Bridal-gown shopping a quest for perfection Fashion: Even on a tight budget, that special dress should be a bride's goal, because she (and those with photos) will remember the day for years to come.

April 25, 1996|By Kerry A. White | Kerry A. White,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Cinderella gown, figure-hugging sheath or ankle-length empire, the wedding dress always has been the centerpiece of the celebration. The dress should be no less than perfect, meaning the bride looks beautiful and -- most important -- feels natural when saying, "I do."

Finding the perfect dress for the occasion, be it cathedral formal or beach barefoot, can have peaks and pitfalls. Fortunately, advice from experienced wedding mavens can smooth the way.

Choosing an established and reputable retailer is essential. Recently married friends and family can provide recommendations and bridal magazine advertisements usually list authorized dealers by region.

When visiting a prospective salon, "keep expectations high, and ask lots of questions," suggests Mary Gamberdella of Gamberdella's Salon for Brides in Towson. "The key is a place that feels really comfortable and provides great service."

Most of Ms. Gamberdella's business comes by word-of-mouth.

"We're nice, we're honest and we're dependable," she says. "I've helped entire families through their milestones -- proms, graduations, weddings, even second marriages."

Good bridal salons are staffed by experienced and knowledgeable consultants who are pragmatic and honest in their assessments, says Betsy Robinson, of Robinson's Bridal & Formal. "Church or synagogue, inside or outside, day or night. We like to know as much about the event as possible."

As in life, time and money are the key factors in finding wedding dress success.

Time is important. The experts' first piece of advice for brides-to-be is that their dress search begins well in advance of the wedding, the optimum being six to eight months before the day. It usually takes three to four months for dress orders to arrive, and alterations can take a few extra weeks.

"Once you're engaged and you've set the date, start looking," suggests Ms. Robinson. "A wedding gown gives you a starting point and helps guide all the other wedding day decisions."

Last-minute shoppers, however, need not elope. For an additional "rush cut" fee (these fees vary), bridal salons can deliver most dresses in as little as six weeks. Dresses also can be found on sale racks, where most samples end up, but there the design and size range is obviously limited.

Although most brides special order their dresses through bridal salons, "superstores" such as David's Bridal, specialize in discounted wedding dresses and accessories off-the-rack.

Sherry Unger, manager of David's Bridal in Glen Burnie, says the store fills a niche in the industry. "More and more couples are paying for their own weddings, and spending thousands of dollars on a wedding dress isn't an option," she says. Dresses at David's Bridal start at $299, and on-site alterations can have most dresses ready almost immediately.

Price and alterations

Women need to be up-front about the amount of money they're willing to spend on a dress.

"There's no sense falling in love with a dress that's way out of your price range," says Millie Bratten, editor of Bride's magazine.

Some women shop with a distinct image of the dress, but the best shoppers have an open mind, says Delia Sabundayo, co-owner of M'Jourdelle bridal salon in Towson. A good adviser will see possibilities in a dress many girls never would have thought to try on.

When considering a dress, ask the consultant to estimate the price of alterations. Some stores have a flat fee, but most vary their charges according to the type of work required -- adjusting a seam will cost far less than major restyling of the sleeves or neckline.

When it's time for the final fitting, demand perfection, says Ms. Robinson. "This is among the most important pieces of clothing you ever wear. And unless you're Hillary Clinton, you'll have your picture taken more on this day than on any other. You want to look at those pictures years down the road and feel like you made a great choice."

Matters of taste

"A wedding dress sets the tone for the entire wedding," says Ms. Bratten of Bride's magazine. "It fulfills a romantic fantasy, whatever that fantasy may be, that some women have carried with them their entire life."

"Fantasy" wedding dresses may have nothing to do with fairy princesses, however. Today's brides are more mature and sophisticated, and bridal houses have risen to the occasion by now offering stylish, forward-thinking designs.

"The marketplace has opened up tremendously in the past few years," says Ms. Bratten. "Women today are marrying at an older age. They're better educated and have more life experience, with a style all their own.

"There's more variety than ever before. There are Victorian looks in heirloom lace, tailored classics reminiscent of Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly and even short dresses and pantsuits," she says.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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