Are Bridal Shows Going Out of Style? Here’s How to Make the Most of Them

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!

About Kelsey Bjelland

Kelsey is a professional journalist, web producer, aspiring event stylist and baker extraordinaire. After taking the plunge and moving from rural Montana to downtown Chicago in 2009, she took an internship at a local bridal magazine. Shortly after, she discovered her two loves—the wedding scene and a boy from Alabama. Those experiences inspired her to launch Pearls & Frosting, a dual-function website dedicated to connecting wedding vendors to share business advice and to providing intimate profiles of those vendors to future brides. By day, Kelsey is an assistant editor for several management consulting publications, a freelance magazine writer and a self-professed Pinterest addict. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Medill at Northwestern University.

7 Comments on Are Bridal Shows Going Out of Style? Here’s How to Make the Most of Them

  1. Nicole
    October 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm (4 years ago)

    I’m so happy you wrote on this, Kelsey! Bridal shows are definitely intimidating for any bride, so these tips are very helpful. I wish I had seen this before my first bridal show when I was planning my wedding!

  2. Ashley Carlson
    October 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm (4 years ago)

    Kelsey, this is such a great article! As a Wedding vendor myself, it’s been a struggle deciding if the return on the investment is worth participating year after year, and you made some great points for both brides and vendors!

  3. Kelsey
    October 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm (4 years ago)

    thank you, both! Ashley, I was shocked to see how much some shows cost to participate-I just don’t see how it’s a worthwhile investment for most small vendors. The Chicago Couture Style show mentioned in the article cost only $100. I think smaller shows are definitely the way to go for both vendors and brides!

  4. Rebecca Kennedy
    October 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm (4 years ago)

    It is very expensive to put on a bridal show, even a small one. If the cost for a vendor is to small, how will all the expenses and advertising be paid. I would be careful if the price was very low, such at $100. To get brides into the show, one has to advertise, and to advertise you need money. One rental hall told me they only charged $50 for vendors to participate. They only had 40 people show up. Not all brides, just 40 people! You get what you pay for.

    Vendors feel as though the bride is serious about attending the show and possibly booking vendors when brides are charged. When they are not, vendors question if the brides are just there to win the prizes.

    All in all, bridal shows are a great way to connect with the personality of the person who will be involved in making your wedding come off without a hitch. It is a way to see what a vendor has to offer without the pressure of trying to get out of the store without purchasing something. And yes, they are fun! Music, food, prizes!

    Enjoy your journey!

    • Kelsey
      October 10, 2011 at 9:17 pm (4 years ago)

      Rebecca, thanks for your comment. I agree with you in that it can be expensive to put on large shows with many, diverse vendors. But I’d argue that smaller shows, around a dozen or so carefully curated vendors, can be relatively inexpensive: utilizing social media tools to advertise (for free!), connecting with a few influential local bloggers, and word-of-mouth from the involved vendors can go a long way.

      Whether the show is big or small, I think the main thing is to keep honest values in mind. Those putting on the show and also involved in it should remember that connecting brides to their ideal vendors and helping them achieve their vision is the main goal; if filling vendor spaces and generating higher profits become the driving forces, the hosts might need to step back and reevaluate what’s important.

  5. Lindy Adams
    November 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm (4 years ago)

    A co-sponsor and I are putting on a small bridal show in Oklahoma City with a very low vendor fee – $65 – and about 20-25 vendors. We have 19 committed so far. But, we are marketing to a small and well-defined market – a private university where the co-sponsor and I and our families have a long history. We have access to the students via email, posters, the campus women’s clubs (we will ask each club to provide a model) and Facebook. We’ll also use local event bulletin boards. We don’t know how it will work out, but we are hoping for a good turnout. We think it’s a good model with potential for other local universities where we don’t have ties. So, we’ll see!

  6. Kelsey
    November 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm (4 years ago)

    Lindy, that sounds like you’re doing some great marketing for the event! Is the idea to attract students who are getting married, or more of the community around the university as well? I’d be interested to know how it goes! Best of luck! Thanks for reading!


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