What it's really like shopping at Kleinfeld

Kleinfeld Bridal, which opened in Brooklyn in 1941 and moved to Manhattan in 2005 is synonymous with wedding gown shopping. Ask any bride, bride-to-be, or fan of the reality TV show Say Yes to the Dress, and just about everyone has heard of Kleinfeld. It's no wonder then that Kleinfeld caters to 17,000 brides per year, selling dresses to 10,000 of those.

With the glitz and glamour of the dresses, and the emotional moment when brides find "the one" after trying on dress after dress, is reality anything like reality TV? I spoke to 10 women to find out what it's really like to shop at Kleinfeld when the cameras aren't rolling.

The selection is huge

Several of the brides I spoke to, even some of those who didn't end up getting their dress at Kleinfeld, remarked about the wide selection of dresses available. Not only do they have a variety of styles, they can cater to different body types, even those that are changing dramatically from the time of shopping to the time of the wedding.

Melissa Ben-Yoseph is from Chicago, but was living in New York when she shopped at Kleinfeld in April 2008. She was able to find exactly the dress she wanted for her wedding. Ben-Yoseph, who was married in June 2008 and delivered her baby in October of that same year, chose Kleinfeld after being unsuccessful at Saks Fifth Avenue due to their limited selection. Her consultant, Camille Coffey, set her at ease as soon as she met her, assuring her they fit brides from negative to plus sizes and there's more than one right dress for every woman who walks through the door. "She made me feel like the prettiest person ever to get married," Ben-Yoseph said.

Wedding gowns aren't all they sell either. Kleinfeld also sold her a pair of affordable ballet flats after recommending she have more than one pair of shoes on her wedding day. They told her to save the shoes and bring them back to Kleinfeld where they would dye them black for her. She did and was pleased with the results, telling me, "I ended up wearing the shoes for many seasons thereafter."

You may be limited by your budget and style

While the selection is huge, and there is more than one perfect dress for every bride, you may be quite limited by your budget and personal style. Marissa McFarland, who shopped at Kleinfeld in 2014 ended up trying on dresses over two appointments, but did not purchase her dress there. McFarland said her consultant was knowledgeable and amazing, regardless. "She only pulled dresses in my price range and wouldn't show me things outside of it because she didn't want me to fall in love with something outside of my range," she told me.

Her consultant, Kristiana, also encouraged her to try on styles other than what she came looking for, but also pulled the styles she wanted initially. When McFarland still wasn't totally sure she had found "the one" after her second trip to Kleinfeld, her consultant gave her some harsh truth. "She told me, 'I've shown you everything in your price range that I think you'll like' and that's when I decided to go to other places."

In the end, McFarland ended up finding a designer sample on a mannequin in at a wedding boutique in Canada that she bought sight unseen. It was nothing like the dresses she tried on at Kleinfeld, but she loved it. Still, she highly recommends other brides shop at Kleinfeld. "I had such a great experience there and I felt so taken care of and my consultant was so knowledgeable," she said. "I wish I had found the dress there."

Even if you find the one, you may not get emotional

Megan Joice from Baltimore, Maryland, found her dress at Kleinfeld in 2015. As someone who had watched every episode of the show with her sister, she said the experience was a bit surreal. "We fully expected not to get the dress because it was the first time trying dresses on and I hadn't spent that much time looking at dresses beforehand." She said her consultant listened to what she wanted and didn't want, but also pushed her a little to try on things she would have never thought about or picked. "She asked me to trust her," Joice said.

The dress she ended up getting was a combination of something she liked going in, with something her consultant suggested. Once she put on the dress, everyone in her party agreed it was the one. "For the first time I was very comfortable, everyone could tell I was comfortable," she said. Still, Joice was quick to point out, there were no tears. "I'm not the person who is going to have the emotional moment," she said. "It was more just 'Cool, great, I feel happy and I'm done.'"

While her experience was a positive one, Joice noted that it wasn't overly personalized. "I think the biggest thing is don't go there if you want the most personalized experience ever. It is like going to a bigger store. You're not going to feel like the only bride in the room," she said. "If you care more about the selection and a one stop shop, Kleinfeld is it. I got everything there."

