Wedding season is well underway, and newly engaged ladies everywhere are making bridal appointments in hopes of finding that perfect white wedding dress for their big day (or maybe a colorful wedding dress is more your style?). Finding the right dress can be difficult work, and many brides-to-be look to a bridal stylist for help with the big decision. If you’re one of those nervous brides, you may be wondering how to prepare for and get the most out of your bridal appointment. We spoke with Erin Graver, a bridal consultant and stylist for BHLDN in Chicago, about the best way to approach your bridal boutique visit. A recent bride herself, Erin gave us some pro tips on how to handle the opinions of your family, what you should know about your wedding beforehand and how to speak your mind. With these tips, you’ll be able to approach your appointment — and wedding day — with confidence.
1. The fewer people you bring to your appointment, the better. This is an exciting time, not just for you, but for a lot of people who are close to you. However, even though their intentions are well-meaning, you shouldn’t bring an entourage to your appointment. Erin says, “For those initial fittings when you are still figuring out what you like, the fewer voices you have in that conversation, the easier your life will be and the happier you’ll be with your decision long-term.”
People will be voicing their opinion no matter what, but your appointment is a time for you to get down to brass tacks and figure out what you want. The crew you bring with you should keep this in mind. “Be thoughtful of who you are inviting to your appointment,” says Erin. “Your decisions about who you’ve invited into this conversation can really make or break the experience. Don’t think about it in terms of who would want to be there the most or who sounds like the most fun person to bring — it’s not about that. These people need to be reverent of the fact that their presence is a privilege, not a right.” People who have your back or who you trust to keep it real with you are a must, and if someone is helping you pay for the dress, it may be only fair that they’re invited along.
For everyone else, there are plenty of other ways to be involved in the process. Erin says, “Bring those people to your fittings once you’ve bought the dress and let them get a sneak preview that way, or take them with you to go shopping for a veil.” Keep in mind that while it’s wonderful that everyone wants to be a part of the happy occasion, too many cooks can hinder your process.
2. Having an idea of what kind of wedding you want is key. Knowing what type of feel you want for the day will help narrow down the kind of dress you’re looking for. According to Erin, “Having an idea of the venue, the size of the wedding and understanding generally what you want the wedding to be like is going to help you figure it out.” Ideally, you’ll have the venue chosen before you head to the bridal boutique. Erin says, “The venue will set the tone for what kind of a wedding it is and the time of day your ceremony will happen. Even if none of the other planning is done, it informs a lot about what kind of dress you need.” Just like every bride is different, every wedding is going to be different, so your dress should follow suit. Erin explains, “If you’re eloping on a beach in Mexico, you’ll wear a very different kind of dress than if you’re getting married in a cathedral downtown. It’s not even about finding the one dress — it’s finding the right dress for that day and that wedding.”
Erin knows this from her own experience as well. For their wedding, Erin and her husband Kevin chose a loft space in downtown Chicago that was the perfect setting for her vintage silk dress. “I love my dress,” she says, “and it was perfect for what I did, but if I did a different kind of wedding, I would have worn a different kind of dress, for sure.”
3. Don’t beat yourself up for not having a Say Yes to the Dress moment. A lot of brides go into their appointments expecting to have an “Aha! This is the one!” kind of moment, but in reality, that’s not always the case. Erin blames reality TV. “There is a huge misconception that there has to be a lightning bolt moment, and if you don’t have that moment, then there’s no way this could be the dress. That’s just ridiculous.” Even though the occasion is on a much grander scale, it helps to go into it like a regular shopping trip. Erin suggests, “You have to keep a mental grounding and just pay attention to what you like.” As is the case with a normal shopping trip, sometimes you find that “gotta have it” item, but it’s totally normal to not have an emotional attachment to an item of clothing. According to Erin, “Sometimes brides get frustrated and they’ll be like, ‘yeah, I really like this but, I don’t know. Am I supposed to be feeling something?’ Some people do, some people don’t. Don’t worry about that, especially when you’re first looking.”
4. Remember to keep an open mind. While it helps to approach the dress search like a normal shopping trip, one thing to let go of is not being open to different styles of dresses. Sure, you know what looks good on you, but wedding dresses are a whole other story. Erin thinks it’s best for brides to leave their biased expectations at the door. She says some brides “have the mentality of ‘I just know that I’m not someone who can wear a sweetheart,’ or ‘I know I’m not someone who can wear fitted styles.’” The one thing to keep in mind is that your stylist wants one thing and one thing only: to make you look and feel amazing. “The marking of a good stylist is someone who can separate their own vision of personal taste to understand why someone would want something different.” She adds, “Keep an open mind and trust that your stylist has your vision and interest at heart. They wouldn’t suggest something if they didn’t think it would work. Have an idea of what you’re looking for, but leave expectations at the door.”
5. It doesn’t hurt to do some research and come prepared. Showing up to an appointment with some examples of the kind of dress you have in mind, or even just knowing what you want out of the appointment, can help your experience move along steadily and efficiently. Erin usually asks her brides, “Are we looking for ideas? The dress? Do we have it narrowed down to a style?” An even more important thing to prepare? Proper undergarments. A good approach is to bring the garments that you would expect to wear for the wedding. Erin says, for example, “If you want a super flowy, lightweight dress, you may want something to support your body underneath it. Understand what your body needs, undergarment-wise.”
6. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. You’re not going to love every dress you try on, but if you don’t like a dress, let your stylist know why. Erin says this usually leads her to ask questions like, “What about it is falling short? If you could change something about it, would it make it better? Little things like that lead me down a path to what kind of dress we need to look for.” Whether it’s an issue with the neckline or color, it’s important for your stylist to know what to steer away from — and it’s not personal whatsoever. Erin says, “You can’t like every dress. It’s not about being insulted.”
