The Wedding Gown
When you're a long-distance or destination bride, searching for a gown requires a few adjustments. First, you must be careful about the "wedding date" that you give to the dress shop. Second, long lead times may make finding a dress in the right "season" somewhat vexing. Finally, what about Mom? How can you get her input when she's not in town? And how are you going to get the gown from your home base to the wedding location? Here are some tips for making this process go as smoothly as possible.
When buying a wedding gown, consider lying about your wedding date.
Why would you do this? First, let's look at how long it takes to order and receive a wedding gown from a traditional bridal shop. It takes as much as two to four months (with some manufacturers up to six) to get in a special-order gown. Then you'll need to leave about a month for alterations and fittings. We recommend allow-ring still another month for screw-ups on the part of the shop. Finally, add in time if you plan to ship the dress to the wedding location.
Total time needed: for shopping, start a year in advance. Order the dress at least six months before the wedding, if not earlier. (For those of you without this much time, we suggest thinking about buying a dress off the rack.)
But why lie about your date? Well, we have spoken to many a bride who has tried to order a gown from a shop early (say July for a wedding the following summer) and was told, "Honey, come back in January and we can help you then."
That's right, many shops lull brides into believing they don't need to plan that far in advance. And as often as not, the dress arrives weeks late (say, two days before the wedding) and the alterations must be rushed. Considering the time needed to travel to the wedding location, you can't afford to have this happen. So, lie about your date (saying that it is four to six weeks earlier than it actually is) and give yourself extra breathing room to save your sanity during this stressful process.
One common bridal industry tactic that compounds this problem: shops that intentionally delay placing your dress order with the manufacturer. Why do they do this? Who knows. Perhaps they are using your dress deposit to pay their utility bills. Whatever the reason, they know your wedding is not for a few months, so why not put off ordering your dress until you "really need it."
That's exactly what one Texas bride told us about her recent order of a $1,200 gown. The bridal shop owner promised her dress by July for her October wedding. When it didn't come in, the shop owner said, "What's the rush? Your wedding isn't for three months." Of course, the bride had told the owner about a bridal portrait sitting she was planning for August when she placed the order—the dress needed to be altered in time for the sitting. Only after harassing the owner for days did the bride finally get her gown—in early August.
One more point: if you don't feel comfortable about lying, consider giving your real date and requiring the shop to give you a delivery date in writing (a smart tip for any dress order). This is not a common practice and they may refuse to do so. However, if they . do agree, you have some legal protection if they fail to deliver the dress on time.
We know what you're thinking now: how can I choose a dress nine months to a year in advance and get a dress that will reflect the season of my actual wedding date?
Of course, if you're shopping a year in advance, you will be shopping during the same season as your future wedding. However, you may find only winter-style dresses with long sleeves, for example—nice, except for the fact that you are getting married in the summer. Similarly, dress shopping in the spring may only turn up short-sleeve styles.
Fortunately, there are ways around this problem. Many designers realize that it pays to keep some styles in their repertoire throughout the year. The number of short-sleeve or long-sleeve options may be smaller when shopping "out of season" but many are still available. Look through older bridal magazines to find styles, then see if they can be ordered.
Also, when looking for a short sleeve dress during long-sleeve season, consider asking what the extra charge would be to have the sleeves shortened. Or order the dress as is and take it to an experienced seamstress to have it altered. Stay away from fabrics that are going to be obviously hotter in summer as well. For example, you won't want to wear a heavy, slipper satin in August. Fabric finishes can also be changed by special request— there may be an extra charge, however.
If you're planning a destination wedding, keep in mind the climate of the wedding location. Check with your travel agent or wedding planner for tips on the best gown for the time of year that you'll tie the knot.
You want input from Mom, but she's so far away.
We have several ideas for involving Mom in this special gown purchase. For example, although many shops prohibit taking pictures of gowns, you could sneak a camera into the dressing room, get rid of the salesperson (you may need a friend to help here) and take a picture.
Also, use the bridal magazines as a resource. You can either send pages back and forth, or have Mom buy the same issue and talk about designs over the phone.
If you can't rely on these methods, simply bring one close friend (whose judgment you trust) to the bridal shop. This will certainly help protect you from overzealous salespeople whose idea of sophistication is an explosion of pink ruffles.
Transporting the gown.
This is one of the most oft-asked questions we get from brides planning a long distance wedding. After all, they say, how do you get that huge twenty-foot train on a plane?
- FIRST, CONSIDER DOUBLE-BAGGING THE DRESS. Usually when you buy a dress from a full-service shop, they give you one of those heavy plastic bags made especially for bridal gowns. Consider buying a second bag (they cost from $10 to $20 each) to protect against any rips, tears, or splits in the first bag.
- IF YOU'RE TAKING THE DRESS ON A PLANE: DON'T CHECK YOUR DRESS. In fact, see if you can hang it in one of the garment compartments. If not, lay it as flat as possible in the overhead compartment (you'll have to have the wrinkles steamed out anyway at the wedding location, so don't be too concerned).
