There is probably not much argument to the statement that the purchase of her wedding gown is the most important, special and exciting acquisition that a prospective bride makes. It’s also a fairly costly one and for these reasons it is important to enter the shopping-buying process with as much information as possible. Here are some tips and money-saving ideas which may prove helpful.

A deposit will be required for the purchase of a wedding gown. It’s best to use a credit card. Paying cash or by check is a really bad judgement call. If, for some reason, the purchase needs to be canceled, cash is difficult to have returned, while a credit card bill can be disputed. Keep all receipts for purchases you make, all invoices and bills. 

Choose a well known, established, full-service shop. Brides will generally get better from a “small,” local shop than from most bridal warehouses. 

It is a violation of FTC rules to remove labels from wedding dresses in the store unless it is replaced by the shop’s own label. 

As in most things, you get what you pay for. The temptation of “Free alterations” is sometimes not what it seems. Unfortunately unscrupulous bridal shops may offer “Free alterations, ” while the alteration cost is a “hidden fee” to the cost of the gown. To keep the degree of alterations in check, don’t buy a dress that isn’t your size with the idea of changing it to make it your size. Some of the better bridal shops will not charge extra for alterations. You may face the same problem with “Free” shoes, bra, and slip rental. To add insult to injury, the shoes and bras are usually of the lowest quality. Comparison shopping on wedding gowns is very difficult, so word of mouth referrals and good business references may be all a bride has to go on. 

Unbelievable as it may sound, some unscrupulous bridal shops actually sell used gowns as new. It’s important that the invoice for purchase specifically state that the dress is brand new, not used before, and is promised to be delivered stain-free, or the buyer is entitled to a 100% refund. Should you decide to budget by buying a used gown, it should carry a “heavy” discount. 

When a bride is really to shop, she should make an appointment at the shops she is considering and make it clear to the shop personnel that she has not made a final decision about where she will actually be making her purchase. Giving the sales person a price range is important. It will save lots of time and aggravation. 

It’s helpful to bring pictures of gowns from the bridal magazines to the shops. Even if the store does not have exactly the gown in the photo, they may be able to show you one that is similar, or they may be able to modify a similar dress to make the end product what you’re looking for. This is just one of the benefits of a full service shop. Keep in mind that changing the design of a gown or adding items like extra lace, sewn on flowers and the like can become costly. Ask about charges before you make your decisions. 

If you have a particular manufacturer in whom you are interested, ask for written proof that the shop is authorized by to sell that manufacturer’s gowns. Any reputable shop should be able to produce a certificate to prove it. If they can’t show a certificate or other proof, you should assume they not authorized. You can also work “backwards,” by contacting the manufacturer first for a list of “authorized bridal shops.” These lists are often listed in designer ads of the bridal magazines. Make certain that your invoice clearly states what manufacturer and model your dress is, the color, size, any included alterations and other accessories. Any reputable shop will be happy to give you a complete, detailed invoice. In the event of a dispute, your contract is your only recourse.

Delivery time for wedding gowns is a source of aggravation to brides and shop owners alike. If time is of the essence, you may be better off buying your gown off the rack instead of ordering one. Many shops never get bridal gowns delivered on time because they are really not in control of the ordering process and schedule. It’s the manufacturers who are subject to many outside influences. To be conservative, allow 3-5 months for your wedding dress to arrive and for alterations to be completed. It’s also important to know what deposit is required and when is the final payment A six to eight week leeway will keep you safe. Make certain that a guaranteed delivery “by” date is included, in writing, on your invoice. 

Ask for full disclosure of the up front price as well any additional charges which may be accrued along the way (e.g., bustling a train, ironing, a delivery fee, garment bag fee or hanger fee, storage fees, etc.). Should you store the dress yourself, make sure it’s in a good, clean environment with little humidity, well protected from bugs. Keep the dress away from any area in which there are smokers. The dress will absorb this and any other pungent odors. 

Use your own good judgement and the help of a good, honest friend to decide what looks good on you. Salespeople are there to sell and so, although many will be helpful, their opinions may be biased. Your veil is the most important accessory fore your gown. The price is calculated separately from the headpiece. Depending on the length of veil you select, making it detachable, a fairly inexpensive add-on, is well worth your comfort. 

Undergarments which are comfortable and enhance the look of your gown are important. It is not necessary to buy your undergarments in the bridal shop. Prices elsewhere may be more reasonable, but not as convenient. Do remember to have your undergarments with you for your fittings. A gown falls differently with different undergarments. 

The bottom line is that it is your responsibility to do your homework before you go shopping. The more you educate yourself, the better. As you would, check your local Better Business Bureau for complaints and ask friends and relatives for recommendations. Most bridal shop owners are honest. Most are really good at what they do. You just need to stay clear of the few that aren’t reputable and protect yourself by following common sense rules for making a large purchase. Good luck and have fun!