The 22 Best Wedding Dress Shopping Tips You’ll Ever Need

Let’s step back for a moment and think about this, shouldn’t shopping for your wedding dress be fun? I mean you already found the person, that’s the hard part. Finding the dress shouldn’t make you want to pull your hair out, give up, and wear a paper bag to your wedding.  It seems extensive, but if you don’t have prior experience shopping for a wedding gown there are a few things you should know going into it. I created the most complete list possible of every little thing you need to know to have the best dress shopping experience possible. The consultant will do everything she can to help you, but there are a few things you can do yourself to make the experience as “magical” as it can be.  If that’s the experience you are looking for, then follow these tips as closely as possible.

1.) Start VERY Early

Make an appointment with the bridal shop(s) you want to visit early. Some boutiques book up, up to a month in advance, and walk-ins are not always accepted. On average, it takes about 5-6 months for a wedding gown to come in, and that’s not accounting for the time it takes to finish alterations which is generally a recommended 1-2 months. Altogether that’s 7-8 months before your wedding. Some designers offer shorter timelines, or rush cut options, but that can add up. In addition, many rush cuts need to be approved before the order can be processed, which means it is not always guarantee that you will be able to get a certain gown in time even if the designer does offer rush cut options. In December-February, many bigger bridal manufacturers will halt or slow down production due to the holidays. Basically, the longer you wait, the fewer your options become. On the flip side, I wouldn’t start shopping 2 years ahead of schedule, not even for fun. Within that time 2-4 new collections will come out from every designer, and if you didn’t order your favorite design, it may be discontinued within that time as well, which means the designer will no longer be cutting that style.

1.) Keep Your Party Small

Don’t bring everyone and their brother and sister and cousin and your 27 bridesmaids to your first wedding dress shopping experience. Keep it as small as possible, no more than five, ideally three. For example: Mom, Maid of Honor, and Future Mother-in-law. For one, stores will have a difficult time accommodating. But more importantly, too many opinions can be paralyzing, leaving you too confused to make a decision. As a result you may find yourself leaving dressless and unhappy. Trust me I’ve seen it happen a million times. Not everyone will agree on the best choice for you. But they won’t be the ones wearing the dress after all. If you have sensitive friends and family, invite them to your first fitting, or have a fun dress reveal get together.

2.) Do Your Homework

It’s helpful to go in with at least an idea of what you’re looking for. Pictures help, so go search away. But, on that same note, know that you may not be able to get the exact gown you found on Pinterest, not because it doesn’t exist but because the store may not carry that particular dress or it is outside of your budget.  Which brings me to the next point.

3) Have A Budget

Unless you’re Kim K, you have a budget. Figure out how much you or whomever is paying is willing to spend. Try on NOTHING that is far outside of that budget. It’s a slippery slope my friend. You don’t want to fall in love with a dress you can’t have. There are beautiful budget-friendly gowns out there.

4.) Look Your Best

If you plan on looking like your most dynamite on the big day then put in a little effort for your dress shopping. Do your hair and make up. Not like you’re “turnin’-down-for-what at the clubs”; you don’t want to get make up all over the gowns, just enough to feel your best going into your appointment. If the boutique you are visiting allows pictures to be taken, you will have a good reference to reflect on later. How can you get an idea of the full picture if you don’t feel your best? If you don’t feel beautiful in your street clothes, you will not feel beautiful in a wedding dress.

5) Wear Appropriate Undergarments

Wearing the right undergarments can help you look your best in the gowns. Standard nude seamless undies and a strapless bra/sticky bra generally work fine. Some stores provide bras, bustiers, and cups, but it’s always best if you wear one that you have and know fits you best. Many brides opt out of wearing a bra. It all depends on the dress. If you feel more comfortable in spanx, bring those along as well. And if you really want to be prepared bring high heels. Again, may stores will provide this but it’s a little more hygienic and comfortable to bring your own.

