Why I Ditched a Bridal Show and Went to the Bar Instead

But seriously, why no open bar?

bride holding sunflower bouquet

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I attended my first bridal show. The advertisement promised an experience “like no other bridal show the world,” but as I had not attended any other bridal show in the world, that wasn’t much to go on. Nonetheless, I decided to tag along with my older sister, whose wedding was quickly approaching. Freshly engaged myself, I wasn’t really in planning mode yet—I was just excited to be doing something wedding-related. One of the first vendors that we visited was offering free chocolate-covered strawberries, so the day was off to a promising start. We went from booth to booth, painstakingly jotting down our addresses and phone numbers over and over and over for drawings ranging from photography services to honeymoon packages. (Had it crossed my mind to research this beforehand, I would have learned that savvy brides print their contact info on address labels in advance, to save the hassle and hand cramps.)

My sister and I were there on a bit of a whim, one of us having already mostly planned her wedding, and the other having not yet put very much thought into wedding planning at all. It was sort of a weird, silly experience, but while we felt slightly out of place among the more enthusiastic attendees—including a number of bridal parties in matching t-shirts, trailing behind veil-wearing brides-to-be—it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience.

That is, until the days that followed, when the torrent of emails and phone calls began.

It began innocently enough. First, I got a voicemail from a local makeup chain informing me that I had won a gift certificate. I excitedly relayed this news to Nick, who hesitantly pointed out, “but you don’t really wear makeup…” I was happy nonetheless (who doesn’t love winning things?), until I returned the call, only to be told that my gift certificate could only be claimed several days later, at a “makeup demonstration” an hour away from my house. Next, I received a call from a company called American Skincare Perfection or something similar, stating that I had won another gift certificate. “Are you planning to have any work done before your wedding?” the representative wanted to know. “Um… no, definitely not.” “Well, I’m sure you’ll change your mind when you attend our free demonstration to claim your gift certificate!”

Luckily, by the time a gentleman called to tell me that I had won a free honeymoon (curiously, I’d have to attend a cookware demonstration to claim my prize), I had sorted out that you don’t really win anything at bridal shows, other than a lifetime supply of junk email and borderline-harassing telephone calls. (I learned later that the savvy brides refuse to give out their telephone numbers, and create a separate email address just for the relentless deluge of bridal show correspondence. I was developing a sneaking suspicion that I was a decidedly un-savvy bride.)

Yet, because I’ve been engaged for a really long time (or maybe just because I am a masochist), I went back to the bridal show the following year, and this time I brought Nick along. We still hadn’t set a wedding date, but we were starting to dip our toes into wedding planning and decided to attend the show on the misguided assumption that we might get some ideas there. It didn’t really occur to me until we arrived that he would be, quite literally, the only man in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of ladies. I should have known better, as the subtext of the term “bridal show” essentially says, “leave that pesky groom and his opinions at home.” Luckily Nick was undaunted by the fact that the only other males in the ballroom were a few tuxedo rental representatives, and we soldiered on despite a few snarky comments at registration about “dragging the groom along.”

Right off the bat, things felt different from the previous year. There were no free chocolate-covered strawberries to be found, which seemed like a bad omen. We did come across a towering display of cupcakes, which were not, as I was sternly told, for sampling. (Oops.) The ballroom was hot and crowded, and the bumping club music accompanying the fashion show taking place at the center of things was beginning to give me a headache. We made our way slowly through the rows of booths decked out in tulle and pink, and I tried to make small talk through gritted teeth as vendor after vendor commented on how “sweet” it was that Nick had decided to attend.

While I’m sure my deteriorating mood was due at least in part to my plummeting blood sugar level, I think my overall uneasiness stemmed from the fact that I was now actually planning a wedding. Attending the bridal show the previous year was like stepping into a real-life Pinterest board, full of pretty, shiny inspiration without a price tag in sight. This time around, I found myself actually asking how much services like letterpress and cinematography would cost, and the results were rather distressing. Each vendor promised that no wedding would be complete without the particular service or product they could provide, and that if a bride were to skimp on any one of these must-haves—be it a couture gown, a ten-piece band, or professional teeth whitening—the wedding would be ruined and the bride guaranteed a lifetime of regret.