A certain B word makes some brides feel the need to hold back, because they’re worried about coming off as too demanding. That bad word, as you probably guessed, is bridezilla. Erin is not a big fan of this word. “It makes brides so afraid to be assertive and strong in their decisions about things, because they don’t want to seem like a bridezilla. It’s instilled so many more anxieties and insecurities in brides than they already have.” Some of these brides who are considered to be more “difficult” are actually a great challenge for Erin. She says, “Half the time, at the end of the appointment, we don’t have what she’s looking for, but I feel very close with her. She gets that I get what she’s looking for and that I want to help her find it, and I’ll even go the extra mile and recommend other designers.” Planning a wedding is practically a full-time job, and a tough one that Erin is also very well-versed in. “I get that bride because I was that bride. I had a very distinct idea of what I was looking for. It’s not rude to have an opinion, and these brides have no problem letting you know when they don’t like something.” So don’t apologize for wanting to get the job done right.
7. Remember that this is your dress and your day. One of the most difficult things about choosing a dress can be finding a balance between what the bride wants and what the family wants. Whether there is a financial element involved or not, the opinion of the family can be a hard one to shake. Erin tries her best to be the middleman in the situation. “It’s a really hard line to toe because, first and foremost, I’m the advocate for the bride. I’m there to support her and her decision. However, if you’re a good stylist, you’re also letting the other important people in the room feel like they’re being respected.”
Hearing endless opinions is unavoidable, but Erin has found an approach that helps her biggest priority: the bride-to-be. “Commonly, when a bride comes out in her dress,” she says, “I’ve noticed that a lot of people will start speaking up before the bride has even said a word about what she thinks about the dress. By the second time that happens, I’ll say, ‘Now, before anyone says anything, I’m very interested to hear how the bride feels.’ Usually, just saying that reminds people that, ‘Oh right, this is what this is about.’” These people are, of course, excited to be a part of your day, but what a bride should keep in mind is what it means to her and her groom.
Erin always makes sure to get that much-valued one-on-one time with her brides, to help put things in perspective. “A line I commonly say to the bride, privately in the changing room, is ‘remember that you are the one with this photo album in 30 years.’” She adds, “Most of these people in the room, while they will maybe have a photo in their house, aren’t the ones looking back on the wedding. It’s not their cherished memory, it’s your cherished memory, and they get to be a part of it.”
8. Compromises can be made. Certain details about the dress can sometimes cause more discussion than the dress itself. One common modern bride dilemma: to veil or not to veil. What it usually comes down to is the family wanting to keep things fairly traditional, while the bride wants to go another direction. The way Erin sees it, either way, it doesn’t hurt anyone to try. According to Erin, “A lot of times in the appointment, I’ll say, ‘Why don’t we do this: Let’s try a veil on, Mom can take some pictures and we can get an idea of what it looks like. Maybe you’ll like it, and if you don’t, we’ll take it right off, but at least we tried it,’ and you find those compromises in the process.” Sometimes, one party involved will be surprised by the outcome, and a middle ground is found. “They’re careful compromises,” Erin says. “I don’t want to compromise the whole vision. However, if Mom has pictured something more traditional, we can bring in other traditional elements to warm her up to the idea of how we can make this still feel bridal to everybody.” Either way, there are ways to make all parties involved happy.
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9. Prioritize what’s really important to you, and relax about everything else. When it comes to the wedding as a whole, Erin tells us she is sometimes asked for advice, especially since she recently planned a wedding herself. The biggest piece of advice she gives is, “When you’re planning your wedding, pick three things that are a priority and keep those sacred — do not bend on them. Be flexible on everything else, because what you think you’re going to have when you start planning the wedding is so different from what you end up with.” It can be impossible for every aspect to be absolutely perfect, whether it’s because of money, time or other various logistical reasons. Some things just don’t fall into place the way you want them to. The important thing to do is figure out these priorities as a couple, because “if you have those three things on your day to attach to, it’s going to feel like your day, even if some other dumb detail didn’t pull together.”
For Erin and Kevin, one of their biggest priorities was to have an intimate, small dinner with just immediate family and the bridal party. “It was the greatest thing about the day,” she remembers. The important thing to keep in mind is that “at the end of the day, everyone’s there to see you get married, and as long as you get married, it’s a success. That really helped keep things in perspective for me. We were still getting married, even though we weren’t doing it the same way everyone expected us to do it. It was still a wedding.”
10. All brides are beautiful, and you should look like you. Something Erin tries to convey to all of her brides is that they should feel comfortable in their own skin and not give themselves crazy expectations. “The aim is not perfection — the aim is what feels right,” she says. “Don’t purchase a dress with this mindset that you are a different size or shape than you are.” While many brides take the “sweating for the wedding” approach to their pre-nuptial prep, it can sometimes cause more harm than good. Erin points out, “You’re already putting so many deadlines and pressures on yourself, and the last thing that you need is a physical deadline to hold yourself to.” It’s a trend that Erin feels she sees far too often. She says, “I see brides of all sizes, all shapes, all heights, all colors, all builds look amazing every day, in a way that only they could look amazing. It’s such a shame to think that a woman could go through so much of her life missing out on that.”
As much as society tries to take ladies down, Erin fights this by trying to empower the women she meets as much as possible. “I’m helping a bride find a dress, but it’s not just finding a dress that makes them feel like a princess,” she says. “This is their coming out. You’re having all of the most important people in your life be there to see you walk through those doors, and not just as a bride. You’re saying ‘Here I am. This is my party and I’m going to marry this person and I look damn good and it’s going to be great!’”