Say NO to the Dress — Unless It’s the Wedding Gown of Your Dreams and It’s What YOU Want

Hola Mis Amigas!

I never cease to be amazed by how many television shows (mostly reality shows) are all about weddings nowadays!  Down here in Vieques we have two sat TV options and we get Direct TV — that means we don’t get the WE network or Bravo (Yes, as a matter of fact, I am in Top Chef withdrawal).  While I was back in the states visiting in September, I couldn’t believe how many wedding shows were on those networks alone.  When you combine those with that ones that we actually do get down here, I’m either really impressed or horrified.  I can’t decide which.  As a wedding planner, I suppose I should be thrilled that, even in a difficult economy, people are still so obsessed with throwing big weddings and all that goes on behind the scenes.  As a television consumer, I wonder what other people are watching on TV these days.  Surely not everyone is sucked into Bridezillas, Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, Married Away, Platinum Weddings, Wildest Wedding Videos, Flowers Uncut, Cake Boss, and my new favorite, Say Yes to the Dress.  Actually, I think Say Yes to the Dress might actually have some merit, though.  And that’s what today’s topic is — choosing the wedding gown of your dreams without getting gouged, bullied or pushed into buying something that you really didn’t want.

Okay, so if you haven’t seen Say Yes to the Dress on TLC yet, you should.  It’s hilarious.  It’s based on famous wedding gown purveyor Kleinfeld’s in Manhattan and basically shows you supposedly typical wedding dress shopping appointments and fittings with “normal” or “average” brides.  What amuses me the most, as a former bride (not as a wedding planner), is the way the salespeople gameplan in the back and before the store opens each day.  Do not be confused — this isn’t a car dealership although I keep looking for the blue genie guy from King of Cars — but you might think it was the way that they put certain saleswomen with certain brides, and how they bring in a supervisor when the bride isn’t biting, and then when they still haven’t sold a dress after an hour of hard sales pushing they bring in this gay guy (name escapes me) to say “Oh honey, that dress is sooooo you!!!” and “My, my, my… that neckline does feature the girls —picture that with a fabulous necklace.”  And when they think the girl may actually be getting ready to say “YES,” they pop a veil on her head so that her mother and sisters and 17 bridesmaids can all get teary and ooh and ahh together so that the poor bride doesn’t have a shot at saying she doesn’t like the dress without being made to look like she’s being intentionally difficult.  It cracks me up — do they have a hairdresser back there?  In one shot, the bride’s hair is down and messy from trying on 20 gowns and then suddenly it up in a chignon with a veil tacked on top of it.  And they even hand her a fake bouquet to hold in front of it so she “gets the idea.”  This is particularly difficult to watch when the bride has come into the salon with a $5,000 budget and the staff of Kleinfelds (through amazing price cuts and super deals, just for her of course), convinces the bride that she cannot live without the $12,000 dress.  And to prove that Kleinfelds believes that dress was made for THAT bride, they lower the price to $9,500 so the bride can hit up her grandma and other relatives to help pay for it.

Okay, I have to stop for a moment and throw up in my own mouth.  I mean seriously folks.  SERIOUSLY.  In this economy, when couples are having to forego a lot of the vestiges of upscale weddings, does anybody whose last name isn’t Trump actually need a wedding gown that costs that much?  Every thousand dollars you put into the gown decreases what you can do for your actual wedding incrementally.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m not telling you to buy your gown on Ebay (although I’ve seen it done successfully), I’m just pointing out that $1,000 will pay to feed and water another 10 wedding guests, or for a  live band versus a DJ.  Or for the calla lilies you really wanted instead of the daisies that you settled for.  And in a case like I described above, where the bridal salon convinces a bride to blow her budget by $4,000+ dollars, you can imagine what she’s going to have to give up on the other end to make it all work.  What’s worse is that I know darned well that some of these girls don’t spend an extra three grand on their wedding gown and go take it out of their budget someplace else.  They put it on a credit card and end up spending an extra 20% or more paying the dress off in the year or more after the wedding.