I was well on my way to a meltdown when suddenly, one of the few male vendors clapped Nick on the back and congratulated him for being “such a champ,” attending a bridal show while the Sunday football game was on television. That did not go over so well with this overwhelmed bride-to-be, who also would have preferred to be at home watching football, and wasn’t really enjoying this bridal show at all, and why was everyone ready to give the groom a trophy for participating in wedding planning when it was his wedding too?

It was around that point that Nick steered me away from the bewildered vendor, out of the bridal show, and into a nearby bar, where we had a beer as we slowly came back to reality (and yes, watched the football game). Sure, we were never going to be able to allocate funds toward uplighting and personalized M&Ms, but more to the point, we weren’t actually interested in any of those things. Everything the bridal show had to offer had very little to do with the wedding we wanted to have, and the aspects of the wedding that we cared about most—ceremony, open bar, big sweaty dance party—were noticeably absent. (In retrospect, an open bar would have improved the whole bridal show experience mightily.)

At the end of the day, a bridal show is just what it claims to be: a show. And I know the reality is going to be so much better.

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  • I was totally going to recommend the separate email address for wedding-related things! (Plus Gmail’s new “Promotions” tab makes it easy to filter out the crap.) And this is totally not what your post is about, but I also wanted to add another bonus reason to create the extra email address…we now use it for all our shared accounts (for bills, etc) so that if one of us needs to reference a statement when calling the cable company or forgets a password or whatever, we both have access to the email address. You can also create your wedding Google Docs in that account. Efficiency!

    • Kirstin

      We did the same thing! And the Promotions tab makes a huge difference.

    • sara g

      Yeah, I really should have done this. Instead I’ve got a gazillion emails pouring in to my poor main account. My Google stats page said my emails received (and sent) increased by like 1000% or something ridiculous the month after I got engaged. >.>

  • Jade

    I went to a total of three bridal shows the first two months I was engaged (once alone, once with my future SIL, and once with my FI) and thankfully I had picked up the hint about not giving my phone number or email to any of the vendors. But as a budget-conscious bride, I found that the shows were simply not geared towards me and my price-related needs.

    • ART

      yeah…out of curiosity i looked up the next local show. on the registration page it wants to know your wedding income, and the lowest category is “below $19,000” – since they don’t have an option for “way, way, way below $19,000” I’m thinking I probably don’t need to check it out.

      • ART

        wedding income => wedding budget, sorry. long day.

  • AR

    This echoes nearly exactly my own experience at a local bridal show, shortly after getting engaged. After being sucked into attending a time-share presentation an hour away from home in order to claim the free airline tickets we had “won,” not to mention never-ending telemarketing calls offering services I absolutely did not want, I came to the realization that a “free” bridal show only meant that the brides and grooms were what was on sale. I later went to another, smaller bridal show that charged a $7 admission fee, and had an entirely different experience. Champagne, antipasti, sushi, and a mashed potato bar were all on sample, and the vendors actually engaged in meaningful conversation with the brides and grooms. We scheduled several appointments as a result of that show. I’ve been telling my friends to steer clear of free bridal shows, and only go to the ones that charge admission. I don’t know if this is a universal distinction or not, but it certainly made a difference in my limited experience.

    • Kayjayoh

      The big local show charges admission, and it’s your basic circus of vendors and samples and drawings. The local indy show is the free one. Oddly, it was the one with the great food and the chill atmosphere. So YMMV.

  • Emma Klues

    I think you’re right, open bar would be a whole different ballgame! Honestly, I’ve always been too scared of these to go but am grateful for you living to tell the tale. I volunteer every year to help put on http://offwhiteweddingshow.com/ in STL because it feels like a civic duty to offer an alternative. But to each their own, those big shows may help some people and more power to ’em.

  • I used to partake in bridal shows as a vendor, but after awhile I realized that I didn’t really enjoy seeing or talking to possible clients that had an overwhelming look of fear in their eyes. The annual big city shows are the worst, but some of the smaller intimate shows can be nice. In the end, it’s true – they’re all just shows.

  • laddibugg

    “personalized M&Ms”

    Yo. Those things are crazy expensive. I looked into getting them for another occasion and I could not belive how much they cost.

