Ask Alexandra: A Career in Bridal Fashion

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

Hi Alexandra!

My name is Amber and I will be graduating from New Mexico State University this coming May with a BA of Hospitality Restaurant Tourism and Management, but I want to pursue a career in bridal fashion, specifically after graduation. Naturally, I have a lot of questions about how to get on the right path, but my first is how do I choose the right school? I am open to moving, but finances are a major concern. Do I need to spend $20,00+ a semester for school?

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Are you sure you want to work in an industry whose primary business is selling dresses like this?

Dear Amber,

Congrats on getting your degree. With regards to moving forward, you can start my reading my previous posts on fashion schools:
5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Fashion School
Ask Alexandra: Best Fashion Courses
Ask Alexandra: Fashion Design Education

But my main questions are 1 – Why did you study hospitality first? and 2 – Why bridal fashion? Ok, no point in answering question 1 because what’s done is done, but I am always perplexed when I meet students whose dream is to design wedding gowns, or work in bridal fashion. I won’t deny that it can be a very lucrative business, but not compared to other fashion sectors. How many proper wedding dresses have you bought? I’ve bought none, and I am married (and I had a wedding.) How many pairs of jeans have you bought? Bags? Pairs of underwear? I am pretty sure they outnumber wedding dresses. We all need bags and underwear, not many of us need a wedding dresses. Most of the “cool” brides these days just go to a store and buy a designer dress from a brand they love.

wedding dresses, ask alexandra, fashion advice, bridal fashion, fashion jobs, fashion schools

When I worked in a bridal store, we mostly sold this.

I feel like a lot of people get into the wedding business, or think they want to, for the wrong reasons. I worked in a bridal store for a year, and that was enough to put me off for life. Brides are hell to work with, they are usually picky, stressed out, neurotic, and bitchy. Times that by one hundred, and that describes their mothers. The nightmares I dealt with were quite unbelievable, and we lived by two mottos: “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” and “The only difference between a Mother of the Bride and a bulldog is lipstick.” (Actually, that is quite offensive to bulldogs, who are very lovely dogs, especially when they are wrinkly little puppy blobs.)

People think there is something quite wonderful about designing beautiful dresses for women on one of the most important days of their life. But the truth is, it isn’t that interesting. I’ve complained about this before, and the fact is, most brides want to get married in a strapless meringue. The people I know who work in bridal say that most brides want something strapless, with either a mermaid or pouffy skirt. They all go in looking for something “unique” and they all leave with the same dress. So from a design perspective, this is not interesting.

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The bridal world is inundated with strapless dresses.

What else is there? Well, there is dealing with the extremely high stress, difficult customers. That is not fun. There is the fact that your business will be extremely busy only at certain times of the year (although know that you can always have Christmas off.) And bridal is not a very prestigious part of the fashion industry. Think about the famous fashion brands? How many of them are bridal businesses? Even Vera Wang is branching out to a lot more womenswear. And in terms of luxury and prestige fashion companies, none are bridal.

On top of that, working in bridal is sad. The store I worked in had a policy of no refunds (you put a hefty deposit down on a dress before it is ordered) unless the bride or groom died (and they needed to show a death certificate.) You can’t imagine how many dresses never got picked up, and those were the psychos who were so neurotic and insane during the dress buying process, we knew for sure they’d never make it down the aisle. Any sane man would have run a mile. There were also the girls who gained extraordinary amounts of weight (this is not uncommon) and ended up needing to have three inch wide panels of fabric inserted into the side seams. There were tears, tantrums, and cancelled weddings. Utterly depressing.

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Pouffy skirts or mermaid skirts. Brides love them.

Lastly, the students I have met who want to work in bridal seem to have little or no idea of what brides want, or they only want to design the same strapless meringue we’ve already seen one thousand times. Do you have something new to bring to the table? Will the dress, store, or service you provide have a unique selling point? This is obviously important for all fashion sectors, but in bridal, it seems even more difficult to find one.

Sorry if this is depressing for you, but I think you need to hear it from someone. However, if you decide that this is absolutely your life calling, then I suggest you do two things before you start your bridal fashion company. Firstly, get married. And understand what that is about (maybe you are already married, that’s good.) Secondly, go and work in a bridal store for 6 months. Get on the front lines. Then see if this is still something you want to do.

And with regards to your fashion education, I don’t know of any specific bridal courses, but whatever you do, go in with an open mind and choose a somewhat general course so that if you should choose that bridezillas are in fact the bane of your existence, then you can start a denim, bags, or underwear company instead.

Further reading on weddings:
Let Kate, Not Kim, Set the Wedding Dress Trends
5 Tips on Buying Bridesmaid Dresses

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  • Jill

    What a great post! I got married at City Hall in NYC, in a slim cream-colored off the rack evening dress from Lord & Taylor. So glad I did not have a big wedding, so glad I did not have a strapless puff of a dress. I think the wedding industry has gotten out of hand and I’m convinced it’s because so many gals these days want to have a coronation, they aren’t actually interested in being married. It’s all about being princess for a day!

  • anya

    Love this post.

    The bridal business is a shameless one, selling cheap polyester dresses and marking them up 400%. So, yes, it could be very profitable.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    You were one of the people I was thinking about when I mentioned that the cool girls just buy a nice designer dress. It’s the way forward.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Haha, good point. Big, expensive weddings are also a waste of money, if you don’t have a crapload of money already. We spent under $10K, there was no way we were going to spend more. Now we just need to save up $30K for the honeymoon we haven’t taken yet.

  • kellie

    After a frustrating and snotty experience at Browns Bride in London…”yes we do dresses in shades other than white: we have dresses in oyster, cream and ivory”; “you’re paying for this dress yourself?!”; “all brides really want a big dress” (wheeling a rack of big dresses), and the final sneer “I don’t think we have anything here for you”, I went for a mope in Selfridges. At the back of the Alexander McQueen concession I found the most gorgeous, breathtakingly simple column gown.. one left, in my size. Less than half the price of anything they showed me at Browns (this was a few years ago). Plus the McQueen boutique fitted it to me the week before my wedding for only 50 quid.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Haha, that’s another reason why I never set foot into a bridal salon when I was looking for my dress.

  • anya

    Thank you! Wore both top and bottom on several post-wedding occasions. Got my money’s worth!