You’ve done your research online and browsed through a big stack of bridal magazines. Now it’s time to get shopping. You have lots of options from which to choose, depending on your budget constraints, time allotment, and the level of service that you require.
Independently Owned Full Service Bridal Shops
Typically these shops offer a full range of services for the bride and the wedding party at a wide range of prices. In addition, bridal shops will most likely have all the other accessories you’ll need, like shoes, veils, undergarments, and even jewelry. While an off-the-rack purchase may be available, typically these stores special order gowns for brides and their attendants. There is usually an owner on the premises and also an in-store seamstress who will consult on custom alteration possibilities and concerns. Price ranges and designers vary from moderate to high end at independently owned bridal shops.
A subsection of the above, couture shops are owner-operated, generally found in major cities, carry exclusive designer labels with controlled distribution at higher-end prices, and offer a full range of services. These specialty shops order new gowns cut specifically for a bride’s particular measurements.
Many department stores (like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and JCPenney) offer bridal gowns, while others (such as Lord & Taylor and Hecht’s) offer only bridesmaid dresses. If your size isn’t in stock it may be transferred from another store or specially ordered, and alterations are usually available.
Outlet shops are self- or reduced-service, and they may or may not offer on-site alterations. Generally, brides who shop these stores should expect to buy off-the-rack and take the gown home when it is purchased. Styles may be a mix of discontinued national brands and privately labeled merchandise sold at reduced prices.
Nationwide Bridal Chains
These stores manufacture, import, and sell their own private label gowns, which means that the style selection can be more limited than in other types of stores. Prices will most likely be lower, but so will the quality of services for the bride: You will be buying off-the-rack without much, if any, sales assistance. A good option for girls with short engagements — but be sure to ask about the time required for alterations.
Custom Gown Designers
Custom gown designers can be found in most major cities and offer one-of-a-kind gowns, uniquely created for their customers, in all size ranges. You’ll need to find a designer whose vision you appreciate and trust as it will be a collaborate effort. In the end, you’ll have a gown like no one else.
Some clothing-rental stores have wedding dresses in stock, and you might even find a store near you that rents wedding dresses. Some shops may be willing to order a brand-new version of one of the used ones in the store — you’ll still be renting it, but you’ll be the first to wear it. On the downside, you probably won’t find the selection you’d find at a bridal salon or even a warehouse or outlet. And you’ll be able to choose among only the dresses that the rental shop has to offer, which may not be the latest styles.