The other side of the veil: one bridal shop employee shares her perspective

March 18 | Guest post by Danielle
the dress from another century
Photo courtesy of Romana Klee.

One of the things I love about Ariel's vision for Offbeat Bride is her effort to make it a "snark-free" zone. I love all the positive energy, all the everyone is accepted vibe. Well, everyone but one person, I've noticed. There is one person its okay to snark about, one person who is simply contemptible. Don't know who I'm talking about?

Why, it's that lady in the bridal salon! You know, that symbol of everything that's wrong with the whole wedding industrial complex. The one who, it seems, does nothing but make brides feel bad the moment they step in the door. That horrible person who tries to sell you an overpriced white frou-frou dress when all you wanted was a simple dress in your price range. They're evil, evil people right?

The only problem I have with that is that I used to be sales person in bridal salon.

For four summers during my college years, I worked the busy season (May – August) at a bridal and formal dress salon. It was one of my favorite jobs — helping women find that perfect dress. I really hope that I wasn't evil, that I never sent women home in tears. At least that's not how I remember it. I remember arranging to add black lace accents to a dress for a lovely Goth bride. There was the medieval bride who I helped pore through catalogs to find the perfect dress, tracked down a sample at another salon so she could try it on, and made sure to offer to go 10% less whatever their lowest price was. There was the tattooed biker bride who wanted a simple dress with a low back to show off her awesome ink. And how can I forget the bride who wanted a red dress for whom I gleefully pulled out the prom/formal catalogs to help her find the perfect one.

Oh, and did mention that this was back in the late-'90s? Pre-Offbeat Bride, back when the wedding industrial complex was at its height. I've watched things change. Back then The Knot was about how to make your wedding just like everyone else, with its lists of must haves. While, still traditionally oriented, its focus has shifted to more about how to make your wedding your own. It even has an "offbeat" option as a label for your wedding.

But I'm just one person, right? I must be the exception to the rule. But then how do you explain that really sweet girl I worked with when I bought my wedding dress at another salon since the one I worked at had closed? Or the great lady who helped my new sister in-law only a few months ago? I have the feeling that we hear about the evil ones and the horror stories because those are the ones that are interesting, the ones that let us feel righteous anger at the wedding industrial complex. It's hard to hate a nebulous industry, the sales person gives us a face to hate. There are lots of other vendors out there who do similar things: photographers who do nothing but canned poses, halls that overcharge for rubbery chicken, or florists who make you pick from a set catalog. But let's face it, the dress has become the symbol of the wedding. And even though like every other vendor, most bridal stores also do business in other areas (I have some great prom dress stories too). But for some reason, we overlook that and they become the symbol for everything wrong with the wedding industrial complex.

And while it's true that most salons get their dresses from major manufacturers, keep in mind that most salons are local, mom and pop operations. Like any local service, you're going to get a lot of variation. But, by and large, I believe that you'll get a much more personal experience with a local store than you would with a big chain or an internet seller. You should get a sales person who's knowledgeable about formal wear. Someone who knows that "Brand X" runs small in the bust or that there is a dress similar to that $5000 dress you love that is only $500. A good bridal sales person should be asking you tons of questions to help you find what you want, the first of which should be "What's your budget?" They'll pull out the size chart for the dress, show you your measurements, and help you figure out where you fit.

Are there bad eggs out there? Of course. But you've never had bad service at restaurant? Never had to deal with an irate sales person at another store? If bridal store (or any other business) is treating you badly then vote with your dollar. Go somewhere else. Either the store will learn and adjust their practices or they'll go out of business. But don't write off all bridal stores, just because you think they are all evil. After all, they are run by real people who, like the rest of us, are trying to make a living. And yes, you may get the evil bridal harpy who will try to force her vision of bridal on you. But I hope you'll get me, the person who's going to bend over backwards to help you get what you want while working in your budget.

Get your daily dose of Offbeat AWESOME

  1. Well said! I worked in retail for many years, and I really enjoy hearing these types of narratives. A good sales person should be concerned about what their customer wants, about making them happy. And it can be really fulfilling work, when you're able to make it meaningful like this. Thank you for writing it!

    19 agree
  2. In the past 6 months I've dealt with 3 different bridal salons (one for my friends bridal dress, another for her bridesmaids dresses, and the last one was for my dress and my bridesmaids dresses). I didn't have one bad experience with any of them!

    10 agree
  3. Thank you for differentiating mom n pop operations vs. chain stores . . . I do think there is a big difference in customer service/personal attention from a David's Bridal vs. a local shop. I would recommend visiting a local salon first (and if you're not satisfied, then off to DB or the internet). . .

    12 agree
    • I agree! I didn't like when I went to DB and yet I went to a mom and pop shop called http://www.elysereuben.com/ and they gave me such personalized service and make a custom gown for you, that includes all alterations. Definitely a much better experience.

      4 agree
      • I think that it is each individual salesperson. Recently, I went with my sister-in-law-to-be to DB to find her dress and the saleswoman was WONDERFUL! She was almost one of the party and was just as excited as all of us when she found her dress. When I worked in retail, I worked for big name companies and always did my best to give personal service. So, again, I feel it depends on the individual salesperson. (That being said, I fully support shopping first at the local mom and pop small business!)

        6 agree
  4. I never felt like people here hated on the salesladies at bridal shops. All the women I've dealt with at shops have been nice. I think the voice that's not heard here is the one from the editors of bridal magazines, owners of million dollar corporations, and "wedding elitists" I'll call them. They're the traditional voice that says you must have favors or you're an inconsiderate jerk-wad.
    If the bridal shop salesladies feel that they have been misrepresented or dissed, I'm sorry to hear that. I hope we can keep you in mind next time, because you do us a very important service (as do florists and bakers). Thank goodness for these experts who help brides through piles of options to find just the right "one." Thank you for your help, and I hope we remember to say thank-you even when we don't buy anything.

