10 Tips for a Wedding Dress Sample Sale

floaty, comfortable wedding dress

Sample sales are very different creatures from traditional wedding dress appointments. I had no idea what to expect when I went to my first sample sale last weekend to try on the dreamy dresses of Claire Pettibone.

So here’s my advice on what I’d do the same and what I’d do differently at a sample sale.

    1. If possible, try on dresses at a traditional dress appointment before the sample sale. At the sample sale, you’ll have to make a snap decision on a final sale item, and this will be easier if you feel you’re making an informed decision. I went to one appointment before the sample, which helped, but I wished I had another because pulling the trigger with limited dress-trying experience was really hard for me. That said, I bought a dress! I’d seen enough online to know what I had in my hands was unique.
    2. If the dress shop allows you to set up an appointment and shop the sale, do so — and call well in advance to set this up. That way, you have both a changing room and a consultant reserved for you. At the sample sale I attended, there was a long line waiting for the one changing room that was assigned to the sample sale.
    3. Have two friends or family members join you. If you’re at a popular sample sale, the extra pair of eyeballs to hunt for dresses that may get snatched up quickly (and hands for carrying them) can really help.
    4. Go to the sample sale on a weekday, if possible. My friend went to one on a Friday and said it was very chill. I went to one on a Saturday morning, and there were roughly 20 ladies in a very small space.
    5. Be careful what you eat the days before a sample sale. If soda makes you bloated, don’t drink soda. I was coming off of a trip to Tennessee and really lamented those extra pounds I put on — they made some of the dresses fit snugly. (At a sample sale, there are usually only a couple of sizes — this one had 4s and 10s.) I decided against tight dresses outright — for all I know, I might be bloated the day of my wedding as well — but wished I had been feeling more myself so that I had more options.
    6. Eat a little something before you go to the sale. This may sound counter-intuitive, especially considering what I just said, but if there are a lot of ladies present in a small room, it gets hot. Having a little something in your stomach helps.
    7. Bring bottles of water for you and your crew, if allowed at the shop. Of note: Many won’t allow this. But I got thirsty waiting in line and wished I had thought to ask in advance if waters were permissible.
    8. Expect to be on your own more than you would be at a traditional bridal shop appointment. When you set up an appointment at a bridal shop, you’re reserving a changing room and time with a consultant who will help you throughout the process. If you’re going to a sale, you’re not. The consultants still helped me get in and out of my dresses and were generally helpful and friendly, but they didn’t hold my hand through the process like the time I had an appointment.
    9. If allowed and in your price range, try on some full-priced gowns. A friend of mine scored a great deal on a dress but was shocked when the price of alterations cost nearly as much as she paid for the dress, bringing the total to roughly the same price of a full-priced dress at that shop. I am told my alterations should be minor, so I’m hopeful I won’t have the same experience, but I’m happy I tried on a few full-priced dresses and felt the sample sale one was still the one for me.
    10. Ask about any potential difficulties that could arise altering a dress. Some alterations are more complex than others, and certain fabrics are more delicate. My friend’s dress essentially had to be taken apart and sewed together again. (That said, it turned out perfectly.) If the dress you’re considering needs alterations that will be challenging, you need to determine if that’s worth the risk and cost to you. Another note: Many bridal shops do not offer alterations on discontinued dresses and will likely refer you to a seamstress.

Keep in mind that a sample sale experience can vary from shop to shop. Claire Pettibone has been making waves recently with her unusual but romantic aesthetic and with Mark Zuckerberg’s now-wife Priscilla Chan wearing a Claire Pettibone at her wedding. I was expecting there would be a good amount of ladies hitting the sale because of all this. There were.

Other than all the above, flex your quick-decision-making muscles, enjoy yourself and get ready for some jaw-dropping deals — my dress was marked down 75 percent!

Btw, the dress above was my runner-up. There was a lot of hemming, hawing and debating as my friends and I decided between the two very lovely dresses, but I’m pleased that the dress I ended up with has a bunch of elements that I like that I didn’t think I’d find in a single dress. As both of my friends put it: It seemed more me.

Be on the lookout for my next article on how to find the right wedding dress for you, and follow Robert and I here!

Photo courtesy Claire Pettibone

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