Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dress Shopping: The Glamour Closet

As a bride on a budgetary mission to spend less than $1000 on a dress and alterations, it turns out I don't have a ton of options.  Who would have thought that $1000 is bubkis in the wedding dress world?!  I mean, $1000 is enough for a fancy shmancy romantic weekend away, a new bed, or a enough to repair the massive dent in my car (tangent: eff you, whoever hit my parked car and didn't leave a note.) It's also enough to buy (some) dresses from used/sample dress listings, (some) custom dresses, (most) dresses from megastores like David's Bridal, or white dresses from department stores.  In other words, it's not a lot, even though it feels like a whole heckofa lot to me.

Enter: Glamour Closet.  Similar to Encore Bridal, they sell high-end showroom samples, runways samples and designer overstock dresses at heavily discounted prices and they also have local boutiques (in Los Angeles and San Francisco) where you can go and try things on.  Their store is slightly larger than Encore's Manhattan Beach boutique but, unlike Encore, they don't list their current dresses online (so it's definitely a locals-only shopping opportunity.)  Most of their inventory ranges from $500 - $2000 (at discounts ranging from 25%-75% off standard bridal prices), so I was hopeful that I could find something $800 and under (to leave pricing room for alterations), particularly since I'm going for a simple dress.

The Glamour Closet doesn't take appointments, so I'd recommend arriving around their 11am opening time for a prime spot in line (or making a weekday trip, if you can). You'll receive six clips, which you use to mark the dresses you want to try on.  All the dresses are as-is sample sizes (8 and 10), so what you see is what you get (you can generally alter dresses up and down two sizes, depending on the style). Trying the six dresses on takes (on average) an hour.

Well... I had a great time and saw some stunning dresses, but didn't find anything right for me. The current inventory skewed to the satin/sparkle end of things, which isn't really my style.  However, I tried on a bunch of dresses to experiment and see whether dresses outside of my comfort zone might look better than I had anticipated.  In fact, they DID look better than I had anticipated, and I was sorely tempted to buy at least one, but then my common sense (luckily) got the better of me.  Because, as great as the dress looked, it didn't feel right for me or our event.

In the spirit of featuring more real brides in real dresses, I decided to share my dress shopping experiences with readers.  Because really, dress photos with women in poses like this...



...do little to give me an idea of how the dress will really look on a non-model (who ever stands like that?! I'm tempted to try it in my formal photos, just because.) When I recently caught this chain over on Weddingbee, I was charmed to pieces by all the real-woman dress photo sharing.  So, for reference, I'm 5'9", a street size 8 on top and a size 10 below and here's how some dresses looked on me.  Please excuse the non-photogenic faces, angles, and bridal clips.




This dress might have worked with some spanx and alterations, especially for a glamorous cocktail party wedding. Surprisingly, I liked the semi-trumpet/mermaid looks on my pear-shaped body.  J, on the other hand, hated this dress from my photos. The censored version of his response is "Ug. It looks like you're wearing clamshells. I don't like it." Therefore, this dress taught me an important lesson - it's often a good idea to show your partner dress photos so you can learn their wedding-based style preferences and you don't walk down the aisle in something they despise. We're usually on the same page, so I was surprised by his vehemence about this dress.




Moving on, this is the Augusta Jones dress I almost bought.  I started to have that twirl-around-lovely-wow moment.  The dress was exactly $1000 and needed ZERO alterations.  It fit perfectly and comfortably, off the rack.  And, most importantly, it made me look and feel incredible.  My waist suddenly appeared smaller and the sweetheart A-line was very flattering.  It had a formaily that was still okay for an outdoor venue, thanks to the organza overlay.  The sparkle was subtle and didn't look like a badazzler gone wrong.  I gasped for the first time, because I suddenly felt like a bride.

However, as I gathered my wits about me, I realized I didn't feel like me. I certainly looked beautiful, which is what a perfectly fitting designer dress is designed to do. I felt the same way as when I'd wandered into a Max Mara shop, tried on a $800 suit, and realized I was much hotter than I'd ever given myself credit for.  Great clothes make you look incredible, and that's why they're priced at incredible levels. Must of us don't generally shop at the high end stores or have experiences with exquisitely crafted dresses, so our first experience with real high-end elegance is at a bridal salon. I'm convinced this factor is at the heart of the two-dress bride phenomenon (is it a phenomenon? I know it happens somewhat regularly.)  I can see how easy it is to buy the wrong dress when we're so wowed by our designer-clad reflection, even when the dress doesn't meet our real wedding criteria.  If I hadn't paused at the thought of spending $1000 of my hard-earned savings, I might have walked away owning a dress that didn't actually meet my real wedding criteria and regretting the decision a few weeks later. 

My real wedding criteria were: cost, dancability, outdoor-woodsy appropriate, non-princessy, modern looking but elegant. This dress met only the following: cost(ish) and dancability (for a wedding dress). Besides that, I looked like a freaking princess.  Which is fine if that's the look you're going for.  But I really want the wedding to feel casual-but-elegant so having the bride wander around in a white ballgown all night doesn't help achieve that, even if the dress falls on the simpler end of the A-line princess spectrum. I felt pressure to buy it because a sample dress is a one-time option but, for all of the above reasons, I'm soooo glad I didn't.

