Remember this past summer when I told you my mom was in town for a special visit? Well I didn’t tell you what made that visit so special: we went wedding dress shopping!
Wedding dress shopping in New York City is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have access to nearly every designer and every style. If you see a dress you love in a magazine or on the runway, odds are you’ll be able to find somewhere to try it on in NYC. Of course the flip side of this is that there are numerous places to shop, making it difficult to decide where to go and when to eventually stop looking.
My mom and I went to eight(!) different stores with a range of different styles, designers and price points. While I’m glad I had that experience, I certainly don’t think you need to go to that many places when you’re looking around! So I outline below the shops I recommend, and the shops I don’t, and give you a little information about my experience. Hopefully it helps you make a decision on where to shop for your wedding dress!
General wedding dress shopping tips
But first, here are a few tips that will make your experience better:
- Make an appointment. This may seem obvious, but you can’t just show up and expect someone to be available to assist you in trying on dresses. The good stores are very busy so you need to make an appointment.
- Make your appointments for during the week, not the weekend! While it may seem easiest to go on a Saturday so you don’t need to take off work, bridal stores are significantly more crowded on the weekends. You want a calm atmosphere where the associate’s focus is all on you, so make your appointment during the week so you can truly enjoy the experience (and all of the attention on you)!
- Make your appointments as early out as possible. If you have a family member flying in from out of town, like me, as soon as they have their flight information contact the stores to make appointments. This way you’ll get your first choice as far as dates and times.
- Make all of your initial appointments the same week. After going to eight different stores, my mom and I were so exhausted! But I’m glad we did it that way because it was easier to compare dresses when they were fresh in my mind. It would have been much more difficult to compare a dress I was trying on to one I had tried on weeks ago!
- Expect to spend about 1 – 1.5 hours at each appointment. For some reason I had it in my head that wedding dress shopping would be an all-afternoon affair. However, in reality most appointments are an hour, with the longer ones only an hour and a half. It seems short on paper, but when you’re there it feels like the perfect amount of time. Wedding dress shopping is exhausting enough as it is without your appointment dragging on! That length of time gives you a good idea of what you like. Then, when you’ve narrowed it down, if you’d like you can go back and try on your favorites to make a final decision.
- Don’t try on dresses outside of your budget. I went to one store where the associate wanted me to first figure out what styles I liked before worrying about the prices. I strongly disagree with this approach. Heaven forbid you try on a dress you immediately fall in love with, only to find out it’s significantly over your budget. Save yourself the heartache and only try on dresses you can afford.
- Wear a nude, strapless, backless bra and a nude thong. Yes, I’m being very specific here, but your undergarments matter when you’re trying on dresses. Nude is the best color to wear under white, and a strapless, backless bra (the kind that sticks to you) will allow you to get a good idea of what the backs of the dresses will look like on your wedding day. It won’t be the perfect bra for every dress, but it is your best option going into the try-on process. And the thong of course will make sure you don’t have any panty lines which may distract from the overall image.
- Know that most dresses will be the equivalent of sizes 2 to 8. I have gone wedding dress shopping with friends outside of NYC, and usually those dresses are equivalent to size 16s and are clipped all over in back to give the bride an idea of what they will look like. In New York City, however, the dresses are in sample sizes, which meant some fit me well, some were slightly bigger, and some were really tight to zip up. And I’m a pretty average size. So I feel every bride should know this going in, because I would hate for anyone to not have the wedding dress experience she envisioned due to the sizes of the dresses available for trying on.
- Only bring 1-2 people whose opinions matter to you. Even though many people have an image in their head of dress shopping with their mother, grandmothers, bridesmaids, friends, next door neighbors and pizza delivery guys (I’m exaggerating but you get my point), you really don’t want that many people with you. One because most dressing rooms in NYC are on the smaller side, so there’s not actually room for a group, and two because you don’t want a large number of people with different tastes weighing in with their opinions. Pick a special family member who is down to go all over town with you (in my case, my mom!) or a friend or two whose style you admire.
- Wear your hair like you want it on your wedding day. This can be a rough idea, no need to pay for an updo, but if you know you want your hair up, then wear it up to your appointments so you can see what the dresses look like when your hair is up. Similarly, if you know you want your hair down and curled, wear it down and curled. And if you don’t yet know how you want your hair (or it depends on the dress you pick), then wear it down and curled but bring a clip so you can see your hair in different styles with the different dresses.
