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

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.

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

  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!

  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!

  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). . .

    • 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.

      • 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!)

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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

  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.

  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! 

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

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