How to shop for a wedding dress

How to shop for a wedding dress

It's a good idea to choose jewellery and hair accessories after you have chosen your wedding gown, so here's a bit of advice on how to shop for your wedding dress.

Research – Start by doing some research in print and online in a selection of magazines and blogs to find what sort of styles and trends you like or don’t like. When you try dresses on you may be surprised which styles suit you so don’t get fixated on just one shape or style. Pinterest is a great resource for finding current styles and trends and getting familiar with wedding gown language. If you are a curvy or plus size bride it’s important not to just look at pictures of models that are a size 6 and 8, look at plus-size models in plus-size dresses. Shopping for a wedding gown can be a pretty daunting experience but being familiar with the language and descriptions will give you a bit more confidence looking for what will be the most important and possibly most expensive garment you will ever shop for. There’s a whole language for dress styles unfamiliar to many people, for example, fit and flare, mermaid, A line, empire, ball gown, column, princess and tea length are just a few. Necklines can be sweetheart, scoop, bateau, illusion, off the shoulder, halter, v neck and there are many more options. Designers will use different fabrics, natural or man-made, depending on the style, structure and cost of a dress.Tulle, georgette, chiffon or organza are light and floaty fabrics often used as a top layer. Brocade, damask, crepe, satin, duchesse satin, taffeta and silk are just a few more of the types of fabrics you will come across used to create a wedding gown. There are several types of lace fabrics, Alencon, Guipure, Chantilly, Raschel, Venise are some of the most popular. They can be smooth, textured, embelished with crystals, beads and sequins, elaborate 3D lace, delicately detailed or with larger scaled designs. 

Wedding theme and venue – These should both be a factor to consider in your choice. If you are planning a beach wedding abroad you should consider a lightweight fabric that will not crease too much, pack easily and for security be able to be taken on a plane as hand luggage. For a relaxed, informal boho wedding a big princess ball gown may not be the best choice, a trouser suit can be a great choice for a chic city wedding but be out of place in a church. So always keep your venue and theme in mind.

When to start looking – Gowns can take up to 8 months to arrive and you also need to allow time for any alterations to be made. A good time to start making appointments in bridal shops is 12 months before your wedding day.

Budget – Prices can range from the low hundreds to quite a few thousand so it is important to set your budget, bearing in mind that this should include an amount for alterations. Let the sales assistant know what your budget is, they should respect your budget and not try to persuade you to try on dresses over your limit. You need to be able to afford anything you try on including any alteration costs. Have a separate budget for accessories so you are not tempted to overspend on a gown leaving little left for shoes, veil, jewellery etc.

Bridal shops – Draw up a list of bridal shops to make appointments with. Ask married friends what their experiences were in bridal shops, look at reviews and a shops websites or social media pages. Always arrange an appointment so that you get the best experience, don’t just pop in, the sales assistant could already be with a bride-to-be or expecting a bride with a pre-arranged appointment and not be able to assist you, which is disappointing for all of you. Saturdays are bridal shops busiest days so try to book a weekday appointment which will be less busy and a more enjoyable, relaxed experience. When you book an appointment ask how long the shop normally allows and don’t try and fit too many appointments on the same day. If you are a plus size ask if the shop has a plus size range with samples available to try on, some shops specialise in plus sizes while others only have a very limited number of dresses available to try on. It's not a good idea to take your mum, sister, aunty, bridesmaids, future mum and sister-in-law etc. with you, everyone has their own tastes and opinions and these may contradict your own choices. You can always ask if they can help with other wedding planning so that they don't feel left out. You don’t need to please everyone, just choose a couple of people whose advice and honest opinion you trust. It's a very special moment and will feel that much more worth it to keep your wedding dress a surprise until your wedding day.

At your appointment – Wear a well fitting nude colour bra and pants you don’t mind the assistant seeing you in. If you can a bra that converts from straps to strapless is a good choice, but the assistant may request that you remove your bra depending on the fit or style of a dress, some dresses have a built-in bra and some are backless or see through. The assistant will help you to get in and out of dresses, usually the dresses go over your head, so to avoid marking dresses keep make-up and fake tan to a minimum. If you know you will be wearing heels take along a pair of shoes with a similar heel height. You should be asked about your wedding date, any theme, venue, if you have any ideas of styles you would like to try and what your budget is. Ask about alterations, does the shop have an in house seamstress or do they have details of recommended seamstresses, can they give you an estimate of alteration costs of a dress you may be thinking of choosing? 

Keep an open mind – The assistant has knowledge and experience and knows that quite often a bride will fall in love with a completely different style of dress than they had originally thought they would choose. A dress that doesn’t look good on a hanger can look fabulous on a body so keep an open mind about trying on dresses that the assistant recommends you try. Some colours of dress can suit some skin tones and complexions better than others so consider trying on colours other than what you may have decided on. Bridal shops usually don’t stock each dress in every size and colour so you may not be able to try on every dress you would like to. However the assistant may show you different dresses in a similar style that you could try on to get the same effect. 

Dress sizing – Bridal sizing isn’t like typical High Street sizing so don’t be concerned if you are a typical size 12 but the dress you are trying is a 16 or even 18. Even between designers and manufacturers the sizing varies. It isn’t a good idea to insist on ordering a dress in a smaller size because you are planning and hoping to lose weight before the big day, a dress can be taken in and sized down far easier than it can be let out and sized up. Unless you are confident you will be a smaller size on the day it is sensible to order a dress in the size that fits you now or be guided by the sales assistant. 

Does a dress feel comfortable – You will be in your dress on your wedding day for quite a long time, travelling to a church or venue, the ceremony, photographs, wedding breakfast, reception, you may want to keep your dress on all day and evening. When you try on a dress try walking, sitting down and getting a sense of how secure and comfortable you feel in it.

Is it “The One” – Don’t expect everyone to burst into applause and floods of tears like in Say Yes to the Dress, this is real life not a TV programme. Just because no one cries doesn’t mean a dress isn’t the one for you. Not many brides find their dress in the first shop they visit, if you do that’s great but if not carry on looking, don’t feel pressured into making a decision you are not happy with. Trying on too many dresses at an appointment can leave you feeling overwhelmed and confused, if there is a dress you love but are not completely sure about you can always make another appointment to try it on again.

When you have found your dream dress don’t delay in placing an order and importantly stop looking at other dresses. If you carry on looking you will drive yourself crazy and insecure wondering if you made the right choice. You loved the dress when you chose it so be confident that you will look fabulous in it on your wedding day.