Picking up where I left off with my last post, here’s my recap of the second half of my NYC wedding gown shopping extravaganza. This batch of bridal salons provided plenty of hits (Kleinfeld!) and a few regrettable misses, and by the end I felt armed with the information I needed to make the all-important dress decision.
Anthropologie’s bridal offshoot BHLDN stocks a carefully edited collection of gowns by designers from Watters to Catherine Deane to Badgley Mischka to Rosa Clara. Though the selection is small—they carry just a couple of gowns per designer—there’s a good mix of styles (including, happily for me, plenty of strapped and sleeved options). With gowns starting at $600, BHLDN is worth a visit for the bride on a budget. If you’re willing to consider bridesmaid styles in white, the price point can drop even lower—I’m trying a $275 strapless gown with a $225 lace topper, both from Jenny Yoo in the photo above, and while I can’t say I adored this getup I think I would’ve been reasonably happy wearing it to my wedding had I needed to stick to a budget of $500-ish. BHLDN would make a good first stop on a bride’s shopping itinerary—between the small size, laid-back feel, and helpful consultants, it’s refreshingly non-intimidating.
I almost didn’t bother with Kleinfeld—most dresses come in at $3500+, and—though I admit to never actually having seen an episode—Say Yes to the Dress had me convinced I wasn’t Kleinfeld’s target customer. But in the end my mother convinced me to go for it—she bought her own dress there back in the ‘80s when the shop was still based in Brooklyn and thought I should do it for the experience if nothing else. I’m glad she did, because despite my initial misgivings Kleinfeld turned out to be the highlight of my dress shopping experience. It’s the most luxurious of the shops I visited—there’s a glam waiting area and well-appointed fitting rooms (complete with trademark purple satin robe to lounge around in between gowns). And they’ve got a huge selection of gowns—there’s Pnina Tornai aplenty, but there are loads of options for the more subdued bride too. Personally, I went straight for the Temperley: I love the English summer garden vibe, and from the moment I checked out the collection online I’d had a feeling that it might be for me. I wasn’t wrong—though Kleinfeld only stocks a handful of Temperleys, the three I tried were all knockouts. They felt fresh and different, more sweet than sexy, and, above all, really me. The highlight was the Saffron, which I’m wearing above. I never quite had that “the one” moment so many brides talk about, but Saffron was as close as I got. Priced in the mid-$3000s, it was more than I wanted to spend but less than I’d expected a Temperley to go for (and indeed the other two I tried were substantially pricier). My consultant, Ellie, was amazing—she got what I was going for and worked with me to find gowns that fit my style, despite it being a bit different from that of the typical Kleinfeld customer. Brides come from all over to shop at Kleinfeld, and after visiting I can see why. If you’re considering coming to NYC to shop, I’d wholeheartedly recommend booking an appointment.
Gabriella is a small high-end (read: not much comes in under $3000) boutique, stocking such bridal luminaries as Marchesa, Monique Lhuillier, and—best of all—Jenny Packham (who doesn’t seem to get quite the same degree of love here in the States that she does in the UK). While I didn’t find a ton I liked here—the ratio of strapless dresses to literally any other style was high, as it is in most shops, and big gowns (like the one pictured above, which made me feel like Mother Ginger from The Nutcracker) abounded—I took a shine (er, sparkle?) to the delightful Jenny Packham I’m trying on below. Though I’d initially been wary of beading, jewels, and all manner of bling, by this stage I’d realized that I quite liked gowns with glitzy bodices as focal points and simple skirts to round things out. This one fit like a dream, too, and it was the fan favorite among the friends to whom I showed my shopping pics. I loved trying it on, but at over $6000, it (and, to be honest, much of Gabriella’s lineup) just wasn’t in the cards for me.