    • MisterEHolmes

      I totally want personalized M&Ms…but if I’m spending that much for candy with my groom’s face on them, I’m for damn sure eating them all myself. Om nom nom.

    • Kayjayoh

      My fiance’s initials are MNM (not, not Marshall Mathers) so I jokingly say that we get free personalization. :)

  • Allie

    I just wanted to point out, not sure if anyone has or not yet, that there are many types of bridal shows! I find the big ones overwhelming and exhausting, but in a lot of cities (I’m from Toronto) I’m seeing a trend towards more intimate and generally cooler shows with vendors a lot like the APW crowd and not an email grabbing “giveaway” in sight (plus awesome grab-bags and tons of tastings)

  • Carrie

    The bridal show I attended with my mother did actually give us a few ideas… but mostly it was just like this. Only add in the fact that the show was in the town where I live, but the wedding will be 4 states away. I got the distinct impression that most of the vendors we talked to ended up mad at us for wasting their time, and we got a lot of “Well then why are you HERE?” comments.

    On top of the mass of advertising calls/emails I was expecting afterward, I also somehow got on the list of one of those payday loan scammers that started calling me 30 times a day about a week after the bridal show. I don’t know for sure that the show was how they got my number, but it’s the only time I gave it out to new people… and I gave it to a LOT of people. I’m like the least-savvy bride ever. (To be fair, I live in a pretty rural area, and most of the vendors were local businesses I had heard of, so at the time I thought MAYBE it would be ok….)

    The best part of the experience, though? The thing that made me decide to definitely never go to one of these things again? Throughout the afternoon the MC kept encouraging everyone to enter the contest for door prizes, because after the fashion show they were going to have the drawing and the BIG prize was worth THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of dollars! Two hours later, they had the drawing and announced what the prizes were. The big one was a $4000 breast augmentation. “So you can do that dress justice.” I kid you not.

    • MisterEHolmes

      “So you can do that dress justice.”


    • Eh

      The big wedding show I went to was in the city I live in but we got married in my husband’s hometown an hour away. I found that a lot of vendors wouldn’t go to his hometown and had the same attitude that we were wasting their time. The city I live is in the closest city to his hometown and the city is a major service centre for the town. His town does not have a lot of things (it has a pretty depressed ecomony) so we had to bring in a lot of the vendors. In the end we found pretty much everything we wanted through word of mouth.

      • Carrie

        Word of mouth is pretty much how we’re ending up doing everything. I haven’t actually met my caterer, photographer, cake baker, or florist yet, but they all come with glowing recommendations from my extended family that live there. I feel like it’s actually working out better this way, because in my initial searching for vendors I was only finding the ones who are oriented toward destination/resort weddings, which is so not what we’re going for with our Family-BBQ-in-my-uncle’s-front-yard “theme.” This way, instead of the crazy expensive people who only work with luxury hotels, I get to work with the award-winning bbq truck that caters events at my cousins’ high school, and the amazing florist from the tiny town 10 miles away who is half as expensive as the one who advertises all over the WIC, and our photographer has already been to our “venue” because one of my cousins had her senior portraits taken at home.
        [I’m being wordy on here instead of doing work today, sorry everyone!]

    • sara g

      “So you can do that dress justice.”
      ohhhh no they didn’t.

    • Hayley

      We went to bridal shows in a different state from where we planned to get married and got similar reactions. It was a bummer. WOW, wow, wow, I cannot even believe that story about the prize…that is horrifying.

  • Eh

    I went to a bridal show with my (now) MIL a week or two after becoming engaged. It was very overwhelming (WIC overload). My husband and I had barely made any plans (we had picked a month and a general location) but I will say that it did reinforce that I didn’t want a “traditional” wedding (this sentiment exactly ->“Everything the bridal show had to offer had very little to do with the wedding we wanted to have”). It gave me and my MIL time to hang out which was nice. From that prospective it was a good move since having an open line of communication during the planning process did make things easier. Another thing was that it gave me an idea about how much things cost (especially cakes and photographers – things I had no idea about) so when I did get quotes from other vendors I knew if it was reasonable. A friend and I went to another smaller bridal show after both of us were pretty much done planning. They charged admission (the other one was free) but the vendors were more along the lines of what both of us were interested in, and the bridal show was much less intense.