Your experience may vary by consultant

While some of the brides I spoke to adored their consultants, that wasn't the case for everyone. Amanda Lauren, who is from New York, but today calls Los Angeles home, said she felt ignored from the very beginning. "From the beginning I said I wasn't into many of the dresses they show on the show. Immediately she started showing me those dresses," Lauren said going on to say that the dresses were beautiful if you were looking for something for the runway, but that they weren't very bridal.

After she left without getting a dress, Lauren thought maybe she just hadn't had the best idea of what she wanted and that she should return. During her second visit she had the same consultant and still felt completely ignored and unheard. "There was one incident the second time I was there and it was the straw that broke the camel's back," she told me. "I said specifically 'I don't want to see any dresses with pearls on the bodice.' Then she and her assistant brought out a dress with a bodice entirely made of pearls. I felt like I was crazy. Like 'Did the last five minutes not actually happen?'" Still, Lauren acknowledges her experience might not be the norm. After all, she told me, they've been in business for so many years, "They must be doing something right."

On the other hand, Melissa Ben-Yoseph said her consultant Camille Coffey couldn't have been nicer or more attuned to what she needed. "She was nurturing and reassuring," Ben-Yoseph said. "If you ever find Camille Coffey, tell her thank you for me."

Don't expect to be pampered

Debbie Bain from Newburyport, Massachusetts, didn't have a great experience while shopping at Kleinfeld in October 2016. She chose Kleinfeld because after trying on a few dresses elsewhere, she felt they all looked terrible. "I really wanted to go somewhere where someone looks at my body type and tells me what kind of dress will look good on me."

Before going to Kleinfeld she had put together a Pinterest board where she had pinned dresses off Kleinfeld's website that she liked, but no one asked her about it, what she had tried on before, or what style she was going for. Still, Bain was optimistic. She thought perhaps the consultant had taken one look at her and knew exactly the right dress "That could not have been further from the truth," Bain said. "I've never looked worse in a dress, it was terrible." She said her consultant kept bringing dresses that would fit her, but that were exactly opposite of what she wanted.

She also said that to add insult to injury, she was never left alone to undress. "Everywhere else I went gave me the privacy to undress," she said. There was a robe in the fitting room, but it was too small to fasten in the front, an oversight Bain said could have been easily avoided. "If anything should fit today, it should be the robe," she said, noting that it's not a big deal if a robe is several sizes too large on a tiny person, but that a robe that is too small is what prevented her from being able to use the bathroom in between trying on dresses.

Bain's experience was topped off by the fact that it was muggy, there was no air conditioning in the wings where she was taken to try on dresses, and she wasn't offered even so much as water. She wasn't the only bride I spoke with who noted that no water was ever offered. "When I tell you that the Kleinfeld experience that I had was the worst experience I had anywhere, I'm not exaggerating," she said.

You should have some ideas going in

Alana Wilson of Spring, Texas, flew to New York to visit Kleinfeld in 2014. After having already done a bit of dress shopping locally in Houston, Wilson — a long-time fan of the show — had no doubt she wanted to try Kleinfeld, and had a good idea what she wanted going in. "I tried on about five dresses," she told me. "I don't think I tried on anything that I hadn't picked out before. I pretty much knew going in what I wanted."

The one she ended up picking was the first one she tried on at Kleinfeld. She said that while she could have brought more ideas, the email she received from Kleinfeld ahead of time told her to bring five. "It helped to focus the search to just print out the five," she said. "Doing a lot of research beforehand was really helpful. [My consultant] was able to push me into a certain direction based on the pictures I brought and those styles." Wilson did note, however, that choosing her dress so quickly meant her appointment flew by in just about half an hour. "I wish I would have walked around a little bit more," she said.

You should still keep an open mind

Several of the women I spoke to mentioned that the exact dresses they found on Pinterest were either unavailable or their consultant suggested it wouldn't look best with their body shape. Marissa McFarland also noted that it's important to know some of the dresses you see on Pinterest may not exist in real life. "Know what you like, but be open to other things," McFarland said.

Kelly Coughlin, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, echoed this sentiment. "The storefront is set up with so many different styles and options, and the sales consultants listen and understand your style, while making suggestions that you may not have considered," she said. Coughlin was at Kleinfeld on the day Anne Barge was holding a trunk show. "Amazingly, I had originally seen a dress in Vogue Bridal that I loved, but hadn't really paid attention to the designer, because the photo only showcased the top of the dress," she said. It turned out to be an Anne Barge dress. "She was able to fit me for that very dress and also created a custom design for my mother's dress."

