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There are exclusive designer salons offering true couture customization and discount bridal warehouses that offer dresses off the rack, as well as many places in between. Determine where to go based on your budget and your preference of style.
There is no point in going to a salon that starts in the thousands when you have only afford hundreds. You will just be wasting both their time and your own, and fall into raising false hopes.
Many bridal salons require you to make an appointment to meet with your "bridal consultant" who is supposed to provide you with personal attention and to make certain you do not merely browse. It is advisable not to make this a solo trip. Bring along your mother if she’s picking up the tab for the dress, as she would want to approve what she pays for. If you are choosing the dress without parental guidance, then you can take a friend with good taste and enough honesty to tell you that “yes, that dress does make your hips look wide” when you ask her. As too many cooks spoil the broth, don’t take along too many women, as hearing so many different opinions can prove confusing.
When trying on a dress, you should have on the same foundation and heel height shoes as you intend to wear with your wedding gown. That way you can better judge contours and length. If you intend to switch from heels to flats, your measurements would be based on the heels, but be sure that you would not trip over your skirts in the lower shoes. Skip the lipstick and heavy mascara for this shopping trip, as you do not want to get makeup streaks on the white dresses you will be pulling over your head.
When you arrive, the salon saleswoman would ask you about what styles and fabrics you prefer and may inquire what price points you have in mind. In these cases, it is generally advisable not to name your uppermost limit if you plan to stay within budget. One reason is that the bridal consultant will often bring out styles that are already priced a few hundred dollars above the limit you tell her. The other is that the dress price is not the total, which will also have to include tax, alteration, and, possibly rush delivery charges, so even if it the dress seems to just make the budget; its final cost could break it.
Some bridal shops allow you free reign to peruse the sample dresses and ask to try on what you want; that is what you would encounter in the larger stores that have many styles and sizes in stock. But in a small, boutique style salon the dresses may be “closed stock,” that is, not accessible to you. In such shops, the saleswoman is completely in control of what you see and get to try on. If such is not your style, you can find a store that does not limit you in that way.
What to look for and beware of when trying on sample dresses
While it is good to have some direction so that you don’t try on every last style available, you should be somewhat open. So if you declared your preference to be a princess style, but the saleswoman suggests you try an elegant eggshell empire gown, take a few minutes to slip it on. You may find it more flattering on you than the silhouette you had envisioned. However, that does not mean you should let the saleswoman flatter you into buying a dress that you do not actually find appealing.
Some salespeople are trained to gush over the gowns, especially the expensive ones, to promote the sale. I've been told of a well-known one in New York where the salespeople sometimes snap pictures, telling the bride-to-be that they would like to have the picture of her in the gown on file. That stratagem make the buyer feel that the gown she is trying on makes her as beautiful as a model, which, obviously, would make her feel more inclined to buy it. In order to avoid such undue influence on yourself, you can insist you cannot put a deposit on the gown on the spot. You can put your money where your mouth is by not bringing any along. Also leave your checkbook, credit card, and ATM card behind so that you can honestly say it is out of your power to put down that 50% non-refundable deposit on the spot.
Bear in mind that the sample dresses may not reflect the true size or the true shade of the dress you will receive. As sample dresses can be tried on so many times, they may stretch beyond the original size, which is why your usual size may feel roomy. That does not mean you could order a size smaller; you must use your actual measurements to determine the size you order, and it is safer to err on the larger side than the smaller. Also due to so many prospective brides putting on the sample gown, its color may change. A dress that started out pure white may have taken on a shade more suggestive of cream due to wear. So be sure to ask for a clean swatch of the fabric to better judge the color.
When you try on the dress, you should try a few more movements than a single twirl in front of the mirror. You want to be sure the dress allows you not only to stand but to sit, walk, and dance. While you may love the sophisticated silhouette of a column dress, you may find it does not allow you the freedom of movement you need to really kick up your heels at your wedding celebration.
Checking for quality construction
While many gowns you will find are beautiful, and you may be happy with how they look on you, there is more to your selection than trying on the gown for fit. You want to be sure it will hold up for the hours of pictures before the wedding and the hours of dancing afterwards. And you don’t want to get up at your wedding to find that the back of the dress is all wrinkled. To check if the fabric wrinkles too easily, scrunch some in your hand to see if it returns to smoothness. After all, you don’t want to carry a steamer for a touch up before your walk down the aisle In addition to looking at the fabric resilience, check for quality construction.