- CONSIDER UPS. If you can't take the dress on a plane or don't want to be bothered with the hassle, ship it via United Parcel Service. UPS offers reliable shipping service to any domestic address in the United States. (While UPS also ships internationally, you may want to play it safe and bring your dress on the plane if you're planning an overseas wedding).
Here's how you do it:
- LEAVE YOURSELF AT LEAST SEVEN WORKING DAYS (twice that in December) for shipping time.
- INSURE THE GOWN FOR FULL VALUE.
- MAKE SURE THE PERSON YOU'RE SENDING IT TO IS GOING TO BE HOME DURING THE DAY.
- ASK UPS WHAT NORMAL DELIVERY TIME IS to your friend's/relative's house. Tell the person on the receiving end when the dress will arrive.
- PACKING: NEVER USE NEWSPAPER. Stuff bodice and sleeves with tissue paper; wrap in acid-free tissue paper (available at most craft stores); fill the box with plastic peanuts.
- IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, GO "SECOND DAY AIR." UPS handles air packages more gently than "ground" shipments, plus you'll know exactly when it will arrive (the cost is two to four times' more than regular ground service).
When it gets there.
Find a competent cleaner or bridal shop in your wedding city that can steam your wedding dress for you. (Note we didn't say press—don't let anyone touch your gown with an iron! The delicate fabric and lace of most gowns rules out ironing. Besides, scorch marks aren't very becoming). Often friends and family can come up with suggestions or look in the Yellow Pages.
If you ship your dress several weeks before your wedding, lay it flat in a spare room. DON'T hang the dress for longer than a day or two. The weight of the dress and train can cause it to stretch out in the shoulders.
How much advanced planning for bridesmaids?
Keep in mind that ordering a bridesmaids dress is very similar to buying a bridal gown. If you order a dress from a traditional shop, most designs will require anywhere from two to three months to get in (some manufacturers require up to six months, believe it or not).
Thankfully, a few designers are now offering faster service. For example, Alfred Angelo stocks four styles of bridesmaids gowns available for immediate delivery in sizes 4 to 44. Jordan also offers "jet service" for fast delivery in sizes up to 42. Even so, "jet service" may still mean a two-week wait. Check a bridal magazine for the name of a bridal shop near you that carries these designers.
Add in time for alterations and fittings (one month). Hence, you may still need to plan two months out to order from these "speedy" manufacturers and four months from the standard designers.
Where are the bridesmaids?
- If they live at your home base, you can shop for the bridesmaids dresses locally.
- If the bridesmaids live either at the wedding location or are scattered across the country, we recommend using Discount Bridal Service (DBS). This nationwide mail-order discounter has done for bridesmaids dresses what Land's End did for casual clothes.
The best strategy is to shop bridal shops and look through bridal magazines to fine the style you like. Get all the bridesmaids' sizes (typically bust, waist, and hips) and order the dresses from your local DBS rep.
If you have any questions about sizing, your local rep should be able to answer them. When you order a dress through Discount Bridal Service, the company does require a 100 percent deposit. This often requires a leap of faith on your part, but after researching the company thoroughly, we've found them to be reputable.
What are the advantage of using DBS for bridesmaids? They offer 20 to 25 percent discounts on the gowns (since the average bridesmaids dress is $150, your attendants could save $30 to $38 or more each). There is a charge for shipping and insurance starting at $14 per dress. Each dress is shipped directly to each bridesmaid.
Typically, dresses ordered through Discount Bridal Service take anywhere from twelve to sixteen weeks to arrive (up to six months for Bianchi, Jim Hjelm, and Eve of Milady). Each bridesmaid will then need to have the dress altered where she lives. To find a good seamstress, have each bridesmaid contact her local Discount Bridal Service representative for suggestions.
THE LATEST BRIDAL APPAREL SCAM
Recently we've been hearing reports from brides (and bridal shop employees) across the country about a new scam: bait-and-switch sample gowns.
- INSTEAD OF ORDERING A NEW DRESS AS PROMISED, some shops are trying to pawn off used, sample gowns on unsuspecting brides. One ex-bridal shop employee in Chicago claimed the practice is widespread there. Here are our suggestions for foiling this scam.
- TAKE A NEEDLE AND A PIECE OF COLORED THREAD WITH YOU TO THE BRIDAL SHOP. After the salesperson leaves the dressing room, sew the thread into an inconspicuous part of the sample gown. Check for the thread when you receive your gown to be sure it isn't the old sample you tried on months ago.
- SNEAK A CAMERA INTO THE DRESSING ROOM with you, then have a friend distract the sales person. Snap pictures of the gown, then compare this to the dress when it comes in. Most shops prohibit any pictures, so you'll have to be discreet about this.
