1. Throw away the budget rule.If you watch Say Yes to the Dress on TLC, you'll always hear managers Joan or Nicole (from Kleinfeld) or Lori (from Bridals by Lori) crow about how brides can't try on dresses outside of their price range. The show always follows these asides with some silly bride who doesn't understand the concept of shopping (you don't buy everything you like). Perhaps the Say Yes rule makes sense for some brides, but if you tend to be mature and rational, I don't think you need to shun high end gowns.
I personally think that it's smart to start wedding gown shopping by trying on high quality dresses. Becoming familiar with better fabrics and good construction will help you separate the wheat from the chaff when you look at dresses in your price range. Do a little research and you'll start to see the different between the polyester (sorry, I mean "synthetic satin") dress made in Chaozhou, China (about half a million evening and wedding gowns are made in that one city each year) and the silk gown made in New York City.
2. Shop during the week and shop aloneMy first wedding gown shopping excursion was on a Saturday, with friends. We went to the kind of shop where you needed an entourage. The dresses were on the sales floor and the staff was there to ferry dresses from the rack to the dressing room (not to actually pull dresses). The dresses at the store weren't the best quality. Some were nice, but none felt special.
After that experience, I shopped during the week, at better shops, and I always went alone. During the week, you can work with a consultant without distraction and there probably isn't another bride coming in behind you. I was never rushed. The times when I expressed worry about taking too much of the consultant's time, I was always told that there was no hurry.
Another bonus to shopping solo: no one expects you to buy anything. At the three "better" bridal salons I visited, the consultants always asked if I wanted them to take pictures with my camera phone to show to my mother. They always sent me home with their card with the names and prices of the 2-3 gowns I liked best written on the back.
3. If you are on a budget, you need to be online
The brides I see on wedding message boards and blogs that are on a budget seem to flock to "big box" bridal super stores (I'm sure you know what stores I'm referencing). Oddly, they're savvy enough to be seeking information from other brides online, but aren't savvy enough to know that they can use the web to get high end gowns for modest prices. Being on a budget doesn't mean you have to wear polyester!
Regular readers know that my dress shopping ended with a big surprise, but if I was still in the market for a wedding gown, I would be shopping for a sample from one of these stores (some are online only, some also operate brick and mortar stores):
Church Street Bridal (online and b&m, proceeds go to charity, gets donations from Kleinfeld)
Vows (online and b&m)
Your Dream Dress
Le Dress Boutique (online and b&m)
Encore Bridal (online and b&m)
Fabulous Frocks of Charleston (online and b&m)
White Chicago (closing soon!)
I would also keep an eye on the websites where brides sell their own dresses. Some sell new dresses about which they've changed their minds and other sell the dress they wore on their big day.
Pre-owned Wedding Dresses
What advice do you have for brides as they shop for wedding gowns? Do you totally disagree with me? If you aren't married, did I change how you might shop for gowns in the future?