How to Avoid a Wedding Dress Disaster

Eleganza Shop edits 00124

People love horror stories. In literature, drug induced tales of 19th century monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula compete with Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre tales about premature burial and torture.

In children’s literature, the Brothers Grimm’s folklore fairy tales have inveigled all our western childhood imaginations. From the earliest celluloid movies, Nosferatu rose from the grave, and Hollywood has been sending back ever bigger body counts for as long as filmmaking has existed.

A swift glance through a red top tabloid reveals (and revels in) grisly ways to meet thy maker whether at the hands of a ‘lone wolf’, an ideology, or an accident. Personal accounts of horror- illnesses, accidents, or birth stories vie for attention with DIY horror, house buying horror and school catchment horror.  Horror is gripping and wedding shopping ‘horror’ stories can be told to fragile brides and overwrought MOBs with great effect. Grisly, over told, tall tales of dubious origin become urban myths very quickly, and a feed a public desire for sensationalism.

Counterfeit Goods

The obvious cautionary starting point is online direct sales. It is a fairly common practise for online sellers to right click and save designer images and then offer the dresses for sale direct from China for less than $500. It is possible to sit in Facebook groups where brides show their purchases despite the dresses having absolutely no resemblance to the very expensive brand in the picture.  Some of the brides seem very happy with a standard of product that they would not accept from a traditional shop. Simply, it is very, very cheap.

If, for one moment, you believed you were buying an actual Louis Vuitton bag from a man on a beach, I could understand your right to be upset that you had been ‘ripped off.’ It is my contention that everyone knows that they are buying fakes, and rather than denying this, instead they are hoping that the fakes in question are good. The same happens in the wedding dress world; it’s a risk that some brides are happy to take, and so in this situation, poor outcomes should be taken on the chin.

Simply put; if a dress is a fraction of the price on a website than it is in a reputable shop, the price is very likely to be too good to be true.

Financial Failure

Horror stories of shops going bust are a favourite of the media. Whilst it can happen, it is rare. There are some basic ways to protect yourself from this eventuality:

  1. Get wedding insurance. It covers everything, including financial failure of any of your wedding suppliers.
  2. Buy on a credit card. Only solvent shops are given credit card processing facilities, and you, the consumer, are given another layer of payment protection.
  3. Buy from a shop in a recognised trade organisation, like Luxe Bride or the RBA. Whilst these are not bonded organisations, the shops have back up from their peers and suppliers.
  4. Don’t pay everything up front. It is a necessity for made to order goods to be ordered with a non-refundable deposit which is covered by points 1 and 2. Don’t be tempted by a discount to pay the total up front in cash.

The Wrong Shop

Sometimes brides can find themselves in the wrong shop. The stylist knows it, the bride knows it. A friend recommended it, but is not to your taste, budget, or you simply don’t click with the staff.  The dresses are SO not you, and what should have been a girly bonding day has gone all Bridesmaids. “Look away…”

Everyone wants the appointment over as soon as possible.  The stylist is trying to wrack her brains to think of a dress that will meet with approval, the friends are getting restless, and the bride is feeling glum. It’s like a bad date; get out as politely as possible, chalk it up to experience and move on.

Yet a bad bridal appointment story is rolled out over and over again, and, in the horror story re-telling, the shop assistant was a common as muck/a snooty bitch, the dresses were over-the-top/too plain, and were cheap and nasty/an absolute rip-off,  and the sizes huge/ridiculously small. Delete as appropriate.

In the staff room, the stylist has her head in her hands, saying “well that was a car-crash- how soon before we get pulled apart on social media?”

There are some searching questions a bride ought to ask of herself before wedding dress shopping. What do you want from your visit to a boutique? Do you want to try on lots of non-specific dresses in a leisurely way? Is it a fun social visit?  Do you want to drill down to a more specific targeted list of boutiques? Do you want help to find the ideal dress with the ideal service level? Check sizes held, the prevailing style of the boutique, services offered and price range and if you have any worries flag them up ahead of your visit.

Communication is key, and all retailers would prefer to hear the complaint first hand, and have an opportunity to address and resolve an issue, rather than become the Evil Shop Queen in the next Frocky Horror story.

There is a lot of conversation about the retail experience being as important as the product. Phrases like ‘retail theatre’ and ‘retail-tainment’ feature in conversations about shopping. Boutiques are working hard to define this and succeeding where big retailers are failing. My best friend loves classical music and I nearly died of boredom at a concert with her. Conversely she would not have been in the front row at a Libertines gig with me. Or even in the building. Define your own preference before finding yourself at bridal Glyndboune not Glastonbury.

As the UK wedding industry is a minnow compared to the US, there is no UK equivalent of Say Yes To The Dress’s Kleinfeld’s, and its behemoth fitting suites and catacombs of dresses to be ‘pulled.’ To make the most of the small and perfectly formed boutiques that we have here in the UK, grill, interview, and stalk the social accounts of your target boutiques to tune out those horror stories.

Genuine Complaints

Reputable shops with a professional complaints procedure should be able to handle any level of problem that may occur during the progress of an order. As the adage goes, “shit happens.” When it does during the incredibly emotional and fragile period of wedding planning, it takes on a disproportionate level of meaning.   Think of a delayed flight; when you know why, are kept in the loop and get your food voucher quickly, you are less likely to take to Twitter and hurl abuse at the airline. Communication is key, and all retailers would prefer to hear the complaint first hand, and have an opportunity to address and resolve an issue, rather than become the Evil Shop Queen in the next Frocky Horror story.

5 Ways To Complain Well

  1. Complain in person, in writing, by email on the phone. Please give any wedding vendor, not just boutiques, the chance to address a complaint. It is completely valid to complain about poor services and products and without this vital communication there will never be any improvement
  2. Take responsibility. If you messed up, chose the wrong dress, changed your mind or have cancelled your wedding say so. The one thing that actually emotionally injures small businesses is a bag of very obvious fibs.
  3. Follow a designated complaints procedure before threatening legal action and trial by social media.
  4. Stay calm, I know this is really hard in wedding planning. If you are felling too emotional designate someone else to handle the complaint for you. Use a mediation service like Retail ADR.
  5. The law applies to you even if you are a bride and it’s your wedding. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you all the protection you need. Beware bridal entitlement syndrome. I was guilty of it myself as a bride and I see it as a retailer. Most outbreaks are handled beautifully by my peers, but contracts are two way.


Main image – Anna, founder of Eleganza Sposa at work in her boutique

Emma Marshall

Emma Marshall View all Emma's articles

Emma Marshall is MD of one of the UKs oldest and most respected British bridal boutiques, Miss Bush. Emma has supported and championed independent design, ethical sourcing and has lead the way in revolutionising experiential bridal shopping. Married in her late 40s, advocate for fit over size, Emma is a passionate campaigner and writer, bringing strong opinions to both the bridal trade and consumer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.