  • Jess

    If any of you are in Brooklyn or NYC, Wedding Crashers is an actually awesome wedding show. The Spring one just happened, but they do it again later in the year. There IS an open bar (usually sponsored beer wine and cocktails), and tons of snacks and food and you can win things without strings attached. (We won a half case of sparkling wine last year.) AND there are plenty of men and grooms there. We are mostly planned and I still went this year just for fun. :) I totally sound like an ad, but we really do enjoy going to them, more than the Lovesick expo, which did leave me with that icky feeling.

    • Val

      Just chiming in to say that we went this year and had a FAB time. The food was just way too good and the DJ was equally as good. Plus: gourmet jello shots??? I left stuffed and just under slightly tipsy. My fiancée proclaimed it to be “the best wedding show ever”.

      • Jess

        Right?? My fiance was at a bachelor party, so my mom and I were the ones doing jello shots. We already have a caterer so I felt bad stuffing myself completely, but last year when there was a grilled cheese truck out front? Oh man. So good.

        • Hayley

          Gourmet jello shots and a grilled cheese truck…boy, was I ever at the wrong bridal show.

    • scw

      maybe Lovesick is different by city, but I really enjoyed it in Philadelphia this year – and I haven’t gotten one phone call! I was disappointed by the lack of open bar, though!

      • Jess

        We went to 2013’s in Brooklyn and it was a lot of “questions for the bride/pretend the groom doesn’t exist/you should be a princess/the bride’s one day to do all the things she wants” stuff….which I was really surprised by, honestly. Obviously it just is a mood set by whoever the vendors happened to be….I just wasn’t expecting that from an expo at a venue in Williamsburg. :)

    • AJ

      Wedding Crashers was my intro to wedding shows – I was not prepared for how mobbed/noisy it would be (went to the one a few weeks ago at Green Building/501 Union). It was actually hard to talk to the vendors that I wanted to talk to because of the din and mob scene. It did seem like the crowd was mostly couples. My fiance was out of town and I almost brought a friend (so glad I did not – really would not have wanted to subject anyone to the noise/crowd). But the free flowing drinks/catering samples were awesome – it just wasn’t productive in the way that I had hoped it would be.

    • sara g

      I went to the Seattle lovesick. It was interesting I guess, but the vendors seemed either standoff-ish or really, really pushy. Plus the event space was just too crowded and we could barely even move around. (But, that’s the only wedding expo I’ve been to, so it may be like that at all of them.) We got a lot of pamphlets and business cards, but no one we ended up choosing for vendors. They were all just too expensive.

    • I went to Wedding Crashers because one of our couples was getting married in the Green Building and gave us a pass to join them for the expo. We were planning our wedding at the time, so I enjoyed seeing what was out there, plus there were free booze samples from the Brooklyn Brewery and lots of really good free food. It’s the only wedding show I’ve ever attended, but it didn’t make me feel icky.

  • MisterEHolmes

    Pretty close to my experience at a bridal show (and once was enough for me) but I did snag a total deal on a DJ that I would never have heard of otherwise, allowing us to come under budget on that item, so that was worth it. Plus it gave me the chance to see what things REALLY cost in my area and spend time with my impending SIL, so I consider all those things a win.

    I was also critically disappointed in the lack of edible samples, and the amount of WIC-pressure is overwhelming and nauseating.

  • Lindsay Rae

    Over a year later I’m still getting random phone calls from vendors who I have asked to take me off their list… multiple times… I am *this* close to just breaking into a sob on the phone and saying “the wedding’s off, now please stop calling!” Really wish I knew not to give out my number.

    I went to three right when I first got engaged – I found one or two things to be productive, found a few ideas I hadn’t thought of, but overall not very helpful. (Aside from a few free pens, cookies, and tote bags, SCORE.) My advice to anyone looking is to see if a specific vendor you may have heard of and are interested in is going to be there, because sometimes they run promotions for attendants of the show. For example if the photographer you have your eye on is there running a “book at the show, save 10% today only” promotion, it might be worth it. That’s how I snagged my videographer with a little bit of a price break.