- Don’t make a decision right away. If you have the time (as in you don’t need to order your dress ASAP because your wedding date is far enough away) don’t make a decision on the spot. At the end of my crazy week of dress shopping I had narrowed it down to three dresses. Then I put the decision out of my mind for a month before going back with two friends and trying on all three dresses together. It helped me know that I still liked the dresses even after that time had passed, and it was good to see my favorites all together at one time when making a final decision.
- You won’t be offered champagne! My mom and I expected to be drinking a lot of champagne during the process, so we were disappointed when not a single store offered us any! I suppose it’s better to be sober, so you can look at the dresses with a discerning eye, but we were still bummed! I was eventually offered champagne once I went back with my two friends and made a final dress selection, much to my mom’s disappointment!
Where to go wedding dress shopping in New York City
And now, here’s where to shop in NYC, starting with the most affordable locations and ending with the more high-end stores.
Approximate price range $250 – $4,000
The pros: If this is your wedding dress budget then BHLDN (pronounced “beholden”) is a wonderful place to go. You’ll have a good experience and the dresses are much nicer than their price tags would indicate. Plus BHLDN has a quick turnaround, so you can get most wedding dresses delivered within a week, making BHLDN the perfect store for your shotgun wedding (kidding, kind of…)! The store is set up like a cute boutique, which makes sense because BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding brand. There’s also a nice selection, so you have a good number of dresses to choose from.
The cons: The girl we worked with, Tara, was sweet, but not very attentive with things like fluffing the train. There was nothing wrong, and I feel bad saying this because she was a nice girl, but it was a lesser customer service experience than we had at the higher-end boutiques. Tara was similar to a nice sales associate you’d find at a normal store, getting sizes for you and things like that, but she wasn’t like the typical associates we worked with at bridal salons who would prepare the dress for photographs and discuss things you liked and didn’t like about each dress so they could help you further. And as one more con, BHLDN doesn’t offer tailoring, so you’d have to go elsewhere for it.
The White Gown
Approximate price range $2,500 – $4,000
The pros: The White Gown has over 300 dresses, and many of them are really beautiful. Not all 300 dresses are on the floor, just a selection. Once you pick a few on the floor you like, the sales associate will be able to pull similar ones from the back. This makes the process less overwhelming (who wants to look through 300 dresses?!) but also allows you to quickly narrow down your style and view similar options. I worked with Arielle, and I appreciated that she gave honest feedback. I had showed her a picture of a Marchesa dress I had tried on and loved, and she agreed that the dress I was trying on at The White Gown wasn’t as nicely made. I appreciated this, since The White Gown doesn’t sell Marchesa and there was no benefit to her in making that statement.
The cons: That being said, Arielle didn’t impress me like some of the other sales associates we worked with. Whenever she saw my mom trying to arrange my train for photographs she would help, but she didn’t take the initiative. Again, I think you get the level of service that you pay for, and if this is your budget then you will still have a nice experience, it just won’t blow you away.
Gabriella New York
Approximate price range: $2,500 – $12,000 (average price point $4,000 – $7,000)
The pros: I had such a wonderful experience here! We worked with Erin and she was fabulous, making my feel special and beautiful in every dress. I just love her, and if you go to Gabriella you should certainly ask for Erin! Erin aside, I also loved many of the dresses at Gabriella. I had initially wanted a Marchesa dress, and the store has a great selection of the designer, plus other similar styles. Gabriella was one of the only places I went where I loved most of the dresses I put on, making my decision very difficult!
The cons: There really aren’t any. I highly recommend Gabriella New York!
Approximate price range: $4,000 – $17,000
The pros: I had a wonderful experience working with Jillian. She understood my style and made thoughtful suggestions for tailoring to help make my vision a reality. And apparently their tailor is fabulous, so that’s an added bonus! I was having a hard time choosing which dress, so Jillian asked me great questions like if I had multiple dresses, which one would I wear for Greg to see me in first? And if I called and one of the dresses wasn’t available, would I be sad or just move on to the other one? My gut reaction to these questions helped me figure out which one I loved best!
I just adore Monique Lhuiller’s dresses, so if you’re like me then the NYC flagship is the place to go! They have all of the past seasons of dresses that are still in production, so if there’s a dress that can still be ordered from the designer then you’ll be able to try it on here. And this doesn’t particularly matter when choosing a dress, but Monique Lhuiller has the most beautiful storefront and showroom out of everywhere we went.
The cons: There really weren’t any. If you love Monique Lhuillier then you need to shop here!
