Emma Case for Designer Vintage Bridal Show
I’m pretty sure there isn’t a bride out there who hasn’t considered a sample sale, or in fact actually attended one in the hope to find their ‘dream dress at a bargain price’. I’ve been to my fair share of them with friends and clients – some with success some not so much. As attractive as they can seem, there are of course pros and cons so I asked the Queen of bridal boutiques, Emma Meek – owner of the brilliant Miss Bush Bridalwear for some tips and what to be aware of when you are considering getting a dress through a sample sale. I highly recommend a read given it’s sample season – this woman seriously knows her stuff…
Brits love a sale. Is this, unseemly bargain grabbing the best way to buy a wedding dress though? Possibly not – this is not a £50 top; this is a dress that, according to the great Oscar de la Renta, “will live for generations in photographs.” In these straightened times however if we want to be able to afford to have the children to admire our wedding photos, we may have to be prudent with our wedding budget. Sample sales are a brilliant way of stretching your budget and arguably getting more dress for your money. There are, though, some serious pros and cons to be considered before you elect this route of wedding dress shopping.
Caro Hutchings Photography
Without wanting to sound patronising samples are ‘sample sized’ so regardless of whether the samples are a size 6 or 16 this means they will expect you to be a maximum height of 5’10” in heels. It is likely that if you are smaller than 5’ 2” or taller than 5’ 10” the bust, waist and hips will never sit in the right place. Do not believe anyone that tells you differently.
Most wedding dress samples do not cater for a bust cup size bigger than a DD – so if you’re a busty girl [like myself] a sample sale will be disheartening.
Dresses are never successfully let out – never buy with the intention of slimming into a dress with this as a back up plan. Similarly a size 16 dress taken down to a size 8 will never look like buying the size 8 dress would have done.
CONDITION & CLEANING…
Make sure the shop is clear about the condition of the dress, to protect both consumer and retailer it is a legal obligation to list faults (such as shop soiling, tears etc) and specify reasons for the discounted price.
Some fabrics and dresses are easier to clean than others, and more importantly some dry cleaners are far superior than others. In an ideal world your retailer will sell you a sample dress on a full service basis. At Miss Bush the sale price of a dress includes a specialist dry clean and any remedial work. In a nutshell this means the dress is put back to pristine condition – any missing buttons or worn loops are replaced, beads are found then repatriated, lace is skillfully hand worked and embroidered seamlessly. If your chosen retailer is not offering this service you have to work out the cost of these individual elements and the ease of sourcing specialists to undertake the work.
Fabrics that do not respond well to dry cleaning if they are heavily shop soiled are organza and tulle as they have a tendency to ‘grey’ on the shop floor and are hard to make look pristine again. Heavily beaded dresses such as Jenny Packham should not be entrusted to local dry cleaners. They often do not use the right chemicals and can melt beads and ruin their finish [editors note – I have sadly heard this happen all to often, brides choose wisely!]. Specialist cleaners such as Upstage in Holloway [0207 6099119] handle them brilliantly but expect to pay £200 plus for their services.
Caro Hutchings Photography
REPAIRS & FITTING…
Miss Bush is fairly unusual in that there is a fully staffed workroom to undertake all manner of fittings and alterations including those on our sample sale dresses. If you buy a sample dress from any shop, altering the dress to make it fit you will not be included in the price. Get an estimate from the shop if they are offering the service. If you are based in London/South East – I would budget £200 – £300 for alterations. It will be a pleasant surprise if you pay less but you must factor this into the ‘bargain’ nature of the dress.
A great benefit, but not an obvious one, is storage. When you have bagged a bargain it is much easier for the shop to hold it until you are ready for fittings. If you have to take it away [which is quite often the case] consider where you hide it and how safe it will be. I have had one case of a bride storing a sale dress at a friend’s flat who then subsequently showed all their mutual friends on a drunken girly night in, naughty!
Shops have no legal obligation to refund sale goods. If you buy something in a heady rush know that you can only get store credit or an exchange if you change your mind. Wedding dress shop owners are a kindly bunch but please be aware being a bride does not exempt you from the law.
Caro Hutchings Photography
WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…
As with all sales the big names are what brides are looking for – Maggie Sottero. Jenny Packham, Suzanne Neville. If you are on a serious budget and would like to re sell your dress after you wear it these are the names that will hold their value. Make sure you are buying current or previous season and if you are unsentimental, get the dress straight back on the market after you have worn it.
WHAT TO AVOID…
Hotel sales – usually from big chains that have warehouses full of very old and dated dresses. Silk dresses more than a season or two old as the fabric will be starting to perish. Very tatty dresses – I have seen examples of dresses bought by brides with a very famous label that were only fit for recycling. Take a tough mate to talk you out of purchases like this!
CLASSICS & BESTSELLERS…
Oddly these are not the dresses you will necessarily find in a sale. These sample dresses will usually be so ‘used’ in the shop that retailers cannot bear to be without them or they are in such poor condition that no shop with scruples would sell them.
GOOD SALE BUYS…
Quirky one off pieces – limited repeat order potential but bought to make style junky owners like me feel happy.
Really expensive dresses – if I, or anyone else in my position, has bought or made a dress for the shop that has not sat at the right price point for that season they swiftly go into the sale.
‘End of relationship’ dresses – relations between shop and designer/manufacturer can sometimes be an unhappy affair. Designers or manufacturers that promise much and continually fail to meet expected standards of delivery or simply that shop owners fall out of love with makes for great sample bargains.
SUMMARY ON SALES…
At Miss Bush selling sample dresses is an essential part of our business and we offer the same service as with ordering a new dress. Not all shops do this. Sometimes it’s purely practical reasons such as lack of space or lack of in house alterations team. However, if there appears to be lack of after sales care then I would suggest brides think carefully about all the issues that may make the dress’s progress from shop to aisle difficult and stressful and maybe, possibly not worth the saving.
Well I for one have certainly learnt a thing or two, and hope it’s been a useful read. I’d love to hear from brides past and present with any experiences at sample sales. I could certainly share a shocking tale or two but alas, this is a professional (ish) blog so will keep those stories to myself [for now anyway!].
If you are considering looking for your dress, here are a few handy London [and surrounding areas] bridal sample sales you may want to put in your diary!
Miss Bush Bridalwear / On now for up to a month! / www.missbushbridalwear.co.uk
Jenny Packham / Thursday 21st June 8am-8pm / 3A Carlos Place, London W1 / www.jennypackham.com
David Fielden / Starts 30th June / 241 Fulham Road, London SW3 6HY / www.davidfielden.co.uk
Stephanie Allin / 23rd & 24th June / 17 Chilstern Street, London W1U 7PQ / www.stephanieallin.net
Alan Hannah / 16th June / 18 Riverwalk Business Pk Enfileld, EN3 7QN / www.alanhannah.co.uk