My mom doesn't live in NYC and my friends work in offices during the day, so I decided to brave the Manhattan salons and boutiques solo. Here are my lessons in bodices, butts, and budgeting...and how I found my Fairy Gownmother.
BHLDN - $
BHLDN (important: pronounced "beholden" not "B-H-L-D-N") was my first stop. If you haven't heard of BHLDN, it's Anthropologie's wedding line. Unique and affordable, BHLDN curates beautiful gowns and accessories from international designers and sells them online and in-store. I loved the dresses I saw online and was convinced that one in particular was MY DRESS but I couldn't find it A N Y W H E R E because it was discontinued (yeah, they do that, and yes, I tried looking on Tradesy, OnceWed, and PreownedWeddingDresses.com...and called around to every BHLDN in America), so I booked an appointment with Amy at the Upper East Side location on a Tuesday afternoon in hopes of finding something similar to the dream dress.
I arrived late (because trains) and met with a stoic Amy on the bridal showroom floor of Anthropologie. They had about 20 dresses on display and Amy asked me to point to the ones I liked. I didn't like any of them really, so I stroked a few fabrics I thought were nice and kind of poked at stuff I didn't (sequins, crystals, wedding buttons, hoop skirts). I also showed her a picture of my lost gown, hoping it would jog her memory and she would pull it from some secret discontinued gown rack in the Anthropologie basement. She did not, and instead told me to undress and wait for her in a dressing room while she chose my dresses for me. I immediately congratulated myself for wearing undergarments and waited in one of the warmly lit bride boxes until Amy returned with an armful of gowns.
The options she chose for me were great; tasteful and clean Badgley Mischka designs, and a couple boho style gowns. Every dress was in my price range, the most expensive hitting the $1500 mark. After wrestling me into seven or so, Amy was friendly and offered to take 360-degree phone shots of me in each and every dress. I sent each posey panorama to my parents and friends and everyone had different opinions and it was tiring.
In the end?: I didn't go with any of the dresses here. Nothing took my breath away and while all the gowns were beautiful, I didn't see mine. Still, BHLDN is a perfect option for the bride on a budget or any bride who wants a gorgeous dress for a steal. This was my first experience wedding dress shopping and where I learned that A. it's good to wear underwear sometimes and B. most of the time, consultants don't let you pick the dresses you want to try on. I miss Amy and would like to hang out with her outside of BHLDN, maybe in a park for iced coffees or like, a Bravo night in, my place or hers, it really doesn't matter. Her place is probably cleaner.
Reformation - $
Okay, I like Reformation and their low-impact, highly Instagrammable Easy Ups for it-girls. And guess what?! They have a very small bridal line! Reformation isn't exactly "so me" because I'm definitely poor and unstylish, but their wedding dresses are in the same price range as BHLDN, which is great. On the internet, Reformation's wedding gowns are beautiful. Long, chic, painted on the models like a nuptial sealant, these garments are on-trend, like you could wear them to a hide-and-seek garden party in Bushwick and not get side-eye from the other guests.
No appointment was needed to try on the gowns, so I showed up at the Lower East Side location unannounced. The store smelled so good, like chopped wood and Greek yogurt and clean hair. I was immediately greeted by two girls wearing different wide-brimmed hats and dark lipsticks, who were both very excited when I told them I wanted to view their bridal line. One girl ran downstairs and reappeared with their entire line (3 dresses) and told me their internet was broken so it would be a few minutes before I could try them on (...). I didn't question her, thinking maybe Reformation had built some sort of wifi-operated Ava/Ex Machina robot consultant (which I would have been TOTALLY game for). I sat on an oversized woodblock for a half an hour, chewing my nails, and watching the Hat Girls try on sandals and laugh at each other. Time slipped away, until Hat Girl #2 flicked a dressing room curtain, gave me permission to enter, and quickly left me alone with the dresses. I was relieved that neither Hat Girl would be present for my undressing, and massively bummed that there wasn't a robot consultant in sight.
These dresses were so easy. Completely free of bells and whistles, Reformation's wedding line is lighter than Popchips and felt like wearing sexy nightgowns. I probably tried on their whole line in under three minutes.
In the end?: Reformation's wedding dresses weren't for me. While the dresses were comfortable and cheap, they didn't make me feel special. I guess I learned at Reformation that I wanted something special. And a robot consultant. Disappointing.
Adrienne's - ?
My experience at Adrienne's was non-existent. The store looked close to my apartment on Google Maps, so I called and made an appointment on a whim. When I arrived, I was surprised at how dingy Adrienne's looked from the outside. Along with the tinted windows that made the store look like an escape vehicle, there were sale bins and racks of dirty bridesmaids and wedding dresses outside on the street.
In the end?: I didn't go inside, met up with a friend for lunch, and forgot to cancel the appointment. Truly, my bad. I received an angry phone call, from whom I assumed was Adrienne, and I genuinely apologized for forgetting to cancel the consultation. At Adrienne's, I learned to always call to cancel a consultation, even if the store looks like a place for smuggling rhino horns.
Lovely Bride - $$$
Lovely Bride in TriBeCa is faaabbbullouuuss. This was my first experience in a real bridal salon and it was everything I'd hoped for: mothers and daughters and friends sipping tea on fleshy armchairs cooing at their bride/niece/bestie standing on a box, consultants speaking in soft, clipped sentences rushing in and out of dressing rooms trailing heavy stacks of rejected, creamy fabric behind them. Crying brides, happy brides, miffed brides, and a sassy receptionist who likes to remind clients that "she's got you." In Lovely, all your bridal worries are numbed by the blush and warm and sparkle of the place, like you're on painkillers, or suspended in the womb of a very wealthy person.
