Sunday, May 2, 2010

17 Ways to Keep Your Sanity When Shopping for Maids Dresses

 {Image via WEtv}

1.    Know the difference between the types of gown retailers.  There are many different places to purchase bridesmaid dresses, and the trick is knowing what you can expect from each type.  Always keep in mind that you get what you pay for.  Think of it in terms of how your purchase your everyday clothes.  If you shop a little boutique, you will pay a higher price, but you will (hopefully) get exceptional customer service, because they are a small business and their reputation is on the line.  If you shop at large chain retailers you might score a great deal but won’t get a whole lot of insight from sales personnel, and if something goes wrong they will be less likely to help you out.  Think about what is most important to you- either getting a great bargain or getting great customer service and go from there.  Buying online can be great too but is also tricky because you have even less of a chance of someone helping you if something is wrong.

2.    Research boutiques in a widespread area.  Just because there is a boutique five minutes away from your house, doesn’t mean it is the right one for you.  Research online for boutiques within a ten to twenty mile radius and find ones that fit they type of store you are looking to buy at.  Trust me, it is so worth it to travel a little farther away in order to get what you want and have a great experience!

3.    Always always always make appointments.  You will have a better overall experience when you make an appointment, rather than just walking in to a shop.  Even if you only call a few hours ahead of time, it will give the salon a chance to prepare for your visit.  When a salon knows you are coming, they will have a consultant and a fitting room waiting for you.

4.    Avoid weekends if possible.  For obvious reasons, weekends are the busiest days for bridal salons.  Even if you make an appointment ahead of time, your girls may still have to share the 3-way mirror with other brides and that can be frustrating.  Do yourself and your sanity a favor and try to go during the week when it’s way less chaotic and overwhelming.  Tuesdays are typically the slowest days of the week and many shops have one or two late nights during the week to accommodate the “after work crowd”. 

5.    Look at dresses ahead of time.  I can’t tell you how many brides I’ve worked with who came into their first appointment having zero idea as to what kind of dresses they wanted.  I’m not saying you need to come in knowing exactly what you want, but at least have some clue about what type of message you want to send.  Are you going for a modern, sophisticated vibe?  Something bright and summery?  Look through magazines and websites like The Knot and Brides and tear or print out pictures that catch your eye. 

6.    Know your girls’ budgets.  Hopefully your consultant will ask you what you’re looking to spend at the beginning of your appointment, but if they forget make sure you tell them.  The average bridesmaid dress costs between $180 and $200, but there are many options outside of that range as well.  Know that there is a difference between a $120 dress and one that costs $250, some being construction quality, fabric quality, embellishments, fit, length (longer style are typically more money because they require more fabric).  There are pros and cons to every price point and the trick is knowing what is most important to you.

7.    Don’t take everyone with you to look at styles the first time around.  Setting a bunch of girls loose in a bridal shop to can turn into chaos really quickly and become really overwhelming when they all fall in love with completely different dresses.  You’ll stay much more relaxed if you only take your maid of honor out looking the first time.  Once the two of you narrow down the choices to a few styles, then bring the rest of the girls back and get their opinions. 

8.    Don’t judge styles on the hanger.  Just because a gown looks amazing on the hanger doesn’t mean it will look amazing on your girls.  On the other hand, a gown that looks horrible on the hanger may look stunning on! Be bold in the choices you choose to have them try on, the worst that can happen is you find out what you don’t like (which is actually very beneficial anyway).  The key is to have them try on a variety of silhouettes (mermaid, a-line, sheath, a-line etc), necklines, and fabrics to pinpoint exactly what you like and dislike.

9.    Know what colors will work.  The other hardest part of maids dress shopping is choosing a color.  It is tough trying to find a color that a) looks good on every girl, b) fits with your wedding theme, and c) you actually like.  Some universally flattering colors are navy, eggplant, red, and rose.  Yellow and champagne are two of the hardest colors to wear, so you may want to reconsider and incorporate them into your flowers instead.

