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Finding the Perfect Dress

A field guide for the Gotham bride-to-be.

Any woman who thinks she knows everything about shopping clearly has never been engaged. Even the savviest fashionistas - those who know when to mix their H&M with their Miu Miu and where to stash their "maybes" during a Barneys Warehouse sale - will likely find that their hunt for the perfect dress closely rivals their search for Mr. Right. Imagine a world with its own new-to-you language (Basque waist? Watteau train?), a same-sounding array of color options (diamond white, candlelight, champagne, anyone?), and a pricing system that seems more appropriate to buying real estate. If that weren't enough, New York brides must also contend with the additional pressure of having to look good in a city where you are what you wear. It's no wonder that even the most confident woman can find the prospect of choosing a dress - even one she's been envisioning for as long as she can remember - to be anything but thrilling. That, however, is not the way it has to be. Armed with the right information, the search for the perfect dress can be anything but a stressful, unnerving experience. From ordering to altering, here's what you need to know.

Limit your search.
"New York women pride themselves on knowing everything about everything," says Henry Roth, a bridal designer and host of Style Network's Style Court. "But it's a losing battle to try and comb the entire city to see every single dress. It will just confuse you and waste your time." A better plan is to begin your hunt at a bridal emporium that's amassed a variety of dresses under one roof. The bridal mecca Kleinfeld in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, which displays some of the gowns of most designers who have showrooms in Manhattan, is just such a place. About twenty times larger than most bridal salons, this 64-year-old establishment has more than 1,000 dresses in all price ranges. Even if you don't find your gown at one of these superstores, the fact that you'll come away with the most thorough overview of every shape and style of dress makes it a worthwhile experience. So too does the prospect of noticing a particular designer who suits your style while you're there. Should that happen, arrange to visit the designer's showroom or boutique (or another store that carries more of his collection), so you can see a broader breadth of designs. Wherever you end up, you shouldn't need to try on any dress more than twice to decide if you should buy it, says Mark Ingram, owner of the Bridal Atelier by Mark Ingram in New York, a boutique that stocks an assortment of dresses from fourteen designers, including Angel Sanchez, Wearkstatt, and Monique Lhuillier. "When they put on the right dress, many girls have an almost chemical reaction - it makes them giddy."

Be firm with salespeople.
Bridal consultants tend to be like no other salespeople you're used to. They're not frustratingly insouciant in a Jeffrey's kind of way, nor are they snobbish in an Upper East Side manner either. The cheerful women in bridal sales are disarming because they take such an instantly intimate stance with you. Who wouldn't feel vulnerable standing half-naked and face-to-face with a virtual stranger who's just handpicked an armful of tulle that she thinks sums you up? It's in this scenario that you really should speak now or forever hold your peace. Why settle for a poufy confection that makes you feel like Scarlett O'Hara when the slinky styles favored by Scarlett Johansson are so much more you? "If you're certain enough to commit to one guy for life, you shouldn't be afraid to stick to your guns when it comes to choosing what you want to wear," says Shannon McLean, who custom-makes wedding dresses at her Upper East Side atelier. The best safeguard against misdirected sales consultants is to flaunt your knowledge. "Salespeople love working with informed customers," says Sharon Naylor, author of the new 1,000 Best Secrets for Your Perfect Wedding. To win them over, she recommends bringing pages from bridal magazines that clearly define your taste in dresses, and inquiring - in fluent wedding-dress-speak - about specific shapes, fabrics, and embellishments. (If you need to bone up on the lingo, check out the glossaries at TheKnot.com.)

Leave your entourage at home.
"It's wise to take at least one person along on your gown- shopping excursions, to help you sort through style options and to baby you when you're frustrated because you can't find the right one," says Andrea Mattei, author of The "I Have a Life" Bride's Guide. Just be sure that your recruits are trustworthy people who can give you tough love when a dress overwhelms your petite frame or accentuates your hips a tad too much. Don't take more than a few people with you, however. Listening to the conflicting opinions of a crowd of people will only make the process more confusing.

Pay as much attention to the back of your dress as the front.
"Considering that you'll be facing forward during the ceremony and toward your partners while dancing, guests will probably see more of your gown from the back than from the front," notes designer Junko Yoshioka of the Bonaparte-NY boutique in Soho. That means you should check out your booty with as much care as your bustline. Rather than a zipper, for example, look for a dress that fastens with an interesting detail, like fabric-covered buttons or corsetlike laces. The train of your dress - which can range from a subdued "sweep" (that's bridalese for a trail of fabric that's less than a foot long) to a grandiose cathedral train (a swath that's up to eight feet in length) - can also make a dramatic impact at the ceremony.

 


From the Spring 2005 New York Wedding Guide

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