Expert Tips So You Can Find The Perfect Wedding Dress

We talked to the experts of five Pittsburgh bridal shops to get their best advice for brides on the hunt for the ultimate dress.

photo courtesy of anne gregory for the Bride


Sam Ahmed, bridal consultant at The Winner

How long have you been in the business? I’ve been [here] for 13 years but [in] the wedding department for six or seven years.

What is your best piece of advice for a bride-to-be? My best advice is … [for them] to tell me exactly what they want. They come in and say ‘I don’t know what I want. You look at me and tell me what would look good’. But it’s good to get their opinions. Then, they tell me what they want, I bring the dresses to them and they try them on. If they have no clue what they want, I say, ‘OK, that’s fine, ask them for their size. [I] usually go by dress and jean sizes and add two sizes on to that. Then [I] start pulling out different styles — many, many different styles. And then try on. By that time, they start noticing what looks really good on them. For the second round of dress picking, they narrow it down to their favorite styles.

What is the first step to choosing a wedding dress? Coming in with pictures from their phone or [a] magazine with things that they really like — they want that, and they look great in it and they buy it. 

What’s your favorite part of the dress-picking experience? My favorite part would be them choosing what I know would look good on them. Them wanting what I chose makes me so happy. Working in the bridal department, you know every girl is different, you see their body shape, their body language — you kind of know what they’re looking for.

What’s your favorite style of dress? Mermaid, because I Iove the way it’s figure-flattering on the bride.

Erin Szymanski, owner of Glitter and Grit

How long have you been in the business? Just as long as my store has been open, two years.

What is your best piece of advice? I would say really the best thing is to be open minded and try on a wide variety of styles because a lot of times you might be surprised by what you do and don’t like. The more you explore the more likely you are to find something you like and feels right to you. The mainstream audience will tell you that you have a “moment,” but a lot of my brides don’t have a specific dream dress, so it becomes a process of elimination. It’s more about your personal style then looking or feeling like a bride. Do you picture yourself looking back on it years later and still loving it?

What is the first step to choosing a wedding dress? I do think that it’s a good idea to look online a little bit just to get an idea of what is catching your eye, even little details like, ‘oh is it lace?’, is it a draping effect?’ If there is a common denominator in what is catching your eye, it can [give] us a good idea of the feel that you’re going for. It may be helpful to look at some wedding venues because it’s important to picture yourself in the setting. 

What is your favorite part of the dress-picking experience? I would say definitely the moment when a bride says something like, ‘This is what I pictured.’ Not necessarily that she’s been dreaming about it since she was a little girl, but since she got engaged and has been putting together the pieces in her mind.

What is your favorite style of dress? It changes constantly. I tend to get a little bored so my favorite dress style tends to be the newest that comes in.



Gregory Cherico, president of Anne Gregory for the Bride

How long have you been in the business? 40 years. 

What is your best piece of advice for a bride-to-be? If she’s fortunate enough to have her mother to go shopping with, then bring just her mother — leave everyone else behind. Too many opinions confuse the bride, and opinions aren’t always what the bride wants to hear. I think most brides want to hear positive feedback instead of negative feedback. It shouldn’t be what other people like, it should be what the bride likes.

What is the first step to choosing a wedding dress? Call and make an appointment, schedule a time for yourself and try on dresses until you find the one that you love. I think when a bride finds a bridal dress that she loves, she feels the magic in it, just like when you find your groom. 

What is your favorite part of the dress-picking experience? Probably just to see the bride’s reaction — sometimes it’s tears, sometimes it’s trembling, sometimes it’s screaming, sometimes it’s excitement.  Everyone's emotions are different. 

What is your favorite style of dress? I’m very old school and traditional, so personally I prefer something not strapless — I like a sleeve. Typically I like a ball gown, and I’m always in favor of lace.


Barbara Patterson, owner of The White Orchid

How long have you been in the business? 25 years. 

What is your best piece of advice for a bride-to-be? Don’t bring too many opinions with you [because] I think it’s difficult to stay focused on what you’re wanting. I believe it’s the mother’s privilege to be able to shop with her daughter, and maybe a sister or some other person who really has your best interest at heart — that sounds kind of sappy, but it’s true. A lot of people think it will be fun if you bring a lot of people, but that’s fun if you’ve already made your choice. We offer a private party — the store is closed, we offer hor d'oeuvres and sangria, and you can have up to eight people. The bride shows the dress she has chosen, and the bridesmaids try on dresses.

What is the first step to choosing a wedding dress? I would say find a place that’s going to be convenient for you. Go to no more than three places — as long as The White Orchid is one of them. You can find your dress at one place, but if you go to no more than three that helps with making the decision too. Let whoever's helping you know your budget when you come in, so that you’re not loving a dress beyond your limits. Usually, we see brides about a year before their date if possible. Everything is available off rack, but usually they’re ordered and it takes four-to-six months to come in. Don’t try to do too much in one day. You can usually do two bridal appointments in one day, but then it just gets exhausting.

What is your favorite part of the dress-picking experience? Matching the right girl with the right dress and having her say, “I love it.” The right dress is the one she stays in the longest and makes her smile the most. 

What’s your favorite style of dress? I prefer simple, mostly, but of course it’s what looks good on one body.


Pam Olivo, owner of Bridal Beginning

How long have you been in the business? This is our 32nd year. My husband and I started this business, and it’s something we live and breathe.

What is your best piece of advice for a bride-to-be? I think the really important thing is that [the bride] doesn’t saturate themselves looking, so that when they find the dress they love they will have that feeling only one time — and it will happen. [The process] is so vast and there are so many different kinds of designers, and you need to know that if you find a dress you absolutely love, you will know it — without question. 

What is the first step to choosing a wedding dress? I think the most important part of this process is to make sure you look online and you know what kind of look you like. Browse the internet [and] bring three pictures of things that you love. We look at the pictures, get a feel for your wedding, your venue and translate those pictures into a look you always thought you would love for your wedding, something you’ve envisioned for yourself and feel absolutely wonderful in. The second critical part is making [that dress] that custom fit to her body. A dress is a dress, but I can put one dress on five different brides and accomplish five different looks — having it meticulously sculpted to her body is most important. Some people like their dresses very body-hugging, some like them very loose and flowy, so you can accomplish that look with that portion of the process.

What is your favorite part of the dress-picking experience? Knowing that we’ve participated in one of the most important days in that woman’s life. It’s the most fabulous feeling to know that you have contributed to this.

What is your favorite style of dress? Something that is classic, timeless, not trendy and very simple, clean lines. When I look at a bride, I want to see the bride. I want my vision to be that that bride looks beautiful, I don’t want it to be ‘oh my gosh, that dress is gorgeous.’ It’s about her looking beautiful, not the dress looking beautiful. The dress should compliment her.


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