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Whether you’re having a large-scale celebration or an intimate event, deciding what to wear on your wedding day is a big decision. And if you’re opting for a bridal gown, chances are you’ll likely take a trip to a wedding salon at least once during your planning journey.
Meet the Expert
To start, and ahead of bringing your bridesmaids to a boutique, it’s important to learn the difference between a traditional salon and a designer salon. “A [traditional] bridal salon is a specialty store that carries wedding dresses and accessories, whereas a designer salon is [usually] dedicated to a particular brand,” Andrea Pitter, founder and designer of Pantora Bridal tells Brides. “[A designer salon] generally carries the brand's full collection, including the most popular styles from different seasons. Traditional salons generally carry a curated selection from several bridal brands, but not all dresses from any particular collection.”
Before shopping, know the difference between a traditional vs. a designer salon. A traditional bridal salon generally carries a variety of designers and styles, whereas a designer bridal salon is dedicated to a specific brand.
For those wondering what to expect before, during, and after heading to the fitting rooms, ahead, we outline everything you need to know about shopping at a bridal salon or boutique.
What Happens at a Bridal Salon Appointment?
Before we jump in, it's important to remember that it's totally normal to be nervous about your shopping journey. Finding "the one" isn't always easy, but luckily, the experience of trying on dresses should not only give you clarity, but it's also extremely fun. “During an appointment, we discuss a bride's wedding venue, season, and partner’s planned look, to tailor the wedding day ensemble to fit the bride's desired look for her big day,” explains Gineen Cargo, owner and lead stylist of Gavin Christianson Bridal.
After you've perused a few options, and described your vision to your dedicated consultant, you’ll be directed into a fitting room to officially try on the gowns. And just like any episode of "Say Yes to the Dress", you'll likely head onto the salon floor to show off your gorgeous ensemble.
Once your choices have been narrowed down, oftentimes the salon experts will add accessories like veils, jewelry, and belts to help you better envision the whole bridal look. This step is important because it'll give you an idea of how you'll look on your wedding day, as well as an estimate of the final costs.
What to Consider Before Visiting a Bridal Salon
While you can head to a salon whenever you’re ready to kick start your bridal fashion journey, it’s always a good idea to have an idea of the style, silhouette, and budget you'd like to adhere to. By keeping these details top of mind, it'll be easier to find a dress that not only looks the part but keeps you comfortable while celebrating on your big day.
Pitter suggests finding a salon where your budget falls within the midrange of their selections. “Be honest about your price range so your consultant can really look for the best dress in your style and budget,” she recommends. “Whether you find your dress or not, it will alleviate the feeling of having missed something you might have wanted to try on.”
Additionally, if you’re a curvy bride, both experts suggest checking out stores that specialize in plus-size gowns. “Don't disappoint yourself by going to a mass-market store that has a limited selection,” Cargo says. “If a shop touts a large offering of inclusive sizes, check out their social media. Those that are truly size-inclusive should have an equal size distribution of “real brides” and “I said yes” photos.”
How to Find a Bridal Salon
When looking for a bridal salon to visit, it’s important to decide whether you’re open to a variety of designers, or if you’re looking for something specific. If there’s a gown you’re eager to see in person, it’s a good idea to reach out to a few salons to see if anyone carries it.
In addition to in-store dress samples, both experts agree you’ll want to consider not only the location of the salon (and your willingness to travel) but the price points they carry. If you know the dresses will be out of budget, it might not be worth the trip—or the heartache—to see items outside your price range.
“Look up places on Instagram, visit websites, and look out for trunk shows as they’re a great way to grab a new, exclusive gown,” Cargo says. And if you’re looking for any specific sizes, designers, or styles, be sure to inform the boutique when making the appointment so they can be prepared for your visit.
When Should You Make Your First Appointment?
In general, you should make your first salon appointment after doing some research, such as narrowing down your budget and styles, before seriously starting to look for your dream gown. “We’ve found that those who go to a ton of pre-shopping appointments end up more confused and frustrated when they haven't found one,” says Cargo. “Do the pre-work by creating a mood board, visiting salon websites and social media pages to get a feel for their specialty, and call local salons to clarify their operating procedures before setting an appointment.”
Ideally, you want to start shopping for your dress 10-14 months before your celebration. This not only gives you plenty of time to find a look that feels right, but since many gowns are made-to-order, it can take a while for the salon to receive your dress. “Less time is often fine, but it might limit your selection or the speediness of your gown,” notes Pitter. You’ll want to ensure you have plenty of time for alterations, so if you’re on a short deadline, consider buying a dress off-the-rack or searching for in-stock dresses from an online retailer.
Bridal Salon Shopping Tips
Now that you know everything about bridal salon shopping, here are five tips you'll want to always keep in mind to ensure you have the best experience possible.
Confirm your date and venue first.
While you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to find a dress, Pitter suggests waiting to head to a salon until you have your date and venue secured. A dress for seaside nuptials is going to be different than a dress for a winter wedding, so knowing your venue will narrow down your choices and help you find a look that's appropriate and matches your aesthetic.
Set a realistic budget and research each salon.
You’ll want to be honest about your budget when shopping, and also have an idea of the dresses each salon offers. “Don't be surprised if you don't find a ton of blingy, sequined beaded mermaid gowns or traditional satin ballgowns if you elect to go to a trendy modern salon that specializes in lacy boho looks,” says Cargo. Check out the social media pages of different boutiques to get an idea of their specific price ranges, and the brides they cater to.
Keep your guest count small.
“Keep your guest count small,” Pitter advises. “It allows the appointment's focus to stay on you while making sure that feedback is coming from the most genuine place.” If you find yourself gravitating toward an unexpected style, knowing you have a crew there to solely support you will help you make the best dress decision.
Bring the appropriate underpinnings.
Since you might try a variety of styles, be sure to bring a strapless bra and nude underwear. Another important tip is to bring heels with the height you'd like to wear on your big day, in order to get a sense of your preferred dress length.
Know what questions to ask.
- If you’re a curvy bride, ask the boutique if they have options in your size. Plenty of shops do!
- Be sure to ask the salon if they have gowns in your budget and price range.
- Ask for any specific styles or designers in advance. In some cases, local boutiques don't have what you’re looking for but can ship your dress in for your appointment. Asking ahead of time will allow you to get the most out of your visit.
- If you’re interested in shopping off the rack, or have a short timeframe, ask the boutique if they have options that will work for your wedding date.
In all, keep an open mind, stick to your budget, and have fun. It’s not every day you get to try on beautiful dresses—enjoy the process and the rest will fall into place.