When I bought my wedding dress, I knew I had broken a big rule of wedding dress shopping.
Even though the consultants at David’s Bridal had warned me to do otherwise, I left with a dress that was two sizes too small.
In the end, it worked out in my favor: I lost 20 pounds and was thrilled about how I looked in my dress on my wedding day.
Still, I can’t help but laugh when I look back on the dress shopping experience. I was 19 years old, newly engaged, and completely clueless when it came to the “dos” and “don’ts” of wedding dress shopping.
Half an hour into my fitting, my consultants were visibly annoyed with my lack of dress knowledge, the fact that I had done zero research, and especially that I was wearing the “wrong” undergarments. (Apparently a sports bra is not the ideal choice for a sweetheart neckline. Who knew?)
Despite all that, I had to be one of the easier brides in the store. I tried on four dresses and was was on my way with my chosen gown in under 60 minutes.
Still, a wedding dress just might be the biggest clothing purchase of a woman’s life, and there are a lot of dress-shopping expectations most brides-to-be don’t know or understand.
Perhaps one of the biggest misunderstandings out there is that working in bridal sales is a magical experience in which fairytale moments take place every day.
But—you guessed it—that isn’t the reality.
In fact, bridal store employee and Reddit user quesaritoqueen recently started an Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread to set the record straight. Like many Reddit users, we were intrigued, so we dug into the industry to verify her claims.
Here’s the best advice we got from insiders.
1. Leave your bridesmaids at home.
For some brides, shopping for a wedding dress quickly transforms into in all-day event, complete with lattes, a restaurant reservation, and the attendance of every member of their wedding party.
Although it might be common practice to bring your bridesmaids along for a fitting, Sharon Miller, owner of the Gown Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri, suggests brides-to-be leave the crowd behind.
“You should limit the number of people that you bring to your appointment,” she says. “You want to bring close knit family members and maybe a close friend if you really value their opinion and know they’re going to give you the very best advice.”
Outside of those few people, it’s probably best to meet for lunch with the rest of the crew after the shopping is through, since Miller revealed that there simply isn’t enough room for a large crowd to fit politely in most bridal salons.
2. Don’t just show up.
Here’s a dress shopping faux pas newly engaged me certainly committed: showing up at a bridal store and expecting to be seen the same day.
According to Miller, the best approach is the opposite of that: Make your appointment as far out as possible, especially if you are dealing with schedule limitations.
“Once you are engaged, quickly make your appointment with your bridal salon,” she advises. “A lot of bridal salons fill up really fast for the weekends and if there is a certain day you want to shop, say if a close family member lives out of town, it is good to make your appointment far in advance so you can be sure you can shop on the day and time that is convenient for you. A lot the time, stores can’t get you in at the last minute.”
3. Have a vision in mind…
A stylist’s job is to help you find a dress that matches your overall vision for your wedding, according to Miller. She suggests that brides come to the appointment prepared.
Do some research and make a few decisions in advance. Be prepared to discuss your venue (or the ones you have in mind) and other specific design elements you love, whether those are colors, accessories, or the shoes you’re dead set on wearing down the aisle.
“When you sit down with your consultant at your appointment, the consultant is going to ask you questions about fabrics that you like or necklines that you love. Do you like an interesting back? Beading or no beading? All of the information that you can share with the consultant at your first meeting is going to help that consultant to be able to pull the gowns that you love,” she advises.
4. …but don’t be stubborn.
Knowing what you want before your appointment will give your stylist a lot of information to work with when they start pulling gowns, but don’t have your heart so set on a style that you aren’t willing to consider your stylist’s advice.
“Brides should always try on multiple styles of dresses,” said Shannon Whitney Anson, founder and principal planner at Destination Upstate. “Even if they love the look of a mermaid dress, they may find out that a mermaid dress just isn’t flattering for their figure. Being open minded to try on a few dresses that might not look as good on the hanger may turn out to be the perfect dress on their body.”
5. Know when to say no.
If you are going to avoid any one mistake while being fitted for a dress, make it this one.
Don’t try on dresses you can’t afford!
Many bridal shops have gowns intended for a broad spectrum of budgets and it is important that you let your stylists know up front what you can and can’t spend, Miller shares.
“A lot of salons might have price points from $1,500 and up. If you have a $2,000 budget, you want to let that consultant know that so she’s not pulling gowns and you fall in love with something that’s not in your budget and become unhappy because you can’t have that gown.”
So what about the claims that bridal store employees are trying to coerce you to break your budget? That may depend on where you’re shopping.