    9 agree
    • Ooh, an opportunity to stop lurking! So I'm an editor at a bridal magazine in Australia, and we absolutely make sure that we're not all about 'The Wedding' (you know the one I mean, the one that's an ordeal rather than a joy). We've been publishing our magazine for 30 years this year, and while it may have been that way in the past, now we're showcasing weddings that are quirky, offbeat, and actually a reflection of what the couple truly love. Yes, we publish traditional weddings, and we publish these because people submit them to us. They're still happening, they're still inspiring and they're just as much a reflection of love as your offbeat wedding. However, we also make sure to publish unique weddings whenever we can. Both sides need to be equally represented!

      I don't recall in any issue we've published recently that we've insisted on giving gifts to guests, or insisted on needing things or your wedding will be a failure. After all, where's the fun in that? Every girl in the office is also thoroughly addicted to Offbeat Bride and knowing that there are brides and grooms out there who want a wedding that's completely 'them' encourages us to search high and low to find content that will inspire. Yes, we rely a lot on advertising and we have a lot of advertisers who want us to push the traditional angle, but every bit of editorial we develop is far from promoting a cookie-cutter wedding. Trust me, we want to actually like what we're writing, and if we're writing the same thing every issue it becomes boring for us. The more bespoke and unique, the better.

      Of course, I can't speak for everyone – we're a boutique publishing company, nothing huge like Vogue or Cosmo or The Knot. But from a little mag (and from what I read in different mags from across Australia), the magazine industry certainly isn't pushing traditionalism and elitism.

      6 agree
  5. It's nice to read about your experiences in the late 90's. I had appointments with three women in bridal salons this winter. One was simply overwhelmed, the second was difficult to understand, and the third was absolutely wonderful and I bought from her. The third shop made it all very fun and worth it.

    2 agree
  6. The difference between a mom-n-pop shop and the dreaded David's Bridal is really amazing. My FMIL got married a few years ago and I was one of her bridesmaids. She went to David's Bridal and to say I was offended at the way the store was run and the kind of customer service we received is an understatement. The girl who was booked with us was also booked with two other parties. It's not her fault, but it made the service horrible. It was a nightmare.
    BUT I shopped for my dress and my bridesmaids' dresses at a locally owned place and my consultant was amazingly sweet and incredibly supportive of my short dress dreams. She even brought me some sparkly red shoes and a red sash from a bridesmaid gown to try on with the dress I eventually ended up buy after I mentioned I wanted something unique. She was amazing and so much fun! There are some good bridal shop ladies out there to be sure and I definitely found one. Mad props to Donna at Fantastic Finds in Lansing, MI! XD

    9 agree
  7. I really wish you'd posted this about 4-5 months ago, before I swore off setting foot in a bridal salon. It's too late for me to give these folks a chance, but I'll keep it in mind as more of my friends tie the knot. I'd been to a few salons with sisters and friends in the past. Not all negative, but in every single case she ended up overspending on the dress. I couldn't risk that, so I hired an Etsy dressmaker. I hope it'll come out well, but there are a lot of unknowns. Every choice comes with a tradeoff. For my comfort level, I just wasn't willing to play the game of making nice and haggling with a salon clerk –however kind and well-intentioned she might be– while standing in my undies.

    1 agrees
  8. I think this is a really great piece. Just today I was poking around a wedding forum thread whose title read, “most outrageous price quotes you’ve seen for your wedding.” Lots of horror stories in there, like florists charging up to $10k for silk flowers and not real ones, or photographers that charge $8k without even wanting to discuss a different deal to meet the couples’ budget. But really it seems that it all comes down to the couple in the end. Are you ok with spending that much? Because you don’t have to. Do you want to work with those vendors that make you feel stressed out on a day that should be joyous and happy? Then don’t work with them. Go somewhere else. I’m in the midst of planning a wedding and although I do stress out a little about it, I just remind myself that this is OUR wedding. It will be MY dress, and we are doing it all with OUR money. Like the article said, vote with your money. Bad salespeople will exist anywhere and everywhere you go but don’t let it sour you on the experience. This should be a happy time! 

    3 agree
  9. I would just like to say that I went in to David's Bridal with a price point in mind just to try things on and had a WONDERFUL experience where I ended up buying a dress I loved that cost less than $300. The woman who helped me was kind, open and responsive and GREAT at bringing me stuff I wouldn't have tried on that looked really good on me.

    There are good salespeople and bad, just as with anything. So people saying "this piece is just because this was a Mom and Pop place" are still missing the point.

    16 agree
    • Yes. Thank you!
      I've worked in chain stores, and my customers were always happy with my service.
      I've shopped at chain stores and it's been a mixed bag – but some people will try to get you the moon – regardless of the store they're working in.
      It's not the store necessarily, but sometimes the employee – and I would hate to be judged as working for an evil company, and therefore not invested in helping you get exactly what you want.

      Walk in. If they're terrible, walk out. Leave a complaint if you like, especially when they're really out of line. Please don't write us all off though – try to remember that it's not going to be this way everywhere you go.

      On behalf of wedding service industries – I'm so sorry for the crappy and hurtful experiences you have had.

      4 agree
  10. I think in indie wedding blog land a lot of times it's easy to feel the burn if you choose something even remotely traditional like visiting a bridal salon….and I agree that everyone's experience is different and there are some GREAT bridal salons. I went to many and tried on MANY dresses. At one salon I was "helped" by a frustrated saleswoman when I told her I am not a princess and didn't want a big poofy princess dress, but rather just wanted something AWESOME. She pulled a few dresses and then ultimately threw her hands up and rudely said she had nothing else to show me. I wrote a strongly worded email to her supervisor and bought my dress at a bridal salon that embraced my personality and had fun with the challenge of finding me my AWESOME dress.

