They say a wedding dress is one of the most important purchases a person will make in their life. While that’s an antiquated belief these days, for many people — even those who aren’t having traditional nuptials — choosing what to wear on their wedding day is a big deal. So, when stores, including bridal shops, closed as a result of the pandemic, many to-be brides weren’t sure what they should do. Wait for the bridal shops to reopen or try to find a dress online? While faced with this, some brides opted out of both and, instead, wore items already in their closets. Those brides who did wait until retail stores were allowed to reopen to start their search are now wondering, Is it safe to shop for a wedding dress in person?

On the one hand, bridal shops are often appointment-only, which means that very few people are allowed at one time. On the other, you’ll be in the store for a full hour, rather than in-and-out after a few swipes of the rack. Also, bridal shopping involves a significant amount of trying-on, whereas many popular retail stores like Zara and Uniqlo have closed their dressing rooms temporarily and offer convenient return policies. That said, it’s important that you prepare for your bridal appointment beforehand.

Ahead, find out what two bridal stores — one in New York City, and the other in Chicago — suggest to their guests in order to ensure that they feel comfortable and safe during their bridal shopping experience.

What To Do Before Your Appointment

Learn about the store’s safety guidelines

At Spina Bride, a bridal shop with locations in West Village and Chelsea in Manhattan, brides are asked to read through the store’s COVID guidelines before arriving for their appointments. According to owner Giselle Dubois, the list includes information about how many people a bride can bring with her to her appointment — two — what to do prior to arrival — wait until your exact appointment time before entering — and what the appointment will be like — guests must wear a mask at all times, respect the one-hour appointment time, and swap out their shoes for complimentary slippers upon entering. The list also asks that all guests inform the store prior to their appointment if they feel at all unwell, or if they’ve been in contact with anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 or has experienced COVID-19 symptoms. Upon arrival, shop employees will conduct temperature checks and ask guests to wash their hands or use provided hand sanitizer.

“We always let [our guests] know that there’s no taking off their masks at any point during the appointment, and we also ask that they only bring two extra people.”

– Eryn Jones, Stylist At Haute & Co.

Haute & Co., a plus-size bridal boutique located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, has similar regulations in place. “We try to talk to everyone on the phone before appointments,” Haute & Co. stylist Eryn Jones tells Refinery29. “We always let them know that there’s no taking off their masks at any point during the appointment, and we also ask that they only bring two extra people.”

If you’re still nervous about shopping in-person, talk to the shop prior to your appointment about your concerns and cleaning practices — they should be happy to answer all your questions. For example, at Haute & Co., any dresses that have been tried on are sprayed with a fabric disinfectant. All surfaces are also disinfected before and after every appointment, including the front desk, couches, and dressing rooms. At Spina Bride, the store has UV lights that they use to sanitize the store during the 30-minute window between appointments. Remember, these shops should want you to feel as at ease as possible, so no question is too small.

Limit your guests

Whereas you used to be able to bring a large support system with you to your bridal appointment, due to COVID, guest lists are now understandably much smaller. Because of that, it’s important to consider who you want to bring. If you have extra people that you want to include, bring along an iPad or phone with video call capabilities. That way, as many people as you want can be included, without putting anyone at risk.

Have dress styles in mind

At both Spina Bride and Haute & Co., brides only get one hour to see the dresses. But while an hour might seem like plenty of time, when you go into your appointment with no real idea of what style of dress you’re looking for, that 60 minutes will likely fly by. “Take a look at what we carry and be prepared to speak with your stylist about your wedding timeline and preferred style of dress,” Dubois recommends. “We always ask on our questionnaire if guests have a Pinterest board or something of the like. We like to do our homework before the brides come in.”

According to Jones, Haute & Co. brides fall into two categories: Either they know exactly what style they’re looking for, or they don’t have a clue and are there to find out. Pre-COVID, brides that fell into the latter category would tell Jones about their sense of style and what their wedding was going to look like, and she’d pull options from the backroom based on their answers. That, however, can be difficult to fit into a one-hour time slot. Knowing what styles you like before the appointment can help speed up the process, increasing your chances of finding a dress during it.

What To Do At Your Appointment

Wear a mask

Once at your appointment, the most important thing you can do to stay safe — and keep others, like bridal shop employees, safe — is to wear a mask (maybe even two masks) at all times. According to the CDC, people should wear masks in all public settings, including at events and gatherings, and “anywhere they will be around other people.” Likewise, all bridal shop employees should be wearing theirs at all times.

Pay attention to the time

According to Jones, given the strict one-hour appointment times, guests should keep a close eye on the clock so they don’t run out of time before finding dresses that they like. She also suggests trying on as many dresses as possible to discover your preferred silhouette, color, length, etc. during your appointment. Even if you don’t find your exact wedding dress, it’s helpful to narrow down your choices to a few that you like.

Ask questions

One of the great benefits of one-on-one bridal appointments is that you can ask as many questions as you need. That hasn’t changed because of COVID. If anything, you get an even more personal experience now. This could be about alterations — including whether or not they offer them, how much they cost, and how long they take — discounts, custom orders, and more.

Virtual appointments

If, after reading this, you still feel unsure about buying a wedding dress in person, don’t fret. Both Haute & Co. and Spina Bride — as well as most bridal shops right now — offer some form of virtual shopping experience for customers who aren’t ready to shop IRL. “We have stylists in place that are more than happy to show you around the shop virtually, whether through Zoom or FaceTime,” says Dubois. At Spina Bride, brides who make a virtual appointment can then pay to have dresses shipped to them to try on. If one of the dresses sent ends up being the one, the cost of the shipment is waived.

As Dubois points out, ever since the pandemic took hold, it’s been difficult for people to relax. An appointment where, more often than not, you’re isolated from other shoppers and in a pre-sanitized space, might just be one of the few places where brides-to-be can do that. Which will help actually appreciate the big moment you’re shopping for. “Come enjoy an intimate experience,” she says. Just remember to always wear a mask (or two) — and make it a bridal one.

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