Wedding Dress Shopping Tips From a Bridal Salon Owner

Here, the co-owner of a popular bridal salon shares her advice for finding your dream dress.

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Photo by JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Selecting the perfect dress for your big day is no small feat. Mara Urshel, co-owner of Kleinfeld in New York City, speaks candidly about finding “the one.”



How should a bride approach the first shopping trip?
A typical salon appointment is one and a half hours and I suggest booking no more than two or three in a day. Otherwise, you will oversaturate yourself and you won’t remember what you tried on. Look at magazines and designer and bridal shop websites to get an idea of what you’re drawn to in terms of style, shape, attitude, and bring those photos to the first appointment. The overall feel—romantic, contemporary, beachy—is the key piece for the consultant because it allows her to pull a range of dresses that might work. Make an appointment during the week, if possible, or first thing in the morning on the weekend, when the store is quietest.

Who should the bride bring with her?
Invite no more than two or three people to go with you. Maybe it’s your mom, best friend, and mother-in-law—now is a good time to start bonding. When a bride comes in with an entourage, and everyone has an opinion, it’s difficult for her to express herself. Often she ends up not making a decision and will come back on her own another day.

Any tips for helping a bride zero in on her dream dress?
Keep an open mind. More often than not, brides choose dresses that look nothing like the pictures they bring in, so try on everything the consultant brings you, even if it doesn’t look like “you.” Wedding gowns are made differently than regular dresses—they have layers and linings that pull you in in all the right places, so a style that doesn’t normally flatter you might be just the one for your wedding. Another thing that sometimes happens is a bride says she doesn’t like princess gowns, but falls in love with one when she puts it on—it is, after all, the most bridal of all looks. We also have what we call “hanger dresses.” Usually these are made of a thin material, like silk charmeuse or fine lace, and they look like sticks on the hangers. But on the right bride these gowns are stunning.

How do you know which white is right?
Wedding dresses come in hundreds of shades of white. In terms of general categories, you’ll find “diamond white,” also known as “silk white,” and light, medium, and dark ivory, but these vary quite a bit depending on the designer. Most gowns don’t actually come in pure white, which is good because it washes out all but the darkest skin tones. Sometimes the material also has an unbecoming bluish cast. Diamond white, which is a little creamier, is the most popular choice and looks great with most complexions. Light ivory is also fairly universally flattering. If you’re pale, medium to dark ivory can provide a nice contrast that will help brighten up the skin. Always try on dresses in a few different shades to determine what looks best on you.

Where do you steer a bride who wants a look that’s fashionable, but won’t appear dated five or 15 years from now?
I wouldn’t think too much about it or you could wind up with a really boring dress! That said, I would tone down the embellishment. Tons of embroidery, beading, and ruffles can appear passé pretty quickly. Otherwise, I believe you can inject a lot of fashion and still have a look that’s classic.

What are your favorite styles?
Two styles I love right now are the one-shoulder dresses—think of Michelle Obama’s gorgeous, ivory inaugural gown—and the dresses with illusion necklines. The latter have a sheer fabric overlay that extends from bust to collar, providing some coverage while still looking sexy. Both styles are flattering on most brides, incredibly chic, and I predict they’ll stand the test of time.

Is it possible to find a really great dress for less?
There are many fabulous gowns that are priced in the $2,000 range and under, but you need to be a little scrupulous. Pay close attention to the fabric, making sure it’s not too shiny, scratchy, or heavy—even a multi-layered princess gown shouldn’t feel like it’s adding ten pounds to your frame. Also, because the embellishments on inexpensive dresses can sometimes be gaudy, I’d go with something simple and jazz it up with a great accessory, like a crystal belt, vintage broach, or silk flower pin. If you’re hunting for a true bargain, visit bridal salon websites to find out when they have trunk shows (events featuring discounted dresses by specific designers) and sales. We have a huge quarterly sale with gowns marked down by as much as 70 percent. You’ll have the best luck if you’re a sample size—a bridal 10, which is a 6 or 8 in ready-to-wear—or smaller, but some stores, including ours, carry larger sizes as well.