    3 agree
  11. When I found out that there was a reality television show filmed at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan I almost refused to go to my appointment. Reality television is probably the #1 reason why i don't own a television, so I kind of freaked out.

    However, I can not be thankful enough that my mom convinced me to go. Our consultant Debbie was awesome. It was obvious that she instantly understood what I was all about (I had photos of a short, cute vintage dress and my finance's grey and purple pinstripe suit). Deb brought out one dress. And the rest is history! I was emotionally prepared for such a completely different experience which made it all that much sweeter that the first dress was The Dress.

    Good luck everyone!

    4 agree
  12. I think that maybe where evil bridal salon might be related to the major chain bridal stores like David's Bridal. I have been in there and because I was not a size 2 of course I was looked down upon which I found disheartening because I still think I'm beautiful at a size 12. It could also be a geographical thing too?

    2 agree
    • My first experience at David's was amazing. I knew I had found my dress. I wasn't ready to plunk down the cash just yet, but I knew I'd found my dress.

      I took one of my bridesmaids with me, and I tried on like 6 dresses, and the second one was it. I picked the dress from the big-girl catalog (I am also definitely not a size 2, but I'm also definitely bigger than a size 12!), and my consultant straight-up told me that she wasn't feeling it. I'm very direct, so I totally appreciated her directness, but the second I walked out of the changing room, even she said that was definitely my dress. She told me that she learns something from every one of her clients, and her lesson with me was that sometimes even the most (self-admittedly) fashion-clueless bride knows what will look good on her body.

      My second time there, my mom was with me so she could see the dress in person. We walked in without an appointment and probably ruined the experience of the other girl the consultant was working with at the same time. I apologized to the other girl profusely because I honestly didn't know that they would double up like that.

      The first dress the consultant brought me was similar to the one I fell in love with, but it was one I hadn't even tried on when I was there the first time. That was explained when she rang up the dress order; my dream dress was discontinued and was selling for less than half-price. We still bought it and got the consultant her commission, but we didn't buy all the other shit she was trying to upsell since the dress was so cheap – she was trying to talk me into a veil and shoes and all kinds of crap that I wasn't ready for. I mean, come on – I was planning to buy my undergarments at another store, but I went ahead and got them at David's so she didn't get completely screwed in the deal.

      They're not all terrible at the "evil chain stores," but they are probably all working on commission and trying to meet sales goals.

      2 agree
  13. True Story:
    I don't enjoy shopping in general and was completely overwhelmed by the idea of wedding dress shopping. However, armed with my best friend, I went to Portland (OR) to look at a few boutiques. I randomly stopped in at Lena Medoyeff while waiting for my first appointment somewhere nearby and had THE BEST shopping experience OF MY LIFE. The woman who helped me was straight forward but not pushy and knew me better than I knew myself. I walked out of the first place I looked with the perfect dress all thanks to the WONDERFUL people there.

  14. Everyone at my shop was super nice with my unusual requests, (apparently I was their first bride-to-be that had a list of countries that were under review for child labor practices), and they had a ton of stuff that actually fit me! I think that any place can get a bad name for customer service, but hopefully they just close down to make room for the better places to move in!

    1 agrees
  15. I had a great experience in David's Bridal, from the first appointment when I tried on 8 dresses to the final fitting of my amazing dress, (amazing price), when I pranced around the store for 20 minutes in my dress playing with veils. I am heavily tattooed, certainly not a size two and the girls were really awesome. I had a blast

    3 agree
  16. So much of the bridal store experience hinges on the salespeople you get. I suspect a lot of the negativity results from a high-stakes (big expensive item! That you expect to be Perfect!) purchase made in what is many people's first experience with real hands-on personal sales. And therefore the impression that that person makes is going to stick…

    I've had good and bad experiences at David's, and awful and amazing and in-between experiences at local shops. (Including, in one case, the same shop; the owner was a *dream* when it came to finding things with a personal style and fit and budget the first time, with a friend, but was so thrown by my "anything but white" that I wound up getting presented with dresses that were the complete opposite of anything I'd ever want to wear or any style I'd asked for. In white. Because she "knew I didn't really want *that*.". Thank goodness she had a more openminded salesperson to help.) It isn't even chain vs local, although I suspect the locals are *slightly* more prone to going out of business if they suck. My worst local shopping offenders are still around, though.

    It's definitely nice to hear the alternate experience. Most vendors really aren't evil. Even the most traditional and WIC-y of them.

    4 agree
  17. How I wish I had gotten a salesperson like this when I recently went shopping for my dress. Maybe if I had been a young bride, or a thin bride, or a bride who came into the store with an entourage, it would have been different. But for me (a street size 10-12, middle-aged second-time bride), I might as well not have bothered making that appointment and telling the saleswoman what I was interested in looking at because nobody — and I do mean nobody — had any interest in helping me. Knowing I was coming, they had not bothered to pull together a single dress that fit within the criteria I had mentioned. They didn't have a single dress in a size that I could actually fit into, nor did they care. There was no one around willing to help me get in or out of the dresses. They did not pull out the catalogs to help me pick out something that way, either. Nothing.

    Honestly, I was really surprised at how unpleasant it was. My first time buying a wedding dress way back in the early '90s was perfectly pleasant. In fact, I had such a nice time that I recommended that salon to a friend of mine who married a couple of years later. My friend was heavy and had an artificial leg, and reported that she was badly mistreated by the same people who had been so nice to me.

