For the newly engaged, while it's more important to start looking at dates, venues and the 'bigger' suppliers, it's also never too soon to begin browsing wedding dresses, saving some pics, and researching when the next sample sale at your favourite boutique is (hint: have a look through past posts here for a guideline!)
But what is a bridal sample sale when it's at home, I hear you ask?
Not to be confused with a trunk show, a sample sale is when a boutique sells off its collection of gowns from the rail at a significantly reduced price. Sometimes these gowns aren't quite in tip top condition, but as most clients are asked to refrain from wearing tan and makeup when trying on the dresses, and because bridal boutiques are generally quite pristine places, they may only have one or two unnoticeable scuffs - usually small enough to overlook for a saving of up to 70%.
While not quite Black Friday in the electrical section of Walmart, bridal sample sales can be busy, depending on the boutique, however most are subdued, semi-relaxed occasions where the only battle is in the mind when it comes to deciding whether to just 'go for it' or not.
It should be said here that bridal sample sales can do funny things to people too.
Years ago a colleague of mine bought her Vera Wang wedding dress in a sample sale in Brown Thomas, which we had gone along to purely for research purposes - or so I thought at least. I was busy fawning over rails of beautiful buttons and bows when suddenly I turned around and there she was, resplendent in a full lace floor-skimming gown.
She loved it and we joked about her being mad not to buy it at the price (it was about 70pc off its RRP, as far as I can remember) before sticking our professional hats back on again to take in the rest of the collection.
We left together, but about an hour later I got a message from her saying she'd gone back to the store and bought the gown after meeting her cousin for a power chat.
I was amazed by her decisiveness. She wasn't even engaged (not officially, at least).
If you're serious about coming out with 'the one' there are some guidelines to follow to make it a success (and perhaps even a productive hour for your shopping partner too!). Here are some of my top tips:
Make an appointment
If there are appointments on offer, make one. It's not an ideal way to shop, sure (and can sometimes mean having to put a refundable deposit down to secure it) but when it comes to wedding dress shopping in the sales (or even just at weekends) you want to have time and space to try a few gowns on in relative peace. It makes sense practically too - trying on a dress in Zara is straight forward enough, but wedding dresses with their bodices, boning and buttons can be tricky to get into, so it's good to have a specialist to hand to get you in and out unscathed.
Bring a buddy
Preferably your most straight-talking friend who'll tell you if those detachable puffy sleeves are a trend too far. If said friend is a designer or seamstress all the better - he or she will certainly come in handy later. Keep your entourage to an absolute minimum if you're shopping in a sample sale - this is not the time to score brownie points by including your mother-in-law to be. Sample sales are serious head-down game-face on events, not somewhere to make friends.
Something to slip in an out of that won't get too hot. Often shops will have heels for you to pop in to but bring your own in the height your wedding shoes will be if you have any. Don't wear fake tan or make up so as to avoid marking the dresses and if you've an idea of the style, bring a bra you think might suit.
Know your budget
In a sale it's easy to be bamboozled by so-called 'savings'. Yes that magnificent mermaid style gown is half price - but it's still €3,000, and you have less than half of that in your dress fund. Something is only a bargain if you love it, and you can realistically afford it. Don't get swept up in the savings, know your budget and look at dresses in that range. You have been warned!
Don't shop by designer
We wedding writers are divils for dropping designer names here and there when it comes to dresses, and indeed it can be handy to have a few designer names to hand who encapsulate your 'vibe' so you know who to look out for, but don't let a name make your decision for you. Go by look and feel rather than what's on the label.
Examine the dresses carefully
A sample sale involves bridal boutiques selling their collection of off-the-rail gowns which may include those that have been tried on by other brides-to-be previously. While this is usually no issue for those of us who shop high street, with wedding dresses - as most of them are white or off-white - it can mean the hemline, train and other areas may a little less pristine than you'd like. Speak to the consultant about how any scuffs could be remedied, and keep an eye out for beading and embellishments in particular. Many seamstresses will be able to fix simple embellishments with ease, so don't be too perturbed if there's a little damage.
Either know the dress you want, or have an open mind
Ideally you want to have your eye on a dress - or at least a style - beforehand. If you're familiar with the Black Friday/January sales bargain hunters' work, you'll know the most successful of them know exactly what they want- and don't let anyone get in their way when it comes to getting their hands on it (think Monica tackling a fellow bride-to-be to the floor while sample sale dress shopping in Friends and thank your stars you're in Ireland).
If you don't know what you're looking for, keep an open mind about shapes and styles and try on one or two you don't think will suit - just to be sure. Be open minded too about any 'imperfections' with the dress. While it would be lovely to have your dress specially made in mint condition, if a wee mark or two people won't even see means you're saving a couple of hundred euro, maybe it's worth it?