In a better made dress, the seams are well sewn, so that no threads are visible. The inside should be completely lined with finished seams. The lining should not be so heavy that it impedes the drape of the gown, while it should not be so light to let points of construction or what you wear beneath show through. Good fabric should not feel flimsy or scratchy where it touches your skin. The hem would be sewn in herringbone stitch, rather than a simple straight stitch that is more easily ripped should you catch your heel in it. On a cheaper dress, beads are attached with glue, which may disintegrate in cleaning or cause discoloration over time. It takes more work to sew on pearls and beads, which is why that is another mark of quality. One of the drawbacks of a dress decorated with cheap trimmings is that it will not stand up to a cleaning. Either the glue or the beads will disintegrate, and your drycleaner will not be liable. That is why the dress may have a care label that warns not to dry clean. But if the care label indicates that it is neither safe to wash nor to dry clean, then it will not be of use to anyone after it is worn, for it will have to remain dirty.
Check the fastenings. A long row of tiny buttons down the back is the classic closure for a wedding. The buttons should extend past the waist down to the hip so that you have enough of an opening to get the dress on and off. You would also need them at the wrists of the sleeves if they are very fitted. The loops should hold the buttons in firmly so that they don’t open while you dance. If the dress zips up the back, the zipper should extend as far as the buttons would and there should not be any loose threads or puckering around the zipper. Should you have the option, it may make life easier for you to have a false panel of buttons over the zippered fastening to get the elegant look of the buttons with the ease of zippered closure.
While cheap construction often goes with a cheap price, it not always true that you’ll get a better dress if it costs you more. A poorly constructed dress may simply be overpriced, and a very fine one may be very reasonable, especially if you find one you like marked down at a sample sale. Also the fabric is a big factor in the cost. The many yards needed to construct a ball gown in a fine silk cost far more than the equivalent in polyester. And while silk, with its luxuriously smooth feel and breathable quality, seems to be the better choice at first blush, there is more to consider. Unless it is treated in some way to make it washable, silk can be damaged by water. What that means for you is that should something spill on your silk dress during the wedding, you cannot use stain-remover on it without leaving a mark. On the other hand, a stain on a polyester gown may be removed with a baby wipe or a dabbed away with some water. So take all the factors into consideration: your budget, construction quality, the shade that flatters your complexion, a cut that suits you, and your comfort in the dress. After all you are going to be wearing it for quite a few hours, so you do not want something that makes you feel squeezed, squished, or scratchy.
Placing the Order
So let’s say you found your dream dress to be within your budget at a bridal salon. Unless you are shopping in a store like David’s Bridal, you do not generally walk out with the dress you tried on. You place an order for it in your size. Before you slap down your deposit, make sure that the dress will be ready in time for your wedding. Many salons call for dresses to be ordered as much as 6 months in advance. If your wedding is just 3 months away, that won’t do you any good. While there are rush services available for additional fees, you have to be 100% certain that your dress will be ready in time and have that guarantee in writing with the understanding that time is of the essence.
Bridal shops that solicit the business of frum client are used to having only a month or two to complete a dress order. Kleinfeld's of New York, for example, is really a general bridal salon with the usual line of strapless and sleeveless gowns availalble. However, they employ a rep specifically for the Orthodox Jewish women who need a gown with more modest coverage and to be ready more quickly. Then there are dozens of bridal gown shops om Brooklyn, Monsey, and in New Jersey that only carry the more modest line of gowns for sale or rent for the bride who dresses according to religious standards of modesty and whose engagement may be as short as 6 weeks.
If you are 100% certain the gown will be ready in time (which should be a full two weeks before the wedding to allow for alterations that are almost inevitable even on a special order dress) and you went over the cost of the order, any rush charges, and the alterations to be sure you won't have a shock later, you can proceed with your order.
Why do the bridal salons say they need such a long time to produce an ordered dress? The fact is that, despite the prevailing high prices, most gowns are produced rather cheaply in Asian countries. The bridal manufacturer does not start on a gown the minute the order comes in to produce each piece one at a time; rather the gown is made as part of a batch. What happens is that the gown order will just wait until there are enough of the same size in to make it efficient to be worked on. So once there are about ten orders in for a particular style in the same size, the process will start. The 10 layers of fabrics are stacked and all cut together. Then the seams will be machine sewn. That is why the gowns are not, in fact, custom cut and sewn to your measurements. Consequently, even a gown that is supposedly made to order will likely require alterations upon arrival.
You do not order wedding gowns by the size you normally wear because these dresses are sized on an idiosyncratic scale. While you may normally wear an 8, you may be a 12 according to their sizing, so just ignore the usual numbers. The real numbers you have to pay attention to are your measurements. The store saleswoman should get your measurements with a vinyl measuring tape. Cloth tapes can stretch over time, so a vinyl one should prove more accurate.
