Monday, March 3, 2008

Finding That Perfect Dress, Part I

With prom season right around the corner, many young ladies (both genetic and trans) are searching for that perfect dress. It can be a daunting and time consuming experience. One of the fun things over the past ten years has been searching for and finding some wonderful dresses. I have probably found dresses and gowns from every possible venue. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I will go over each of the possible options in Part One. In Part Two, I will pass along some tips when shopping for dresses. All tips are good for both genetic and t-girls.

Shopping Options

1. Specialty or Boutique Shop

Some of the best bridal and formal dress shops can be found in the most unlikely of locations. Even the smallest towns have at least one boutique that caters to brides-to-be. While you may not be looking for that dress in white, most of these shops also have bridesmaid, debutante, and yes even prom dresses.

The advantage is a well trained staff that can help you with sizing and styles. You also cannot beat the ambiance of being in a place dedicated to you finding the right dress. It’s nice to have a personal assistant working with you every step of the way. Being surrounded by all those luxurious dresses is an experience beyond description. Many even have alterations onsite. Of course, you also have the best in quality of dresses. The disadvantages are costs and sometimes selection. Call ahead if you have a favorite designer in mind to see if the shop carries them. If your budget allows for it, the experience and the dress itself are worth the extra costs.

2. Discount Dress Shop

Shops like David’s Bridal have become popular for their costs and even better selection of dresses, accessories, and shoes. While the name may still suggest wedding day attire, most of these shops have plenty for the formal gal as well.

The advantage of a discount store is usually a greater variety of dresses since these shops rely on volume. Some even have online stores so you can look ahead. The prices are more affordable as well. The staff quality is not as consistent as the specialty store. One associate may have to work with several people at once. It may be best to visit during slow hours. Also the quality of the dresses themselves is a notch below the boutiques. However, if you still want the experience of shopping for a dress without breaking the bank, the discount store is the way to go.

3. Goodwill or Consignment Shop

In recent years, the donation stores have gotten a better reputation particularly in ritzy neighborhoods. They are no longer the rundown stores of old. The newer Goodwills are clean and well stocked. Some of my favorite dresses (including my first and most recent) have been bought at Goodwill.

The major advantage is costs. The most I have ever paid for a dress is $10. One in between area is selection. I have found some older styles that I adore. Of course, it is all hit and miss. It is best if you are open to looking for all segments of your wardrobe as you’re more likely to find something. The time to visit is the weekends as that is when most of the drop-offs occur. It is also the busiest time. The one disadvantage is that you’re completely on your own. You will also likely need alterations.

4. Seamstress/Dressmaker

A good seamstress can be a girl’s best friend. Even if you already have the dress, chances are it will need to be altered. Establishing a relation with an experienced lady can reduce the headaches considerably. She will make sure the dress fits *you* . When you wear the dress on that special night, you know it will look and feel good. Once you are confident in her alterations, you might even move on to having her make dresses from scratch. They will be completely unique, and the choices of material, color, and style are limited only by your imagination.

Another choice is an online seamstress (like the Very Merry Seamstress) that specializes in historical or other costume dresses. It is nice to find someone with that kind of experience to make a specialized dress. Communication is key here since there is no face to face contact. Make sure the sizes and instructions you send in are correct. Also follow their instructions to the letter as this will allow them to do the best job for you.

5. eBay and other online sites

eBay has become an internet institute with everything you would ever need. It is almost an economy unto itself. As such, it is far more difficult to find the good deals as most sellers are savvy enough to insure they get the highest bids. Still with a bit of perseverance, you can find some amazing dresses for less than retail. The standard rules apply for staying within budget (don’t overbid yourself and check shipping costs) and checking for sizes (read the entire listing for correct sizing). The selection increases before prom season and also before the Christmas holidays. However, you can find numerous auctions for just about anything year round. Accessories like jewelry, gloves, and shawls are also in abundant supply.

Almost any outfit you buy online will require alterations. Figure that into your costs. Also don’t forget the online stores particularly during clearance time. I bought my favorite peach dress which retailed for almost $300 for under $100. Also sites like Craig’s List offer some good options particularly on wedding dresses.

I have 16 formal dresses in my closet, and I have used all of the above routes for buying a dress. My favorite? Clearly the boutique shop. If money were no object, I’d go there every day! However, I have been pretty fortunate in my hunt for some nice outfits no matter how I go about it.

In Part Two of Finding That Perfect Dress, I will offer some general shopping tips.

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