A SIMPLIFIED GUIDE TO DRESS SHOPPING.
By Kristen Wagner
The perfect wedding dress is a fantasy that many women take with them through multiple life stages – from playtime as a little girl, to first love and first heartbreak, and eventually engagement. The dream of the perfect dress is closely tied to the dream of one day finding Mr. Right.
But when the time comes to make the fantasy a reality, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed at the choices available. Surprisingly, “white” comes in a plethora of shades, and cuts and styles are as plentiful as toasters at a gift opening.
Fortunately there are trained professionals like Chelsey Hebert to help brides-to-be navigate the tulle and satin jungle. As Bridal Consultant and Assistant Manager of Kelowna’s Bliss Bridal, Chelsey brings years of experience in the wedding industry to the dressing room.
There are no iron-clad rules when it comes to buying your wedding dress, but Chelsey offers these five guidelines to help brides ensure their dress shopping goes as smoothly as a well-rehearsed ceremony.
1. GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME.
In the immortal words of Elvis Presley, “Wise men say only fools rush in,” and it’s an adage that applies to dress shopping. Chelsey recommends that brides begin looking for a dress about a year before the wedding date, and order no later than eight months prior.
Once the gown is ordered, it will take four to six months to arrive. On top of that, you need to schedule about two months for alterations. “Gowns are cut to order and aren’t usually in stock,” says Chelsey. “When you choose a gown, they actually make it for you.” While this practice guarantees the best fit and look, it is very time consuming. Fortunately, Bliss also has a selection of floor model gowns available for brides who don’t have time to order a gown.
Bliss books initial bridal consultations that are two hours long. This gives brides time to browse, as well as discuss what they want with the bridal consultant. Follow-up appointments are one hour long.
Ultimately, the shopping process can take as little or as much time as the bride is willing to invest. “I’ve had brides buy their gown the very first time, a half hour in, and I’ve had brides come in for five appointments,” says Chelsey. “I’ve watched girls make themselves go a little bit crazy, trying on too many dresses.”
2. HAVE YOUR LOGISTICS LAID OUT: KNOW YOUR DATE, YOUR VENUE AND YOUR BUDGET.
“If you have a date selected and a venue it’s really helpful for your overall vision for your wedding,” says Chelsey. “Where you’re getting married – from a ski hill to a beach to a church – changes what kind of gown you’ll be wearing.”
Venue and season may be closely linked, so it’s important to have both figured out before you buy your dress. “If you’re getting married at a beach you’re not going to want something heavy that you’ll be sweating in and dragging through the sand – you want something light,” Chelsey suggests. “If you’re having a winter wedding you might want to do satin with lots of beading.”
Knowing your date is also helpful to ensure you budget enough time for gown delivery and alterations. And speaking of budgeting – make sure you have a firm grasp on that, too. There are few things less romantic than discussions about money, but it’s important to establish a price range before you start shopping—especially if someone other than the bride will be paying for the dress.
3. COME EQUIPPED WITH A FANTASY.
There are many ways to look gorgeous on your wedding day, and each bride should know what particular brand of beautiful she’s looking for. Have a general idea of how you want to look before coming in for a consultation, and bring a few pictures of gowns you like. From classic ballgown to bohemian to plunging-neckline sexy, “There are so many different styles and looks when it comes to bridal,” Chelsey says.
To get a sense of what you’re looking for, leaf through bridal magazines or look online before scheduling a consultation. And of course, always keep your venue in mind.
4. DON’T GO IT ALONE.
Bridesmaids were created for a very good reason: to help stressed-out brides stay sane. So on the day of your consultation, use your bridesmaids as they were intended to be used, or bring along another source of support and second opinions.
But keep it exclusive. Bliss’ biggest bridal room has five seats, and Chelsey recommends bringing along an entourage of no more than three or four.
Regardless of how many people you bring, make sure they are people whose opinions you trust, and who have your best interests at heart. “I have seen some horrible experiences where girls have had friends or family members who have not been supportive of them,” says Chelsey. “I always joke and say I’m also a family counselor, and sometimes a punching bag.”
5. LISTEN TO YOUR CONSULTANT.
If the racks of white gowns are the jungle, then your bridal consultant is leading the safari. While it’s important to have an idea of what you’re looking for, a consultant can help with ideas and point you in directions you may never have thought to go on your own.
“It’s good to come in with an open mind,” Chelsey says. “I have so many brides come in who say they want a mermaid gown, or a ball gown, and they leave with the opposite.”
She recommends bringing in a few photos of gowns that appeal to you. Sometimes a similar dress is available in the store. Other times, the photos just help the consultant get an idea of the shape, style or fabric the bride is looking for.
In short, if your consultant recommends trying a gown on, you should probably try it on. “We have so many gowns that don’t have hanger appeal but look beautiful on a body,” Chelsey says. “As consultants, we know the shapes of the gowns, how they fit, where they’re tight and where they’re loose.” Without the help of a consultant, you may pass right by your dream gown without looking twice.
Consultants also help brides style their weddings—picking out colours and styles for bridesmaid dresses, headpieces, veils and jewelry. Before coming to Bliss, Chelsey spent several years as a wedding planner, and that experience helps her see how the bride’s look will fit in with the rest of her wedding.
A big glass of wine isn’t the only tool that will help reduce dress-induced stress—although it certainly does help. A good idea of what you’re looking for combined with an open mind and willingness to experiment will help ensure you go home happy.
“I usually know when a bride finds her dress before she does, by facial expressions and body language,” Chelsey says. “They can’t stop smiling; they mention they don’t want to take it off, they mention they feel really special, they feel really beautiful in it; then of course, there’s the telltale crying.
“I love being there for that special moment with the bride and her family. “