    While I would like to say "rah! rah!," the fact is that I completely understand the hating that goes on in the OBT when it comes to traditional bridal salons — mom & pop salons or chain stores — especially for those of us who have quirks, whether those quirks be body issues or style issues.

    4 agree
  18. I think the thing to keep in mind and what Danielle was trying to say is that some people are lovely and kind and some people are horrible and judgemental and most people are somewhere in between. And its the same with shop assistants. They're just people. I find I get the same sort of variation even when I'm shopping in normal clothes stores. There are the ones where they hire the prettiest girls regardless of if they have common sense or manners or the ones where the owners are in the shop every day, passionate about their products and ready to tell anyone who will listen.
    Its just a matter of finding a bridal shop in the latter category and supporting them.

    3 agree
  19. I only went into 2 bridal salons before I found THE DRESS at David's Bridal.

    The first place I looked was Alfred Angleo, and the service was HORRIBLE!
    The poor saleslady we had was booked with 2 other clients the same time as my booking, so getting in and out of dresses was pretty much my job. Also, I'm a very petite person(5 feet tall and just over 100lbs) and everything she brought me was HUGE! I kept telling her I wanted to see things in my size, but she kept bringing me dresses I ended up swimming in, insisting she could "pin them." I'm sorry, but no amount of pinning can make a size 10 dress fit someone who's just over 100lbs.
    It was so disappointing, and I ended up leaving feeling like I was some freakish midget who'd never find a dress.

    Next, I went into David's and the experience was the complete opposite! The saleslady was only booked with me, so could focus on what I wanted and help me in and out of things. She was very attentive to the kinds of dresses I liked and what I didn't, but also had me try on some things I likely wouldn't have otherwise. She made me look and feel beautiful and helped me find The Dress, which ended up being one of the ones I hadn't thought I'd like when she first showed it to me.

    3 agree
    • SO glad to see this comment. I see a lot of complaints in general from the size-up-spectrum, but it is JUST as difficult to find dresses when you're this small. I, too, was swimming in dresses and felt so overwhelmed thinking I would look like a little girl playing dress-up rather than a young, beautiful Bride/woman. It was extremely difficult to envision what a dress would look like properly sized…."the bust would actually be here (instead of in your armpit) and the cleavage would actually V here, and the waist would actually fall here, and the midline embellishments would actually be here…" I don't have a knack for fashion and as hard as I tried, I couldn't see past the excess fabric and disproportions. A local bridal shop's owner was extremely patient and explained all the different terms to me, put me on a slightly higher pedestal (literally, not figuratively) and put a lot of extra effort into helping me see a young woman, rather than a little girl. Although I didn't buy from her, it's because of her I walked out newly excited for bridal shopping.

      3 agree
      • Lesson here: Sample sizes make everyone miserable. Doesn't matter if you're bigger or smaller than the sample, its hard to envision, demoralizing when it doesn't fit.

        One of the benefits of David's Bridal is that they have all the sizes since they sell off the rack. I didn't like the dresses when I went, but I did appreciate being able to envision the dress on my body.

  20. Excellent post. My mother and I had originally planned to sew the dress ourselves, but after realizing that we would have to do a major overhaul on the pattern we let go of the idea. I don't live in the city where the wedding is being held, and I was home for a whirlwind week of wedding planning. We found an independent salon that advertised consignment dresses, and the owner said my entire family could drop by at any time we liked. The woman was FABULOUS. We talked price, we talked style, we talked Atlantic Canada (it's true what they say about Newfoundlanders, this woman proved they are the nicest people around!). She didn't mind my sisters pulling dresses left and right, she made coffee for my parents, and she was able to bring my family together for a moment I never expected to happen: stepping out of the dressing room in MY dress. It gets better: a sale was going to begin the following week, in order to clear out older stock. After we explained our situation, she let us have the dress at the sale price, and discounted the bolero jacket we all adored. She offered her advice on where to go for alterations, and made me promise I would return with wedding photos. We hadn't intended to buy a wedding dress that day, just browse around to see what we liked, but that salesperson made all the difference in the world. Trust your instinct and shop at stores where the staff clearly love what they do, and good at what they do.

    3 agree
  21. Bridal salons can be really hard for women who aren't a size 6, even if the saleswomen are kind! I think it's because they try to pick average sizes to keep costs down while making the most customers happy.

    Michelle got treated poorly because she's not a size 2 — but let me tell you, being petite is hard too for the same reason. I'm a slender woman, and not a single store that I've visited has had a dress remotely near my size! I guess they don't think it's worth it to stock 0s and 2s, just like they don't think it's worth it to stock larger-than-"average" sizes. I'm kind of frustrated by it.

    4 agree
    • Not having a good variety of sizes available is frustrating for the bridal consultants too, trust me! I used to work as a dressmaker/consultant for a small boutique that made all the gowns in house, and though we tried to make sure our samples reflected a variety of sizes and body shapes, we were usually left with having to ask brides to use their imaginations, and try on a dress with similar silhouette in their size to get a feel for the actual fit. Despite this limitation we usually managed pretty well and were able to provide a positive experience. Unfortunately it's just not an option for most salons, the cost of having multiple sizes of every gown made purely as samples to try on when new collections are brought out twice yearly would send a large chain out business soon enough, let alone the mom and pop boutique.

      1 agrees
      • I didn't care for the David's bridal dresses when I went, but since they sell off the rack, they have lots of sizes, which is helpful for brides of all sizes to try on and envision.

        I still don't like that the styles for "Plus size" there are different. I am a size too small for them, I'm fairly slender, but have wide shoulders and hips and am tall. I liked some of DB's plus size dresses, but it would have been an alterations nightmare since their dresses are made for you to try on and buy your size.

        I love that wtoo and waters shows the same dresses on bigger girls when you click on "plus size."

