Back when I was engaged, I would hear rumors of progressive, indie, awesome wedding dress stores. They were like unicorns: everyone had heard about a store like that, but no one had actually seen one. These stores sold you bridesmaids’ dresses in white; they had great selections of dresses at more affordable price points; they were curated for those of us whose tastes diverged from “poufy, strapless, ball-gown, all-the-embellishments.” They were staffed by people that understood what you were looking for, didn’t shame you about your price or your body, didn’t up-sell you, and were really helpful and nice. I never found one of those unicorn stores, and I ended up with a dress I loved mostly by accident. So I cannot even tell you how excited I am to tell you about The Wedding Party on the Berkeley-Oakland border. If you’re anywhere in Northern California, you should pack up the car and come buy your wedding dress here. You can send whiskey to my PO Box as a thank you gift.
The other week, Maddie and I went down to the store with photographer Christina Richards. We were there to help answer all of your questions about wedding dress shopping (results of our research to come next week), but while we were there, we also tried on a lot of dresses and found out exactly how the store works. The results made me want to go back in time and do my wedding dress shopping there, but more importantly, it totally reclaimed Maddie’s wedding dress shopping experience.
Here is what The Wedding Party does. They focus on simpler, less embellished gowns (though they have some crazy beaded and feathered amazingness). Plus, they have a very clear price point. Dresses in their wedding dress boutique run from $750–$2,000. Dresses in their bridesmaid’s boutique (which they love to order for you in white) routinely are in the $250–$350 range. Even more empowering, their philosophy about your budget is they will stick to it. Period. And the craziest thing about all this is that I kept trying on dresses that I would have sworn on a stack of bibles cost $5,000, and the price would come back at $1,100. That’s some kind of unicorn magic.
But beyond that, shopping at The Wedding Party was a body- and style-positive experience. This is how Maddie summed it up:
Shopping at The Wedding Party was one of the single most empowering experiences I’ve had all year. I had prepared myself for a terrible shopping experience, the kind where none of the dresses fit and nothing looks good on you, and you spend the better part of an afternoon trying not to cry or feel horrible about yourself. Instead, the women at The Wedding Party made me feel empowered and accepted, and they did everything in their power to help me understand that what we were doing is a process. First, they let me touch and feel EVERYTHING in the store, which made me feel like I was in control. Then they worked tirelessly with me to find dresses that would look good on my body, and when I suggested dresses that DEFINITELY weren’t going to fit, they didn’t try to deter me from trying them on anyway. It was a fun, collaborative effort, and I felt confident putting my trust in them. In the end I found not one but THREE dresses I felt amazing in. What I appreciate most about Jennifer and Clara is that they are really attuned to what you want, personally. When they were trying to squeeze me into a sample gown that was just a tad too small, they continuously checked in to make sure I was comfortable and, you know, breathing. When I told them to go all in and zip that sucker at any cost, they listened. If I told them I was feeling uncomfortable and wanted to stop, they would have listened. They treated me like a person, cared about my opinions, and made me want to turn back time so that I could do this for real at my own wedding.
Side note here: we went in to this experience with me being super excited to try on froofy wedding dresses. It didn’t occur to me to feel otherwise, because I’m more-or-less a sample size, and I love playing dress up. Maddie was dubious, convinced that nothing would fit her, and even if it did fit her, it was going to look terrible. I found a couple of dresses that I looked hot in. If I could turn back time, I might have even bought one of those dresses. Maddie, on the other hand, found three dresses that she looked SMOKIN’ in. Like, I almost took out the company card and bought them for her, because if a dress looks that hot, you should own it. To me, that says everything about how awesome this store is.
This store is as awesome as it is because of its two owners, Jennifer and Clara. They’ve been doing this for twelve years and are knowledgeable, cheerful, and kind. But perhaps most importantly, they are all about customer service. They will explain anything and everything to you, completely honestly. They’ll work with you to troubleshoot your problems. And? Clara has been reading APW since almost the beginning, which is a pretty sure sign that she’s your people.
Oh yeah, and we looked fabulous. Seriously, seriously fabulous. And at the end of the day, we walked away with all of the information on the dresses we tried on. Yeah, they know that means you could use it to try to undercut them by shopping online. But they figure that’s a risk worth taking in exchange for honest business dealings.
I am not overselling it when I say that I would have flown in from Southern California to shop at The Wedding Party. It was seriously that good. And I’m so glad that lots of you will have the chance to have the kick-ass wedding dress shopping experience that both Maddie and I missed out on. And better yet? You’ll have the rockin’ dress to prove it.
Photos by APW Sponsor Christina Richards (these are teasers, more of our dress shopping excursion next week)