Being an independent bridal gown retailer for most of my life (I am the third generation owner of my family's bridal salon), I have seen many changes in our industry. The biggest change has been the onslaught of discount internet websites and huge warehouse chain stores. Other trends such as high necks and pouffy sleeves came and went (thankfully). Destination weddings are a welcome breath of fresh air (literally). And what about the current mini-trend of brides purchasing used, or as many prefer to call them "pre-owned" wedding gowns? (Really?)
With that said, the most curious change has been the shopping patterns of today's brides. By that, I don't mean how they spend their hard-earned money, but instead, HOW these women literally shop for a wedding gown.
It used to be that a newly engaged woman would bring only her mother (or closest female relative) with her for this important, hopefully, "once-in-a-lifetime" shopping experience. It used to be a very intimate, emotional and special time for a mother and daughter. After all, isn't it "every mother's dream" to one day shop for a wedding gown with their daughter?
I'm not sure who sent out the memo to every bride across the country, but the trend has now changed... Today's bride feels compelled to invite everyone she knows -- in addition to her mother -- to shop for her wedding gown! I call it "Posse Shopping". I have seen as many as 13 to 15 people come into my store with one bride to help her shop for her gown! These situations are not only overwhelming for the store's sales staff, but also prove to be especially challenging for the bride. So challenging, in fact, that many times she makes the WRONG decision when choosing her gown.
Included in these small armies may (or may not) be: The bride's mother, sister, mother-in-law-to-be, maid of honor, sister-in-law-to-be, her mother's best friend, ALL of her BRIDESMAIDS, her second cousin once removed on her father's side, her 10 year old niece, the gay male friend with "INCREDIBLE" taste... you get the picture.
The following are familiar scenarios that occur in bridal salons all across the country, be they large or small:
Scenario 1, Group of 7: The bride really loves a dress she puts on in the dressing room. She admires it in the mirror and is excited to show her group the lovely vintage-looking lace gown she's so beautifully wearing. She emerges from the dressing room and hears a chorus of "Oh, nooooo... Take it off!", "That's not you!", "That dress looks like my grandmother's curtains!!!", "Next!" And then, her mom simply says, "I think you can do better, honey."
Downtrodden, she drags herself back into the dressing room, wishing she had come alone.
Scenario 2, Group of 10: All of her bridesmaids and her first cousin. Her bridesmaids are hung over from the night before and are chatting and giggling about the hunky guy one of them met at some dive bar they visited last night. Her cousin's boyfriend just broke up with her and she's a complete trainwreck. Heartbroken and jealous, she can't get past the fact that she should be the one getting married, not her cousin. As the bride emerges from the dressing room in a lovely choice, her cousin blurts out, "Oh my Gawd, I would NEVER wear that!" The rest shout differing opinions, and give advice left and right. After a few more dresses, some appear to lose interest while others talk on their cell phones. None of them are asking which gown the BRIDE likes best. Consequently, the bride leaves confused and disappointed, and wishes she had just come with her best friend.
Scenario 3, Group of 8: The bride's strategy is to take a poll of her posse's favorite dresses. Four vote for the satin ball gown. Two vote for the dress at the store they all went to last weekend. One vote for the dress that the bride loves the best, a mermaid. Satin ballgown has the most votes... the bride isn't really a satin lover but she trusts her friends' taste. After all, that's why she brought them, they have good taste. And, they know what looks good on her, right? Maybe the mermaid isn't the best choice for her, even though in her heart she REALLY loves it. In the end, she purchases the satin ball gown. A month later, after many tears and sleepless nights, the bride calls the store to see if she can cancel the order because she thinks she's made a mistake. But it's too late. The dress is already in works. She either has to buy a SECOND dress that she really loves, or she lives to regret her decision every time she looks at her wedding photos.
Get the picture?
When did brides become so insecure in their decision making? Maybe there's just too much information and pressure for brides out there with the internet, bridal bloggers, staged photo shoots, celebrities and reality shows all trying to influence her? Is every bride afraid they will have their own personal Joan and Melissa Rivers at their wedding saying, "What was she thinking?"???
The experts and other brides will say that shopping for a gown can be a stressful time. Society's pressures make it even more so today. I am not saying that brides shouldn't take anyone with them to shop for their gown. I'm just saying that they should resist the need to please everyone else, and instead make sure they please themselves.
Here's my advice...
When a bride goes on her most special shopping trip, she should only bring her most trusted core group. It's ok if this is just one special person, or a few special people. But do try to keep the group to no more than three. Most importantly, a bride should never forget to listen to her heart. She should always choose those friends and loved ones who will not project their tastes onto hers. She should bring along the ones who know her taste, will listen to her, be truthful yet respectful and... will help her choose the right gown for HER. After all, it is still about the bride, isn't it?!