I'm a big advocate of supporting local independent businesses and British designers and quite often this can be at odds with my commitment to affordability and my general desire to be a bargain hunter.
The boutiques in Sheffield that have closed recently are some of the big hitters, they have been around for years and everyone I know in the city that has married recently has visited them for an appointment.
And there (I think) lies the problem many people visit boutiques with no intention of buying. I have recommended to people that they try on dresses before heading to a sample sale or specific sale shop or bridal warehouse, but what this really means is that you are taking the time and focus of a business with no intention of investment. Some boutiques (the best ones anyway) provide impeccable customer service and I think it's only right to pay for that, especially if you don't intend to buy the products on offer. I also think it's equally important that if you are going to spend a large amount of money on a dress that you should have the opportunity to try some on and to know what suits you.
Buying your wedding dress can be really quite stressful, and it really shouldn't be! There are a lot of pressures and fear based sales techniques that are often employed by some businesses, particularly those discount sale warehouse type shops. When I was looking for a dress for my wedding I went down to London for the day and wanted to visit one of these large sale shops but was hugely put off by the woman on the phone when I called up to book an appointment. She was very abrupt to the point of being rude and flat out asked me what my budget was, she then told me that I only had an hour in store and that I had to be ready to buy there and then i.e.it is not acceptable for you to leave the shop empty handed! Strangely I decided not to visit that particular shop.
I wonder if one answer to this would be for boutiques to offer a paid for 'trying on service' to help brides to see what suits them and to give them that experience that so many crave when planning their wedding.
I'm a big fan of buying 2nd hand and vintage but I know that for a lot of women they want to have something that is made just for them on such an occasion. One thing I'm certain on though is that we need to support our local independent businesses or our high streets and boutique lined avenues will disappear into a mass of pound shops, supermarkets, big chain coffee vendors and gambling establishments...
So my advice would be this:
- Look for new local designers
- Check out non bridal collections, there are some beautiful prom dresses and bridesmaid dresses out there that are more than fit for a bride
- Visit sample sales in your local boutiques
- Don't be afraid to haggle, many boutiques will have the discretion to offer a discount or throw in a veil or accessory
- Don't pay over the odds for alterations, your local dressmaking shop will be able to alter your dress for much less than a bridal shop
- Finally (and rather sadly) you can pick up a proper bargain at a closing down sale