  • Kayjayoh

    I have been to three bridal shows: once with my sister, who was engaged at the time; once shortly after I was engaged, with my sister (again), and my brother’s then-fiance; and once this past fall, at a tiny indy show that happened to be on my boke route home from work. They were…interesting.

    When I was simply tagging along at the big show, I was there to offer support and opinions and eat as many cake samples as I could manage. When I was at the big show as a bride, I had a laser-like focus on photographers. I visited just about every photographer in the place, and only missed one or two by accident. I had some food samples, but I already had a venue, caterer, and cake plan, so it was an afterthought. Having a specific goal in mind–meet photographers, look at their portfolios and prices, and see who had good chemistry–really helped keep the day from being overwhelming.

    I actually felt almost guilty at the indy show, because I already have plans in place for pretty much everything the vendors there were selling. But I chatted with my photographer when things were slow, visited a booth that featured the paper art of a friend of mine, and ate way too much cake and hors d’oeuvres. It turned out to be a lot of fun, but again, it helped that I was mostly there to look at the pretties, rather than to make any decisions.

    This year, I was out of town on an awesome trip (which involved meeting my dressmaker) when the Big Show was happening, and I missed it not at all.

  • I actually loved the bridal shows I’ve attended so far. I found my photographer and day of coordinator at bridal fairs, and I also saw dress designs I liked and decor options I hadn’t thought of. For me, it was a win but other folks may find it overwhelming.

    I didn’t utilize the labels thing (I wish I had though) but I gave out our wedding Gmail address and also used my Google Voice number as the contact number. I had one company start spamming my Google Voice number and it was so easy to just block them and never get those calls/texts again.

    • You were very smart about the gmail and google voice. Wedding shows can be good if you’re strategic.

      • Jacky Speck

        Never been to a bridal show but I wish I had used a “wedding e-mail” and separate phone number at David’s Bridal. I got one of those “you won something free but not really free” calls and I’m pretty sure they got my number from David’s… Not to mention all the junk e-mails. So yeah, I’d recommend it for a lot of different wedding services, not just bridal shows. Unless you’re working with a small local business, there’s probably a pretty good chance of getting spammed.

    • VenusAD

      Thank you for sharing! I have one of these to check out this weekend and I’m so glad I’ve seen these warnings, since I was about to give them my actual info! I’ve just created a separate email and google voice acount just like you said. Thanks again!

  • KerryMarie

    I went to one bridal show, and was immediately rubbed the wrong way when it cost twice as much for my admission as than my (male) fiance’s. Are you kidding me?!

    • Hayley

      What?! That’s insane! Luckily we got free tickets each time around, which made the experience a bit less painful.

  • MC

    Ohhh yes, this is all very familiar. Fiance and I went to a wedding expo last August and really the only redeeming factor was all the free food samples. Just like Hayley, my fiance was the only non-vendor male I saw there, and even at that I only saw 5 or 6 men total. We also got the call to go to a free cookware presentation in order to get a free(ish) vacation, but that was okay because there was also free food there. (I guess what I’m saying is, I go where the free food is.) But as a friend told me after that experience, “The earlier on in wedding planning that you learn to say no to all the things you don’t want, the better.” And at the wedding expo we did get really good at saying no to allll the WIC-y vendors.

    • sara g

      Yeah, we went to our first (and only) wedding expo the weekend after we got engaged, and it made it really easy for us to take the axe to things we definitely didn’t want (florist, wedding cake, fancy stationary).

  • Katelyn

    I went to one bridal expo, a few years ago when we were in the middle of ring shopping. I had a pleasant enough time, but I do remember the tanning salon booth literally jumping out in front of me and confronting me about needing a spray tan for my wedding day. I said “No thanks, I don’t tan” – at which point they said “Oh, we do *shimmer* spray tans too!”

    As much as I want to look like a Twilight vampire for my wedding day, I had to politely refuse.

  • There are times when I think I missed out on a big part of the bride experience because I didn’t go to any shows. I didn’t do cake tastings. I didn’t go to dress stores. I didn’t even meet with a florist.

