After trying vintage wedding dresses from our families, I was pretty set on wearing one of them. But I wanted to go wedding dress shopping just for fun - because when else in your life is it socially acceptable to try on lots of gorgeous, expensive gowns?
The first place I went was the Bridal Garden in Chelsea, which sells samples for discounted prices and donates a portion of the proceeds to an educational charity. The racks are organized by general style and size and you can look through it all yourself to pull out whatever you want to try on. Because they are donated, that means they only have the one dress - you can't buy it from them in other sizes, only hope that it fits you.
I knew going into it that I absolutely did not want a strapless dress or a dress that is structured like a strapless dress with boning, or to have to wear a strapless bra. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was a mistake, because that is pretty much all they have there. Literally every dress had a strapless bra sewn into it. It was like my nightmare (granted, a nightmare involving pretty dresses).
I complained to the saleswoman about how tight and uncomfortable it is to wear dresses with boning, and she said, "But that's how they all are," and I said, No, that's not true." Because there are many flowy, sheath dresses out there without boning and too-tight waistlines, which I saw on future dress shopping trips. I wanted to be vocal with her, because maybe if people tell bridal stores what they actually want, then the industry will follow suit.
I was also upset by how the Bridal Garden treats your figure. The store sews a strapless bra into every dress to give everyone a figure they don't necessarily have. When I asked her how they would alter it to fit my small chest, she said all they would do is take it in on the sides (they do alterations in house). I told her that was not enough, and she said they couldn't do more than that. So I said, why would I pay you a thousand dollars for a dress that you won't alter correctly, that doesn't fit me and doesn't reflect my actual figure? Looking back on it, I suppose that if I had found something I really loved, I could have taken it to another tailor who could remove the bra and do a more custom alteration.
The other thing I found weird is the pricing. Their policy is that each dress has a tag with a price on it, and then they will quote you a further discounted price after you try them on. So when I let her know my favorites, she pulled out two rather arbitrary quotes out of thin air that were $100-500 less. I think she was trying to get close to my budget while also undercutting what another salesperson there might quote, in order to encourage you to buy on the spot. So it seems to be in your best interest to give a lower budget. I know a friend who got her dress there for only $500, but most of the ones I saw were between $1-2,000 before the arbitrary discount.
They don't let you take photos, so we snuck in one when the attendant was on the other side of the store. A gown I tried on for kicks that I would never actually consider wearing - with sequins and a poufy heavy skirt that I dragged around me.
The moral of the story is that if you want a standard strapless poufy gown, you might as well check out the Bridal Garden. If you know you don't want that, then don't bother, and proceed onward to the next stores I went to...