10. Know your girls different body types.  The biggest trick when picking a maids dress style is finding something that will flatter everyone.  Chances are, you don’t have a bridal party full of size 2’s, and therefore have your work cut out for you.  Typically, halters are flattering on most everyone because they provide support for busty girls and create the illusion of a fuller bust on those with not much there.   Strapless are a fine option too, as long as they are fitted correctly.  A-line styles are also a safe bet because they camouflage a multitude of sins, but be careful because a-lines that are too full can overwhelm short girls. 

11. Don’t worry if you have girls who live out of town.  If I had to guess, I’d say 80% of wedding parties have at least one girl who lives out of town.  The most important thing is don’t have them order their dress from a store near them.  Even though it seems more convenient, dresses that aren’t ordered together have the risk of coming from different dye lots, meaning the color of their dress could be different than the rest of your girls.  It is easy to have them order from the same shop as the rest of your girls.  Have them get measured by someone professional- a cleaners or another bridal shop will usually do it- and then have them call in their measurements and payment over the phone.  Once the dress comes in just ship it to them (it usually costs under $10), or sometimes the bridal shops will even ship them for you.

12. Be specific on the length of non-floor length dresses.  If you are going with a non-floor length style, make sure you specify to the girls where you want the length to hit when they go for alterations.  It will look funny if some girls have it above the knee (cocktail length), below the knee (tea length), and ankle length (ballet length), but this is a possibility when all you say is “I want them to be short”. 

13. Ask about financing options.  Most shops don’t require the full amount on the day you purchase.  They usually want half down and the rest when the dresses come in, but some will even work with you on a payment plan.

14. Ask about alterations.  They are almost never included and it is good to know ahead of time how much they will cost.  Most chain and large retailers charge a flat rate, meaning regardless of if you need just a hem or a complete overhaul it will cost you the same amount.  It is usually a much better deal if the seamstress charges for each alteration.  Typically most bridesmaids will need at least some alterations done to their dresses in order for it to fit correctly.  Plan on them spending between $15 to $100 for alterations, and take this into consideration when choosing a price point for the dresses.  Also, know that just because you purchase a dress somewhere doesn’t mean they have to be the ones who alter it.  Research seamstresses in your area and find out pricing.  However, it is very important to choose someone who knows what they are doing.  I’ve seen the disasters that occur when an inexperienced person gets a hold of a dress and it’s not pretty.

15. Ask about hidden fees.  Many times the price tag you see on the gown is not the price you will actually pay, especially if it seems oddly low.  Shops will try and sneak in charges such as shipping (to cover manufacturer to retailer shipping costs, usually around $20), storage fees, a fee to press your gown etc.  Always ask them to break down the final cost for you, and you may be able to save your girls some money.  

16. Don’t worry about the size.  No, your girls didn't gain 20 lbs. when they walked in the door of the bridal salon, maids dress sizes just run super small.  Typically, maids dresses will be at least 1 or 2 sizes bigger than what they normally wear, sometimes more depending on their proportions.  It is very important to order the correct size, even if they swear that they are going to lose those last 15 lbs by your wedding day.  Keep in mind that dresses can always be taken in (several sizes if necessary), so if they do lose the weight, it won’t be a problem.  What will be a problem, however, is if they insist on ordering the smaller size they hope to be and then the dress comes in and doesn't fit.  Dresses can always be made smaller but can rarely be made larger.  Don't let the number on the tag mess with their heads, just focus on how fabulous you are all going to look in a dresses that fit perfectly.

      17.Order early.  Dresses take up to 14 weeks to come in, so do yourself and your girls a 
           favor and order at least 5 months before you wedding.  Otherwise you may be 
           required to pay a rush fee, may not have time to have them altered, and wont have
           have time to fix any potential mistakes.

Have questions or other tips for maids dress shopping? Add them in the comments sections below!!  Good luck!


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