Lessons learned:
  • Glamour Closet has affordable designer options, but you have to search.  Also, most of their current dresses have some real sparkle
  • I need to show photos to J to avoid any "clamshell ick" moments down the road. 
  • Hold onto your logic, even during your ohmyfreakinggoodnessIlookahhhhhmazing moments while dress shopping. Really evaluate if the dress meets your real event needs so you don't make a costly two-dress-bride mistake.  
  • I don't want an A-line dress because it feels too ballgowny and princess-like for the event we have in mind.
About Glamour Closet:
  • 324 S. La Brea Ave
  • Los Angeles, CA 90036
  • (323) 938-2000
  • Hours: 11am - 7pm Tues-Fri and 11am - 6pm Sat

12 comments:

  1. Great tips about dress shopping! I know what you mean about trying on a dress and feeling good in it but not feeling like it's "you". I went to Glamour Closet twice, first time didn't find anything to even try on but the second time I tried 3 dresses but none of them were for me. They get new inventory every month, you may want to call first & ask them if they put it out yet before you go. In Oct they did not put it out till the second week of Oct.

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  2. don't know if you want to do this, but if you sell your dress afterward, that's another way to help get the final cost of the dress down.

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  3. Julia - I'm definitely planning on re-selling or re-fashioning my dress. The only reason I'm not buying used is that I'm too tall for most pre-owned dresses, which have already been altered for shorter women.

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  4. you always have something thought-provoking to say about weddings. and here you've done it again with the dress. great review of glamour closet. i'm so glad you got to have the 'wow i feel like a bride' moment. it would have been hard to turn down that dress (you looked beautiful in it btw), but good for you for not giving into temptation. so perhaps it's not cliche to say once you find the dress you'll know? well, i'd like to at least HOPE that every bride gets that feeling when they find their gown...

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  5. I also had someone hit my parked car and not leave a note...WTH?! I also plan on re-selling my gown after the wedding. And I also checked out encore brides. Unfortunately, Encore only offers dresses that cost a minimum of $3,000 retail and the Maggie Sottero's I was looking for don't come near that price point. But it looks like you did some extensive shopping and evaluating of what is most important. Great tips. I posted about my own gown over on my blog today...

    Btw, I also left something for you there as well :)

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  6. i took a ZILLION pictures (well ok, my mom took them lol) of the dresses I tried on. There were many that I thought- ouuu it looks nice but I don't FEEL like me. exactly same feelings.

    after hitting three bridal stores, take the pictures, poring over them... i stopped looking for about four entire months. completely. it was SO overwhelming and i felt SO much pressure to just KNOW when I tried on the dress. such bs.

    so, this august, went back to one of the bridal stores, and came back to one that i had been thinking about in the back of my mind and ordered it. thankfully i had the time to do all that (we were engaged two full years pre-wedding, now on the one year countdown).

    and I showed some pictures to andrew during the initial looking- which was great actually cuz i was getting caught up in the veil idea (mom's oohhhing and ahhing) and he vetoed it right away. said it didn't look like me. he was right.

    no veil it is :)

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  7. Great tips! You look lovely in the Augusta Jones, even though you said it wasn't you.
    I also really like the 'real bride' thread you linked. I took way too many pictures of myself in the bridal salons, but it definitely helped narrow dresses down. It also helped to see brides about my size and height in gowns, so kudos to you for sharing your size to help other brides out! Keep bringing your camera to the dress hunts, I wanna see more!

    Somewhat of a tangent: The salon I bought my dress from wouldn't let me take pictures of myself in the dress until I paid for it. Their reasoning was that the designer didn't want too many pictures of non-models in the wedding dress.
    Newsflash to designers, your dresses are all going to be worn by non-models for real live actual events!

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  8. I totally agree; the model photos of wedding dresses are entirely not helpful (and it's usually not because of their size--plenty of real women are thin, too--it's the damn poses!). There was an Enzoani ad I saw once where the model looked like she had scoliosis and a stomachache. ;)

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  9. Thoughts:
    1) Vintage (though they do run teensy, so maybe not? I'm vintage size, weirdly, which seems to mean too busty for your waist, but I guess that's why the work for me? Annnnyyyywaaayyy)
    2) Sarah Seven (http://www.sarahseven.com)
    3) Meg (http://megshops.com/) East Side has a good post about her work.
    4) Any white (I assume you want white) dress you can get your hands on that's *not* bridal.

    Seriously. If I learned one damn thing from wedding planning, it was that salon dresses just don't make you look like you. And who wants to look like someone else on their wedding day (apparently too many people? Ugh.)

    LUCK! This was my big trial, as you probably know, but it also was one of the most magic things in the end.

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  10. You look great in these pictures!

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I tried on dresses once and had such a hard time finding something that didn't scream Disney Princess that I haven't been able to muster the courage or interest to try again.

    Could you find someone who could make a dress for you?

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  11. While of course I'd love for you to be an Encore Bridal bride, I have some other thoughts about where you might be able to find a dress that meets all of your criteria for under $1000. 1. J. Crew has many different modern yet casual styles such as this chiffon Whitney dress for only $395! http://www.jcrew.com/AST/Browse/WeddingParties/Wedding_Bride/gowns/PRDOVR~11429/11429.jsp
    2. Jenny Yoo -- has wedding dress alternatives (basically their bridesmaid dresses, floor length in white). The great thing about Jenny Yoo is that they use silk fabrics. Love this dress for only $700 http://www.jennyyoo.com/wedding_alternatives20.html
    3. Watters has fantastic dresses that retail for under $1000. In addition, there are also plenty of online discounters who will sell them for just over wholesale.

    Best of luck to you in your search. Please let me know if I can be of any help to you.

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  12. Further weirdness -- we're almost the same height and size (I'm 5'8", size 6 on top 8/10 on bottom), and I'm a glasses girl too. And I had the same experience at Glamour Closet (and Nicole Miller). The Nicole Miller definitely seems like a better fit for you. So happy I found your blog!

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