A Wedding to Remember: Shopping for the 'Perfect' Dress

Brides-to-be test the honesty of their friends and family while dress shopping.

ByNatalie D. Jaquez
December 23, 2008, 3:56 PM

March 25, 2008— -- It's secondary only to finding the man of her dreams. Industry insiders call it the "Oh, mommy" moment: when a bride-to-be finds and falls in love with "The One" — her dream wedding gown.

Sometimes, however, a bride's dream gown is at odds with the gown her loved ones envision for her. Herein lay the crux of another "Primetime" hidden camera experiment.

The objective: to find out whether honesty is the best policy when a bride-to-be has found "The One," even when it's completely wrong for her. Should friends and family be supportive and hold their tongues, or should they tell the truth if they think the gown is terrible?

Watch the story on "Primetime" tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

For this experiment, ABC News asked real brides-to-be to invite their family, bridesmaids and friends to the upscale Manhattan bridal emporium Kleinfeld to bear witness to a fitting of their supposed dream gown.

ABC then paired each bride with outrageous bridal garments, some of which were actually for sale, that were sure to elicit strong reactions from their loved ones.

ABC also invited Carley Roney, editor-in-chief of the wedding Web site TheKnot.com, to watch the experiment from our control room and provide insight into some of the scenarios as they played out.

When the brides stepped out of the dressing room and stood in front of their guests, hidden cameras were there to catch every jaw-drop and every eye-pop.

Andrea Sinkin, a 28-year old trend consultant, wanted to put her friends and bridesmaids to the test. On the day of her fitting, Andrea stepped out of the dressing room donning a gown that looked like every Goth girl's vision for prom circa 1984: a scarlet red heap of lace, chiffon and tulle.

"What is this for?" asked maid of honor, Katie Frey.

"It's my wedding dress, Katie," Sinkin responded unflinchingly, as the women laughed and gawked at her.

To get their most honest reactions, each bride had to look and sound convincingly set on the gown she was showcasing. For Andrea, that meant capitalizing on her reputation for being fashion-forward and reassuring her guests that they need not fret because the dress would be dyed fuchsia.

"The next big thing is going to be color, like, I swear to God, I already see it coming," she declared. "The whole thing's handmade. I mean, you can't duplicate this."

As part of the experiment, Kleinfeld headpiece sales manager Marisa DiLeo was on hand to further legitimize each bride's choice of gown by offering accessories to polish off her look.

"I think pink [fuchsia] is a great color for a blonde … it'll be your power color," DiLeo said. "Let's go get some head-pieces. We'll be right back, ladies."

Twice, Marisa escorted Andrea out of the fitting area under the guise of choosing matching headpieces when, in fact, they headed to our control room to listen to what the women were saying while Andrea was gone.

"Is she joking?" asked bewildered bridesmaid Lisa Graham.

"Even if she's not, she's not getting that dress," Katie responded.

As the scenario played out, the women teetered on just how serious Andrea was about the fuchsia dress. Ultimately, however, Andrea was overruled by her dutiful friends and bridesmaids.

"I don't approve," Katie said. "I'm sorry."

"I won't let you," said bridesmaid Maria Cacucciolo. "It's… it's a nightmare … I'm gonna be honest with you. It's all wrong. Absolutely not!"

Finally Andrea let her friends off the hook, announcing that she had a confession to make. She riffled through layer after layer of red tulle and lace to reveal a microphone pack strapped to her leg.

"So what would you do if your best friend picks a monstrosity of a wedding dress? Do you tell her?" Andrea asked them.

Their response: a resounding, "Yes! You tell her!"

While Andrea may have been able to brave her friends' objections, Roney explained afterward that it's important to be mindful that sometimes such bold aversion to a bride's choice of gown could be hurtful.

"If your friend walks in and says, 'I love this dress'… I don't believe it's the right policy to go in there and undermine someone's good feelings about a decision they've … already made," she said. "There are many less confident brides out there who couldn't take that kind of battery."

While friends can be pillars of support and honesty, some brides choose to lean on those who know them best: their sisters. Sarah Lee and Nicole Licata were two such brides, and both pushed the bounds of our experiment in unexpected ways.