You can get an entire look there

Kelly Coughlin not only got her Anne Barge dress at Kleinfeld, she was able to get an entire bridal look. "It's amazing once you have the right dress on, because the consultants kick into action accessorizing you according to the details you have shared," she said. "I ended up buying my shoes, gloves and veil along with my dress."

Another bride I spoke with, Kristin Emanuelson of Baltimore, Maryland, was also impressed with the accessories available at Kleinfeld, as well as the care of the consultants and the high level of customer service. "You feel pampered and almost giddy for the day," Emanuelson said. "They created a whole look for me there, not just a dress. It made it feel special and unique." She went on to add, "They didn't just leave you at the end of the appointment. You felt like you were ushered through everything and I didn't feel confused or anything during the appointment."

Trunk shows can be good and bad

Another bride who was at Kleinfeld on the day of a Pnina Tornai trunk show asked to be referred to as Erin White. Longtime viewers of Say Yes to the Dress may recognize the designer as one of the featured designers at Kleinfeld. Although Pnina Tornai was there, White knew she wanted to go in trying on Lazaro. After working with her consultant, who White said hit the nail on the head right away, she continued looking around at other dresses just in case. At that point, Pnina Tornai interjected herself into a conversation between White and her mother. "She said, 'Oh you have to try on one of my dresses,' but I knew they were out of my price range," White said. "But because it was a trunk show, they were discounted a little bit and she said it was within my budget."

White tried on the dress and hated it. "It was so not me," she said. She thanked the designer for encouraging her to try on the dress, but informed her she was going with the Lazaro she had picked. "She got really upset," White said, referring to the designer. "She said to my mother, 'How can you let your daughter buy that other dress? That's like a dress off the rack. This is couture!'" At that point White's mother got upset and asked the designer to leave them alone while also telling Randy Fenoli, the Kleinfeld fashion director, what had happened. Randy then spoke with a manager named Joan. White said she and her mother were livid and almost left without getting the dress she had picked. In the end, all of the Kleinfeld employees went above and beyond for White, even offering her a discount on alteration services because of the interaction with Tornai.

"They were really able to take almost losing a sale and turn it into a really positive experience," she said. She also doesn't fault the trunk show or discourage women from going when they're happening. "The trunk shows are a good thing because if I had really liked the dress it would have been awesome," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to try it on otherwise." White is now getting remarried and chose not to return to Kleinfeld's this time around, primarily because she wanted to do things differently. She has noticed, however, that nothing quite stacks up to the experience she had there. "We went to stores [this time] where they just gave me the dress and didn't even really zip me into it," she said. "At Kleinfeld they helped adjust and pin everything. It was a much more holistic experience in terms of the ultimate wedding dress experience."

You may be asked to be on the show

Nearly every bride I spoke with mentioned that during the booking of their appointment, they were asked if they would like to be considered for the show. None of the brides I spoke with were interested in being filmed. Several noted that once they expressed that they weren't interested, it was almost like there wasn't a show at all. "The show was very much on the periphery," said Kristin Emanuelson who was there in May 2016.

Melissa Ben-Yoseph agreed, telling me that as soon as she said she wasn't interested in the show, it was like nothing was happening. "They were very respectful," she said. "They did an amazing job disclosing. They were very clear about stuff." Still, many of the brides I spoke with acknowledged that they feel many brides end up going to Kleinfeld just so they can say they got their dress where Say Yes to the Dress is filmed. "They're churning out people left and right," said Debbie Bain. "I got the impression that there were a ton of women there just so they could say they got their dress at Kleinfeld."

Every experience is unique

The biggest takeaway from my interviews with brides who shopped at Kleinfeld is that every experience, just like every wedding, is unique. Some of the brides I spoke with told me they would never recommend Kleinfeld, while others said they recommend it regularly and believe every bride should go, even if just to say she did and to try on a bunch of great dresses. Some remarked at how spacious and well maintained the store was, while one compared it to something her "80-year-old grandmother would have decorated," and another described it as cramped.

As long as you go in with some ideas about what you're looking for and with an open mind, acknowledging that reality TV is not always an accurate representation of reality, there's a pretty good chance (70 percent by my metrics and about 60 percent by Kleinfeld's reported success rate) that you'll find the perfect dress there. Even if you don't, you'll still have a story to tell.