    But then I read things like this and I’m reminded that I didn’t have someone else’s idea of a bride experience. I had my bride experience because I was a bride and I had an experience. And it was exactly what this bride needed to have to get married.

    And I hear ya on people being surprised the groom is involved. I gave a dumbfounded look to a guy once who basically told me I was doing it wrong when I mentioned that my husband had a say in where we got married. What?!

    • Hayley

      “I had my bride experience because I was a bride and I had an experience.” I love this.

  • Oh wow. While I never did go to a bridal show, I did venture into a Home Show with my husband right after we bought our house but hadn’t moved in yet. I will never ever EVER give out my phone number to another vendor unless I really truly want to talk to them again. Nothing is ever free. There is never a real prize. And why is there no drinking? Even if I had to pay for a drink, it would make the whole thing so much more palatable.

  • Crayfish Kate

    Oh man, this is just too funny – we went to our first bridal show ever this past Saturday! And lo & behold, I’d won a prize showcase from some cooking company valued at $700! We actually have to go pick it up tonight, after we sit through their hour-long presentation thingy. We’ve nothing to lose, it’ll be a fun story if nothing else, but yeah. The bridal show we went to was pretty small, but the funny part is, it was combined with a larger Women’s Expo, and I shit you not, 2 rows down from the bridal show stuff was a booth touting divorce attorneys and mediators!

    I was glad FH was there, to wander around with me and oogle at all the ridiculousness. There were some cake samples, but not the smorgasbord I had envisioned. So yeah, been there, done that…probably won’t do it again. :-)

  • Moe

    I never went to a bridal show and got married anyways. We’re still married, so I guess it was ok. :D

  • light0a0candle

    Ahh, this pretty much sums up my experience at a bridal show (except I was rudely told that choosing a cash gift registry, or a honeymoon registry was “morally wrong” by a lady at a retail registry booth). My biggest annoyance was that there was no food available at all and I had expected there to be something to eat! I mean, food is often the single largest expense at a wedding right? Anyway, I would never recommend anyone to go to one of those things.

  • Kat Robertson

    Fiance and I felt like we had stepped onto an alien planet when we went to a bridal expo! We were dressed in shorts, t-shirts and sneakers for one thing, so we definitely looked weird next to everyone else’s sundresses and matching t-shirts. We decided to stick with looking only for venues, grabbed a map, and highlighted all of the venue booths. It felt kind of like a treasure hunt through a strange land! All in all, I’d give the experience about a B. We didn’t have an awful time, but it wasn’t very useful for us.

    The advice about labels and a junk e-mail account are solid – also, don’t wear the “Bride” sticker they try to give you and you’ll be hassled a lot less!

  • I did a couple of wedding shows – I found my dressmaker at one of them (yes, she made the dress in my picture).
    But I also found them overwhelming.
    DH came to one, and the other I went to with an also-recently-engaged friend. The smaller, second one (at a local hotel) was much better – free food, a good fashion show, not crowded, and some vendors I was actually keen to talk to further.
    The funny one I keep coming across is people who win free family portrait sittings “worth” $1500. Having spent a couple of weeks trying out for a job with one of those companies, I can tell you for a fact that nearly every.single.entry wins – well, a large number at least. They do your shoot for free, you’ll get, like 3 6×4 prints, and then they will bully you into spending $1500+ on more prints / canvas etc. Its where they make their money – present you with 64 awesome photos of your family that you just cant chose between, tell you you HAVE to make a decision today, and wow, there goes $2000 on your “free” family portrait session – because they dont do single prints for $100 or anything, you HAVE to buy the whole package.
    Sorry. Do I sound bitter?

  • Winny the Elephant

    I know this is slightly off topic but is anyone else really creeped out by the “butterfly releases” that some people are doing? Who in their right mind would want to buy a bunch of animals that have been stuffed into a cardboard box for hours and then often fly off and die? Would you buy 100 puppies and stick them in a cardboard box?

    rant over.

  • Karen

    We stuffed ourselves at the free bridal show… did not register or give anyone our addresses… and came away with it (1) deciding NOT to do a caterer as they were all very meh, and (2) with a plate rental place. There were lots of guys as they advertised a “groom’s room” (said room did not, however, exist.)