Sarah, for example, was paired not with a bridal gown, but a bridal "outfit." It was a white halter top and matching bell bottom pants with shaggy beads that dangled from every square inch — an ideal ensemble for a Las Vegas wedding.

"Oh my gosh! It's pants!" exclaimed bridesmaid Briana Dillaman as Sarah stepped onto the pedestal.

Sarah's guests were shocked by the pants, and how "funky" the outfit was, but they tried to remain supportive in her presence.

Again, we instructed Kleinfeld headpiece manager Marisa to escort Sarah out of the fitting area to select headpieces. As soon as they rounded the corner, Sarah's sister, Rebekah Lee, abruptly opened up the discussion.

"I have never seen a bride wear pants," she said.

"I've never seen a bride wear pants, either!" Briana agreed. "We all were like, 'Huh?'" They all broke out in laughter.

When Sarah and Marisa returned from our control room, everyone registered their surprise at Sarah's choice, but none wavered in their support.

"Everyone is going to be talking, like, 'Sarah had the coolest outfit on,'" said bridesmaid Mara Kelly.

"The only thing that's different is that it's pants. That's all," Briana said, reconciling her shock.

After Sarah revealed that she would, in fact, not be wearing pants on her wedding day, Rebekah told us why she supported her sister's decision.

"There comes a point when it's your integrity versus … what you think you should say," she explained. And when it came to her sister, she had to ask herself, "Where's that line drawn with white lies? Who is it hurting versus who would it help? And so in this case, I think it's really about supporting her."

This group of family and friends believed that supporting Sarah was their most important role, in spite of their vision of the kind of bride they thought she should be.

"It's not really a lie; it's love," added Briana.

Love, however, was not part of the reception bride-to-be Nicole received when she stepped out of the fitting room in a puffy 16th century-inspired, corseted gown. It was truly a dress fit for a princess … if that princess was marrying Shrek.

Instead, Nicole was greeted with outright laughter and jeers by her recently-married twin sister, Danielle Erker; her two future sisters-in-law; and a couple of her bridesmaids.

"Ohhh. My. God," was all Danielle could muster at first.

"Are you going to the Renaissance?" asked Nicole's future sister-in-law and bridesmaid, Kiele Bischoff.

"It's got dead things on it!" one of the women blurted out.

After enduring several minutes of ridicule, we once again instructed Marisa to escort our bride to the control room under the guise of choosing headpieces. The moment Nicole was gone the women unleashed their disdain for the dress.

"That dress is really disgusting," Danielle said.

"For a costume party I think that would look really pretty," bridesmaid Michelle Baker tried to reason.

"I don't want to go to her wedding now," Danielle announced. "I'm the maid of honor and I'm so embarrassed!"

Nicole and Marisa soon retuned to the fitting area with accessories in hand and Nicole began trying them on.

Danielle decided to share some of her thoughts with Nicole, but what she said to her sister's face wasn't nearly as offensive as what she said behind her back.

"So far, the only thing I like is the headpiece," Danielle told Nicole rather meekly.

Forging ahead, Marisa explained that the dress would arrive eight weeks prior to the wedding and Nicole would need to schedule the final fittings.

"I hope the plane [carrying the dress] blows up," Danielle muttered, but she did so under her breath to one of the other bridesmaids.

Fortunately, desperate measures would not be necessary. Much to everyone's relief, our princess bride revealed that the whole situation was part of our experiment.

As Roney explained afterward, Nicole's twin sister and other guests' foremost concern was how they thought Nicole looked in her dress, rather than how happy the dress made her.

"[Her] twin sister was not going to have any of that," Roney said. "It reflected poorly on her if her sister was so insane as to wear this dress down the aisle." She added that, "People really will go to great lengths to make sure that dress is the dress that they imagine that bride to be wearing."

As if putting their sisters in a tough situation wasn't difficult enough, our last two brides decided to put their own mothers to the test.

Bride-to-be Jackie Lugo invited not only her mother and sister for her fitting, but also her future mother and sister-in-law. Even Jackie herself could not have predicted their responses as she stepped out of the fitting room in the most bizarre dress of all: the so-called "Italian Cage Dress."