- A VARIATION ON THIS SCAM OCCURS WHEN SHOPS DELIVER YOU A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DRESS than the one you ordered and, surprise surprise, the original sample has disappeared so you can't compare the two. Bridal shops are counting on the fact that your memory may not be so good after several months between ordering and receiving the gown. Again, snap a picture of the dress. If this isn't possible, try to find a magazine picture of the gown you ordered and compare it to the dress when it comes in.
INVITATIONS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
While invitations may seem like a minor detail, the average invitation bill can run $300 or more. Fortunately this is another task that you can do at your home base. There are several points to consider, however, for "far and away" weddings.
Generally, it takes ten days to two months to order invitations; most designs require four to six weeks. Unfortunately, one out of three orders comes in from the printer with mistakes made by the printer and will have to be reprinted. Our advice: check your order carefully when it arrives before paying the balance.
Leaving at least a one-month buffer zone, plus mailing time, will ensure your invitations will arrive in good time. Hence, we recommend ordering the invitations four to five months before the wedding date for long-distance events. Destination weddings that have guests will have similar requirements. If you're planning a couple-only wedding at a faraway location,, no invitations are necessary, but you'll probably want to order announcements to let your friends and family know the news. Announcements and invitations look similar, but an invitation's wording invites guests to the wedding, while an announcement just announces that you've already tied the knot. Hence, announcements do not have response cards, maps, or reception cards—saving you about 20 to 30 percent off the total printing bill.
Have the correct spellings of streets and locations in the wedding city when you go to place the order. Also, make sure you know how to spell everyone's names correctly (one bride we interviewed misspelled her fiance's middle name and the invitation needed to be reprinted at substantial extra cost).
Consider having the order written up but not placed until a copy can be sent (or faxed) to the rest of your family, for proofreading. This way you can eliminate the possibility of spelling errors. If j you're planning a destination wedding and want the location of the ceremony on the announcement, check with your travel agent or wedding planner to confirm the exact spelling.
There's nothing like a good map to help direct guests to a hard to find ceremony or reception location. One tip to save money: see if the sites have pre-made maps (or a template) so you don't have to have them designed and printed. If not, go to the American Automobile Association (AAA) and get a recent map of the area. This way, you can avoid any map errors as well.
A close encounter with the U.S. Post Office is never a fun experience. Here are some guidelines to smooth the process.
Invitations for long-distance weddings. Since almost all the invitations you will be mailing will be to people who don't live at your home base, send them out at least six to eight weeks in advance. (For holiday weekends, consider mailing eight to ten weeks before the wedding). If many guests will be flying in for the wedding, consider mailing out a pre-invitation "newsletter" several months in advance. Include basic information about the date, place, time, hotel information, and so on. A postcard will also do the trick and only costs 19c to mail.
Announcements for destination weddings. Announcements can be mailed any time after you come back from your wedding.
If you consider flowers a high-priority item for your wedding, but you don't want to deal long-distance with a florist you've never met, here's an interesting option: Have the bouquets made in your "home base" town and then carry (or ship) them to the wedding location. How does that work, you ask? If you use silk or dried arrangements, these can be made up in advance and easily transported.
Advantages of silk or dried flowers.
Basically, you oversee the colors and style of your bouquet from start to finish. If you don't like the design, you can change it, substituting different flowers or colors as you like.
You also have the advantage of knowing what the flowers will look like weeks before the wedding— removing one item from your list of many worries and concerns.
Finally, often silk and dried arrangements will save you some money. This is especially true if you find a discounter or make the arrangements yourself. For example, many local crafts stores have full-service floral arranging services that are a fraction of retail prices. We've priced an elaborate bridal bouquet of high-quality silk roses at just $50—at a retail florist, this could run $150 for fresh flowers. Also, the bouquets will last forever—they don't have to be dried or pressed to preserve your memories. Dried flowers offer a Victorian look at an affordable price—most are 10 to 20 percent less than fresh flowers.
Have the major arrangements designed with fresh flowers.
Examples include the altar or ceremony site flowers and reception site arrangements for the buffet table, guest tables, cake decorations, and so on. Be sure to coordinate carefully with the wedding location florist if you choose this option. Consider sending that florist samples of flowers and colors your local florist will be using to make the silk or dried flower bouquets. The result will be a smooth, coordinated look for all the flowers.
Key on local customs.
Flowers for the destination wedding are usually limited to the bride's bouquet and perhaps a boutonnière with the groom. Typically, the setting (on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, for example) provides all the other ambiance.
Remember that the selection of fresh flowers available in other countries and locations may vary widely from that in the United States. And we suggest going with the flow—have a bridal bouquet that reflects the local flora of your destination wedding site. For example, bridal bouquets in Mexico are more likely to be sprays of tropical blooms like Bird of Paradise. You'll be hard pressed to find, for example, lilies of the valley (a delicate bloom that thrives in the cool and wet climates of North America), so we say why fight it? Ask a destination wedding planner for tips on local floral customs.
As you have learned, you can buy the invitations, dress and even flowers at home. But there are some items that must be done at the wedding location. But how can you find a good photographer, for example, long distance? Read on