Bridal Garden was the first miss on my NYC bridal tour. I wanted to like it: it’s a not-for-profit (though the cause it supports isn’t one I’m entirely behind), plus the thrifty environmentalist in me loves the idea of a recycled dress. Bridal Garden’s website promises a top-tier selection of gowns donated by designers and actual brides—so what’s not to love? For starters, there’s the no-frills setup—there’s no one to help you identify promising dresses or clip you into oversized gowns. This isn’t insurmountable, but it did make the experience feel more like popping into Zara than like a visit to a true bridal salon. Bridal Garden is also the only shop I visited that enforced a no photo policy. But the real deal breaker was the poor condition of some of the dresses: I found broken zippers, missing buttons, and wobbly embellishments galore, at prices in the four figures. Still, I don’t know that I’d discount Bridal Garden altogether: while it’s not a fun day out, it is the kind of place where you could really get lucky if the stars align.
I hadn’t planned to bother with J. Crew initially—their wedding gowns skew a bit modern for my liking—but after falling in love with Temperley I felt I should check out some more options tailored to the budget-minded bride, on the chance something a fraction of the price might speak to me in the same way. While I can’t say that quite happened, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found at my visit to J. Crew’s NYC bridal nook, tucked into a corner of their Union Square shop. While the dresses lack the level of detail you get with high-end designers, their clean designs are surprisingly elegant. With prices starting at $450 and the bulk of the collection under $1200—the Heidi, which I’m wearing in the photo above, comes in at $595—J. Crew is a great option for brides on a budget seeking something sleeker than a David’s meringue. While J. Crew has only a handful of (mini) salons, their gowns are available online—and they’re returnable, too.
Wedding Atelier is another friendly higher-end boutique, featuring the likes of Hayley Paige, Christos, Suzanne Neville, and many more, and it has the distinction of having the best selection of non-strapless dresses I encountered anywhere (with the possible exception of Kleinfeld). The gowns are easy to browse, and I like that they’re arranged by style rather than designer, making it easy to zero in on features you want and avoid those you don’t. The collection is big, too, with a wide range of looks on offer. I found a couple of dresses I really liked here, including the Alyne I’m wearing above. With prices in the mid-$3000s before alterations, they were somewhat more than I wanted to pay not, like, triple it, so that’s something.
In addition to a massive bridal warehouse in NYC, RK operates as the Amazon of the bridal world: their booming online business exists to undercut full-service bridal salons. This is no good thing in my book, but I went—not to take advantage of the bargain basement pricing, but because they stock dresses from the kinds of mid-tier designers (Allure, Alfred Angelo) that get little airtime in NYC’s high-end market. On arrival, you’re let loose to browse the floor. At most shops this is a good thing, but RK stocks so many dresses that aimless browsing is more overwhelming than fun. I half-heartedly grabbed a few sparkly ball gowns like the one in the photo above, figuring they’d at least be fun to try. My consultant was little help—failing to ask me about my wedding or preferences, she just kept pulling gowns in the styles of the ones I’d first selected. When I asked if I might try something more subdued she first chastised me for choosing the ball gowns in the first place and then claimed they had nothing unembellished in stock. After some prodding she did pull a simpler dress I liked, but by this point there was no way I was going to purchase from RK. To be fair, I wasn’t feeling well the day I had this appointment and wasn’t as assertive upfront as I should’ve been. Still, RK is the one shop I visited that I can’t in good conscience recommend.
I hate to end things on a down note, but RK was in fact the last shop I visited—I’d toyed with the idea of visiting a few others, like L’Fay (mostly to check out Ersa Aterlier: totally stunning, totally out of my price range), the Pronovias flagship store, and Bergdorf Goodman’s bridal salon, but I was starting to feel burned out on dress shopping.
So, readers, now that you’ve seen it all what do you think? Any favorites (or un-favorites)? I’ll let you know what I decided on soon—and don’t assume it’s not one of the dresses pictured here, either. Throwing tradition to the wind, I was sending Ben pics of my favorites from dressing rooms all over Manhattan—I figure if I’m going to spend four figures on a dress, it should be something he’ll love (almost) as much as I will.