Designed more as a runway show piece than a wedding gown, the Cage Dress was a beautiful, lacy, strapless gown over which a butterfly and vine-laden cage surrounded the dress from waist to floor.

As Jackie hobbled onto the pedestal, the hoops of bendable cage in her hands, she was met with peals of laughter.

"Noooo!" exclaimed future mother-in-law Arlene Morgan as she guffawed at the sight of the dress. Almost everyone was laughing … except Jackie's mother, Elba Mendez, who sat in stony silence.

Jackie tried her best to sell her family on the dress to despite their mirth. "Everything is custom. It's couture!" she told them.

Just as before, Marisa and Jackie made their exit for headpieces, turning the women's attention to Jackie's silent mom.

"You look like you're about to cry," said Jackie's sister, Jocelyn, to Elba. "Why? It's just a dress. I mean, if she wants an ugly dress, fine, but it's just a dress."

It became clear that the women were resigning themselves to the idea of this outrageous gown, if it was what Jackie really wanted.

Jackie, however, was anxious about her mother's reaction. "I can't even look her in the face," she told us.

Soon after returning to the fitting area, Marisa and Jackie ended the torture and told the women they had a confession to make.

"This is not the dress!" announced Marisa.

"Oh, Mommy, you know I would never look like a freak on your … on my wedding day," said Jackie as she hugged her mother.

Roney explained that sometimes, in spite of her objections, a mother just needs to let her daughter find her way through this process without disparaging comments.

"I think she didn't know what to do," Roney said of Elba's muted reaction. "She wanted to respect her daughter's opinions … at least in that moment. And you know, maybe the daughter wouldn't actually wear it [the dress] in the end, but she wasn't going to destroy that moment for her and her happiness there."

While Jackie tested her mother's ability to be supportive, the final bride-to-be, Janessa Klammer, put her mother's Catholic faith on the line.

Janessa, clad in a slinky white slip dress with a sheer midriff, walked onto the pedestal in front of her mother, Diane Klammer; future mother-in-law, Marianne Sottilie, and two of their friends.

The women were immediately concerned.

"Is the Church going to let her get married in that?" Marianne muttered to Diane under her breath. Then, turning back to Janessa, "But we're going to church — you can't go to church like that."

"Why can't I wear this to church? It's sheer. It's not naked," protested Janessa.

Visibly attempting to maintain her composure, Diane began grumbling comments in Marianne's ear, but none directly to her daughter.

"Marianne, it looks like a bra. I'm going to have a heart attack," she said. "I can't take this."

Janessa told the women how sexy she felt in the dress and, she added, "I think when I walk out, [future husband] Jeremy's going to, like, drop his jaw."

"My heart is palpitating," Diane muttered to Marianne.

Diane then tried placing the onus squarely on Marianne's shoulders. "Do you like the dress?" she demanded.

"No," Marianne responded.

"So why don't you open your mouth?"

"Because I don't want her to hate me!" Marianne told her. "You're the mother — you open up your mouth. I'm the mother-in-law, right?"

Then the discussion got even more heated as Diane suddenly recalled the debate she and Janessa had over the wedding location: Janessa wanted a beach wedding, but Diane wanted it in a church.

"That would be a perfect dress for a beach wedding," Diane said as she seemed to piecing together a possible scheme by her daughter. "Are you going to get married on the sand by the lake? Is that what…"

"That's what I wanted," Janessa snapped. "If it wasn't a destination wedding, I was getting married in a church."

Regardless of what she wanted at one time, the wedding destination was now set at church.

The women began suggesting ways to make the gown more appropriate: perhaps a more opaque midriff or more floral appliqués on the sheer material. But Janessa was undaunted.

Marisa whisked Janessa away to find a veil that could appease the women, leaving Diane to come to the only conclusion that could justify her daughter's choice.

"I think she's losing her mind," she told the other women. "You know why she's losing her mind? She's overworked at her job."

When Janessa returned, still intent on the sexy slip dress, Diane finally relented.

"All right then. Have what you want," she told her daughter, but not before adding: "I think you are cracking up though."

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