If you’ve started the wedding dress shopping process, you’ve likely discovered that it more closely resembles shopping for haute couture than it does shopping for a pair of jeans. In most traditional bridal salons, instead of plucking your size off a rack and heading out with your garment that same day, you’ll be clipped into a sample, then wait months to have your gown made to order and tailored to the perfect fit. Another unique element of the wedding dress shopping experience? The trunk show. A trunk show is when a bridal salon has a more complete or full range of gown samples on hand from a specific bridal designer. Styles can often be purchased at a discount if they are purchased during a trunk show.
Meet the Expert
Ivy Kaplin Solomon is the owner of Lovely Bride Philadelphia.
What Happens at a Trunk Show
A crucial part of understanding why trunk shows are such an integral part of the bridal salon business model is understanding how bridal salon inventory works in the first place. “Let’s say a designer makes 15 new gowns a season,” explains Kaplin. “Usually, a store is going to carry anywhere from five to eight of those designs in their shop. If we like a certain style, we’ll get one sample of that gown. Clients try on that one gown as our in-store sample, and then we order them their own gown in their own size.”
In a trunk show, a designer will send samples of their entire collection or line—sometimes as many as 30 gowns!—to a salon for a designated period of time (usually a weekend), thus giving brides-to-be an opportunity to try on a broader range of styles from the brand. The collection will likely include the newest styles fresh from the runways of Bridal Fashion Week, and, if the designer offers them, may also extend to reception dresses (otherwise known as “second looks”) and bridesmaid attire. The term “trunk show” is generally thought to be derived from the trunks these collections were sometimes shipped in.
Occasionally, an in-house representative from the brand—or even the designer him or herself!—will also be on hand during the trunk show to offer styling tips and, in certain situations, discuss gown customization options.
Trunk Shows Versus Traditional Dress Shopping
Aside from having more gowns to try on, a bridal salon visit during a trunk show differs very little from a standard salon visit. You’ll book your appointment, peruse the racks, and try on your faves. (Yes, you’ll be able to try on gowns from both the trunk show and the salon’s in-store collection.)
The purchasing process during a trunk show also remains the same—clients will not walk out of the store with a gown, but instead will place an order for the style—but what can be different is the price. A trunk show purchase typically comes with a discount (the industry standard is 10 percent), and, thanks to business contracts between design houses and the bridal shops that carry them, discounts are not common in this industry, so this is pretty good.
“I’m contractually obligated to respect a designer’s prices, or I could lose that designer in my store,” explains Solomon, who notes that a trunk show is an agreed-upon opportunity to lower prices. All this to say: If you’re pretty set on wearing a certain designer, a trunk show is an ideal time to buy.
Ten percent might not sound like a lot, but when a gown is $2,000, that $200 can go towards other crucial components of your ensemble—like, say, shoes or a veil.
Trunk Show Shopping Tips
Don’t make this your first salon visit.
Because trunk shows focus on a specific brand—which likely has a specific aesthetic—they’re not necessarily the best option for a first-time shopper looking to try on a wide range of styles. But according to Kaplin, if you’ve already been to a salon and found that your top few dresses all happened to be from the same designer, that should be your cue to focus on that designer—and a trunk show will be the best way to see the most options from the brand all at once.
Do your research.
After honing in on your designer of choice, your next step should be to head to their website to see when a trunk show will be coming to your area. Many brands will have them posted, but if yours does not, check to see what retailers they have in areas of the country you’d consider shopping in. From there, you can get in touch with the individual salons to see if they have plans to host a trunk show for that designer within your shopping window. This may take you beyond the salons you were originally planning to visit, but that’s totally okay.
Book your appointment ASAP, but with consideration for others.
The amount of appointments a salon can accommodate during a trunk show is typically the same amount they’d take on any other weekend. That means you’ll be competing against both regular shoppers and other fans of the designer for a slot, so you’ll want to book your appointment as soon as you possibly can.
On the flip side, if you’re only lukewarm about a designer, or if their prices are far beyond your budget, Solomon suggests holding off. “If you don’t have a great idea of what you want, you probably shouldn’t take that appointment from someone who does,” she says.
Make the most of an on-site appearance.
Maybe you love the skirt from one gown and the top from another and are wondering if there’s a way the two can be combined. The designer, or a direct representative from the brand, will have the most insight into what’s possible when it comes to altering a gown style, so if either is on hand for the trunk show, now is the time to speak up.
“Don’t be afraid to ask the designer for something,” says Solomon. They might not always be willing to accommodate, but you won’t know unless you inquire. (Are you feeling nervous about making such a bold request? Solomon suggests first asking your stylist first whether or not the designer is open to customizations.)
Of course, you shouldn’t feel pressured to ask loads of questions if you aren’t genuinely curious. “Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone there to help style,” says Solomon. “A designer has seen their dresses on a lot of people, so they can suggest accessories or how to wear your hair.”
Come prepared to make a purchase.
Because a trunk show is one of the rare times you can shave money off of your major attire expense, come ready to officially say “yes” to the dress—and know that means you should have your VIPs in tow. “If you know you can’t make a decision without a certain friend or family member, or the person paying for your dress, this is the appointment to bring them to,” says Solomon.