Tips to help women avoid a bridal nightmare

The e-mails from brides jilted by La Bella Sposa boutique have been heartbreaking.

The south Charlotte store closed suddenly June 10, leaving angry women in its wake, some of whom have organized a blog ( and a Facebook page to communicate.

Sudden closures of bridal shops are common, especially this time of year, says Alan Fields, who with his wife, Denise, is the author of “Bridal Bargains,” a straight-talking consumer guide for wedding planning.

Shop owners have a “bad month or two and the suppliers or designers stop shipping the goods,” he says. “Bridal shops work differently than any other dress shop. You put down your deposit and wait for your dress to come in. … You're left hoping they are still going to be there in three months.”

Fields recommends that brides:

Always use a credit card for a deposit on the dress. Check the limitations – most don't protect purchases across state lines, he said.

Get all details in writing. “It sounds obvious, but many dress shops don't give you a detailed receipt,” he says. You need the name of the manufacturer, the style number, the color and the size.

Make sure the shop is an authorized retailer. Call or check the manufacturer's Web site. “If the shop is no longer an authorized dealer, that's a big red flag.”

Don't be afraid to walk away. A 50 percent deposit for a dress is standard, he says. Period. Any store asking for more is likely doing so for the wrong reasons.

Never leave your dress or merchandise at the shop. “They're not storing a dress in a vault. Don't leave it there. … Don't tempt fate.”

Try not to get too swept up in the wedding moment. Keep your smart consumer wits about you. Document whom you spoke to, when and why. Log all phone calls. Keep all receipts.