How to be wedding dress savvy

A girl walks into a bridal salon …

Michelle Depoali owns Swoon, a bridal boutique in southwest Reno.

Michelle Depoali owns Swoon, a bridal boutique in southwest Reno.

Photo By Lauren Randolph

If you’re a woman born in the past 60 years and have never been married before, it’s likely you’ve never set foot in a petticoat. Or had at least two people help you get into a dress. Or felt so anxious that this dress has to be the one.

Your wedding dress is one of the most fun—and potentially stressful—purchases you’ll make as you prepare for your wedding. While it’s not terribly complicated, there are a few things to keep in mind. For tips on how to be a dress savvy bride, we asked Michelle Depoali, owner of the recently opened designer bridal boutique Swoon. She spent four years working at the upscale Marina Morrison bridal salon on Union Square in San Francisco before opening Swoon. She even wrote her masters thesis on the bridal gown. Here’s her advice.

1. Be open-minded. “You just have to get into a dress to know what you’re going to like,” says Depoali. “A wedding dress is such a personal expression of who you want to be that day and how you want to feel, so you have to put it on to imagine that.”

2. It’s a process, it’s work, and it can be emotional. Depoali says not to feel bad if you don’t have an “ah-hah moment,” or what she calls “The Bridal Epiphany” with your dress. Perhaps like finding your life partner, it’s often a series of elements that come together to eventually feel right rather than a lightning bolt.

3. Get support. Think carefully about who you bring with you to try on dresses. “It’s a fun idea in theory to bring all the girls, but it can become a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen kind of thing,” says Depoali. Bring people who will support you and want you to find what feels right for you, not their idea of how you should look. “A panel can be nonproductive,” she says.

4. Prepare to get naked in front of a stranger. Some brides-to-be are caught off guard when they realize they need to undress in front of a salesperson. If you’re embarrassed to be seen in a thong or with hairy legs, prepare yourself accordingly.

5. Make an appointment. Most dress shops require an appointment to try on dresses.

6. Prepare to take a leap of faith. Many wedding shops carry only one style on the rack, often in just a couple of sizes that likely won’t fit just right. And they’re typically nonrefundable. “You need to be sure about the dress, and you need to be sure about the guy because there’s no going back after you order it,” says Depoali.

7. Give yourself time. A custom-made dress needs at least six months—four months to make it and two months for alterations. You can usually get it faster, but a rush will cost quite a bit more. And while off-the-rack-and-onto-the-body dresses aren’t unheard of, nearly every one needs alterations. “A dress can be beautiful, but if it doesn’t fit you, it’s not going to look good,” says Depoali.

8. Know that the price of your dress isn’t just the dress. Accessories—some vital—like a special slip and corset, taxes, shoes, jewelry and veil can add $300 or more to the price tag of “your look.”

9. You can see almost everything available online. Do some searches; skim some magazines; see what’s out there. Then go shopping.

10. Your relationship with your wedding dress doesn’t end after your wedding day. Brides often feel guilty—and their grooms or parents frustrated—at spending so much on a dress. “You’re only going to wear it for one day!” says one camp. “Yes, but that day comes only once! (hopefully),” says another. Both are valid points, but brides remember for years how they felt that day in that dress. It’s in the wedding photos on the wall. It’s what she’ll show her children and grandchildren. Don’t buy outside your means, but know that the memory of wearing it lasts. “It is for one day,” says Depoali. “But the joy, ideally, you have from wearing that dress will linger for years. It should.”