6) Know Your Wedding Venue/Theme

Many brides find it easier to pick the venue or theme first, and then let that guide their decision making while dress shopping. You’ll be able to better determine if the dress will be appropriate for your wedding, if you know the general details of the overall aesthetic.

7) You Never Know Until You Try it On

We’ve all heard this one. But it’s worth listening to. It’s great to know what you like, and don’t like, but sometimes you need to put a little faith in your bridal consultant or stylist. She has seen many different gowns on many different brides, and should have great insight into how they compliment certain shapes. You don’t need to try on every dress in the store, but let her suggest a few that may not look hanger friendly, but could really drape nicely on the body. If anything, it may give you a better a idea of what you definitely don’t like or want. The worst that could happen is that you don’t like the dress, right?

8) Try to Make a Weekday Appointment

For many bridal shops, weekends are extremely busy with back to back appointments all day. If at all possible, its highly recommended that you make an appointment during the week. Usually a weekday appointment will allow for a calmer experience. There’s less pressure, more quality attention, and better access to all of the gowns. Of course understandably, sometimes weekends are the only available time you have to shop. Don’t stress you should still have a great experience, but generally if a weekday appointment is possible you may have an even better experience.

9) Snack Don’t Pack

What do I mean by this? Don’t overload yourself with a giant feast before your appointment. It’s common to go out with the ladies and have a celebratory brunch before your appointment.  And while I’m never one to turn down gorging on some waffles and mimosas, you may feel better in the gowns if you aren’t bloated and stuffed. Eat lighter, and bring snacks. Save the giant celebration feast for afterwards ;)

10) No You Don’t Need a Kleenex Moment

Not everyone cries. You don’t need tears to tell you it’s the one. On the flip side, if you are a total crybaby. Listen to those tears.

11) It’s Ok to say No

Every bridal store is different. Some encourage their consultants to be more “pushy” and do whatever it takes to make the sale. Know that you may encounter an overbearing consultant, and if you don’t feel 100% sure about the dress be prepared to say no and be firm about it.

12) White or Ivory?

Most every gown you will see in every bridal salon is not a true white. It’s Off White, Natural, Diamond White, Eggshell, Ivory and so on. Many designers will not make gowns in a true white because a true white is so white it’s almost blue and actually makes the gown appear of poor quality. It’s just not very popular in today’s market.

13) Don’t Double Up

This is something I’ve seen happen a number of time. A pair of sisters or best friends are both engaged, so they decide it will be fun to go dress shopping together. Trust me, it doesn’t always work out as well as you think. Although you’re both excited to go through this special time together, you should be fully present to support one person at a time and make that appointment special for that one person. The problem with shopping at the same time is that your time feels less special, one bride generally has a different budget than the other so they may have access to more or less gowns, one bride may have a shorter lead time than the other so again may have access to less gowns. Just take the time to make two separate appointments, it will be worth it. Now to completely negate this, I do recommend trying this route for gay couples. We did have a couple come in to a bridal shop I worked at who set their appointment to shop together. However, they were in separate dressing rooms to keep the surprise factor for the big day and entrusted their stylists’ to make sure they looked cohesive as a couple.

14) Order Your Larger Size

Most gowns are not made to your custom measurements. Most bridal designers’ sizing runs smaller than street clothes. Many brides will fall between two sizes, or “split size”, and depending on the fit and silhouette of the dress it is generally advised to order the larger of the two sizes. Even if you may be planning to lose weight, you can always have the gown taken in, you can only take it out so far. Sometimes not everyone loses as much weight as they planned or they lose weight in certain areas of the body but not others. You’ll most likely need to get alterations done anyway for the hem, bustle, and taking in here and there so why not have full control of taking the dress in to the best fit for your body. The worst that happens if your dress is a little too big, is that you have to take it in. The worst that happens if your dress is too small, is that you don’t have a dress.