My consultant was named Lindsay and she was very sweet, even when I told her my budget was under $2,000. We walked along the aisles of gowns in the back of the store, every once in a while Lindsay would pull a crop top or a tulle skirt separate from the racks, reiterating that these were my options in my price range. The moment you realize you're out of your league in a bridal salon is kind of an embarrassing one. You're vulnerable and stuck in an hour-long appointment with a stranger who sells things to richer people than you eight hours a day; to walk out is admitting defeat, to stay means driving yourself further into debt. So like an intelligent person who sticks to her budget, I stayed and tried on dozens of gorgeous dresses that I couldn't afford. I halfheartedly told Lindsay that if I found "the one" I'd spring for it. She offered to sell me a faded, stained sample I really liked for $3,000; twice my budget. I told her yes of course I'd come back and buy it on Friday. We had a deal.
In the end?: I didn't buy the sample. I emailed on Thursday and cancelled the second appointment to buy, and told her I couldn't afford it. Somehow, admitting defeat was easier via email. She never responded and I was sent an auto-cancellation from Lovely the next day. In Lovely I learned this: Just wait. Don't let the wedding industry intimidate or coax you into overpaying for anything, especially A DRESS. And also, don't fool yourself. If you can't afford something, it's okay. There are millions of wedding dresses out there. Wait, wait, wait.
The White Gown - $$
I was tired when I walked into this 5th floor studio in Midtown. The White Gown was empty and dark, I think the staff hadn't turned the lights on yet. The place felt like a Manhattan apartment, a sad one, stuffed with dresses and rhinestone ribbon belts. I was drowsily welcomed by Portia, who asked me what kind of dress I was looking for. I told her I didn't like strapless, lace, or glitter, and that something simple would work. Portia led me over to a pair of wide windows facing an office building and told me to undress behind a curtain. She went to pick my dresses for me (a pet peeve of mine at this point) and I waited in a black bathrobe. Portia returned with two lace dresses, one sequined gown, and a strapless dress, all unattractive, none of which I asked for, and none worth their price tag. I tried them on to be polite, but explained they just weren't my style. Portia didn't seem to care, which is fine, we were both tired.
In the end?: I didn't like this place or what they had to offer. Portia was clearly out of it. I left The White Gown discouraged and a little put off. At The White Gown, I learned I needed coffee and that I should figure out a way to talk about what I wanted in a wedding dress, because somehow, it was getting lost in translation.
RK Bridal - $-$$
Located by the Chelsea Piers, this store was a trek on foot from the East Village, and when I arrived, I was wiped out. No appointment necessary, I took the elevator up to the 6th floor and walked into the sprawling, RK Bridal. This place is HA-UGE. The store is a one-stop-shop, stretching with aisles and aisles AND AISLES of gowns, jewelry and tailoring counters, and dressing rooms.
The cheerful buzz at RK Bridal was palpable. The manager greeted me warmly while I was signing in and chatted for a bit. She was so personable and seemed genuinely interested in what I was looking for, and even made a few helpful suggestions for designers I'd probably like. She asked what my budget was, I quietly told her the number and I think I even asked "Is that ok?" She laughed and said, "You'll find something here that you love." ??!!??
The manager invited me to look through the aisles of dresses, choose the ones I liked (?!?!) and to hang them on a rack near the dressing rooms while I waited for a consultant. I was thrilled to be able to actually see, touch, and feel the selection of dresses; this was the first time I was allowed to do this in Manhattan. The manager walked me over to a few sections she thought I'd like and told me she knows the store is "a lot" (referring to the size) and not to be intimidated. Most of the dresses were smashed tightly on the racks, so in order to get a complete visual, RK attached photographs and prices of each dress to the hanger, which I found really useful. The manager left and I combed the store, not really finding anything initially. While the price point was spectacular for the quality (I saw beautiful dresses from $400 - $2000, nothing was priced unreasonably--so refreshing) RK's selection seemed too "pageant-girl" for my taste. The dresses I saw were heavy and sparkling, very Glinda the Good Witch. Not very me.
When I met my bubbly consultant, Sheryl, I wasn't sure she could help me. I told her immediately I didn't want anything "pageanty". She asked if I had any pictures. I didn't. She pointed to a girl trying on a classic, high-necked gown and asked, "Do you like that?" I said sure. Sheryl darted off, and I trudged into the dressing room and waited. I was sure she'd come back with exactly what I didn't want since I hadn't seen anything in-store I liked on my own search. I was wrong. Sheryl quickly returned smiling, with a rack of gowns that were so on-point I could have screamed. I didn't know where she found them in the labyrinth of charmeuse and chiffon and I didn't care. Every gown was more beautiful than the last, and dare I say, Sheryl actually made the experience fun for me. We laughed, took pictures, and talked about Real Housewives. She complimented my butt. I told her she was an angel. Sheryl the Fairy Gownmother owned it. And guess what? She sold me my dress. I would have never tried it on if she didn't push me, but once it was on, I think we both knew.
In the end?: I bought my dress at RK Bridal and learned to try stuff on that maybe doesn't look like "me" on the hanger. And that everyone should strive to be more like Sheryl.