Approximate price range $4,500 – $25,000
The pros: Bridal Reflections has a runway, so that’s pretty amazing! We worked with Leandra and I told her my budget. After I found a dress I loved she told me it was over budget, which annoyed me at first (see my earlier tips above)! However she spoke with the manager and discounted it so it was within budget, so I appreciated that. Plus she said she “knew I was having a black tie wedding the minute I walked through the door,” and I always appreciate that kind of recognition, ha! As another positive, Bridal Reflections carries plus sizes for some of its most popular gowns, making the store more accessible for a variety of brides than other places I went.
The cons: There were a good amount of dresses on the racks, probably about 150. However many of them were, politely put, over the top. I’m talking sequins and beads and poofy material, all rolled into one elaborate dress. If that’s your style, this is the place to go. If it’s not, then it might not be the right shop for you. Although that being said I did find a dress there I loved, and I’m not a sequins and beads and poofy material person. Another con is the changing rooms are very small, so my mom had to stand in the corner in order to fit inside. There’s plenty of room outside for your guests to sit and wait, but when you’re eliminating dresses without needing to parade around in them, then it’s nice to have your person inside the room with you.
Saks Fifth Avenue
Approximate price range $5,000 – $25,000
The pros: Saks has a nice Marchesa and Monique Lhuiller selection, which were my top two designers going into this process. There are a lot of dresses in back, so once you narrow down what you’re looking for the sales associate can pull dresses based on your preferences. We worked with Jill, and she offered really creative ideas for altering dresses I liked to make them even more likable in my eyes. She also offered incentives for shopping at Saks, like 10% off with the opening of a store credit card and free tailoring.
The cons: There aren’t any cons with Saks. They offer a range of designers and a significant 10% off discount which may just pull you away from the designer flagships themselves.
Where NOT to go wedding dress shopping in New York City
And now we’re on to the naughty list! These are the locations I recommend skipping:
Approximate price range: $2,500 – $20,000
The pros: This is the bridal store from Say Yes to the Dress, so I suppose it’s a good place to go if you want to be on TV?
The cons: I had gone here earlier to support a friend who was getting married, and the experience was so bad that I didn’t even go to Kleinfeld’s when it came to shopping for my own wedding dress. The place is a zoo, with about 10 brides shopping at once. Brides don’t get the special attention they deserve, and instead it feels very rushed. It may have been the place to go back in the day, but now it’s a victim of its own success with too many shoppers to offer any quality of service.
Approximate price range: $5,500 – $30,000
The pros: There really aren’t any, unfortunately.
The cons: Bergdorf Goodman’s website lists featured collections that they carry in their bridal salon, including Marchesa, Monique Lhuiller, Jenny Packham, and Reem Acra. However when I went in person, they didn’t have any dresses from those designers! The associate we worked with, Shelbie, then directed me to browse the 30 or so dresses in the showroom on my own, without offering many suggestions for similar looks. I found a few and tried them on, but just didn’t fall in love with anything. It felt like a waste of time, and I wish the website hadn’t been so misleading!
Mark Ingram Atelier
Approximate price range: $5,000 – $20,000 (average price point $7,000 – $12,000)
The pros: Mark Ingram carries some of my favorite designers including Monique Lhuiller and Marchesa.
The cons: Unfortunately there are so many cons! I was SO excited to go to Mark Ingram, they’re known as the place to shop for designer gowns. However our experience was awful. There are only 30 or so dresses in the showroom, and even though I browsed those dresses and brought photographs of other ones I liked, it took our sales associate, Katherine, a long time to understand my style and what I was looking for. The first 45 minutes of my appointment were spent trying to help her understand what I wanted, with her then rushing me the last 15 minutes to try on the few dresses I liked so the appointment would end on time. And when we left there wasn’t anyone in the waiting room, so I didn’t really see the need for that kind of time rigidity. And another thing that slowed the appointment down is the amount of time we had to wait for dresses to be brought from the back. It probably took 5 minutes each time, and since they didn’t have a robe I was left standing in the dressing room in my underwear waiting for most of the appointment. I said earlier you get what you pay for when it comes to service, but here I felt we had awful service that didn’t correspond to the high price points on the dresses.
At each place we shopped you can tell the wedding dresses had been tried on many times, that’s to be expected. But at Mark Ingram the dresses were excessively worn and discolored. It was hard to tell if you even liked them because they were in such bad shape.
Mark Ingram just took themselves too seriously. There were signs everywhere for no eating or drinking, no leaning on the couches, and no photographs. It was incredibly stuffy, and unnecessary, since the customers all seemed well bred and appropriate.
Phew, that’s a lot! Hopefully this helps, and you have an amazing wedding dress shopping experience you’ll remember fondly for the rest of your life!
And if you’re wondering which dress I chose, I customized this one with Monique Lhuillier!
For all of my wedding-related posts, click here.