There’s nothing that beats the feeling of knowing you’ve found “the one”—that perfect dress for your daughter’s bat mitzvah, sweet sixteen, quinceañera or prom. So why is it that dress shopping can be filled with so much angst? We asked three experts in the business for insider tips that will help you avoid some common mishaps, arguments, headaches and tears.
1. Start shopping early
If your daughter is a typical teen, she already has likely done her “window shopping” online, but it’s important to make an in-store visit five months or more ahead. “Most girls think they can come in and buy off the rack,” says Laura Karmin, owner of Ultimate Fashions at Woodbridge Center and Staten Island Mall. That might be true for some dresses, she says, but most orders take 16-20 weeks to arrive from the manufacturer and then require time for alterations.
2. Beware online dress sites
If you search for your favorite dresses through search engines, especially names like Sherri Hill and Jovani, you’re sure to find web sites that offer popular styles for a fraction of the cost. But buyer beware, says Paul Virilli, co-owner of Jan’s Boutique in Cherry Hill, N.J. Many of the sites steal or screenshot original photography from the manufacturers, and then sell their customers substandard copies. Because the web sites originate in other countries, there’s rarely a business address listed and owners can’t be held accountable for their actions, he says. “The knockoff dress business is worse than the knockoff bag business,” Virilli says. “The biggest problem is that there’s no one to send a lawyer’s letter to.”
3. Keep an open mind
Your daughter might have her heart set on a particular manufacturer, style or color, but not every dress is flattering for every body—a hard truth that can be disappointing. “When the look doesn’t fit their body type, they get upset,” Karmin says. Sometimes she’ll be asked to do alterations that cost more than half the price of the dress just to make it work, but heavy alterations aren’t worth it both for the expense and also for how they compromise the integrity the original dress. “It’s not a matter of how much you’re spending,” she says. “It’s the style and whether or not it looks good on you.”
4. Ignore the size
Occasion dresses tend to run small, and they have to be ordered to fit your largest proportion—whether that’s bust, waist or hips—so it’s unlikely your daughter is going get her usual off-the-rack size. No need to panic, feel discouraged or make an appointment with the dietician. It’s totally normal. “Sometimes the girls get depressed, but they shouldn’t” Virilli says. “Don’t let the size be the indicator. Just make sure you feel great in the dress.”
5. Honor your daughter’s preferences
A reputable store with knowledgeable salespeople will ask questions about the types of dresses your daughter likes and try to get a feel for her tastes, says Gionna Tarantola, social media coordinator for Castle Couture in Manalapan, N.J. Some girls like bright colors, some are looking for a ball gown style, others want a look that is simple and sophisticated. “It’s important to put them into what they think they want,” Tarantola says. Then the salesperson can make recommendations based on the store’s offerings and what will be most flattering.
Generally disagreements occur when the parent thinks a style is too mature for their daughter, Tarantola says. Trendy two-piece dresses some show skin, which often gets an automatic “no” from mom and dad. If you find you and your daughter disagree about a particular style or dress, a good salesperson can mediate the discussion. “It’s important for us to work with them as a team and make sure that both the parent and the client are happy with the final look,” she says. “We take the attention away from what they don’t like and start focusing on the parts of the dress the mom and daughter like. Using that, we go from there and find a new style.”
Jan’s Boutique: http://jansboutiqueonline.com
Castle Couture: http://www.castlecouturenj.com
Ultimate Fashions: http://www.ultfash.com