The gown sizing will assume particular measurements for your bust, waist, and hips. Odds are very good that your own figure will not exactly match those proportions. So the rule is to order the size that corresponds to your largest measurement. In other words, if your waist matches their 6, your bust their 4, and your hips their 8, you have to get their 8. The reason for this is simple; it is far easier to take a dress in than to let it out. In fact, some dresses do not come with any allowance for letting out. Some brides even order a size larger to allow a bit of room just in case. So you do not order the size you wish to be but the biggest size you are. Do not bank on losing enough weight to warrant the smaller size; if needed, the dress can be taken in.
Don’t be concerned about the number on the label; bridal sizing is not a universal measure. Just think of it as a foreign currency, and not every country denomination will correspond exactly to the value of a dollar. As each bridal designer uses its own idiosyncratic system of measurements, a woman who may be, say a size 10 in standard street clothes, could be an 8 of one designer and a 14 of another, while falling out to the numbers in between for other lines of wedding dresses.
Get it in writing
The size of the dress, as determined by your measurements, is one of the things that should be clearly identified on a contract or written record of your order. Your contract should also identify the dress by manufacturer, style number, and color. Be sure you have seen the dress or another one in the actual color you order; don’t just assume everyone has the same shade in mind for “cream.” Any modifications you request, whether for the neckline, sleeves, or trim should be clearly noted, as should the promised delivery date. The cost for alterations, delivery, and any other charges (like “steaming”) should appear, along with the amount of the deposit paid and the schedule for paying the balance. The store’s cancellation and refund policy should also be in writing. Give your store not just your home number, but the numbers at which you can be reached during the day and evening. You don’t want to hear after the fact that you could not be reached when the store had a vital question.
Bridal Buyer Beware: missing labels and hidden charges
The Mystery of the Missing Label
Labels ripped out of the bridal gowns you see in a bridal shop should raise a red flag. This is, in fact, illegal because of the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act. This federal law requires all clothing to be labeled to show the country of origin, fiber content, and the name or registered number of the manufacturer. The only way it is legal to remove the manufacturer labels is if the shop substitutes its own with the store name and the other information required. If the replacement only provides the store name, that store is not in compliance with the law.
Why would a store break the law to withhold information from the consumer? That is the key questions, and the answers are not very reassuring. The salon may not want a bride to know exactly which dress you are trying on in order to prevent her from finding the identical dress elsewhere for a lower price. The removal of the label could also be obscuring the fact that the dress is not, in fact, the designer dress the saleswoman presents it as. It may just be a copy of the designer style. What’s the difference to you? The comparable price is the difference, for an original Vera Wang may sell for $6500, but a gown that is made in imitation of the design would fetch far less.
The store may not be hiding information about the designer but about the fabric, aiming to pass off a gown made of a silky polyester blend as genuine silk. Given the advances in synthetics, someone not accustomed to various fabrics may not be able to tell the difference based on appearance or feel. Yet there is, certainly, a difference when it comes to calculating the component cost of the dress. So you have a right to know which fabric is used in its construction, and you also have to know it in order to avoid damaging the dress when cleaning it. (see What-to-expect-when-shopping-for-a-bridal-gown-part-3) You also have the right to know where the dress was manufactured if you have views on labor conditions or the quality standards in certain countries. You cannot simply take the saleswoman’s word for where the dress’s country of origin; its label should say so.
These include fees for the privilege of trying on gowns or for not showing up for an appointment to do so, special handling charges, and payment fees. You see, while everyone wants bridal business, they do not like spending a lot of time with brides trying on many different styles to figure out just what they want, and then, possibly, buying elsewhere. The salon solution? Charge the customer a fee for trying on. The amount, which could be as much as $100, would be applied to a purchase but not refunded if the bride chooses not to buy from the salon. Just be clear on whether a fee will be incurred for your appointment to try on so that you don’t have an unpleasant surprise. Also be wary of offering your credit card information when making the appointment, as you may be charged for not showing up as much as you would have been for coming in. I've heard of some well-known bridal salons that do charge no-shows. It is understandable why they do so, but you still want should be told in advance to know what you are getting into.
Other fees that get tacked on include shipping and handling on your orders. A $10 to $50 charge can be added on to each item ordered. Such charges may be standard for shipping, but here the items are not, in fact, delivered to your home. They are delivered to the store from which you will have to pick it up. So you are paying not for your own convenience, but that of the store. Do not be taken in by claims that the charge is for insurance against damage. In truth, retailers are supposed to deliver undamaged goods; they are, after all, supposed to be new and made to your order’s specifications. If the item is damaged by the carrier service, the retailer is the one responsible to take care of it.