15) Sample Sizes and Plus Sizes

Most bridal shops carry their gowns in the standard sample sizes 8, 10, or 12. Some stores will have modesty panels or plus size gowns to accommodate their plus size brides but some have more or less than others. Call ahead and make sure they have a selection that’s worth making an appointment to check out.

16) Consider Small Alterations or Accessories

Sometimes it just takes a few alterations to make a dress perfect for you. It doesn’t hurt to ask your consultant or stylist if certain customizations can be made either in the ordering process or afterwards in alterations. On this same note, remember a few accessories can make all the difference as well. Adding a sash, creating a sweet heart neckline, lowering the back, adding buttons along the zipper, ordering extra fabric or lace to add straps or cap sleeves, a little capelet or blouse, a veil, headpiece, or wreath etc. Sometimes that can make the whole look come together.

17) How Many Appointments is Too Many?

These days, bridal shopping seems to have become a marathon. There’s no need to book up your weekends with all day appointments. You’ll burn yourself out and your guests too. Look for the stores that fit within your aesthetic. Find out what designers they carry, and google away to make sure it’s what you really want. You’ll have a much more pleasant time focusing your energy towards the stores that may actually have your dress. Furthermore, there’s never a need to make any more than 2-3 appointments MAX at any given bridal store. If by that point you still can’t find your dress, it’s probably at a different place. If you’re having a hard time pulling the trigger, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

18) How Do You Know it’s The One?

Ask yourself these questions. Do I feel beautiful in this dress? Do I feel me in this dress? Can I imagine myself in this dress on my wedding day? Can I imagine my fiance seeing me in this dress? Can I have fun in this dress? Do I never want to try on another dress and take this one home now and never take it off? If you’ve answered yes to all, CONGRATS MAMA! TIME TO POP THE CHAMPAGNE AND DANCE ON THE TABLES ;)

19) What to Do After You’re Done Shopping? Stop Shopping.

After you’ve found your gown. STOP SHOPPING. Don’t even peek, you’re going to invite confusion and doubt into your life. And after the order is placed, there are no returns.

20) Be Prepared With a Way to Purchase Your Gown

Many stores will offer a deposit option, with part of the cost due to place the order and the rest due when the dress arrives. But some stores will require the full balance in order to place the order. Be prepared with a way to pay whether with cash, credit card, or check. Bear in mind, most stores will not take a check to pay the remaining balance when the dress is being picked up.

21) Expect Alterations

As I stated earlier, most gowns are not made to custom measurements. Because so, most brides will need to get alterations done. It’s very rare that a dress will not require any alterations. Expect to need alterations. Whether that be taking the dress in, shortening straps, hemming, sewing in cups, adding buttons, tacking on a sash, removing details, adding cap sleeves, adding a bustle to the train, and so on. For reference, the industry standard in New York for bridal alterations pricing is about $500-$800 depending on what you need to have done and the intricacy of the dress. You don’t want to try and save here either. Bridal alterations can be tricky, and you want to be sure you’re putting your gowns in the hands of a bridal tailor who knows their craft.

22) Remember to Thank Your Consultant

Your consultant or stylist wants to help you find your dream gown, she wants to make sure it arrives on time, in perfect condition, and that you are happy and ready for your big day! If you had a great experience with your stylist, the best way to thank your consultant or stylist is by giving them a card, sending them pictures from the wedding, or even leaving a great Yelp review. In a world so influenced by personal reviews, it’s a great way to show your consultant you appreciated their help! It’s also highly appreciated to give a tip. I personally know stylists who have gone above and beyond for every bride. Tips are a great way to show your gratitude.

I know. This list seems extensive and crazy. But I’ve been in the bridal world my whole life. After years of helping brides find their dream gowns I’ve been through a lot of different scenarios. I’ve observed and noted patterns. I know what seems to work and what doesn’t. Although some things may happen that are out of your control, it’s nice to be able to go into your appointment informed and relaxed so you can have the best experience possible! Above all remember to have fun you babes-to-be, and good luck!

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