Bridal shops are buzzing, matching each bride to her perfect gown

Romona Keveza gown, $3,510, Chapel length veil with floor-length blusher, $320, both from Ready or Knot {Wedding Chic} Special appearance by Honey the bunny courtesy of the Nebraska Humane Society

After a flurry of holiday proposals and a quick flip of the calendar, the wedding-planning season is officially under way.

“January is a crazy, fun month of holiday engagement stories, gown appointments and bridal fairs,” said Jenni Alexander of Sublime Bridal at Shops of Legacy.

“After Christmas, it's pure craziness — but in a good way,” said Jocelyn Robertshaw of Ready or Knot {Wedding Chic} at Rockbrook Village.

At My Blue Whimsy in Fremont, Neb., brides were calling to book fittings the day after Christmas, said shop owner Lisa Lamb.

December is the biggest proposal month of the year, with Christmas Day and New Year's Eve the most popular proposal days, according to a survey of 20,000 newlyweds by (Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving also rank at the top of the proposal day list.)

But the current bridal frenzy isn't just limited to newly engaged brides eager to find just the right dress for the wedding of their dreams.

July to early November brides are shopping, too, said Robertshaw. Some of those brides are motivated by countdowns that seem more urgent with the new calendar year; others simply are home for the holidays and want to get as much done as possible with help from family members.

In addition to increased foot traffic, local boutiques have seen a spike in online activity, presumably from newly engaged women researching products and services. On New Year's Eve, hits to Ready or Knot's website were at an all-time high for the year.

For most brides, dress shopping is one of the most exciting steps in the wedding-planning process.

It's rare for a newly engaged woman to delay, associates at Sublime Bridal at Shops of Legacy said in an online interview.

“A few girls even called to book fittings before the holidays in anticipation of getting a ring for Christmas,” said Lamb of My Blue Whimsy.

When she made a follow-up call to confirm one of those appointments, Lamb inadvertently tipped off a groom that his girlfriend was expecting a proposal.

“He was shocked. He couldn't figure out how I knew that he was intending to pop the question,” Lamb said, still embarrassed.

Many of the brides Lamb works with haven't decided on what type of wedding they want when they go dress shopping. More and more don't seem to be concerned with fitting a dress to a venue, she said. They pick a dress they love and then make other choices based on the gown.

Flirty tulle styles with high-low hemlines (short in the front, longer in the back) are getting a lot of attention at Lamb's boutique. Brides also are loving the drape of Mikado satin, a polyester weave that looks like real silk.

Omahan Sarah Stormberg was taking a little time to decide on her wedding day look.

“I really hadn't thought about my dress until now,” she said in a phone interview a week after she became engaged. “I had to let it sink in for a couple of days.”

Boyfriend Ben Estep's proposal on Christmas Day, she explained, came as a shock, even though the couple had dated for seven years and had talked about marriage.

Stormberg, 26, is an image consultant and a partner with online marketplace Esoteric Velvet. She said she probably would delay her dress hunt until she and her fiance, who is 25 and lives and works in Kansas City, decided when and where they would be married.

“We could have a big family wedding or an intimate destination wedding. Each would require its own special style of dress.”

When she does go dress-shopping, she wants to go with her mother, who has been a huge influence on her personal style, Stormberg said.

This week, the bride-elect is concentrating on her playlist for the ceremony and reception.

“I already know what song I want for the father-daughter dance,” she said. “I love music. Who knows? Maybe a song will inspire my wedding theme.”

the perfect dress

Dresses have a way of “speaking” to brides. It's hard to explain, but something magical happens when a bride slips into the dress of her dreams. It's like pulling a rabbit out of a hat or being suspended in air. You can hardly believe your eyes. But, yes, that's really you in the mirror.

Dress Shopping Tips

» While it can be fun to shop with an entourage, it's generally not advised. “Everybody will have a different opinion about what you should wear,” cautions Jocelyn Robertshaw of Ready or Knot {Wedding Chic}. She encourages brides to shop with a mother or a friend. “Occasionally, a bride will come in with her fiance, or a male friend,” Robertshaw said. “I love that. The guys will tell a bride straight up if a dress doesn't work.”

» Don't expect to find “the dress” right away. “I've never had a bride make a selection on her first visit,” said Lisa Lamb of My Blue Whimsy. “It usually takes two visits before a bride is ready to buy.”

» While walk-ins usually can be accommodated, it's best to book an appointment. That way, the bridal consultant can give you his or her undivided attention.

» For a low-stress experience, shop on a weekday instead of a weekend when bridal boutiques are their busiest. Take a day off work just to dress-hunt.

» Shop with an idea of what kind of the bride you want to be (elegant, classy, glamorous, sexy) and the kind of wedding you want to have (rustic, vintage, formal, destination).

» Keep an open mind. Consultants at Sublime Bridal tell brides: “While you want to stay true to you, you may never know how great you can look if you don't try something that may, on the hanger, seem a little outside of your box.”

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