When I first got engaged, one of my favorite games to play was to visit the big box wedding websites and take those wedding dress quizzes that tell you your “bride style.” Was I a classic bride? A beach bride? Maybe rustic chic? And then I’d peruse through hundreds of designer dresses, with only a $, $$, or $$$ to indicate whether or not I could afford them. (Surely one dollar sign meant… $300? $500 max?)
Cue my surprise upon discovering that all the dresses I loved the most were high-end designs that cost well into the $5,000 range. Womp womp. At the time, there were no affordable versions of the couture gowns I loved so much, so I ended up doing what so many of us do: paying $100 for a cheap knockoff of a design I loved and regretting it immediately. (For those curious, I fell in love with the far right dress here and tried to approximate it with this. Except my knockoff version had tiered layers connected with see-through mesh and no lining, so every time I sat down, you could see my… everything.) David’s Bridal ended up coming to my rescue, and I have zero regrets about that. But you know what? I’m still mad that there just wasn’t a dress option in my price range that looked like the designer dresses I loved.
Because here’s the thing. I never actually wanted a couture gown. I didn’t need $5,000 lace or hand beading. I just wanted couture design at a price I could afford. So when David’s Bridal invited the APW team to come check out their new concept store in Sacramento last month, I walked in the front door and went, “OMG they’ve done it.” Everywhere we looked were gowns that looked like they came straight off the bridal fashion week runway. So much so, in fact, that Meg and I (along with longtime APW reader Addie) basically did Supermarket Sweep through the showroom grabbing all the dresses we loved and wanted to try on (um… for research).
So if it’s been a minute since you’ve been inside a David’s Bridal, or you’re just starting your dress shopping now and weren’t going to put David’s Bridal on the list, here are a few things that have changed since 2009 that would make it one of the first stops on my list. And pssst, we’re giving one of you a $500 gift card to David’s Bridal, so make sure you read all the way to the bottom to get in on that!
Wedding Dresses, But Make It Fashion
For as long as I can remember, David’s Bridal has been synonymous with affordable wedding dresses. But it’s always been a certain kind of affordable dress. Classic. Strapless. Ball gown. You know what I’m talking about. But in the last few years, David’s Bridal has become one of the most fashion-forward wedding dress retailers on the market. You want Vera Wang, but don’t have $4K to drop on it? They’ve got that. (And Zac Posen too. And my fave, Tadashi Shoji.) In fact, when I sent my sister a photo of myself in this dress, she asked me if it was (insert name of high-end designer I’ve never heard of before).
I mean, yes, they still have all the strapless ball gowns you could ask for. But I also saw off-the-shoulder dresses, ornate beading, cutouts, sheer back panels, sequins, sleeves, capes, feathers, jumpsuits, you name it. And you may already know, they are one of the only dress stores doing anything for plus size women these days.
The Chillest Shopping Experience
When David’s Bridal saved my ass back in 2009, it was in the Manhattan store on 25th street. I was able to score a same-day appointment and walk out with a dress that night. But as anyone who has lived in a town with a David’s Bridal for more than twenty years will recognize, I did not have the most updated salon experience when I was getting married. (Though my customer service rep was A+.) So I was genuinely surprised when we walked into the brand-new Sacramento store to find a whole new David’s Bridal concept that looks like a bougie upscale showroom.
There was cool faux grass on the walls, tons of dresses I could run my hands over, and secluded changing areas with wall-to-wall mirrors. It was a far cry from the mall store experiences of my youth. It turns out, this new David’s Bridal is part of a concept store they’ve been rolling out across the country.
And to my delight, they just launched a brand-new Manhattan showroom last month. So if, like me, New York City represents a swath of expensive wedding dress stores you can’t afford, you’re in for a treat, because the new David’s Bridal is basically that, but with better price tags. And if you’re in the Bay Area, the trek to the Sacramento store is well worth it.
But some things haven’t changed
So about what I said above. How David’s Bridal has some of the most fashion-forward dresses you’ll find these days? Well, when we asked the sales associates at the Sacramento store if those high fashion dresses were the ones flying off the shelves, she hung her head disappointingly and said they were, in fact, not. And I understand. When I first started wedding dress shopping, I had a visceral aversion to a) anything too “bridal,” and b) anything that was outside my preconceived notion about what looks good on me. Which means I most definitely missed out on some amazing dresses due to unrelenting stubbornness.
But I’ve gotten much braver since then (plus when you’re shopping for your imaginary wedding for work the stakes are much lower). And without a doubt, my favorite dresses are always the ones that are just a little outside of my comfort zone, that I would never try on if it weren’t for fun. And hands down the best dresses at David’s Bridal are the ones with the interesting details that are just a smidge left of traditional.
So if any of that rings true for you, here’s my advice: give yourself a minute to adjust to the weirdness of wedding dress shopping. Then try on a ton of different things. Try on big dresses and slinky dresses and dresses with plunging necklines. Then take photos (since David’s Bridal has never had an issue with that, unlike some high-end salons) and let yourself pore over them at home. Because sometimes what you need while wedding dress shopping is a chance to let your inner critic take a rest.
Oh and have fun. I sort of forgot to let myself have fun while dress shopping. Which means that if it were ten years ago, I would have missed out on this delightful strip tease, courtesy of Meg. (Which in reality is just one of David’s Bridal’s new styles that includes a removable lace overlay so you can have a more traditional wedding gown for your ceremony, with party vibes underneath.)
Every David’s Bridal is different, and your experience will vary from location to location based on the sales associate and the region you’re shopping in. Pro-tip: You’re in the driver’s seat, so it’s totally your prerogative to ask for a new associate if you’re not vibing with the one you’re first assigned. Though I’ve loved everyone I’ve met in the Bay Area stores, and the Sacramento team was a dream, even when we were low key trashing their store with piles of tulle.
I try not to trade in too much wedding regret (I mean, it has been ten years). But I’m still salty that wedding dresses have come such a long way since I got married. My experience felt so fraught, and stressful. And I only mostly liked what I ended up with. But I very nearly walked out of the Sacramento store with about $3,000 worth of stolen wedding dresses. (Not an exaggeration. I wanted to keep this and this.) And not one minute of our trip was fraught or stressful. And that’s all I ever want for anyone planning a wedding right now. Well, that and maybe a few floral appliqués and sequins.
This post was sponsored by David’s Bridal. If you want fashion-forward wedding dresses that don’t cost a month’s paycheck, David’s Bridal has some of the best stuff around. They’ve also got one of the most comprehensive plus size wedding dress collections out there. So if you’ve got champagne wedding tastes on a microbrew budget, go make an appointment at your local David’s Bridal today. And a huge thanks to the Sacramento David’s Bridal store, who let us crash their morning and were delightful about it the whole time.