Sara Ortega (@hairspray_studio) lives in San Diego.
Sara Ortega (@hairspray_studio) lives in San Diego.

Wedding trends change, and aspects of the wedding vary across the country, but one thing remains consistent everywhere—getting the bride ready for her big day is no small task. Sara Ortega (@hairspray_studio), Sarah Vondracek (@beautymarkedbysarah) and Trae Howard (@traehowardhair) are bridal styling experts based across the country—in California, Missouri and Tennessee, respectively—and have all found ways to survive (and thrive) their busiest time of the year. They have each finessed their businesses to successfully build their books and get brides down the aisle beautifully. Here, they share their tips.

How far in advance do you book your wedding clients?
Ortega: I book my weddings no more than 12 months in advance. The booking process is easy. If I’m available at time of inquiry, I will send the client a contract and questionnaire to fill out, along with deposit info. They can make the deposit to reserve their date prior to a trial run, or sign a contract and leave a deposit after we’ve met for a trial.
Vondracek: I typically book out one year in advance.
Howard: I book between three to eight months in advance for weddings. Some brides really like to plan ahead, and some wait until their wedding is much closer. When booking, I direct them to fill out my contact form/ questionnaire on my website. This gets me the details I need to prep a contract.

What does your wedding season typically look like?
Ortega: I book two weddings per week—Friday and Saturday.
Vondracek: For my wedding season, I only take up to 25 weddings and then I’m considered fully booked. I do that because I have travel commitments throughout the year for work. If I don’t set boundaries, I tend to overdo my personal workload.
Howard: Although I’ve been a hairstylist for 14 years, I just transitioned exclusively to freelance bridal styling— within the past six months! Two weddings per month is healthy for me. I’m not an every-weekend bridal stylist, not at this stage, and setting that work boundary helps me and my family to have balance.

Sarah Vondracek (@beautymarkedbysarah) is based in Union, Missouri.
Sarah Vondracek (@beautymarkedbysarah) is based in Union, Missouri.

How do you charge for weddings?
Ortega: I have a flat rate for brides and bridal party. Additional fees are applied for extension styling, if someone has very long or abundant hair, or if I provide hair fillers, donuts or accessories. Also, travel can be an additional fee if it’s outside my mile range.
Vondracek: $160 for a bride includes trial, $65 for bridesmaids. If I have to travel, my fee is $150.
Howard: I charge per person, require a service minimum and retainer fee. I charge a travel fee if the location of services is outside my service area.

When do you do your trials?
Ortega: I encourage my brides to have their trial two-three weeks before the wedding day. If her wedding is in September, and we are doing a trial in February, she’s a lot more likely to keep looking at ideas before the wedding and Pinterest will change her mind about hair or makeup. Therefore, I only have one trial. In some cases two trials have been required, but very rarely.
Vondracek: I typically only have one trial because I book out quite a bit of time to try several styles—typically two hours. I encourage my brides to do their trial at least two months prior to their wedding, and on a special day such as their wedding shower or bachelorette party so they have a purpose for their fancy hair. I always get a great picture of it for reference on their big day.
Howard: I prefer to do them six to eight weeks before the wedding. That gives me a better idea of what condition, texture or color their hair will be for their big day. Nashville has also become a wedding destination. If my bride is from out of town, I try to accommodate when she’ll be visiting and that can vary between several months before to the week of the wedding. I typically do one bridal trial, but I have had brides get a trial with me, then follow up with me to do hair for their bridal portrait.

Trae Howard (@traehowardhair) is a Nashville bridal specialist.
Trae Howard (@traehowardhair) is a Nashville bridal specialist.

On the wedding day, how do you stay organized?
Ortega: I give the bride and bridal party a schedule along with guidelines to follow so the day can run smoothly and be as stress-free as possible. Working in the bridal industry is not for everyone. To be successful, you have to have a certain type of personality. I can handle all personalities, and I listen to what my clients want. It is important for me to know their needs. If I understand what they want, I will execute what they envisioned perfectly. Some brides get really stressed the hours before the wedding, and you have to be able to carry that stress and vibe and not let that energy impact you and your work, because it is contagious! You must turn that negative energy into positive. You aren’t just the hairstylist, you are the person the bride spends all her morning or day with before the wedding; you can help make memorable moments and assist in whatever else is needed.
Vondracek: I typically work alone for weddings and take 20-30 minutes per client. If it’s a big bridal party (nine or more clients) I will create a scheduled time they need to be in my chair by to keep everything running smoothly. I always arrive at least 45 minutes before the first start time to set up, get ready, and begin the day calmly and prepared. I also maintain my book by being completely honest with the bridesmaids on their expectations.
Howard: Organization is the name of the game on the wedding day! Well, it actually starts the night before for me, and that calms down my nerves. Even if my call-time starts later in the day, I like the ritual of packing and organizing everything the night before. Also, during services, I’m checking the clock to pace myself; that helps me keep my cool.

How do you stay sane this time of year?
Ortega: By booking two weddings a week. I also always try to leave one Saturday free a month.
Vondracek: I manage my time by setting boundaries. If a bride sends me a ton of photos of the hair she wants or has lots of questions, I just tell them to save everything for the trial and we will address everything that day. If I have 25 brides and they are all doing the same thing, it gets overwhelming, and all I would be doing is answering questions all day every day about things that could be discussed at the trial.
Howard: Honestly, boundaries, communication and a whole lot of grace.

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