  22. I have to say that I had a horrible time finding my wedding dress. I'm a plus sized girl and normally proud of myself. I'm always trying to lose weight and be healthy, but let's face it, I'm no size 2. Going into the bridal store (which offered plus sized dresses) I already had a few printouts of dresses I was excited about looking at. Dresses that were in my size (according to the website). Being shy I stayed away from the bridal sales associate because I'm not one for all the crazy hype or the princess frilly idea. Suffice it to say within fifteen minutes the bridal sales woman told me that I couldn't fit into the dress that I wanted and told me that they had other dresses "that would better suit my needs". Needless to say with all the stress about the wedding already draining my energy I ended up crying in between rows of dresses that I apparently would never fit in. My aunt, outraged, hunted down the sales woman and made her apologize, but I have to admit it broke my heart to be treated like that when it should have been a happy experience. I can't say that this is how all bridal consultants work, but I have to say that I'm still upset about that day. I ended up buying a dress there because I fell in love with a dress that I had to hunt down myself. I think that consultants need to be a little more understanding. I know that "Average" sizes are more economical for shops to carry, but there are a lot of us that fit the extremes. I think that everyone deserves to have the wedding of their dreams regardless of their waistband.

    3 agree
  23. I agree with this article to an extent. I had a really horrible experience with my bridal shop but it's different from what you'd expect. I found my dream dress and it was very reasonably priced. The consultants were very understanding and nice. I am also a plus sized girl and I found that they kept several sample sizes larger than a 6 on premises. My dress arrived with plenty of time to spare and I couldn't have been more excited. Then I saw a news report that told me my shop had closed without warning.

    I ran down to the store to find many brides and moms absolutely distraught. It was discovered that the owner had claimed bankruptcy without telling her employees and ran with all the dresses. She was going to attempt to sell them back to the companies. My dress was completely paid for and was just awaiting alterations, which I was stupid and prepaid for a major one (i.e. lace-up back). I was terrified because it was 2 months before the wedding and there was no way to get another dress in time. Unfortunately there were others in much dire need (i.e. wedding the next day).

    Despite this horrible experience I am absolutely thankful to the consultant who rescued mine and several other people's dresses from the store before this woman got away with them. I cannot thank her enough for her selflessness and dedication to her customers. She lost her job that day as abruptly as all of the customers found out that the shop had closed. I hope that she has found a better job somewhere else because she certainly deserves it.

    All dress shops are not the same and mine was certainly an extreme case. I guess there's a lesson to be learned from my experience. I had some funny feelings from the shop when they wouldn't let me schedule my alterations. If you have a bad experience or something seems fishy obviously do not use that shop. If they can't work with you then find somewhere that will but don't give up. I found a wonderful little bridal shop the next week who did my alterations. I now go to them for all my alterations for bridesmaids dresses, pants, etc.

    3 agree
    • Something like this happened in my hometown, in NY. The shop randomly closed and a lot of women lost their money and dresses, but some were able to get their dresses. I'm glad you were able to get yours!

      And, in defense of the perpetually awful DB, the local store a few towns over offered a pretty good discount to brides who needed last-minute dresses thanks to that horrible horrible woman.

      1 agrees
  24. I'm glad to hear this, but I must say, I am guilty 🙁

    FH and I got engaged one week before Thanksgiving…the biggest holiday we celebrate with the extended family…the LOUD side of the family. All 12 women arranged for a DB appointment before I even got into town because they wanted to play dress up…and I threw a TANTRUM! I had heard all of these horrid things about bridal stores (especially chains) and was NOT going to be a part of it, I was going to an independent designer and nothing could change my mind!

    Well, I lost that fight (the women in my large Southern family aren't to be argued with), and I went, and i twirled, and I tried on almost 20 dresses. I had a great time and the salesgirl was wonderful. I did end up going with an indie designer from Etsy, but that was because she was more in my budget.

    Whew, that was a long story to say simply that I shouldn't have judged based on the horror stories. I guess bridal salons aren't that bad after all 🙂

    3 agree
  25. Well said! I went to a bridal salon when I was first looking for dresses. While I didn't love all the giant princessy gowns they had, I LOVED the woman who helped me. After trying on 3 giant dresses, I showed her a picture of something I would be interested in, and she took me over to the bridesmaid/prom side of the store. She left me in the hands of the lady who ran that side, but came back to check on me as I bounced out of the dressing room in a short purple flapper-looking dress. Though I didn't end up purchasing my dress they, both of those ladies were just lovely to me, and I had a great experience.

    2 agree
  26. Way too go Sister! I love the differences in opinions, and I love going against the generalizations.

    1 agrees
  27. I agree with the last of "vote with your dollar" with a twist. Ask to speak with a manager before you leave. Once you get face-to-face with a manager, tell her that you are taking your business elsewhere because Saleslady X made a rude comment about your tattoo/weight/baby bump/large bust/pierced lip, whatever. Not only will the store not get your business, Saleslady X will likely get chewed out by her boss. That is sticking it to them in a way that not buying there can.

    2 agree
  28. I wished I could just say "Amen to that" but…

    "Someone who know that “Brand X” runs small in the bust or that there is a dress similar to that $5000 dress you love that is only $500. A good bridal sales person should be asking you tons of questions to help you find what you want, the first of which should be “What’s your budget?” They’ll pull out the size chart for the dress, show you your measurements, and help you figure out where you fit."

    WHERE are these people? I've never met such a saleswoman, nor have I heard of anyone having a good experience in a bridal shop (and I'm talking local). Is it possible that there are very few of them out there? Is it possible that my chances of getting a nice saleslady are much, much smaller than getting good service at a restaurant? I don't question their existence, I think the post makes some valid points, but sadly, I have the feeling that the kind of service described remains an exception to the rule. And this still makes me sad. Personally, my experiences at bridal stores have been horrible beyond measure (and I was looking for a white dress and I have a 90-60-90 body!), so much that I reverted to having my dress tailor-made, which costs more, but at least I feel good when I go there.

