Experts: The Gown Guru

By Amy J. Downey | Boston Weddings |

MARIA DONOVAN knows that the wedding-gown appointment isn’t just something to cross off your to-do list — it’s an event that involves several people and requires plenty of planning and patience. "This may be one day, but you’re creating a memory for a lifetime," says Donovan, salon manager of Boston’s posh Priscilla of Boston (a now-national company that still manufactures its gowns in a Charlestown factory). Here, she tackles the many questions that swirl around that very special frock.

Part of your job is to filter the choices for brides, right? When suggesting dresses, what kinds of things do you think about?
We have three criteria: the bride’s shape, the venue, and — last but not least — her personality.

When should she make an appointment?
Anywhere from six months to a year ahead. We accommodate some rushes, but keep in mind that we don’t mass produce. If you want a Saturday appointment and have a favorite time, call three weeks to a month ahead and plan for at least an hour of gown shopping.

What should brides wear to the store?
For fittings, always bring the underwear you’re planning to wear on your wedding day. Ninety-nine percent do, but if they don’t, we have some options here. We also provide shoes for the proper heel height, and beautiful corset-type bras.

Hair done? Makeup?

To be honest with you, everyone is a blank canvas: We don’t focus on hair or makeup. The appointment is about which dress fits her silhouette the best. It’s not necessary to put on makeup — I think it can sometimes be a distraction.

How many people should come along?
We love to deal with the bride, the mom, and maybe two or three friends.

But some customers do come in with a big, opinionated entourage, right?

Yes, and in those cases we have to really make an effort to focus on the bride, because sometimes the friends forget that they are picking out her dream dress, not their own. You know how it is — sometimes friends forget that this is about the bride. And the moms sometimes have a lot of questions. They’re very involved. Since Priscilla has been around for 65 years, the first thing that many of our mothers-of-the-bride announce is, "I wore Priscilla at my wedding!" Some even bring pictures.

How many gowns do brides really try on?

Most of the time, they have already gone through magazines, so they have a pretty good idea of what they want. We also have a brief interview beforehand, so the average number of actual tries is 8 to 10 dresses. It’s a process that takes us from one dress to another, but a very high percentage of brides fall in love with the first one they try on.

Are brides really as dramatic as the ones on Say Yes to the Dress?

A lot of that is staged.

So no Boston bridezillas?

Not really. In Boston, we’re very lucky: It’s a very classy city.

Which gown silhouettes are always popular?

The number one style is the mermaid. Next is the A-line, and then you go into the ball gowns.

How much will a dress typically run?
At our salon, we carry five brands. The Vineyard Collection ranges from just $1,200 to $2,675. But the average cost for most of our brides? Around $2,500. Of course, we have some lines that are a little bit more expensive, like our Platinum line. It really depends on how much opulence you’re looking for.

How many fittings does it take to make a gown fit like a glove?

It depends on the bride, but it usually takes three or four fittings. It’s not like you’re putting on jeans and running out the door — you can’t do everything at once, because you can’t address the details all at once. The first fitting is the pin set, where the seamstress pinches and pins the dress to a bride’s body so she can make the proper alterations. At the second fitting, we show brides how to do the bustle. Later, you make the small adjustments and tweak the details. But again, there might be more alterations, depending on the bride and her shape.

Surely you get tired of seeing girls in white dresses. What are those moments that make you love your job?

The best? The smiles and the tears that come when she decides on a gown. It’s my favorite part, because she is now in love with the dress. In fact, she is practically jumping out of the dress. And when we put the veil on? Oh, my God. I never get tired of it.

Priscilla of Boston, 801 Boylston St., Boston, 617-267-9070,

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