Diana’s I Do’s: Braving the Bridal Expo

Diana navigates the ups and downs of the overwhelming experience that is a bridal expo.

Diana and Kerri mug for the photobooth camera at the Bethesda bridal expo.

Every now and then on my morning commute, I hear those advertisements on the radio about the DC Bridal Showcase, and for some reason it’s that one with the annoying “Come to the bridal showcase!” chorus that get stuck in my head for at least an hour after hearing it. It doesn’t matter how many times I listen to other songs—that one woman’s voice demanding I go to the bridal showcase always stays put. So when I got engaged, I finally gave in to that nagging little jingle and bought my tickets.

I grabbed my mom and some girlfriends and headed to the Bethesda Bridal Expo. When I pictured a bridal expo in my head, it looked like some magical land full of fun ideas, free samples, and a year’s supply of estrogen. However, as soon as I opened the door and saw row after row of vendors hawking their wares, I started to feel overwhelmed.

A man at the entrance gave me a big “bride” button to wear to distinguish me from my posse. Each of us was handed a subscription to Modern Bride and a plastic bag to fill with brochures and business cards. We were then given a bunch of perforated tickets, the kind you’d use for rides at a carnival, and were told to use them at vendor booths to enter a raffle to win free loot.

As I walked closer to the myriad vendor carts, I suddenly felt less like a bride surrounded by vendors and more like an ice-cold keg in front of a bunch of thirsty frat boys. As soon as I stepped into the room, I was assailed by people trying to get me interested in their products. Wedding planners, lighting experts, mattress salesmen (I still wonder about that one)—everyone wanted to talk to me in-depth about their services and products.

It was too much to handle right away. My friends’ eyes widened when they saw the crush of vendors and the panicked smile on my face as I fended off five vendors trying to sell me dermatological peels. My ladies rescued me and led me to a table with free cake samples, handing a couple to me in quick succession. For a moment, I sat there chewing the cake as my eyes darted from booth to booth. After a couple of minutes, I took a deep breath and called my girls in for a huddle. I told them what exactly I was looking for, and we scattered around the room after agreeing to collect brochures, distribute raffle tickets, and meet in 20 minutes when a fashion show was scheduled to begin.

I grabbed Kerri, my maid of honor, and pasted a smile on my face while avoiding direct eye contact with the vendors I knew I didn’t need. The two of us walked through the throng, casting surreptitious looks out of the corners of our eyes at the booth signs to find services I could use. If I got stopped by a photographer or monogrammed-lollipop maker who decided to wax philosophical on the parallels between sugar and love, I’d listen for five minutes, nodding enthusiastically, then ease myself away when the opportunity presented itself.

After about 15 minutes, Kerri suggested we duck inside a photo booth to take a breather. Goofing off and making faces was actually pretty fun, and the pictures turned out great. Having a photo booth at a wedding could be really fun for the guests and create unique favors for them to take home. (Maybe with little pictures frames?) Unfortunately, this wasn’t in my budget.

Glancing longingly back at our photo-booth safe haven, Kerri and I headed to the fashion show and sat down next to our friends. As soon as we took our seats, a techno tune started playing and a designer’s name was announced. The models flounced down the catwalk, doing their best to look suitably blushing and blissful. Some of the dresses were a little outlandish, and we got a good chuckle as we tried to imagine ourselves wearing them.

The most exciting part of the day happened as the fashion show came to a close. The vendors drew a ticket from the raffle boxes and wrote the winning numbers on a sign by their booths. As I walked from stand to stand looking for my number, I couldn’t help but feel like a little kid on an Easter-egg hunt. I was pumped to discover I’d won a free bridal bouquet and toss bouquet from Fiore Floral in Rockville and a discount deal with a local videographer. I wasn’t interested in the videographer, but the florist looked great!

The downside of the expo was that for months afterward, I got phone calls from random solicitors telling me I’d won either a car or a toaster, and all I had to do was drive an hour away and listen to a 90-minute presentation (about Tupperware, pots, timeshares, you name it) in order to discover which I’d won. That was annoying, but all in all the bridal expo paid off. I found my florist, discovered some stationery samples I really liked, and made a good connection to a band that sounded awesome on its demos. This was a huge time saver as I was able to find all these vendors in one place. I’d caution anyone considering going to a bridal expo that the experience can definitely be daunting (Kerri, who’s newly engaged, said that going once was enough for her) but can be fun if you have good friends with you . . . and time to go out for a glass of wine when you’re done!

Read Diana's story from the beginning, here

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