Shop Talk: A Potomac Bridal Boutique That Sells Samples

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Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Try a Sample

Pamela Vito knows brides LOVE designer wedding gowns. As the former owner of Hannelore’s, a high-end bridal salon in Old Town Alexandria, she also knows they don’t love paying designer prices. Not long after selling the building that housed her boutique for 32 years, Vito realized she wasn’t ready to retire. But she was interested in reaching a different kind of customer. Fifteen months later, in May 2017, she opened Say Yes for Less, a bridal boutique in Cabin John Mall in Potomac that stocks big-name dresses discounted by 20 percent to 75 percent and priced between $900 and $4,000.

Vito sells for less because she sells differently. The gowns in bridal salons typically are “samples” or prototypes of a dress design. These dresses haven’t been worn—just tried on a few dozen times. At a traditional salon, brides place orders for particular designs, and several months later the dresses crafted specifically for the brides arrive at the store. At Say Yes for Less, it’s the samples that are for sale. 

Other salons, which often unload samples from dress lines they no longer carry, are the source for Vito’s 450-gown-deep collection, including labels such as Lazaro, Hayley Paige and Monique Lhuillier. 

Here’s what Vito recommends for brides who are shopping for designer sample wedding gowns. 

“Get yourself fixed up to go to the appointment,” Vito says. “If you’re having a bad hair day and forgot to put eyelashes on, you’re not going to feel good about yourself.” You’re also going to spend time with a consultant while getting dressed, so Vito recommends donning full flesh-colored underwear and a strapless bra. 

“It’s the worst idea,” Vito says. “You’ve driven through traffic and haven’t had dinner. It won’t be as enjoyable.” 

If you regularly wear a size 4, Vito says expect to be an 8 or a 10 in bridal wear (the industry mostly keeps to traditional couture sizing). 

If a gown is one size too big, has a skirt that’s too long, armholes that are too tight, or is slightly snug on your hips, it can be altered. If it’s one size or more too small, it’s a no-go. Budget-wise, Vito recommends reserving at least $550 for alterations.  

“If you fall in love with a sample dress, be prepared to buy it,” Vito says, “because there’s only one.” 

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