We know how it is. When the euphoria of the engagement begins to fade, you’re struck by a flutter of panic—“I need to plan the wedding!” Suddenly, the mountain of decisions that requires your personal attention seems as daunting as scaling Everest in your bathrobe and slippers. Relaaaaax. This is the fun part! Remember when you were a little girl and it was your birthday? You wore a paper crown with lots of glitter, received the first piece of cake with a big pink rose on it, and everyone gave you presents? That’s what it’s like being a bride. And one place where you are definitely the guest of honor is at a bridal fair.
Bridal fairs are actually the most convenient way to learn about a myriad of event options, from a fashion-forward gown to a kitschy cake topper. Elisa Fisher, the producer of Modern Bridal, assures us that “It would take you months to meet with all the businesses we pack into one fair.” Pamela Noxon of San Diego Wedding Bridal Party agrees. “Savvy couples look to fairs to help them make educated decisions in a time-efficient manner.” Fairs also bring tangibility to shopping for services. “At a fair, you experience with all your senses what you miss online or in the printed word,” observes Elisa Fisher. “You’ll smell the flowers…taste the cakes…listen to the bands…try on the veils!” Once you’re face-to-face with the experts, you can ask them your most burning questions: Can my wedding cake be chocolate? (Absolutely.) Do you recommend Maui or Cancun for my October honeymoon? (Maui. It’s hurricane season in the Yucatan.) Does that bridesmaid’s dress come in puce? (Don’t go there.)
Where else but at a bridal fair can you preview ceremony and reception locations, peruse photographers’ portfolios, see and hear entertainers? As you walk past the exhibitors, you’ll be encouraged to sign up for gift registries (it’s never too soon to pick your china pattern!). Caterers will tempt you with the likes of grilled ahi pupus, champagne garnished with strawberries, and nibbles of buttercream-frosted cake (you can work it off in Pilates class). You and your entourage can play with wedding jewelry and bridal fashion accessories like veils and tiaras (go ahead and pick out a grand, sparkly one!). You’ll pick up splashy decor ideas, as well as a few freebies along the way. At Here Come The Brides, a popular Southern California expo, producer Micki Love even gives away a honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort. Yet the highlight of most wedding fairs is the fashion show: this is where you begin to envision your own unique aisle style. For example, the fashion shows by Festival of Brides, the Upscale Bridal Fair, are always show-stoppers, with models strutting the runway decked out in the newest designer wedding dresses.
When deciding what fairs to attend, start out at www.HereComesTheGuide.com, which lists many California bridal events. Choose a fair in the same geographical area where you’re planning to hold your wedding, in order to meet vendors servicing that region. Talk to your married friends and see which expos they found the most interesting. We suggest attending no more than three fairs, or you risk getting a case of Bridal Fair Burnout.
Not all bridal fairs are alike. “Mega Fairs” are usually held in a spacious hotel ballroom or a convention hall. The upside of these shindigs is volume—you can see the most vendors and options for your buck. The large crowds tend to create an energetic buzz, and there’s a good chance you’ll get caught up in the excitement, too. On the other hand, you may find it a tad overwhelming. In that case, opt for a “Boutique Bridal Fair,” frequently sponsored by a particular location or vendor, like a cake maker or bridal salon. These are usually more leisurely affairs, region-specific, and often quite upscale. Although there are fewer event pros on hand, there are also fewer brides, so you get to spend quality time with the experts. If your reception location happens to sponsor an open house prior to your wedding, this is a golden opportunity to meet their preferred vendors face-to-face, all in one place. Then there are bridal events that cater to folks with a particular religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation. Vendors at these fairs are familiar with the unique needs of these groups (e.g. special foods, accessories, etc.)
Just as bridal fairs help you prepare for your wedding, you should properly prepare for the fair. Like a good general drawing up battle plans before engaging his forces, you’ll benefit from your own plan of attack—making a checklist of required services, accessories and design questions will streamline your efforts.
Pre-registering for these events saves you time at check-in, and often a few bucks. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes—you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. Bring a large bag, backpack, or even a carry-on with wheels: you’re going to be grabbing a lot of brochures and free magazines. Pack your checkbook and also some cash. There are usually special sales on items such as jewelry cleaner or cool accessories, and not everyone takes plastic. You’re going to be exchanging business cards, so have a case to keep the ones you hand out and collect. Pre-printed address labels or an address stamp are handy when signing up for mailing lists. Your PDA or appointment book makes for convenient scheduling. Micki Love suggests that brides who have already purchased their gown bring a color swatch along—useful when browsing jewelry, tiaras, and other accoutrements. And although you’ll be snacking at the fair, it’s a good idea to eat a small meal before setting out—it will keep you from wolfing down an excessive number of teriyaki chicken wings and mini-quiches.
The most important thing to bring with you is a companion, someone to bounce ideas off of or keep you from making an impulsive decision you may later regret. Pamela Noxon advises attending one show with a friend or relative, and another with your fiancé. (Giving your husband-to-be the illusion of having input into the wedding will disguise the fact that you’re actually the one calling the shots!)
So here you are at last, meeting and greeting prospective florists, caterers, DJs, etc. When you’re interested in a particular service, make sure you get current contact information, including the name and title of the person you’re speaking to. Find out if this individual will actually be involved in your event (he or she may just be helping out at the booth). The best way to get a “feel” for the service is to advance as high up on the proverbial food chain as possible, even if you have to wait a few minutes for a key person’s attention. For example, you think Pam’s Photography has the best photos you’ve ever seen, and you begin discussing your photographic needs with a charming woman in the booth who you discover is Pam’s assistant. That’s all fine and dandy, but you really should talk with Pam herself, since she’s the one who’ll be taking the pictures. And if you’re looking at say, invitations, and you don’t see a style that matches your vision, then ask the vendor. Many simply can’t bring all of their samples to the show.
It’s also appropriate to request references. (At Here Comes The Guide each vendor is pre-screened.) If you’ve already set your wedding date and you cross paths with the DJ of your dreams (He’s playing our song! It must be kismet!) then go ahead and find out if he’s available. You should always feel comfortable with a vendor’s attitude toward your event. Here’s an insider tip from Pamela Noxon: “Notice which vendors listen to your needs. A quality vendor should ask you questions such as, ‘What have you envisioned so far?’ and ‘What do you want to avoid?’” A good rule of thumb is to proceed cautiously, yet decisively popular vendors book early. Besides, many of them offer special discounts at the shows and the savings can add up.
Another thing: we know you were raised to be polite, but you don’t have to give your contact information out to everyone—provide it only to those vendors that make your short list. Schedule appointments with your favorite professionals and have fun!
If the thought of tasting one more piece of wedding cake makes your stomach churn, or seeing yet another photo of a smooching couple has you ready to draw moustaches on their faces, then you’ve had enough for one day. Armed with your notes, a collection of business cards, and 27 pounds of brochures and magazines, head for the door. When you get home, ask your fiancé (sweetly) for a foot massage; and while he’s rubbing lavender oil into your tired tootsies, entertain him with your adventures at the fair. (But don’t be surprised if he keeps one eye on the ball game!)