No store openly advertises a policy of pushing brides beyond their budgets, but remember, the power to stay out of an overpriced dress (No—you shouldn’t even try it on!) is in your hands.
6. Realize you’re not the only one feeling the pressure.
As a bride-to-be, you’re feeling pressured to find the perfect dress, stay within a reasonable budget, and dodge the awkwardness of winding up in something that makes you feel, well, awkward.
On the other side of the equation is your consultant, who, depending on the setting, might be working under an oppressive commission structure that has them more stressed out about their next paycheck than charmed by your vision for the big day.
The fact of the matter is, some big bridal chains really do operate under intense commission models.
In her AMA thread, quesaritoqueen shared that the pressure to make a sale, no matter what it took, was a common expectation from management.
According to another former bridal chain employee, consultants at the store where she worked are paid minimum wage plus a 20 percent commission on all their sales. However, they don’t make a penny in commission unless they have met a sales goal of $10,000 within their two-week pay period.
Since the average dress at at this particular insider’s chain cost $500, a consultant would have to sell at least 20 dresses every two weeks to make more than minimum wage.
“If you don’t hit that threshold, you get zero commission. ZERO,” the former employee explained. “You could make $9,999 in sales, but you would only get paid your minimum wage for the hours you had put in. The ‘best’ part is that if you didn’t hit your target, you would get a warning or reprimand. If you got three of those in a row—so after six weeks of not hitting your target—you could lose your job!”
The result of this type of high-pressure environment is lower quality customer service for brides-to-be and maybe the feeling that you can’t trust your consultant’s seemingly helpful intentions.
This former employee confesses that ultimately brides with higher budgets got the most attention from sales consultants.
“It is true what others said on [the Reddit] thread, that a lot of consultants will mentally check out once they find out a bride has a super low budget, especially if they have a more promising appointment going on across the store.”
7. Shopping local might pay off.
While the thought of getting inferior treatment due to your budget is disconcerting, brides should know that not everyone in the industry is thinking dollar signs as they zip you up, especially not in smaller boutiques.
Vanessa Diaz, who spent her college years working in bridal sales and now works as a creative consultant, says that her experience in an independently owned bridal store was much more positive.
“I didn’t work for [a] corporate store, so I am not able to speak on their experiences,” she says. “Of course, all stores want you to sell. You make commission off it in many cases. Since I was an independently owned store…I was able to make the customer experience less sales driven.”
Some stores, like the Gown Gallery, which is independently owned and has a reputation for exceptional customer service, eschew the commission-based model altogether.
“We don’t work on commission,” Miller tells HealthyWay. “We never have. I had one bride say, ‘I knew this was what wedding shopping was supposed to be like.’ That’s what counts to us.”
Takeaway: Between researching silhouettes and booking your first appointment, do a little digging to find out which salon in your area has the most personable staff and a business model that will support your shopping experience.
8. Pay attention to the details.
If staying within budget is a big concern, it is a good idea to pay attention to what you’re spending after you’ve found your dress. According to another former bridal chain employee, consultants weren’t explicitly told to push brides to break their budget on a dress, but they were expected to upsell once dress selection had taken place.
“We were pressured more to sell the ‘extras’ in addition to the dress, stuff that adds up fast… A sash, a veil, a tiara, shoes, all that jazz.”
9. Don’t put it off.
If you are waiting to shop for your wedding dress, maybe until you lose a few more pounds or have nailed down your venue, you could be putting yourself at risk for a wedding dress emergency. A few months might feel like all the time in the world to order your dress and have alterations made, but the truth is, shopping for a wedding gown is completely different from typical clothing shopping.
“The biggest thing women do not realize is they need to order their dress six months in advance,” says Diaz. “Many manufacturers have them made abroad to your measurements and some will have more custom measurements than others.”
She also suggested that once you have ordered your dress you make your first fitting appointment for two months before your wedding day, just in case you need more than one fitting.
Your final fitting should be roughly a month before your wedding day.
10. Consider staying home on Saturdays.
Brides who are looking for a one-on-one experience with a consultant should consider making a weekday appointment, since most bridal stores are swamped on Saturdays. Even independent store Gown Gallery is typically completely booked on weekends.
“When I’ve had friends thinking about shopping there, I always tell them ‘Do not go on a Saturday,’ because the place is an absolute zoo,” shared a former bridal chain employee. “As a consultant I had three bridal appointments at the same time one Saturday because we were so busy and it was a nightmare for all of us—my three brides, their entourages, and me!”