    And of course we tend to stress over the bridal salon more than over the venue or the flower people. We get naked in front of these vendors. We show them our faults, we come make-up-less, we want to speak about our ideas and of course we want to hear that we are (or at least that it is possible to make us) pretty. If then the person is being inadequate, it is bound to hurt much more than if you are forced to choose flowers from a catalogue.

    2 agree
    • Lia, I'm so sorry about your experience.
      It may be any of the above reasons that your experience went badly,
      but I'd like to think the good-great experiences aren't exceptions, especially since there is quite a healthy portion of brides on here with some favorable things to say.
      There are definitely a lot of matters to consider when heading out in search of your wedding attire, and certainly, there are many things to factor in about whether you might not have the best places available to you.
      In the end, you should def do what will make the experience easiest for you, and I'm glad in the end, you were able to find a solution that works well for you.

      1 agrees
  29. I went to three different bridal salons and had positive experiences there, largely due to the service I received. Great employees do exist, and I find that it really helps to be friendly and engaged yourself. The nicer you are to people, the nicer they will be to you. I know that sometimes you do just have a bad experience, but it does help to go into a salon with an open mind and avoid going on the defensive. The employees are just people too.

    4 agree
  30. Great post. Thanks for reminding us that "evil empires" are populated with real people.

    1 agrees
  31. First of all, I have to say that what I have mostly encountered is that brides tend to be a bit of a different breed. Normal, rational women go a little crazy when planning their weddings, and what they are looking for in customer service changes when they are looking for their wedding dress. I've discovered that some get really upset if they are not treated like princesses or if everyone else is ignored because *they* are in the store. We all have to keep in mind that *every* woman in the store is looking for a great experience and are planning a very special day/experience.

    Having said that, when it comes to experiences in stores, I would say that it has almost nothing to do with the salon, and almost everything to do with the salesperson.
    When I first started looking, I went to David's Bridal, because I had almost no idea of what I was looking for, and I wanted to get a good idea of what was out there and what styles would look good on me, and I knew that David's had a wide selection of a lot of different styles.
    I went on a week day, during the day, because of my work schedule. I was one of only a few people in the store, and I got a consultant that was WONDERFUL! She listened to what I wanted (no poofy frou-frou princess dresses), and pulled a lot of different styles off the rack that she suggested that I try, even ones that I saw on the rack and thought "meh" about. She was patient, kind, and funny. She got *me*, and helped me figure out what I was looking for for my wedding.
    Turns out, this was the best thing for me, as I discovered that what I was looking for was not what I was thinking about originally.
    Afterwards, I tried a couple of different places, looking for "the dress." I stopped at a few mom and pop places, and in at least one of those places was completely turned off by the attitude of the sales person. (Especially since I went in with another bride who, because of her age and size was completely dismissed by the salesperson. It seemed that she only wanted to deal with me, and not the other bride. I was particularly angry at a comment made to me about, "and over there in the corner are the plus sizes, size 12 and up…but i don't think you'll have a problem with that…" again, I firmly believe that every bride deserves to be treated with respect…treat us all equally, no matter what our ages/bodies may be)
    I ended up finding "the dress" at an alfred angelo store (which is an interesting mix of mom and pop and chain). There, they had a wide selection of dresses in all different sizes, with sales people who, while not completely personal, were patient and kind and helpful about finding what I was looking for. (I went into this store with my bride-friend, who was treated the exact same way).

    I say again, it's not about the particular store or mom and pop vs. chain, but about the *people* that you encounter there. If you don't like a salesperson, don't write off bridal stores all together, just keep looking until you find the experience and the dress that you are looking for!

    3 agree
  32. Just being a bridesmaid, i have witnessed the good (small shop) and bad (David's). My experience at David's was awful because i have 38DD's, so I couldn't fit in any of the dresses, so the woman helping us told me not to worry, and she knew how I felt because SHE was just the fat girl in HER friend's wedding. Well, gee thanks. Needless to say I will never shop there again if I can help it. And I'm using it as motivation to be the HOT girl in the wedding!

  33. I only went to one store, as I was fairly sure that I was going to have a friend who is a professional seamstress/textile artist make a dress for me, but I did want to see what was out there. This was a local independent store and the owner (whom I knew slightly) is always there. She and the sales staff were very helpful and kind, but there was no getting around the fact that they had a limited choice of size 14 dresses. The three I tried on were nice, but not me at all. So I decided to have my friend make the dress for me, and that's been working out well.

    However, when it came to get a dress for my best woman, we went back to the same store and found a great dress for her right away. Again, the staff were very pleasant. I'm glad that we were able to support a local store for some of the wedding attire; it's just too bad that, as others have said, going local and independent can also mean much less selection when it comes to sizes.

    (And thanks, Mary B., for the shout-out to Newfoundlanders! I am one, and the friend who's making the dress is back there, too!)

    1 agrees
  34. Another great DB experience here. I'm making my dress, so my best friend and I went in to get an idea of how different styles fit. The saleswoman was incredibly helpful even though it was pretty obvious there was no chance I was buying anything that day. She never pressured me to buy and brought out dresses in every cut and fabric they had. It really does depend on who helps you, and just because it's a chain doesn't mean the people who work there won't be great.

  35. This was amazing! I'm a former bridal manager and am trying to open up a shop of my own. I was always one of those "good understanding consultants". And my shop will reflect that. I love to help brides searching through the "ordinary" to find the "extraordinary" that waits for them when they realize that being off beat is way more fun than the cookie cutter wedding. And I'm glad there are others out there doing the same. 🙂

    2 agree
  36. This was my biggest gripe with OBB (the problem is much worse on OBT and the mods don't do anything about it, one reason why I left). Thanks for addressing it!

