Wedding dress shopping in coronavirus times: what to expect before and during your appointment

Nothing beats browsing wedding or special occasion dresses in real life. With bridal boutiques and occasionwear stores reopened, Rosie Patrick finds out what safe shopping looks like in the age of Covid

There are some things in life that you just wouldn’t want to shop for online. Like wedding gowns and occasionwear. Why deprive yourself of that fateful, magical moment you slip into The One IRL? Waiting around for parcels to arrive between the exasperating timeframe of 7am and 9pm? No thanks.

bride leaning on sofa wearing Joyce Young wedding dress
Arabella satin gown with detachable embroidered train, £POA, Joyce Young Design Studios

That said, we’re living through a pandemic. Safety is paramount. How on earth do you go about hunting for your gown or outfit in the current circumstances? Has the typical shopping appointment been transformed beyond recognition? Does it still feel the same? All we can do is find out. Let’s shop!

Go online

Irony alert: your first step is, at the risk of sounding the teensiest bit hypocritical, browsing the internet. This is strictly in the name of research. You should aim to arrive at the shop as informed and organised as you possibly can be.

“It’s particularly helpful these days, as you might not be able to try on quite as many different options or rake through the rails as you usually would,” stresses Michelle Scott, owner of the Edinburgh outpost of Kudos Bridal Boutiques. “We now send out a little pre-appointment questionnaire, which gives us the clues we need to pick out an initial selection of dresses for the bride to try.”

bride wearing Wendy Makin wedding dress; bride wearing Essence of Australia wedding dress
Left: Pearl gown by Wendy Makin, £POA; Right: Floral lace and tulle ballgown by Essense of Australia, £POA, both Kudos Bridal Boutiques (Edinburgh)

Target boutiques wisely

It’s a health issue, too, points out couturier Joyce Young of Joyce Young Design Studios: “By doing your homework, you’ll have an idea of the styles you are drawn to and what kind of budget you’re working with,” she says.

“This will allow you to focus on the boutiques that are most likely to have what you’re looking for and what you can afford. While the virus is around, it’s better to reduce the number of places you visit. And don’t be scared to ask about prices before you go – when shops are having to limit appointments, with fewer staff, no one can afford to waste time.”

bride and mum wearing Joyce Young wedding and occasionwear dresses
Monaco gown, £POA, and Collection 14 dress, £POA, both Joyce Young Design Studios

Select dresses in advance

“Because we’ve had to reduce the number of appointments, our diary is filling up faster, and further in advance than it normally would,” warns Megan Carberry at Kudos Bridal Boutiques in Dunfermline. “We’re now unable to facilitate walk-ins, so we ask that you book as early as you can.”

“We’re also having to choose the dresses ahead of time, as anything that is tried on has to go through a cleaning process before it can be worn again. This applies to accessories, veils and all surfaces between each appointment, so that we can keep our clients safe.”

Book midweek if you want to be seen quickly

Being flexible pays: “If you want a weekend or evening appointment, you’ll need to book three to four weeks ahead,” says Amy King of Amy King Bridal and Beauty. “During the week, we can usually sort out a slot within a few days.”

bride walking on beach wearing Rebecca Ingram wedding dress; bride walking through leaves outside red brick building wearing Modeca wedding dress
Left: Hattie strapless mermaid lace gown by Rebecca Ingram, £POA; Right: Kelby gown by Modeca, £POA, both Amy King Bridal and Beauty

Don’t be a ‘no show’

If you secure an appointment, make sure you actually turn up. A no-show is never cool, but after everything businesses have been through this year, it’s an especially devastating move. Be respectful and give notice if you’re not going to make it.

On the appointment

You might find your slot is a little shorter than normal, for instance, thanks to all the disinfecting, or there’s less wiggle room when it comes to arrival times. Every aspect has been meticulously thought through by boutiques, as Kudos demonstrates: “Our door is now locked during appointments, meaning each bridal party has exclusive time on the premises,” says Michelle.

“We ask everyone to make use of the hand sanitiser and, of course, to wear a mask when they come in. We’ve rearranged the seating so that guests can separate themselves into households, with adequate distancing in between. Our consultants will wear masks or face shields while they’re with customers. So far, every one of our customers has played their part willingly – and we really appreciate their positive attitude. A few necessary precautions won’t spoil the magic of the bridal shop experience.”

bride wearing Dando London wedding dress against sandstone bricks; bride carrying bouquet against greenery wearing Essense of Australia wedding dress
Left: Argentina gown by Dando London, £POA, Amy King Bridal and Beauty; Right: Sparkling fit-and-flare dress by Essense of Australia, £POA, Kudos Bridal Boutiques (Dunfermline)

The fitting room

Corsetry, hidden zips, buttons up the back – you’re not getting into wedding dresses easily all on your own. You won’t be left to fend for yourself, right? “Don’t worry – we’ll still help you into the dresses,” confirms Amy King. “We stand at the side or behind you to protect both of us. We’re with you every step of the way, as always, making sure you have the best experience.”

Sharing the shopping experience

As with every other area of life, technology is taking on a greater role in this experience. “We’ll provide you with a sanitised iPad to use during your appointment, set up for Skype/Zoom calls, so the whole bridal party can join in remotely,” Megan at Kudos Bridal Boutiques says. Good to know your gran can still shed a happy tear from afar.

lady wearing navy and white Veni Infantino dress; lady wearing pink Joyce Young shift dress
Left: Knee-length chiffon and crepe A-line dress by Veni Infantino, £POA, Sheila Conn Ladies Fashions; Right: Beaded lace shift dress, £POA, Joyce Young Design Studios

For mums of the bride or groom

Same rules largely apply – it’s a similar story. “Next year is going to be exceedingly busy for weddings – nearly all of my clients have postponed,” reports Joyce Young. “Book sharpish to avoid stress. None of us knows if there’ll be more local lockdowns or hold-ups in the supply chains, so careful planning well in advance is my message to all future brides and mothers.”

What can you expect when you turn up at an occasionwear store? “We’ve got an automatic hand sanitiser at the door, as well as at other stations throughout the shop,” reassures Shona Thorpe at Sheila Conn Ladies Fashions in Biggar. “You can bring family members, as long as there’s no more than five people in the shop at one time. Our consultations operate on a one-to-one basis, and we steam every garment that has been tried on after each appointment, as well as cleaning the changing room.”