Miss Mink Goes Dress Shopping Alone

My first foray into dress shopping was prompted by a friend who was writing an article for a regional magazine’s wedding issue. I wasn’t really looking for my dress. I was just there to give my friend some photographs of a bride shopping at a local bridal shop.

That experience got me more excited to find my dress, so I selected three salons in the general region that carried the designers I had liked when I did my internet research. At the two salons in Washington, DC, I made weekday appointments and took the first appointment available each day. Without an entourage, I was hoping to try on as many dresses as possible to zero in on a few that would work for me. I wasn’t fixated on “the one” because I was pretty sure I’d see plenty of dresses that I would love.


My three shopping destinations / Photo by Miss Mink

At Hitched in Georgetown, I was hoping to try on some Amsale and Anne Barge dresses.

When I was looking at the list of designers carried at the salon, I added Jorge Manual and Anna Maier to the list. I hadn’t hear of them before, but liked what I saw.

When I got to Hitched, I was surprised by how many samples they managed to get into their shop. It was chock full of bridal eye candy.


Hitched in Georgetown / Via the Hitched blog / Photo by Kate Headley

My consultant was fantastic and since I was seriously shopping for the first time, she took me through almost every gown in the store and suggested ones she thought would work for me. I told her I was looking for a dress that had something different about it. There had to be a quirky or whimsical detail somewhere. That was my only “must have” item. While I walked into my first shopping appointment with a very specific list of “must have” characteristics, I knew to be more open minded this time. I only had two “must not have” items to tell her. I didn’t want a ball gown and I didn’t want any pickups.

In the end, we narrowed the amazing options down to two contenders: Amsale‘s Kennedy gown and Modern Trousseau‘s Camille. They were almost opposites. Kennedy was a one-shoulder, duchess silk-satin trumpet gown and Camille was a strapless, a-line gown with French Alencon lace. One was sweet, the other was sophisticated. I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite, but for a vineyard wedding, I thought Camille might make more sense.


Camille by Modern Trousseau / Kennedy by Amsale

My second appointment was Carine’s Bridal Atelier, just up the street from Hitched. Carine’s carries Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhuillier, Rivini, and other high end gowns. I was looking forward to trying on Monique Lhuillier dresses, but was also excited to see some Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera gowns in person, even though they weren’t in my budget.


Carine’s Bridal Atelier, decorated for the holidays / photo from Carine’s blog

I was able to try on Monique Lhuillier’s Scarlet dress, which is very close to one that I cut out about ten years ago while flipping through a friend’s bridal magazine. I’m a little self-conscious about my hips and the very slinky Scarlet was not meant for me. My consultant knew I loved Monique Lhuillier’s dresses and pulled the Bernadette, which quickly became a front runner.

After we chatted some more about what I was liking so far, my consultant pulled a dress by a designer I didn’t now. She thought Rivini’s Dari would be perfect for me, but I had my doubts when we looked at it on the hanger. Well, I learned that trusting your consultant is always best. The dress was stunning.


Dari by Rivini, photo from Recycled Bride / Bernadette by Monique Lhuillier, photo from Style Me Pretty

Once again, I found two dresses I loved and couldn’t pick between them. The consultant didn’t put any pressure on me and wrote the names of the dresses and the relevant details on her card. Since I had talked about loving bridal fashion and had admired some of the high end dresses, my consultant let me try on an $11,000 Oscar de la Renta dress for fun when I was done. I’m not the type to want something I can’t possibly afford, so there was no danger of falling in love with it. It was a gorgeous dress and while it was voluminous, it was extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear.

My third appointment was at Bella Rosa, a very large salon in Richmond, Virginia. I made a Saturday morning appointment by email, but I somehow never made it onto the store’s calendar. They took me regardless, as they didn’t have any other appointments at the time.


I had Bella Rosa’s bridal salon all to myself! / photo from Bella Rosa’s Facebook page

I knew Bella Rosa had a few designers I had tried at the first two salons, but a few that I hadn’t seen yet. I tried on three more Amsale dresses, including the Tyler dress from The Hangover. I found a similar dress, Celine, even more flattering. I also fell in love with Romona Keveza dresses. They were sleek, but simple and they were incredibly slimming. Wearing the Romona Keveza dresses, I became one of those brides who can’t stop staring at herself in the mirror.


L191 by Romona Keveza, photo from Project Wedding / Celine by Amsale, photo from Project Wedding

Ultimately, I realized that while these last two dresses were beautiful, they didn’t have the quirky or whimsical details that I said I wanted at the very beginning of my search. Of the six front runners, the Camille by Modern Trousseau, the Kennedy by Amsale, and the Dari by Rivini were my favorites.

I should add that I made one other trip to a Priscilla of Boston salon in Tysons Corner, Virginia. While the announcement that Priscilla’s was closing didn’t come until a few months later, it was clear that something was amiss. The salon felt a little shabby. I expected a flagship store to be well stocked, but it was surprisingly empty. There were maybe thirty gowns there and about thirty more on a sample sale rack. I tried on one dress and while it was nice, I didn’t think it had the same quality as the gowns at Hitched, which were in the same price range.

By the way, I don’t have pictures of myself in these dresses because I didn’t want to stop to take them and I didn’t anticipate having to share them with you all! Each of the consultants offered to take them. I was surprised, since many people talk about photography being forbidden at wedding salons.

How many salons did you visit during your dress search? Did you find “the one” or did you find quite a few dresses that you liked? If you found multiple dresses that you liked, how did you settle on one?


Mrs. Mink

Charlottesville, Virginia
Wedding Date:
June 2012
Pros and Cons
Wedding Thank You Note (Mis)Management
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  1. dalmatian Member
    dalmatian 592 posts, Busy bee @ 6:04 pm

    What beautiful places you shopped! Ahh, I love bridal salons. I can’t wait to see what you choose!

  2. Guest Icon Guest
    Dana, Guest @ 6:08 pm

    You know my story :) We went to one store, tried on a dozen dresses, and I was done! A super easy experience. Was glad to have you there for a second opinion.

  3. mink Member
    mink 2178 posts, Buzzing bee @ 6:34 pm

    @Miss Dalmatian: I love them, too! Soon after my dress shopping experience, I volunteered for a few days at Church Street Bridal (another gem that we have in Virginia!) and the manager actually said she had a feeling I wouldn’t be done after I’m married.

    I think she’s right. I’m hooked.

  4. mink Member
    mink 2178 posts, Buzzing bee @ 6:35 pm

    Aw, it’s Dana, who took the pictures on my last post!

  5. mole Member
    mole 1242 posts, Bumble bee @ 7:57 am

    I think I saw a spoiler back in the day from your posts on the boards, but I LOVE all of these options. If I had a very different body type, I definitely would want to try the Bernadette. Can’t wait to read more!

  6. Member
    TinyTina 3312 posts, Sugar bee @ 6:57 am

    Gorgeous dresses!! I went to four different salons and tried on SO many dresses. Took me forever to find my dress! It was worth the wait though. 😀

  7. Member
    Ms. Martian 2271 posts, Buzzing bee @ 8:25 am

    I LOVE the Rivini Dari. It’s such a beautiful gown. I just couldn’t justify the cost of it for one day!

  8. painauchocolat Member
    painauchocolat 2298 posts, Buzzing bee @ 3:03 pm

    So many gorgeous gowns – no wonder you had a hard time picking a favorite! When I look back at the gown shopping experience, I remember not wanting it to end either. Oh what fun it is to try on pretty things all day!

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