The Exquisite Hell of Shopping for a Wedding Dress

In Depth

The dress. Oh, sweet Jesus, the dress. For some brides, it’s no big deal. It’s just a dress. For others, it’s the most important fashion moment of their lives. Either way, the process of finding your wedding gown sucks pomander balls. If your
dress quest was super chill and easy, I’m happy to hear that — but this post is not for you. Move along.

Over at the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg details a few reasons why what should be a fun process — and god, I was so excited for the dresses, I couldn’t wait to get started — is actually horrible. But Rosenberg just scratches the surface. Here’s how wedding dress retailers suck all the joy out of the fitting room.

No Pictures, No Cameras, No Waffling

As Rosenberg notes, many salons forbid potential buyers from taking photographs. Her theory has to do with budget-minded brides taking pictures and then “asking a seamstress to recreate a dress at a more sensible price point.” This may be partially true, but all you need to do is note the dress brand and style name/number (usually on a tag hanging from the dress, but fitting room attendants easily will offer up the info if you simply ask) and grab an image from the internet.

My theory: Retailers don’t want you taking photographs because they don’t want you to shop around.
Without a quick snapshot, you can’t objectively compare the dress you’re currently wearing — and loving — with the one you tried on at a different salon, which you also adored. Sure, you’ve got some companions to offer up their opinions, but you yourself don’t have a damn thing to look at and judge for yourself other than what you’re seeing in the mirror at that exact moment. And no matter how sympathetic the saleswomen seem when you say you need to think about it, they really want you to buy that dress right then and there. Just go with what you see in this moment, forget about yesterday! Live in the now! Do it! Pull the trigger, you mealy-mouthed piece of dirt.

Scheduling Scheduling Scheduling

Rosenberg also cites multiple examples of salons not having specific dresses she was promised would be available. This is terribly irritating, but what makes it downright unforgivable is that
Rosenberg likely scheduled specific times to visit those individual salons. You can’t just waltz into these fluffy white temples of fashion and feelings, you know. You have to schedule a time just to step foot inside one of these places, whether it’s a fancypants salon or an indie boutique. (When I wandered into BHLDN on a whim — I just happened to be walking by in between appointments — they indulged me but clearly weren’t happy about it.) Also, most women go dress shopping with friends or family, so now you also have to also take their schedules into consideration. Even more annoying, you’ll often have to schedule ludicrously far in advance, particularly if you can only shop after work or on weekends. Scheduling. Always scheduling.

That Shit Don’t Fit

Salons usually have only one sample of each dress — fair enough, given that they are pricey garments — and those samples are a size 8. The average American woman wears size 14-16. Salons have all sorts of contraptions to hold the dress in place without resorting to torture, but what you’re going to see in the mirror isn’t the greatest representation of how you’d look in a thousand dollar gown that’s actually cut to your size. Oh, and are you petite? Forget about proportions; everything is going to look weird. Trying to gauge whether you like the neckline on a sample that’s being held up with clips from Ace Hardware is a joke.

The Waiting Game

Forget what you’ve seen on Say Yes to the Dress. Most retailers ask that you order your dress more than six months in advance of your wedding day. Dresses are traditionally custom-made for each order, and alterations ideally begin two months before you’re actually going to wear the thing. What the ever loving fuck? Is this supposed to be a meaningful reflection of just how intense the wedding industrial complex is? I ordered my dress seven months in advance and was told that I was cutting it close. After that, I had months and months during which I couldn’t see the purchase I had made, a purchase that had made me a little nervous. All that I could go off of were some grainy snapshots of myself in the floor sample (salons will let you take pictures after you agree to buy the gown) but they weren’t terribly comforting to look at considering the aforementioned awkward fit of sample gowns.

No Take-Backs

Of the ten salons I visited (yes, I know — my journey was particularly tortured, but that’s another post), not one accepted refunds. Best case scenario, you were allowed to put down a non-refundable 50% deposit. No exchanges. No full refunds. But at least you can usually opt for the deposit method: then if during the course of the thirty three months you’ve waited for the dress to arrive, you change your mind, you “only” lose 50% of the price. There is no mercy here, as is the case with all elements of wedding planning. Suck it up and smile — everyone’s watching.

Lead images via Anne Barge, Jenny Packham, and Vera Wang, three designers who are not very friendly to your budget but gah, pretty things.

This is I Thee Dread, Jezebel’s site devoted to the mind-boggling fuckery of weddings and marriage. Know something good? Email us. Horror stories welcome.

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