How to Shop for a Wedding Dress for your Barn Wedding.
by bridal boutique owner Ellie Sanderson.
In October 2022, Ellie Sanderson opened her latest bridal boutique in a beautifully spacious barn setting in Kiddington – just half an hour from Tythe in Oxfordshire. She also owns a second boutique in Beaconsfield. Ellie has been working in bridal fashion for sixteen years and shares her very best advice for finding the perfect dress for you.
Choose a boutique that can deliver the wow!
Our new barn has three key areas. Our reception pod which is a gorgeous space that doubles as a celebration pod so when you buy your dress, you come back into here, we have champagne, we do the paperwork, we have the Instagram moment in the swing, it’s all lovely.
The barn is a big space and very light, it’s all windows down one side, very luxurious. If you want to stay, there’s a coffee room with big comfy chairs where you can linger. We need to see a number of brides a day, but I never want them queuing up at the door, one leaving, one arriving. There’s no pressure and people love that. Also, I’ve got 65 free parking spaces!
There’s 1,000 square feet upstairs too which is our event space, so that opens up lots of opportunities for us to have pop up shops with bridesmaid or shoe labels. It’s like a little wedding village.
I go to New York, Barcelona and London bridal fashion weeks and I pay attention to all the different labels out there. We buy globally which offers me collections of dresses we didn’t have before. With some collections, I see them, and I fall in love and that’s what I want my brides to feel. I shouldn’t be having to pick dresses; I should want the entire collection. I need to be able to look the designer in the eye and know that she can deliver what we want and then I get to sleep at night because it’s a very precious purchase and it has to be spot on and if it’s not, it’s not good enough.
Know that it doesn’t have to be a ballgown
When I opened the business sixteen years ago, I had a line-up of six British designers. All phenomenal in their own right and I still adore each and every one of them. But before lockdown and certainly since, people are looking for a more relaxed feel from their wedding look while still a fabulous dress. Brides want something more modern, clean, maybe wearable again. I sell less ballgowns than I used to sell. We’re definitely seeing a level of informality with the wedding dress that we’ve never seen before. A bride who wants a classic silk organza Suzanne Neville ballgown will definitely find that with me, but bridal fashion has shifted to being more red carpet and women nearly always want two dresses.
Look for interesting choice
We can house more than 200 dresses across both boutiques, but I don’t label hop. I like to have good long-term relationships with our designers. Sarah Seven is very modern, clean, beautifully cut and classic, very stylish crepe dresses. Rish is more bohemian. I’m working very closely with a new label called 29 Atelier, a brilliant British wedding dress couturier. Her philosophy is about sustainability, re-wearable pieces, lots of pure silks, eco buttons made from crushed nut kernels, they look incredible and you would never know. She has lots of separates and overlays so you may have three elements in one dress. You might spend £3-4,000 but you know you will wear the little lace top again with jeans.
Prepare for your first appointment
Bring an open mind. The week before we will have a phone call to chat about your expectations. We talk about your wedding, your aspirations, the style of wedding you’d like. We also chat about who you’re bringing with you because that’s a very big topic. This isn’t a wedding factory and it’s not the size of Debenhams so you can’t bring eight people with you. And nor would you want to. You’ll end up with eight opinions, so a decision doesn’t get made and it’s more stressful. You wouldn’t ask eight of your best friends to pick your Saturday night outfit, so you don’t need those eight people telling you want to wear on your wedding day. We also talk about the dresses you’d like to try, and we make sure they’re ready for you when you arrive for your appointment.
Banish the fear
When a bride comes in here, she’s sometimes terrified that nothing will suit her, that the dresses won’t fit her and because these are luxury wedding dresses, she often worries that we are going to be very hoity toity people. She’s terrified that the people she brings with her are going to be overly opinionated – so there is a whole bag of emotions. The first five minutes is always about sitting down and having a cup of tea or a glass of bubbles and talking about you and the wedding and the engagement. If everyone is relaxed, you get the most out of them.
Do you want to follow in Ellie’s footsteps?
We have everything in place to franchise the business this year, the timing is right. We’re replicating our business model for other people. The target market for this is probably myself fifteen years ago when I came to the end of my corporate life and wanted to do something more for me. We’re looking for women who are go-getters, highly motivated, fashion savvy, who want to run their own business and invest in a tried and tested business that’s been operating successfully for fifteen years. They get me as a coach, and I’ll be very involved in it. I’m aiming to have five new franchises by the end of 2025.