It’s one of those clichés that will never die: the little girl daydreaming of herself on her wedding day. And while, in those fantasies, the groom’s face may look like nothing more than a question mark, one aspect of her mind’s‑eye wedding day is likely in sharp relief: The Dress. Once the wedding day has been relocated from a soft‑lens figment of her imagination to an actual date on her calendar, she is off. On a mission. A mission to find the dress of her dreams.
Santa Barbara, a longtime wedding haven, is building its status as a dress‑shopping haven, too. Over the past year, three new shops have opened their doors, and between them, they cover every variety of bride: whether classic or elegant, stylish or whimsical, understated or over the top, The Dress is hanging on one of their racks, just waiting to be plucked up by the bride‑to‑be who’s destined to wear it.
Santa Barbara Bridal, the only wedding dress boutique in California to carry the über‑exclusive Vera Wang designs, carries couture wedding gowns the likes of Jenny Lee, Elizabeth Fillmore, Carolina Herrera, and Eliana Ben‑Zeev, and shoes, bags, lingerie, ready‑to‑wear wedding and evening gowns, and an incredible selection of stylish bridesmaids’ dresses (imagine that!). The shop also boasts two full‑time alteration specialists, in addition to tuxedo rentals, invitations, and a Groom’s Room where hubbies‑to‑be can lounge around in front of a flat‑screen TV.
Mary Linn’s Bridal and Tuxedos, in the recently remodeled location of the gone‑but‑not‑forgotten Rumors, carries gowns from nearly 30 designers, including Amsale, Eve of Milady, Pronovias, Jim Hjelm Couture, and Amalia Carrera, as well as shoes, jewelry, and bridesmaids’ and evening dresses. The shop does alterations, and offers designer tuxedo rentals and custom‑length veils, too. Most of the staffers are Rumors alum, and they’re pros at helping brides‑to‑be realize what’s going to work for them, “without telling them.” Starlette O’Hara, a romantic little boutique located next door to Mary Linn’s, takes a different approach. The shop specializes in rare, stylish finds for evening and daytime that owner Shelly Schafer plucks up while abroad on her twice‑yearly European shopping trips. And while the shop doesn’t carry “wedding dresses,” per se, it has a fantastic selection of white gowns that are absolutely appropriate for the Big Day. All of these dresses are off the rack, of great quality, reasonably priced, and all are one‑of‑a‑kind.