Stop right there — I don’t have a problem with designer wedding gowns.  I don’t have a problem spending a fortune on a designer wedding gown.  I spent a fortune on a designer wedding gown myself so I know what I’m talking about.  But when I chose my gown, I knew with absolute certainty that it was the wedding gown that I wanted, and it was worth every penny.  It was a little more than my budget, so my mom tried to chip in.  I wouldn’t let her.  So the bridal salon dropped the price.  They’d rather knock $500 off a dress than lose a $4,500 sale, trust me on this.  Since I’m not a size 8 and I am a difficult fit, going with a designer gown cut specifically to fit me was the smartest idea in the book.  I’ve never had another piece of clothing that fit me so well.  But looking back on it… wow, what a humongous waste of money.  And I even got to wear my gown twice — once for my wedding here in Vieques and then again at my big reception at the National Press Club back in Washington, DC.  And can you even guess what it cost to have the dress dry-cleaned in between the two weddings (a week apart)???  Somewhere upwards of $500.  Mom paid it and never told me exactly how much it was with the rush charge.  When I had it cleaned after the second reception and paid for it myself, it was more than $400 and I didn’t get it back for two months.  So use your imagination.  But when you buy a silk designer wedding gown, it has to be cleaned properly.  And that isn’t cheap either.  So the more expensive your dress is, the more expensive the care of it is, etc. etc. etc.  It’s like buying a Ford or a BMW.  They charge you $150 at the dealership just to pop the hood open on your BMW.

What I object to in this particular TV show, and in bridal salons in general, is the way that the bride’s family, friends and the store’s salespeople clearly browbeat certain brides into buying dresses they clearly don’t love.  I mean, if she wasn’t into the dress when she first saw herself in it, and then she’s suddenly all smiles when she returns wearing the cathedral length veil with the blusher over her face and holding a gorgeous fake bouquet, there’s something wrong with the picture.

Last week I had a conference call with a particularly nice client of mine that made me sad.  I asked her how the dress shopping was going and she said she’d gotten the dress.  I was surprised because that’s usually something my clients tell me about as soon as they find it (oh yes, I’m on their distribution list when they’re surreptitiously texting pictures of themselves in the dresses because the better salons do not permit photos).  So I was surprised I hadn’t heard about it from this particular client.  It doesn’t matter to me what you choose, but I need to know white or off-white, and how long, etc. for the logistics.  After she described her dress to me, with far less enthusiasm than the average bride, I asked what was wrong.  And she said, “Well, it’s not what I wanted.  But my mom and my sister really liked it and it wasn’t worth fighting about it anymore.”

Wow.  That’s just sad.  This bride genuinely dislikes her wedding gown but she’s been bullied and browbeaten enough over the details of her wedding and she’s just given up.  Sometimes frustrated MoBs who wish they were planning their daughters’ wedding back at home get really aggressive about the one or two little details over which they do have some control.  Wedding gowns, invitations, welcome baskets, etc.  Bridesmaids can be just as bad if you let them — and several of them together is a bridesmaid posse if you’re thinking about doing something that the majority of them don’t want to do.  This includes your wedding gown and their bridesmaid dresses.  In this case, the bride wanted a sundress and she ended up with sequined satin.  Hmm.

So what can you do to prevent this from happening to you?

First, think carefully about who is going dress shopping with you.  You only need one or two friends, max.  Bring your mom if she can keep her mouth shut or is helpful, otherwise, tell her about the shopping expedition ONLY after it is completed.  That way if she’s all hurt, you can pretend you had no idea she was dying to go with you.  You don’t want to hurt mom anymore than you have to, but this is YOUR wedding dress and YOUR wedding day.  The fact that your grandmother planned your mother’s wedding without any input from your mother doesn’t mean that you have to let your mom run roughshod over your during your planning process.  Be sensitive, be thoughtful, and be specific in using the words “Yes” and “No.”  Otherwise, if you say you’ll think about something, you might find out that to your mom that meant “go ahead and order whatever it was.”  But that’s a whole new topic for another day.  Back to the dress.

Try to have an idea in your head of what you like before you start shopping.  Strapless or no?  Certainly you can try both, but you should have something in mind.  Do you want a train?  Do you want something more casual?  Do you want a corset?  Do you like halter-style?  Beads or no beads?  Sequins or jacquard?  The reality is that if you go to a big bridal salon, you get to do a limited amount of looking.  The saleslady picks for you.  There are just too many dresses wedged in too tight of a space.   If you’re at a bargain shop where you can comb through the racks, be cognizant of stains and marks on the dresses as you’re shopping because not everything can be drycleaned out after you buy it.