As a special order bridal gowns can easily run you four figures, it is common to pay a deposit of about half and then the remaining half upon delivery of the finished product. If that is the agreement you have, be sure that there are no surcharges added on for the convenience of breaking up the payments this way. Also beware of an extra charge for paying with your credit card. It’s true that credit cards do charge retailers a small percentage, but that does not mean the cost is to be passed on to the customer. In fact, some states have laws against charges for credit card use. A store that claims to accept credit card payments should do so for the same price offered to cash customers.
If the pressure of placing an order for a gown in a bridal salon is not to your taste or budget, you could also seek out a gown in a large bridal establishment. Such a store differs from a salon in both size and range of products offered. You would not see only gowns for the bride, but also for bridesmaids, flower girls, and even tuxedos for men, not to mention a whole lot of wedding paraphernalia that is not necessarily relevant to you, from limousine services to customized favors. The gowns in these stores are usually not as high priced as those in salons, though there would be some overlap from their high end to a salon low end.
Alterations at the store
Here's a piece of advice that a reader named Diane sent to my query on wedding tips: s “Often, on the last pickup, they have the gown all nicely wrapped up, even stuffed to keep its shape,” indicating the dress should stay under wraps until the wedding. But you really don’t want to just take someone else’s word for it that everything is set perfectly only to discover otherwise at the wedding hall. Mistakes do happen. So you should inform them from the start that you will not take a gown home until you have tried it on after all alterations are done. Diane recalls that her daughter’s gown was a little tight in the waist; the seamstress assured her it would be fixed and it was all wrapped and ready when they picked it up. Only when it was unwrapped and put on at the hall did they discover that it was let out far too much and did not fit properly at all. Take the time for one more try one before walking out with the dress.
Buying and altering
Odds are that you will not find a gown ready to wear with the modest sleeves and neckline required for those who want their dress to be tznius , but if you find one with a skirt you love at a reasonable price, it may pay to buy it and have the top altered. If all you need are sleeves (see Finding-a-gown-style-that-is-right-for-you they can be added quite easily, though altering a neckline can make the dress look obviously filled in. Instead of trying to build up a strapless style, just have a whole new top made. The seamstress can either incorporate the beading and lace, use a similar trim, or even make a plain top to complement a highly detailed skirt. That way the seamstress is not forced to work around the existing shape of the strapless dress, which is constructed differently than the top of a dress with a high neckline and sleeves. The same holds true for bridal gowns in department stores. A friend of mine got her gown from Macy’s. She said that though it needed alterations to render the top part tznius, it still cost her less complete than a rental at a place that carries the modest styles for frum women would have. (See Beware of deceptive deals)
More Gown Options
You can get the style and quality you want by hiring a skilled seamstress and purchasing the fabrics and trims. This is also an option to come up with a more affordable version of a dress you love by substituting less expensive fabrics for its silk and handmade lace. If you go that route, you must be completely certain that the seamstress can have the dress done in good time for your wedding. Give yourself a bit of a window by requiring the dress to be done 2-3 weeks earlier. Do not plan to save money by makingthe dress yourself unless you are very skilled at sewing. Working with slippery silks and fragile trims is not a project for a novice. You could end up ruining $350 worth of materials with nothing to show for it but lost time and money. Expect to pay a minimum of $250 for the sewing alone. The more elaborate the dress, the more it will cost you in materials and labor. So while the final product should be exactly what you want, it is not necessarily the most economical option.
You will find far lower prices on gowns you see in salons from internet sites. However, just as for salons, these dresses will have to be ordered months in advance, and you may not have that much time to spare. Also there is some risk inherent in ordering a dress you have not tried on. But if you recognize it as one you had tried on and were considering, you can offer the retail store the opportunity to match the internet price. They may just agree to it in order to secure the sale. But going to a bridal shop just to try on gowns with an intent to order elsewhere is definitely gneivas da’as [deliberately misleading] of the salespeople in the shop.
Bagging a bargain
It is possible to find relative bridal bargains at sample sales or special offerings from designers. You can get a gown that originally cost $1500 for less than $700 by buying one that a bride wishes to sell once she realizes she is not going to use it again. Many “worn once” gowns for brides, mothers, and sisters are offered for sale in classified ads and on community email lists, as well as in consignment shops and on e-bay.
Free or just the cost of a cleaning and alternations