It gives me immense joy — and yes, even some trepidation — to think about my first wedding dress appointment in July (check back for the full recap!) At last, I will put on a veil and see the bride version of myself, fulfilling a secret fantasy I've had ever since I was a little girl. Hours of gown gallery and Pinterest browsing await so that i can narrow down my eye candy collection. (Being a BG editor actually makes shopping for a gown that much tougher, since I'm blessed with the "task" of looking through hundreds of new styles each season.)
But aside from the obvious preparations — inspiration clippings, wedding-worthy undergarments, a box of tissues for Mom — what should brides know before buying their gown? In the latest installment of our "10 Questions to Ask..." blog series, we got the scoop from Mara Urshel, the co-owner of Kleinfeld, and Cristina DeMarco, the vice president of Bridal Reflections.
1. How far in advance should I start shopping for a gown and when should I order it by?
"Start shopping nine to 12 months prior to your wedding date. Designer gowns should be ordered six to nine months in advance to ensure that there is enough time for delivery and alterations," said Mara Urshel.
2. Is the salon reputable? Do they have professional, knowledgeable consultants? What designers and styles do they carry?
Before you start booking appointments at bridal salons, check their business bureau rating, read online reviews and ask newlyweds where they got their dress and what their experience was like. It’s crucial to find out how many years they’ve been in business, especially in these unstable economic times.
Do they have experienced consultants that know the designers in the industry? "A good consultant should be knowledgeable in the areas of fabric, design detail, silhouettes and more…they will help you select a gown that will enhance your figure and flatter your strong points," said Cristina DeMarco.
She advises that the salon should also select complementary dresses for your reception venue. (A cathedral train has no place on a sandy beach ceremony, nor would a simple sheath fit in at a huge ballroom gala, although there's always exceptions.) That’s why it’s imperative to find out what kind of designers they carry — "you may also want to know if they carry eveningwear for the mother of the bride and groom, bridesmaid dresses, veils, headpieces, jewelry, undergarments and shoes," said DeMarco.
3. Do I need an appointment to select bridal gowns? How much time do I have for my consultation?
Salon policies vary; Kleinfeld is appointment-only and books about four weeks in advance. Normally, a bridal consultation can be anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours. "Time permitting, you will be able to select your veil, headpiece and accessories in one appointment. If not, make sure the gown sample will be available to try on at a later date," advises Urshel.
4. How many guests can I bring with me?
Now that I work in the weddings industry, I’ve learned that it’s less stressful (and more productive) to limit yourself to bringing only a couple of guests during the shopping process. Save the big crowd for your fittings, instead. "You want to bring whoever will be instrumental in helping you make your decision. This person should be honest and have your best interest in mind," said DeMarco. Before your bestie whips out her iPhone, ask if they permit photography (at Kleinfeld, photo-taking is prohibited unless you actually purchase the gown).
5. What is the starting price of your gowns? Are there any upcoming trunk shows?
Give your consultant an exact price range so that they don’t show you styles that are out of your comfort zone. Check their trunk show calendar as well: "Sometimes you will be able to meet your favorite designer and get a discount if you purchase a gown during one — it’s also the best way to see the designer’s entire new collection," said Urshel.
6. Are alterations included in the price? Does the salon have on-premise alterations with qualified fitters and seamstresses?
Many brides forget to take this into consideration when creating an accurate budget for their wedding gown. Some salons cap the alterations at a certain amount (only charging for the work that is being done on the dress), while others might charge a flat fee (where the total cost remains the same). Be wary if a seamstress offers to take your gown home with them: "You want to make sure that the gown stays in the salon and that the only time it leaves is when you take it with you," said DeMarco.
7. How many fittings will I need? Do I work with the same fitter or a different one each time?
You will typically have two to four fittings before the gown is perfectly sculpted to your body. Most salons start their brides’ fittings six weeks prior to their big day to get the most accurate fit, especially if they’re trying to get in shape and want to lose a few pounds. See if it would be possible to work with the same fitter each time, so that they get to know your goals for your final look. If you’re an out-of-state bride, DeMarco recommends telling the salon exactly how many days you need the gown to be altered in and when it must be completed by.
8. How does the payment process work? What is the cancellation policy?
Most salons require a deposit that accounts for 50 – 60 percent of the ticket price of the gown. Don’t forget to check the cancellation policy, since every contract is different: “If the dress is already in production and the fabric has been cut, you might have to forfeit your deposit,” said Urshel.
9. After the order is placed, when will my dress arrive from the designer?
It usually takes a designer gown anywhere from five to nine months to come in. Many designers will accommodate a shorter time frame with a rush cutting, but there may be an additional fee. Once the dress arrives, you will be required to pay the balance and schedule your fittings. DeMarco recommends that brides pick up their dress during the week of the wedding.
10. After the wedding, do you offer preservation services?
"It’s important to take the necessary steps to preserve your gown to ensure it can be passed along to the next generation and enjoyed in the future!" said DeMarco.
Photo Credit: Bridal Reflections
— Stefania Sainato
Meet the Experts
Mara Urshel has more than 30 years of experience developing and marketing luxury merchandise, and is one of the best-known and respected executives in the retail apparel industry. During her 20-year tenure with Saks Fifth Avenue, she pioneered the development of Saks’ successful women’s private label brands and introduced many designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan, Perry Ellis, Michael Kors and others. Ms. Urshel extended her illustrious career to include ownership and management of Kleinfeld Bridal. Since purchasing the famed bridal store with Ronald Rothstein and Wayne Rogers, Kleinfeld has enjoyed surging sales and success under Ms. Urshel’s hands-on management, which emphasizes unparalleled customer service. She currently devotes all of her time to managing the Kleinfeld business along with Rothstein, and has been involved in all aspects of planning, building and launching the 35,000-square foot Kleinfeld flagship store in Manhattan as well as expanding the Kleinfeld brand nationally and internationally.
While there are many knowledgeable professionals in the bridal industry, there are few that possess the kind of unparalleled expertise, skill and passion as Bridal Reflections’ Vice President Cristina DeMarco. Bridal Reflections is New York’s premier family-owned bridal salon, with two locations on Long Island as well as on Manhattan’s prominent Fifth Avenue. It has come to be known as a second home to Cristina, where for over 29 years, she has served brides worldwide seeking the foremost American and international designers. From choosing the latest high-end gowns hot off the runway to attending a bride's last-minute dress details, Cristina has developed a talent for discovering new designers and trends. She has appeared on The Today Show, 20/20 with Barbara Walters, and My Fair Wedding with David Tutera. She has also dressed celebrity brides such as MTV personality LaLa Vasquez, Olympic Gold medalist Sanya Richards and Bachelor star Tara Durr. Cristina currently resides on Long Island with her husband.