We’ve all been to at least one of these events. No matter where you live, the general formula is the same: a variety of vendors set up tables in a stale hotel ballroom or similar venue and hand out brochures and samples of their work to wide-eyed brides, who then are sent home with a tote bag full of more brochures, a few useless trinkets and lots of business cards. They often include fashion shows of bridal gowns and bridesmaids dresses as the “main event,” but overall can be rather anticlimactic.
In an era when brides are searching for inspiration and vendors mainly online, are such expos really a viable way of discovering your perfect photographer, caterer, or dance instructor? In all likelihood, probably not. It can be overwhelming to many—especially if they’ve recently been engaged—because bridal shows tend to lack focus. Instead, they are often a hodge-podge of vendors who have paid money to be there (some entry fees can exceed $1,000!), hence the one goal in mind: sell, sell, sell and capture as many new clients as possible. The commercialization part of it can lead to pushiness on behalf of the vendor and takes away from the personalized service and experience that many brides are looking for.
But themed bridal shows that have been popping up around the country can be more helpful because vendor selection is curated to a fit a particular style. For example, the Indie Wed market in Chicago, which began in 2010, showcases small companies who cater to couples with an independent spirit, who might be planning an unconventional fete or looking to incorporate handmade items from local artisans. The event was so popular that it is now being held twice a year in Chicago and also expanding to more cities.
And the Chicago Couture Style bridal event, put on by Allen/Williams Events in Chicago this past weekend, focused on local wedding gown designers and small vendors that the company’s owners had previously used in wedding coordination. The luxury show featured a short red carpet show, plenty of samplings from old-Hollywood-glam styled sweets table, and was held in an intimate, candle-lit space at a private club downtown. The theme of the fête, says Allen/Williams Events founder Nicole Williams (who is also a doctor!), was to show that Chicago can do couture just as well as New York, Paris, or even LA. “It’s not only about business, it’s about putting girls in touch with the right vendors, who will do business fairly and provide a better experience for the bride,” Williams says.
If you’re planning on attending a bridal show soon, doing your homework in advance can make the trip more productive:
- Have a general vision of what you want your wedding to look like. Sure, it’s fun to go to a show right after you get engaged, just to get in the spirit of planning and excitement. But having at least an idea of your theme (traditional, modern, Anthropologie-esque, etc.) will make it much easier for you to coordinate the event that you want and that is uniquely you, and not one that has been influenced by a variety of vendors pushing their services or offering special deals. Look for smaller, more intimate shows in your area that will include companies who fit in with your general style.
- Review the lists of vendors beforehand to determine which ones you are interested in visiting with. Narrowing down your list and having a goal in mind will help you snag more quality time with vendors that fit into your vision, making the trip worth it for both you and the company. Smaller affairs tend to lend more one-on-one conversations with vendors, which can help you narrow down your options and perhaps even lead to arranging a follow-up meeting right then and there.
- Bring someone you trust to help you make good decisions if you get overwhelmed. Your mom, sister, a close friend, or maid of honor are usually your best bet—or if your husband-to-be is game, just let him know he will probably be outnumbered.
- Be wary of admission prices. Many shows are free for brides and a nominal fee for guests, but check out the show’s web site beforehand to see what is being offered. Some shows may come with a price tag if they include hors d’oeuvres or champagne or will be handing out luxury swag bags. Be mindful of what you’re looking to get out of attending and also of your budget to decide what type of show is for you.
- Finally, have fun! Sample the cakes, sip champagne, mingle with other brides, and get excited for the coming months of planning—savor every day of one of the best times in your life!