Shopping for a wedding dress is a lot like dating.
It’s a big hassle, everyone has an opinion, and some choices aren’t right for you. When you finally find the one you love, it’s an enormous relief.
Movies and television shows such as The Learning Channel’s “Say Yes to the Dress” make the process seem effortless:
A bride enters a bridal salon with a budget and an entourage of opinionated friends and family members. An few hours later, she blissfully floats out having selected the dress of her dreams, which, of course, meets everyone’s approval.
In real life, selecting what will likely be the most memorable dress of your life can take a bit longer.
Cynthia Bissonnette, manager of Needleman’s Bridal in Burlington, has been helping brides select wedding gowns for five years.
“We have appointments that are an hour long and we have ones that last all day,” Bissonnette said. “I’ve had brides try on one or two dresses and I’ve had brides try on 50.”
Bissonnette begins her consultations by asking brides about the type of look they’re after and their wedding venues.
“We have them try on every kind of silhouette — A-line, trumpet, mermaid, ball gown — because you don’t know how it will look until you wear it,” Bissonnette said.
Bissonnette’s No. 1 piece of advice? Start looking for a gown as soon as possible. Most gowns are manufactured overseas and some distributors make shipments only on a set schedule.
“The gowns can take four to five months to come in and then you need time for alternations,” Bissonnette said. “We try to have brides order their gowns at least six months in advance (of the wedding).”
Needleman’s can accommodate brides with tighter schedules, but they might have to settle for something off the rack at the store, or a gown that a bridalwear company might happen to have in stock.
Geri Cardinale owns Fiore Bridal Boutique in Essex Junction. Last year, she helped more than 150 brides find their perfect dress.
“The average bride might try on between eight and 12 dresses,” Cardinale said. “Sometimes, they decide the first one is ‘the dress,’ but they continue to try on more just to make sure. It’s hardly ever ‘one and done.’ It depends on the girl, what she’s looking for, and the help of the girls with her, good or bad.”
Even when a bride finds the dress of her dreams, the store sample is unlikely to fit perfectly. Bridal salons use clothespin-like clips to pull in the fabric and give the bride an idea of what it will look like once it has been altered.
While television shows about bridal salons will often feature hard-to-please Bridezillas with opinioned entourages, Cardinale says that’s not the norm at her boutique.
“Brides are nothing like that,” Cardinale said. “They’re usually much nicer.”
Like Bissonnette, Cardinale encourages brides who are shopping for the first time to experiment with different dress silhouettes.
“More times than not, they try on a style they didn’t think was for them and they love it,” Cardinale said.
Brides can borrow any special undergarments they may need to wear while trying on gowns and they don’t need to bring wedding shoes until their final fitting.
Cardinale encourages brides to be on time for their bridal salon appointments. She schedules appointments every hour and a half. Arriving on time ensures that they will have plenty of time to try on gowns and that they will take center stage during the process.
It’s just as important, she says, to have fun while you shop.
“Shopping for a gown isn’t supposed to be high-pressure,” Cardinale said. “Sometimes brides will bring champagne to celebrate. Just come in and have fun.”
Brides who visit the Brigid Bridal Boutique in Stowe enjoy complimentary cocktails while they try on gowns with assistance from owner Susan Wimble. She aims to foster a relaxed atmosphere, and help each customer find something that will make her feel special and beautiful on her big day.
Most brides bring their mother or their maid of honor to help them make their selection; some bring their fiancé or children.
Inviting a large entourage to a bridal appointment is usually a bad idea, Wimble said.
“Having too many guests tends to create problems,” Wimble said. “Everyone has an opinion of what the bride should wear and it is typically what they see themselves wearing. It’s better for her to bring one or two of her closest family members or friends who really know who she is.
“Guests need to remember that it is about the bride; it’s her day, her vision, her dream. I’ve had brides come in with mud boots and they want to look like a princess with a ball gown, a veil and a tiara.”
Wimble has a knack for quickly sizing up a bride’s body type and personality and suggesting gowns that will flatter her body type.
“In the end the bride does leave with the perfect gown for her special day, and nine times out of ten it isn’t what she had envisioned when she walked through the door,” Wimble said.
Rachel Cooke, formerly of Hyde Park, is planning a May 19 wedding at the Webster Barn.
Cooke got engaged last April; she started looking for her gown two weeks later.
She chose to shop at a popular national bridal salon chain.
“I’ve never been into spending loads of money for one day,” Cooke said. “My budget was about $500.”
She didn’t receive the one-on-one attention given to brides on television. Nor was there a silk robe, nor champagne in the dressing room.
“My consultant was helping six other people,” Cooke said. It was so stressful. There were so many people, it was claustrophobic.”
Still, accompanied by her sister, who offered opinions and advice, she found her perfect dress — a strapless cotton-blend A-line with a sweetheart neckline, rauching and pockets.
“We’re not having a formal wedding and I like the idea of having a more casual dress,” Cooke said. “I don’t like tulle or prom gown dresses.”
She decided not to purchase the dress that day because she wanted to get her mother’s approval first.
“When I told her I had found the dress I loved, she told me she wanted to come down and see all the ones I tried on and try to guess which one I liked best,” Cooke said
While television shows about bridal boutiques often depict mother-daughter quarrels ending in teary showdowns, Cooke’s trip ended happily.
“As soon as the dress was pulled out, she said, ‘That’s absolutely your dress,’” Cooke remembers. “When I put it on, she started crying. She loved it. My sister cried, too.”
She purchased the dress, which fit her budget, although the alternations will nearly double its cost.
She has only one regret about the experience.
“You get so excited to go shopping and it ends so quickly,” Cooke said. “I wish it had lasted longer. I tried on more, but I kept going back to that dress.”