    • While we do our best to keep the OBT proactive and positive, ultimately my mods can't catch every single misstep. We encourage OBT members to contact us when they see something that they think doesn't fit with the code of conduct — I wish you'd let us know!

      2 agree
  37. Well I've had some ok experiences, the last 2 stores I've visited were helpful despite being busy, and although one was completely incapable of catering to my "no white, ivory, champagne or gold" demands, the lady did her best to suggest ways I could make the dress more alternative. Another could have any dress I wanted re-made in black, also helpful.. all too expensive though.

    On the other hand, I've had one VERY BAD experience where I did leave the store crying and feeling like shit.

    It took me a long time to go into another store after that, and I'm pleased to say, they're now out of business. Supposedly they CATERED to alternative brides so I was very shocked by the treatment I received at that one.

    1 agrees
  38. I don't work in this industry but I think the most important thing to making the whole process of searching for a dress go smoothly is MAKE AN APPOINTMENT! People who walk in and expect to be waited on and get a dressing room are what make sales people stressed and crabby. Each shop can only handle so many people and there is a limited amount of dressing room space. Before you blame the poor sales person take a look at the flack she is getting from pushy people who have just waltzed in off the street and are demanding her service. Don't be rude! Always make an appointment!

    7 agree
  39. I have to say, my experience of wedding dress sales people was wholly new. As someone who had never really taken her clothes off in front of anyone but her Mum and fiance, it was hard to have a crazy lady running in and out with underskirts, trims, bigger sizes, smaller sizes. Meanwhile my boobies are blowing in the wind waiting for the next thing to try on! But I was never rude, and really nor were they, I was just bemused. That said, I have just yesterday picked up my specially made dress ready for the big day in 3 weeks time. My dressfitters and the sales staff could not have made the experience any better!

    2 agree
  40. My dress shopping experience ran from the terrible (completely ignoring me-the only customer in the store) to the hilarious (screaming "she's out, she's out" when I came out of the changeroom. But I had great help at one store, and the salesperson brought me a bridesmaid's dress to try on even though it was a small fraction of the price of the other dresses. I ended up ordering it in a champagne color, which was what I'd been looking for, and it was perfect!

  41. Hi all! I'm really happy for those that have had good experiences and sorry for those of you who didn't. I just wanted to clarify a few things.

    First, I'm not against all the great alternatives that are out there now. I do a lot of ren faire/steampunk/faerie events and know the value of a great custom garment. But I also know that you can into problems with the seamstress making your dress just as you could with bridal shop. I have heard countless horror stories of misinterpation, shoddy work, and running off with people's money. It's a business and like all businesses, there's the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    As for sizing, I will admit that the way the sizing works for bridal gowns is eff'd up. Basically, every manufacturer has their own size chart and varies so widely that when I worked in the shop depending on the dress I fell somewhere between a size 10 and an 18. Suffice to say, most of my training was spent teaching me how to figure out what size to order.

    However, a good shop should have a variety of sizes and should NEVER tell you that they can't get a dress in your size. Ideally, they should have the basic cuts of dresses in every size range. No, it's not economically to have every dress in every size. But let's say you like dress A. We have dress A, but not in any size that would fit you. I should have a dress that's a similiar cut (say a-line) in your size so you can get a general idea how the dress will look on you. Then we measure you and order dress A in your size. Sorry, if a store isn't doing this then they are idiots and don't bother with them.

    1 agrees
  42. In my experience, the problems I had at bridal shops were not that the staff was evil – in every case (6 stores), the salespeople were attentive, knowledgeable, and as helpful as they could be.

    The problem was that they didn't *get* it. I didn't want white, I didn't want floofy, I didn't want strapless. I didn't *want* to look like a princess. And the clerks just could not understand that.

    They tried to be helpful (i.e. "well we can sew straps on it"), but I think so often the bridal shop vision of "bride" doesn't match up with we offbeat brides' vision of "bride." And that's where the problem comes in – not that bridal shops are evil, but they just don't get it.

    1 agrees
  43. I had an amazing experience at Dimitri Design here in Greenville, Jasmine knew just by looking at me which cut and style would flatter my shape! And to boot she picked out the BEST style for me, it's got a great vintage look, not made by a big box manufacturer and doesn't make me feel like a pretty pretty princess. And as if that wasn't enough she made me the BEST headpiece from these great feather fascinaters and a birdcage veil.

    I do have to say though I went to Davids Bridal and had the worst service ever. And it wasn't a one time thing either. I went there about 3 times (spoke to different people) and they were all the same.

    I suggest going to your local shop first! They seemed to care more about what I wanted and gave me the all time and attention I needed.

  44. I'm glad I read this. So far I have only gone to one dress shop, because they were so helpful when my sister went looking for a prom dress. I loved my consultant and how accommodating and honest she was. I would like to go to another shop nearby to see if they have samples that fit better (it's very hard to know if you like the cut of a dress when their samples are all size 16 and you're a 4 on a bloated day), but would love to go back to them. That kind of good service makes me think "Yeah, weddings are stressful, but it's going to be okay, and you'll be happy in the end."
    Now if I could only choose between the 3 dresses I loved.

    1 agrees
  45. Amen! Great article. I have to say I've had the fortune of having happened upon a wedding shop when out with my sister. I really am not a fan of shopping and find the whole getting a dress thing a tad overwhelming so this is the only wedding shop I've been to (in Kingston-upon-Thames).When I explained I'd be riding a bike as my wedding transport, the assistant didn't bat an eyelid but suggested a gorgeous bridesmaid dress that was blue but could be ordered in ivory (for a tiny tiny fraction of the bridal dresses in the shop) that was shorter and perfect for a bike. She even dug out a picture of another bride who had gone with that dress in ivory so I could get a better idea. So absolutely agree – in my experience, have nothing but good things to say.

