide selection of gowns from a variety of designers. You'll find boutiquey salons in upscale urban shopping districts, suburban downtown areas, strip malls, full-scale malls, and even inside some of the larger department stores. Check online under "Bridal Shops" or "Wedding Services" to see what's available in your area. Word-of-mouth recommendations are also very helpful. Find out which shops have given excellent service to past brides you may know, then call to make appointments. Try to limit your shopping to three or four salons, and bring along a small notebook to jot down the details on the gowns you like.

Research which salons are most appropriate for your budget. While the average salon carries lines in the under-$1000 category, there are others in which the dresses start at $3000. Save yourself -- and the salons -- time by asking before you make an appointment.

Besides the day-to-day business of selling dresses, salons also hold special wedding-related events like trunk shows and sample sales. At a trunk show, a specific designer (or representative of a bridal manufacturer) brings his or her latest dress line for brides-to-be to try on during a special in-store gathering. The advantage? You get to see every dress in the line, not just the styles selected by the store. And you may even get the small thrill of chatting with the designer in person -- or better yet, having he or she advise you on your look.

At a sample sale, the dresses used in the salon for brides to try on are put up for sale. Some stores have sample dresses in an array of sizes, though the typical sample sizes are 6, 8, and 10. Keep in mind that wedding dresses run small, samples are likely to fit you if your regular dress size is a 2, 4 or 6. The dresses may not be super clean, but since they're sharply discounted, you can put some of your savings toward the cleaning bill.

If you're on a strict budget and find that the gowns in a bridal salon are out of your league, you might want to try your luck at a bridal outlet. These outlets generally stock older designs from past seasons, or gowns designed by lesser-known companies whose names you may not recognize. Shopping here can save you money, but keep in mind you may have to sort through many dud dresses as part of the process. You might not find what you're looking for, and prices aren't always that low.

Another money-saving option is to rent a gown, especially if you're not too sentimental and the logic of buying something to wear for just one night is lost on you. Some clothing rental shops have wedding dresses in stock or you may be able to find a store near you that rents only wedding gowns (check online under "Clothing Rental"). On the downside, you won�t find the selection you'd find at a bridal salon. And the styles may not be the most up to date.


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