As couples move forward with their wedding plans, many bridal boutiques, retailers and designers are creating virtual shopping experiences that allow brides, grooms and their attendants to select and buy wedding attire from the comfort of their homes. Some bridal salons now offer free remote consultations, prepaid shipping labels for trying on and returning gowns and sample dresses. There is also personalized help available from stylists who can pull a selection of gowns based on your style preference and assist you in taking measurements. Here are a few shopping options to help you find your wedding day look online.
Kelly Faetanini, the founder and designer of an independent bridal brand based in New York who started selling her wedding dresses exclusively to retailers in 2012, began a virtual shopping program for brides at the end of April.
"We'd never sold directly to the consumer, instead we sold to 55 stores, globally," she said. "But we had to do something because stores were closed and the emails from brides who were desperately looking for gowns was huge."
Faetanini's "Try at Home" program allows brides to shop for the first time directly on the brand's website. After filling out a questionnaire, brides schedule a 30-minute Zoom consultation with an in-house salesperson.
During the appointment, the stylist makes dress recommendations and selects gowns that fits the bride's style and desired silhouette. Brides can choose between two to five sample dresses, which are then shipped to their home. In the box with the dresses is a handwritten note, a faux bouquet, veils, clips and measuring tape. A second appointment is made once the box arrives, where the stylist is available to answer questions while you try on dresses.
Faetanini suggests that brides treat this experience as they would going into a bridal salon. "Try the dresses on in full makeup and hair, so you can really see how it's going to look on you," she said. "We also suggest inviting your mother or anyone you want to join the second appointment so it feels like an event."
Sample dresses are $50 each, and are sent back to Kelly Faetanini within 48 hours of receipt. If a dress is ordered, any previous fee a bride incurred is deducted from the total price of the gown. Once a dress has been ordered, it takes about six to 10 weeks to arrive. Dresses retail from $2,300 to $5,000.
BHLDN, a national bridal brand based in Philadelphia with 21 stores throughout the United States, started its virtual styling program at the end of April. Like most programs, customers go to the site, click on the virtual appointment link, select an appointment date and fill out a questionnaire.
"You can also choose to share your Pinterest board and Instagram with us," said Maddie Bender, the brand styling manager who created the program. "You'll receive an email confirmation with a Zoom link. We do 45 minutes for bridal, and an hour for bridesmaids." Bender encourages the bride to invite guests to replicate the in-store experience.
"We'll be able to answer all your questions about specific body types, alterations, interior construction of the gowns, tell you how it feels and what it weighs," Bender said. "These are things you can't get answered while shopping on a website."
During the consultation, brides narrow down their choices to two to five dresses from their 100-plus dresses. A comprehensive email recapping what you liked, which gowns were pulled, and accessory pairings is sent shortly after your appointment.
"The biggest difference here is once you choose the dress you want, we're not sending you a sample like you might from other places," Bender said. "You're getting the real gown in your size sent to you within five to nine business days if it's in stock." If you want to take a second look, you can book another appointment.
Another bonus: "During the appointment, we offer a digital portfolio of real brides who have worn a specific dress in the past so you can see how that garment looks on someone who has your skin tone or body type," said Bender, who added that 75% of brides who have opted for this experience have bought dresses. "That's very high for the retail industry. Within our first month almost 1,000 appointments were booked." Dresses typically range from $200 to $2,500.
Friar Tux, a full-service retailer for renting or buying tuxedos and other suiting options, offers head-to-toe virtual consultations. When their 31 stand-alone stores -- in Nevada and California -- temporarily closed in March, the brand was forced to think resourcefully.
"We didn't want to turn our backs on our customers, so we started our virtual program within 24 hours of lockdown," said Eric Acuna, the vice president for sales. "We booked our first appointment within the hour. More than 200 couples have purchased either a suit or tux."
After couples answer a few questions about what they're looking for, an appointment is made with a salesperson. "We do our in-store virtual experiences on the Google Duo app because it shows the garments in a high definition, it's like they're seeing them in our store," Acuna said. He added that four to six store mannequins will be fully dressed when your hour appointment starts. "From the information you've already given us, we've curated full outfits -- suits, ties, shirts and shoes," he said. "It's very personalized, intimate and private."
There are 10 salespeople tending to appointments from two California store locations, Lakewood and Temecula, and 21 stores have recently reopened. Acuna said online sales have been 60% higher than in-store purchases, with customers either renting or opting to own the tuxedo.
"It's terrific for those in separate states or countries who can't shop in-person together," he said. If you plan on renting, suits are shipped 10 days before your event. If you buy a suit or tuxedo, they go out immediately.
Acuna suggested making your session a date night. "This is a chance to celebrate together," he said. "Relax on the couch, open a bottle of champagne and have some fun."
Before pulling the trigger, don't be afraid to ask for complimentary swatches, which Friar Tux is happy to send you. Rentals are returned within 48 hours after the event and range from $90 to $200; buying costs $150 to $700.
THE WEDDING PARTY
Dressing your wedding party is just as important, and perhaps just as stressful. Gilded Social, an independent retailer in Columbus, Ohio, that focuses on everyone but the bride, created Gilded Boxes, which includes sample dresses, dress clips, a tape measure, fabric swatches and an ordering process guide.
"We created an experience that mimics what you do in person as much as possible," said Tanya R. Hartman, the owner and chief executive of Gilded Social. "Ordinarily the bride comes in to make her selections, then her bridesmaids follow, often as a group, to try them on."
The program, which started April 1, offers brides a 60- to 90-minute Zoom or FaceTime meeting with Brit Kniceley, the direct
or of sales. She walks shoppers through some of the more than 1,200 options, and pulls specific suggestions, as she gets an understating of what they're looking for in terms of color, style, designers and price point. You can also select dresses from the website before the meeting. After narrowing down your choices, up to 10 sample dresses are sent directly to you. Samples start at $30 for two and go up to $60 for 10. A second virtual meeting happens with Kniceley when the box arrives.
"We want to be there with you when you try on the dresses and help you understand how they fit and how you feel in it," Hartman said.
Boxes are sent to brides and their bridal party; each is separately priced. So far, 20 bridal parties have been booked, with multiple boxes going to different members of the group. If regulations and safety permit, "invite a few people from the party over while you're doing you're second appointment," Hartman said. "That way everyone can try on the dress, since they'll be wearing it, and it makes for a more authentic experience."
Once decisions are made and measurements have been taken, the sample dresses are sent back. All ordering is done online. Three to four months later final dresses arrive. Dresses range from $150 to $800.