  46. I think part of what makes an experiance good or bad at a salon of any sort (example, I recently went to a formalwear joint for a dress for my brothers wedding, wasnt part of the party itself, but still am his sister ya know?) is a few points:
    A. how busy are they when you get there? If they are really busy when you get there, then perhaps going elsewhere and comeing back at a later time would work better. (I personally believe in the walk-in approach. If I cant walk into a place and find service then I usualy am out of there. It does depend a bit on the place, some appointment only places are still good, but I like being able to view how things are going in there when I arrive, instead of getting the 'good' stuff because they are expecting me.)
    B. How much experiance does your consultant have? A person who has just started to work for a salon of any type doesn't have the experiance and ability of one who has been working there longer. They dont read people the same way, and thier interpretations are not the same. If you have issues with your consultant, perhaps ask for another consultant. Particularly if it looks at all like yours might be new, or if they've mentioned being new. If they are not working for you then try another.
    C. The bigger chains have issues because they ARE well known. More people go in there than you would see at a mom and pop store. Therefore they are busier and the busier a place is, the faster they want to get customers in and out the door so that other customers are not stuck waiting. Benefit? You get a larger selection there … usualy. Benefit to the mom and pop store? Less busy so you get more time devoted to you.

    I dropped in randomly on a bridal store in Sydney MT. It was pretty much empty cept for the two ladies who were working there. Wonderful service even though I was just browsing while waiting for a ride. Was looking at getting married but knew that I was not going to be getting a dress any time soon. Since they were NOT busy, I got double the service and a very friendly close atmosphear. If they had been busy though then the experiance would have been quite different.

    Sometimes its not the people that make things evil, its the situation. Newness, busyness, and many other things factor into the experiance.

    Above all, if a store doesn't work for you. Leave. If someone wont listen, ask for another person, if for whatever reason you can not get another person, leave. You know in your hearts what you want, what you envision yourself to be in on that very special day of your life, and only you know that. Dont let anyone tell ya diff. (Do at least listen to advice though. Example. If you watch my fair wedding with david tutera, there are a few times when he seems like an ass, but he actually makes his bride even happier with what he does (and one of the things he usualy does is change the dress. why? because a lot of times the brides just are not truely happy with what they have. One was using a borrowed dress from someone she knew that wasnt her style, didnt fit right ect. Another found one she loved but didnt fit right (too small). he managed to find them both dresses that left them stuning,feeling beautiful, and happy. He'd suggest that this part or that part did this (example boobs bulging out the top fo the dress) and then suggest changing a cut or something to make them fit better. lil things like that, listen to. Nothing says you have to actually USE the advice, but nothing hurts by listenin:)

    errr just posted it and saw how long it was :S sorri!

    2 agree
  47. I only ended up going to one shop when I was buying my dress. It was a local salon just down the road from where I live, and the woman who helped me was lovely. She was extremely helpful, and I ended up with a dress I completely love that I paid less for than I expected.

  48. Out of the weddings I have been personally involved with, there have been a pretty even mix of ok-good-bad experiences.
    I'll admit, there were only 3 great ones… and sometimes it's in the most unexpected places.

    One of the girls in one wedding party took us to a smaller shop, where there were some cultural and language barriers. Sometimes the sales woman said things to us that the bridal party didn't quite appreciate. Our friend tried to make everyone feel better by letting us know that it's just how her culture is – but it would have been better for that wedding party to not have experienced that.
    Alternately, a similar sales woman had the same approach at one of my sister's weddings, and the wedding party thought she was a hoot. The loved how straight forward she was, it made them feel like she was personally interested.
    Sometimes what makes for a bad experience for some, others don't see that way. Hopefully the sales person is astute enough to notice if the bride and company do not like their approach – but sometimes, even if they mean no harm – they don't.
    I certainly have never meant to upset any of my customers, but there is a chance that I may have.

    Another friend and I decided to take a day, and just visit certain bridal districts in our city.
    We decided that she would dress in a way that was very representative of her esthetic, and we would stroll through each shop. If we weren't greeted and addressed in the way the bride saw fit, she crossed them off her list of options. She ended up getting her dress from a sales woman we never would have imagined would be so open minded.
    She would have never known about that woman and that shop if she hadn't done a little investigation first.

    So I suggest that a little bit more, than a little bit of research be done before booking your appointment.

    Google shops that have good reviews, look for shops that cater that what it is you specifically need. Call ahead and ask about whether they have dresses that would suit you – if you don't feel good about how you're treated on the phone, you probably wouldn't enjoy an in-person consultation.
    And I really recommend dropping by. If they're too busy to help you, you
    should at least be greeted and notified that it's busy. If they offer to squish you in, it might be best to wait for a day where you can be the sales person's focus.

    Don't be afraid to voice your trepidation to a sales person you feel good about. If they know you're already insecure about the experience, hopefully they'll act with that in mind.

    Lastly – go with your gut! If you feel uncomfortable with the way an appointment is going…end it. It's not your fault if the person booked off time for you, but then blew it. Don't just endure the experience because you're there to look for a dress, or because it might turn around from it's downward journey.

    I do hope this does not continue to be the expectation – that bridal shops are actually shops of horror.
    Whatever route to decide to take, I hope it makes you all totally and entirely happy. And that when the big day has passed, hopefully it won't be a strange thing to want to go back and share pictures of how wonderful you looked, with a person who was happy to help you get to that day.

    1 agrees
Read more comments

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.