Because your wedding gown is such an important purchase, many of your friends and family members will likely want to be there when you choose the one you'll don on your big day. But, before you give your former sorority sister or Great Aunt Enda the okay to come along to the bridal salon, you should know that shopping for your wedding gown is arguably the most personal of all shopping experiences. You're not just looking for a dress, but the dress.
Therefore, it is critical to shop with someone you know well -- and who knows you well. After 30+ years of working with brides to find their perfect gowns, I've seen all kinds of shopping buddies and entourages in my bridal salon. Here are the five qualities I think your partner-in-dress-shopping-crime must have in order for you to find the gown of your dreams.
1. Knows your fashion history. It's critical that your shopping buddy has a basic understanding of why the gowns you consider relate to your personality and the vision you're hoping to capture. I advise shopping with a sister or long-time best friend who has memories of who you were as a child, teenager and young adult. These women have a sense of context in terms of how your chosen gown will fit in with the other important dresses you've worn throughout your life. They'll be able to steer you away from repetitive looks you may have forgotten about, like a dress that looks similar to the one you wore to prom, or unflattering silhouettes you might have worn in the past.
2. Understands the real you. The person who helps you choose a wedding gown should know you at your core. Shopping with your mom is usually the best choice, because, in many cases, a mom has seen her bride-to-be grow from a little girl into a woman. (In the event that your mom has passed away or is out of your life, a close family friend, grandmother or aunt can help fill the role of your mother during this special experience.) In many cases your mom knows you extremely well, perhaps better than anyone else. In fact, she may know you so well that she'll know what you want before you do and can encourage you to try gowns you would have overlooked if you were shopping alone.
3. Can respect your limits. This almost goes without saying, but you'd be surprised how many times I've seen friends and family members push brides to try on dresses that are out of their price range or simply the opposite of what the bride wants. While surprises, good ones, can happen when you step outside the box a little, the person who shops with you must be able to fully respect you when you say, "no." Invite your bossy friends and pushy relatives to your bridal shower, not to the bridal salon.
4. Has some wedding experience. If your circle of friends is in marriage-mode, you likely have a pal or two who has attended (or will attend) some of the weddings you have attended or are going to attend. Having someone who can commiserate over the wins and flaws you both witnessed, thereby reminding you what to stay away from or include in your own look, can be extremely helpful. For example, you may have both seen a bride whose hem was just too long, to the point that she was tripping over her dress as she walked up the aisle, or how another wore a fabulous flowered belt that made the audience swoon.
Even if you haven't attended the same nuptials, it's helpful to shop with someone who has at least attended some weddings -- and if that person has some cultural wedding knowledge, even better. Someone who is aware that, for example, traditional Jewish brides wear the blusher, or that Greek orthodox couples incorporate orange blossoms, will likely have a clearer understanding of why your must-haves are so critical and how cultural traditions can affect your wardrobe.
5. Will be encouraging -- no matter what. Shopping can be very draining. You want the person who accompanies you to be patient, to truly focus on you and to keep you motivated. Someone who fits this description to a T could be, surprisingly enough, your future mother-in-law -- especially if she only has sons. Oftentimes, these women are extremely welcoming of the daughters they never had and grateful for the opportunity to accompany the bride on this dress-shopping adventure, which they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
But, whomever you choose, your dress-shopping buddy is first and foremost your cheerleader -- someone who will stay positive while you try on gown after gown and constantly keep your best interests in mind.