Shopping Tips from VOWS: Magazine

Congratulations from inside the field you're entering! We at VOWS: -- all of us brides and grooms at some point past -- wish you smooth wedding planning and a wonderful married life....

I guess you know already: You, as a bride, are a big-ticket buyer to a lot of businesses, and you've got a lot of buying decisions ahead of you. If that realization makes you squirm, our best beginner advice is to educate yourself about industry norms (price ranges; overall budget percentages; order/ lead times and contractual obligations) before you commit to any major purchase, then don't be afraid to eschew tradition when it doesn't serve you or becomes too expensive!

We have more to offer, but first a bit about us....

VOWS: is a magazine published six times a year for bridal and wedding stores. Most of our readers are small, independent businesses, under 10,000 square feet and 25 employees, selling wedding dresses, other apparel and wedding-day accessories. We work with our readers to provide better service, deeper and more open relationships, and the highest level of professionalism for their customers -- YOU! The stories we hear from readers every day, plus the research we do for articles, tell us that a full-service, locally-owned bridal shop is most likely your best value choice for a great wedding gown and a great gown-buying experience.

Want to know why?

1. Most women have never bought a garment as formal and as constructed as a wedding gown, and most need expert advice to arrive at the right look and fit.

There's no shame in being a novice here. It's not exactly a pair of blue jeans you're buying. And no ready-to-wear clothing is styled, cut or sized like bridal apparel. Bridal gowns are among the very few garments (outside haute couture) still meant to be custom fitted to each individual body.

 Just knowing what will look good on you is tricky, because when in your daily life do you wear Empire or Basque waists and mermaid or sheath skirts?

Rather than go it alone and risk solitary freak out in a dressing room, why not ask a bridal shop consultant for advice? Find a good one and she will know a plethora of details you've probably never thought about, like:

Also: One huge hallmark of "full service" bridal is that the retailer can make arrangements for expert alterations, whether on-site or through referrals. The store's stamp of approval lets you know you'll be dealing with a skilled seamstress who can really bring together your dream dress vision.

2. Brides spend a significant amount of dough, and most would rather do it where their money is appreciated.

If the median price range for formal gowns, about $600 to $800, is a shock for you, here's an accompanying bit of reassurance: Being the bride gives you a truly unparalleled opportunity to feel and look beautiful while making your money count.

It's true! Every penny you spend towards your own wedding "ensemble" makes the day more your own. Few wedding purchases really impact a bride like what you wear.

And whatever dollar figure you spend outfitting yourself makes you a V.I.P. to an independent business. Where a few hundred dollars at a department store won't signal any whistles or bells for the cashier, the same amount spent with an independent retailer is real money to the person who rings you up.

Without question, every retailer VOWS: has interviewed is grateful and gracious at receiving business from local brides. That attitude certainly helps engender a good working relationship, which you'll need because you'll have so many reasons to pop back into the shop before your wedding date.

3. The gown is a big emotional commitment, and being unsure of its safe order and shipment will wreck a bride's peace of mind. Using a business with a community reputation to uphold is the best insurance to get exactly what you paid for.

 Independent bridal shops depend on local referrals more than other types of businesses. They are generally owned by people who are active in their communities, and those owners have a big stake in maintaining positive press. This means the shops have to settle any complaints and handle any merchandise problems that arise to your satisfaction before your wedding.

As a rule, independent bridal shops hold themselves to a very high level of accountability more personal and more immediately responsive than retail chain stores, discount outlets or even Internet dealers. Owners usually work the sales floor and are THERE, physically available in person, if you have a gripe to air.

It's unlikely you'll have any problem getting your dress delivered and fitted. But knowing that an accessible business owner has every reason to solve a problem is the best security blanket for sweet dreams during wedding planning.

If you'd like to know more about full service bridal retailers, the VOWS: site can help you out.

Check out VOWS:' Retailer Locator function, available to the best of our readers as a free referral service for brides across the country.

And, we accept your kudos or complaints right along with the referrals we serve up. Feel free to weigh in with your experience to keep the bridal apparel industry as focused and as fair as it needs to be.

Ginger Barry, is the editor of Vows, the Trade Publication for the bridal industry.

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