A stunned silence fell across the small group assembled at Elegant Bridals on Washington Road when Lieghton Huffman stepped out of the dressing room.
Moments earlier, the vivacious Huffman practically bounced onto the small stage as she modeled dresses for her parents, her future mother-in-law and her best friend.
She had already fallen in love with the first dress she tried on but decided to try a few others, just in case.
This one made her cry.
“When I came out in that dress, that was the first time we were all speechless,” Huffman said.
It’s that magical moment around which TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress centers. Brides from around the country share their search for the perfect wedding dress with the viewers.
The show has spawned several spinoffs, including Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids; Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta; Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss and Randy to the Rescue.
It’s also changing the way women are shopping for wedding gowns, said area bridal boutique owners and managers.
On the show, brides bring in an entourage to help them choose the right dress. The group typically consists of the bride’s mother, the best friend, perhaps a few bridesmaids and in some cases, a friend or two the bride feels has a better sense of style than she does.
At House of the Bride on Highland Avenue, owner Joan Christensen noticed that her clients are bringing more people to help them shop. When she began the business 29 years ago, the bride-to-be usually brought just her mother.
“Now they’re bringing in groups of people,” she said. “They’re just bringing more family members.”
But the more people a bride has with her, the more opinions tend to fly around and the more frustrated the bride can become.
“It’s extremely difficult,” Christensen said. “It makes it very, very difficult for a bride to make a decision.”
Jane ElLaissi, the owner of Elegant Bridals, has noticed the opposite effect.
“People are bringing less entourages with them,” she said.
She said she believes that’s because brides don’t want a lot of opinions. They want their own opinion to be heard. Her clients are bringing a small, intimate group of people, especially when they are serious about making a purchase.
That is why Huffman chose to bring only her parents, her best friend and her future husband’s mother.
She will have 10 bridesmaids, two junior bridesmaids and a maid of honor at her wedding, but Huffman didn’t want all of them with her. Her best friend and maid of honor, Jessica Hallford, is the only attendant to see the dress.
“I’m not selfish or anything, but it is my dress and my wedding day, and I wanted it to be what I felt most comfortable and most beautiful in,” Huffman said.
Whitney Johnson, a future bride and a bridal consultant at House of the Bride, shopped alone. It took 4 ½ months to find her dress. Because she is familiar with the business, she was not as stressed as many of her clients, nor was she looking for that “wow factor.”
She took her time and tried on a variety of styles before deciding to purchase the first dress she looked at. It was a dress that fit her needs and her budget. But the end result was the same. Just like Huffman, Johnson chose a dress she feels is unique and is one she can see herself getting married in.
Johnson, who has now been on both sides of the dress-buying experience, recommends that brides shop by themselves first. Once they have narrowed the choices to three or four, then bring a few trusted friends or family members.
“Girls are looking for a production, and I think it’s fun, and I love it sometimes,” she said. “Then you have this other side, where you have eight or nine people in here with very aggressive opinions. The bride is confused and she doesn’t know what she likes.”
Johnson said she watches the TLC show for amusement more than anything else, although she does occasionally learn something that will help her sell dresses.
Johnson, Christensen, ElLaissi and David’s Bridal store manager Marianne McCall said they’ve noticed changes not only in the number of people accompanying a bride, but also in the brides’ expectations of the stores, prices and styles of wedding gowns.
ElLaissi had always kept her inventory in a back room. Consultants selected dresses for the brides to try on based on their preferences. Since the show became popular, however, she’s moved about a third of her inventory to the front of the store for brides to browse.
And the type of inventory is changing.
“(Say Yes to the Dress) has brought designer gowns to the forefront,” McCall said.
Brides are looking for dresses with longer trains and more embellishments. David’s Bridal is meeting that demand by launching a new line called The Luxe, which features designer details at affordable prices.
That is another expectation the show has created that area boutiques are happy to dispel.
Gowns featured on the show can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $40,000.
“Our average price is about $1,200,” ElLaissi said.
McCall said David’s Bridal doesn’t have dresses that cost more than $1,400.
At House of the Bride, Christensen and Johnson urge their brides to stay within their budget.
“You don’t have to have a $15,000 wedding gown,” Christensen said. “Be very comfortable in what you’re doing.”