Reality shows influence how Wichita brides shop for dresses

05/30/2012 10:16 PM

05/30/2012 10:16 PM

Trish Bell, co-owner of Accent Bridal & Tux, doesn’t watch TLC’s reality show “Say Yes to the Dress.”

She doesn’t get that cable channel. But brides coming to her store do.

The show and others like it are influencing how brides in Wichita and across the country shop for dresses.

The TV shows follow brides-to-be as they pick out wedding dresses. They are often accompanied by an entourage of family and friends.

Before the advent of the shows, Wichita-area brides typically brought along only a selected one or two to shop, local bridal store managers say.

Now, groups of six to 10 are common. A few have brought as many as 15.

That can be fun, but it also can be overwhelming for a bride, said Katie Price, manager at Uniquely You Bridal and Tux shop. “If you’re trying to decide on a dress, that can make it really tough.”

The bride’s opinion can get lost. And she can end up with lots of dresses in the dressing room trying to please everyone.

“If you bring six women with you, you’re going to get six opinions,” Bell said. Sometimes, “the bride ends up in the dressing room in tears because someone out there said she didn’t like the dress. And she loved the dress.”

But she doesn’t know how to tell them.

“When it’s just you and her in the changing room, and she’s in tears, what do you say?” Bell said.

She can hear any negative comments coming from outside the door of her dressing room. Sometimes someone in the party will remark that the dress didn’t make her look good. Or that it made her look heavier in the bust or in the middle.

“That’s probably the worst, because what do I say?” Bell said. “I’m a total stranger.”

Jana Wiechman, manager of Parrot-Fa-Nalia, agrees.

“You have to be so tactful,” Wiechman said. “This is the bride’s day. Sometimes you have to say it in the best tactful way. … ‘It is up to the bride to what she wants to wear.’ ”

Bridal parties

About a year and a half ago, Wiechman noticed the move to larger parties.

Often the bride will bring along her mother, the groom’s mother, grandmother, aunts and most of the wedding party, she said.

Sometimes, they will start pulling dresses that they like for the bride to try on, she said.

The bride may try on 15 or 20 dresses trying to please everyone.

“We say to them, ‘Why don’t you come back with your mom?’ ” Wiechman said.

The confusion that often ensues with larger groups also makes it harder to make a sale, store managers say.

Often the bride chooses her dress on a second visit with fewer people along.

That was Alisa Gast’s experience. She was shopping Saturday for a dress for her June 2013 wedding.

It was her second time to shop.

The first time, Alisa brought her mother, grandmother, aunt and a cousin.

That didn’t work out too well.

“It was too confusing and stressful,” Dana Gast, Alisa’s mother, said, as Alisa tried on a satin strapless, fitted gown. “Everybody had an opinion.”

This time, the two shopped alone at The White Dress at NewMarket Square and found a more relaxed experience.

After narrowing the choices down to two, Alisa Gast asked her mom which one she liked.

“It’s not my dress,’” Dana Gast told her.

Alisa made her choice.

For a bride, the wedding dress is one of the most important purchases she will make.

She wants a perfect dress, one that sets the tone for what will be one of the most special days of her life.

Big business

All the hoopla and TV drama that have grown up around picking out the dress only serve to add to the stress of making the right choice.

Added to that is the cost. Dresses are an expensive part of what is now a big business – weddings.

Last year, more than 4,000 weddings took place in Wichita, with an average cost of $21,274, not counting the honeymoon, according to The Wedding Report, a wedding statistics and market research firm.

That’s less than the national average of $27,021, according to a survey by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com.

Wichita brides spent an average of $994 on a wedding dress last year, compared with the national average of $1,121, not counting accessories or a headpiece.

That’s a lot less than the prices of dresses brides often choose in “Say Yes to the Dress.”

On the show, dresses can cost upwards of $10,000. One bride selected a $40,000 gown.

Nothing costs that much at Uniquely You Bridal and Tux shop, Price said.

Mouser, owner of The White Dress, agreed.

“I think people are surprised that the dresses aren’t as expensive as they see on the show,” Mouser said.

She sees brides with dress budgets that tend to run from $400 to $3,000, with an average of about $1,200.

At Uniquely You Bridal, dresses tend to run from $800 to $2,000, Price said. Many are in the $1,100 or $1,200 range.

The store also carries marked-down discontinued gowns.

Cost is a factor, Price said.

“As prices go up for manufacturing and shipping, the dress prices are actually increasing,” Price said. But in today’s economy, “the customer is wanting to spend less.”

Online shopping

Local store managers say they’re hearing about more brides buying dresses through online companies.

“I never ever thought it would get to the point where brides are shopping online,” said Bell with Accent Bridal. “I thought they would want that experience of trying on the dresses.”

Local managers warn brides to be careful consumers if they do go to the Web.

Many shoppers are disappointed with what they thought was a bargain on a designer gown.

“There are a lot of knock-off websites online,” Mouser said. “We have had several brides that have purchased a knock-off dress off one of those websites. They have had to come in and get a new dress.”

The sites sometimes post the original designers’ photos illegally. Then the company makes its own rendition of the dress.

“They’re so poorly made,” Wiechman said, saying the materials are cheap and the dresses ill-fitting.

When it works

Since it’s aired, “Say Yes to the Dress” has helped brides in some ways, Price said.

While comments made by friends and family can hurt the bride’s feelings, the show also has given viewers an idea of how not to act, Price said.

“I think people are a little more conscious of how they make the bride feel,” she said.

The trend to shop with larger parties has trickled to bridesmaids’ dresses and even to the prom, Wiechman said.

“One time, with a prom girl, we had her (three) aunts, her mother, her dad, both grandmothers on each side, her two little sisters and her brother,” she said.

It took four hours to find a dress, Wiechman said. “She tried on everything. … She had to be tired.”

When it comes to bridesmaids’ dresses, brides used to pick out a dress and the bridal party wore it.

“Now, they all want their bridesmaids to have an input on it and pick the dress they want,” Wiechman said. Sometimes it works; sometimes the bridesmaids can’t agree.

Still, a larger group can be what the bride wants in terms of feedback and support.

That was the case with Christina Fitzgerald, who came to Wichita from Hutchinson on Saturday to shop with her future mother-in-law and sister-in-law, maid of honor and bridesmaid.

“I value their opinion,” Fitzgerald said before heading into the dressing room at Uniquely You Bridal & Tux.

The women were making a day of it and planned to visit three shops.

The women oohed and aahed as Fitzgerald came out in a ballroom-style dress cinched at the waist and full in the skirt.

“She looks so pretty,” said Jessica Sanchez, her bridesmaid, as Fitzgerald went to change into another dress.

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