Every job has its pros, cons and nuances, but you could say that working in the niche world of bridal retail has even more of all of the above. For example, customers tend to lean more emotional and opinionated when shopping for a wedding dress — including teary mothers and brides who know exactly what they want — and there's immense pressure for making sure everything goes off without a hitch so your bride can get, well, hitched. And that's just the beginning. We spoke to industry pros to get the insider scoop.
1. Carrying those dresses is hard work.
If you've been shopping for a gown already, you probably noticed how heavy wedding gowns are. Now imagine carrying around multiple dresses all day long! It's exceptionally hard work. "The biggest thing I didn't realize about working in a bridal store was the strength that is needed to carry heavy dresses for six to eight hours a day, and that breaks aren't guaranteed," says Michelle Bull, a former David's Bridal sales associate. "During our busy season, we wouldn't get breaks since we were too busy to take one.
Any time we would go to the back to look for different sizes of a particular item, we would shovel as much food in our mouths as possible so we wouldn't starve throughout the day."
2. Winter is actually the busy season.
Speaking of the busy season, you probably wouldn't assume that the cold months are the most popular time to buy a wedding dress. It is, though, because most people buy their gowns six to eight months before the big day for weddings that occur April through July. "It's a super busy time. During the winter there has been as many as 90 appointments in one day, as well as walk-ins," says Bull. Her advice to the bride: "While it's fun to try on different dress styles and please everyone in the family by trying on a dress they like, the appointment windows are only an hour long.
It's important to stick with the styles that you prefer rather than pleasing everyone."
3. Some work on commission, some don't.
"Not all bridal shops operate on commission and customers have a right to know," says Dareth Colburn, founder and designer at USABride. Where you shop is a matter of preference, but note that it could change your purchasing experience. "If a bride or bridesmaid encounters what they feel is a pushy sales associate, ask if they are receiving commission to get a sense if they're offering their opinion or if their motives are swayed by pay," suggests Colburn.
4. It can be an emotional roller coaster.
From outright joy to frustration to worry to excitement, there are many emotions felt by all parties while a bride is shopping for her wedding dress. "Bridal is intense," says Christina Vianni, an independent bridal seamstress in Sonoma County, Calif. "I often say that I am part seamstress, part counselor. A bride wants someone to listen and be as excited as she is. She also wants perfection. I try to give her all of those things and the best shops I know, do that as well." Vianni says there are often body image issues, money-related worries, friendship and family issues, and even drama with various vendors.
It's a lot to plan, and the pressure to get it perfect is felt on both sides of the fence. "It's mentally draining at times, says Vianni. "There's a lot of responsibility felt in being part of a bride's wedding day and making her feel beautiful on the most special day of her life."
5. In the end, it's incredibly rewarding.
Yes, it's difficult, but that also means that it can be an incredibly rewarding field to work in. "I see so many women day-to-day and they are so uncomfortable with their bodies," says Kala Wilburn, a stylist for David's Bridal. "The best part about working with brides is getting comfortable seeing other women naked and making them feel comfortable in their own skin. My goal is to make all sizes, shapes and colors look and feel amazing in the body that they have today."
In addition to that, bridal associates play a pivotal role in making a bride's wedding day come true. In a sense, they're a best friend, a mentor, and a counselor wrapped into one. When everything falls into place and you see that bride beaming, you realize that the heavy dresses, the tears and the stress are absolutely worth it.