Tell your shopping group (mom, bridesmaids, etc.) what you are looking for in advance and let them know what you don’t like and have firm opinions on.  And have a conversation with the sane one (you know who she is) in advance so that she can help you deal with the crazy one.  I will never forget gown shopping with my girlfriend Cathy.  I was her MoH something scary like 8 years ago.  We met up at this tiny shop in Old Town Alexandria that supposedly had an amazing wedding gown stash.  It was just Cathy and me and her mom.  I was late getting there (coming from the office in downtown traffic) and by the time I arrived, Cathy was already in a dressing room being tortured.

The first dress she walked out of the dressing room in looked like a lampshade.  No joke.  A lampshade.  It was U-G-L-Y.  Looked like a long-sleeved overslip of lace (vaguely reminiscent of an early 80s bridesmaid dress I had to wear for my brother’s wedding) that might as well have been a crocheted doily sitting on top of a lampshade.  It was seriously hideous.  Cathy looked at me and I look at her and I said “oh HELL no.”  Now you have to know my friend to understand how very sweet and soft-spoken she is; however, her mother has very, very strong opinions.  And her mother’s a little passive-aggressive in her handling of these matters.  As I was taking off my coat and preparing to dive into the dress racks, her mother was passing a white linen creation that I swear could have been a sailor-girl dress into the dressing room.  No way.

Cathy and I hadn’t talked much in advance about what she wanted — we were both single and I wasn’t a wedding planner then — so we didn’t know that we needed to.  But I knew my friend.  I know she’s modest, almost to a fault (she has a fantastic figure but rarely shows it off), I know that she doesn’t tan very well (so an off-white would be better on her than a bright white for her July wedding), and I knew she wanted to spend as little money as possible but still look amazing.  Much to the chagrin of the salesgirl (who clearly thought she and the MoB would have this little lady into something she couldn’t pay a bride to take on a good day), I started diving through the racks.  I emerged with a pile of sleeveless dresses.  I pulled out only one strapless one because I knew she would veto it — but it was worth having her try it on so she could know for sure that she didn’t want strapless.  I think she found her dress in four or five tries.

There was one other one she really liked, but it had this funny row of satin roses across the ass of it (if I recall correctly), and while everything else about the dress was gorgeous, we couldn’t figure out the roses.  But the gown that Cathy did choose was breathtaking.  It was a ivory with an almost gold-colored tapestry pattern to it.  It was sleeveless with a round necklike that both protected her modesty and showed off her beautiful long neck and other physical attributes.  The color made her milky completion look like porcelain.  It was THE dress.  And if I remember correctly, it was around $500.  A total steal.

Her mother liked the dress too, but wanted Cathy to keep shopping.  Cathy was smart enough to ignore that challenge and focus on what she knew she needed to do — buy the dress and be done with it.  So she did.

My point to this entire blog is that it’s really easy to lose perspective and suddenly something that’s supposed to be fun — like dress shopping — becomes a holy nightmare.  Sure it’s fun to have your girls with you when you do things, but it’s easier not to.  Anybody who has ever tried to coordinate five schedules for the same time for a dress fitting knows it doesn’t work.  Now if you were trying to coordinate five schedules for martinis, it would be easy as pie.  Dress shopping —  not so much.

The only person who has to LOVE your wedding gown is you — and hopefully your groom.  But he’s not going to get to see it and give you his opinion in advance, so let’s assume that the only person who really counts is you.  Don’t be ridiculous — if you’re trying to do something that literally makes your mother hysterical, step back and rethink it (did you really want a “goth” wedding gown?).  Don’t choose something out of spite either — that will backfire too.  Just because your ultra-conservative grandmother cannot believe you’re going to have bare arms in church is not a reason to go for a plunging neckline.  But you know what I mean, right?  If you love it, your groom will love it.  And if you kept close to your budget, you’ll never regret the expense of it.  Right now, I have a gi-normous silk satin wedding gown in my mother’s closet just waiting for me.  It takes up fully half of one of her guest room closets, a fact she manages to remind me of every once in awhile.  Someday, she’ll downsize her house and I’ll be screwed.  I could die it a darker color and have the train cut off and use it as a ball gown, I suppose.  But it’s my wedding gown — can I really alter it like that???  This is certainly a blog topic for another day so I’ll get back on track now.

Watch a few episodes of Say Yes to the Dress before you go wedding gown shopping.  You’ll get some insight as to how the bridal salons are going to try to “handle” you — and you and your MoH can be mentally prepared for the onslaught.  And if you figure that Kleinfelds probably doesn’t let TLC show the worst of it, those are some pretty scary examples of “good” wedding gown shopping experiences.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!


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