Photo by Ash Daniel
Bride: What are some of the biggest mistakes brides make when shopping for a gown?
Ellen Clark: Bringing a huge group, such as eight to 10 people, is always a mistake. I've seen many brides get flustered because she'll pick out a dress she truly likes and then everyone will have an opinion. Keeping it to three or four guests is best. Also, leave the children and infants at home. It's usually the sister's or maid of honor's child, and you don't think it will be a big deal, but everyone winds up preoccupied with the children. We've had screaming babies, kids running around in the salon ... it's not a good experience.
Bride: What are some bad behaviors you've seen from brides?
EC: Not bothering to take a shower. Coming in to shop right after a spray tan. Wearing a full face of makeup. All of this happens all the time and, of course, affects the dresses. Also, not wearing underwear, which is unhygienic. It was always a little surprising when customers didn't wear appropriate undergarments.
Bride: What we're all wondering: How does a bride get a good deal on a gown?
EC: You might get a really great deal if you buy the sample gown right off the rack. Otherwise, you can usually get a 10 percent discount, or maybe 15 percent if you do a check instead of credit card. You won't necessarily save on last season's gowns — if the dress is still being ordered and in demand, it doesn't matter how old it is.
Bride: What about if you offer to buy it that day?
EC: I've known of quite a few stores that will offer you 20 precent off if you buy within 24 to 48 hours; but the truth is that they've marked up that gown and you can probably find it for less at other stores. I know of a store in Atlanta that does this all the time, marking up the dress as much as $500.
Bride: Yikes! Any other shady things a shop might do?
EC: I've heard of some shops selling your information from the form you fill out when you visit the store. Also, some stores are charging astronomical alteration fees — as much as $800! Remaking a dress is one thing, but it shouldn't be that much. The stores that charge that much are only doing so because they can; brides feel like they don't have a choice. When your dress comes in, ask for an estimate before they start.
Bride: What should a bride pay for alterations?
EC: The lowest I've seen — for minimal body work, no hem, and just a bustle — ran about $200. But $450 to $500 for alterations is average.
Bride: Any secrets that only someone like you would know?
EC: The Chinese New Year affects the U.S. bridal shops; when those factories are closed, they get very backed up. So if you order a dress around November or December, your order will
go into the queue and then the store is waiting and waiting. But if you order between April and October, you won't run into that problem.
Bride: What's an interesting dress-shopping trend you've seen in the past couple years?
EC: I've seen a dramatic shift in how much brides are willing to spend on their gowns. They will spend $50,000 on a wedding, but want a gown for less than $1,000. At one point, the gown was the most important thing to every bride, but today's brides are like, ‘Well, I'm just wearing it once.'
Bride: In regards to that, are there any repercussions for the brides?
EC: I think sites with knock-offs and some Pinterest dresses have misled brides about finding lower-priced gowns. I strongly advise against buying off the internet, without ever seeing it in person. It's very risky and often a total fiasco.
Bride: What will you miss the most about operating a bridal shop?
EC: I loved the one-on-one time with the brides; they're all planning different things and you get to share that with them. I also made some really good friends in the wedding industry since it's a job that exposes you to so many people. It was a lot of fun!