Getting Started on Your Wedding Dress Shopping
If you’re like many brides, you’ve been envisioning what you’d wear to your wedding since before you bought your first bra. Then again, maybe you’ve never thought about it at all. Either way, a lot of pressure can accompany dress shopping. After all, the dress you put on for your walk down the aisle will be the true centrepiece of the day. This one article of clothing is probably going to be the most expensive and talked-about thing you’ll ever wear.
To assist you on the quest for your dream dress, we’ve got answers to your most pressing questions. When should you start? Where should you go? And what can you expect once you get there? For the low-down, read on!
When to Begin
Two words: shop early. 9 to 12 months before your wedding is ideal since you’ll need about six months to spare for fittings. Why? Unless you buy a ready-to-wear dress or a sample gown, wedding dresses are custom-made. And once your dress arrives, it’s going to have to be altered — usually several times — until it fits you perfectly. That said, many companies can turn a dress around more quickly if need be. But if you have less than six months, start shopping right away and try to be flexible about your dress choice. Here’s a tip: Avoid weekends and evenings if you can manage it. Bridal boutiques get insanely busy — especially if you’re marrying in a popular wedding month. If you can take time off during the week to shop, you’ll get more of the salesperson’s time and attention.
Where to Go
The most popular place to shop is the bridal boutique, known for its personal service, tranquil setting and wide selection of gowns from a variety of designers. You’ll find boutiquey stores in upscale shopping districts, suburban areas, arcades, and shopping centres; even in some of the larger department stores. Check our Wedding Dress directory to see what’s available in your area. Word-of-mouth recommendations are also very helpful. Find out which shops have given excellent service to past brides you may know, then call to make appointments. Try to limit your shopping to three or four boutiques and bring along a small notebook to jot down the details on the dresses you like.
Research which boutiques are most appropriate for your budget. While the average store carries lines in the under-$1000 category, there are others in which the dresses start at $3000. Save yourself — and the boutiques– time by asking before you make an appointment.
Besides the day-to-day business of selling dresses, boutiques also hold special wedding-related events like sample sales. At a sample sale, the dresses used in the boutique for brides to try on are put up for sale. Some stores have sample dresses in an array of sizes, though the typical sample sizes are 8, 10 and 12. Keep in mind that wedding dresses run smaller than regular sizes, so samples are likely to fit you if your regular dress size is an 8 or 10. The dresses may not be super clean, but since they’re sharply discounted you can put some of your savings toward the dry cleaning bill.
If you’re on a strict budget and find that the gowns in a bridal boutique are out of your league, you might want to try your luck at a bridal outlet. These outlets generally stock older designs from past seasons or gowns designed by lesser-known companies whose names you may not recognise. Shopping here can save you money, but keep in mind you may have to sort through many dud dresses as part of the process. You might not find what you’re looking for and prices aren’t always that low.
Another money-saving option is to rent a gown, especially if you’re not too sentimental and the logic of buying something to wear for just one night is lost on you. Some clothing rental shops have wedding dresses in stock or you may be able to find a store near you that rents only wedding dresses. On the downside, you won’t have the selection you’d find at a bridal boutique. And the styles may not be the most up to date.
What to Know
Wedding dress shopping comes with its own language and the more you know about which dress styles flatter you, the easier shopping for your dress will be. Before you even set foot in a boutique, read up on some of the lingo you’ll encounter there. Familiarise yourself with the gown and all of its parts: neckline, waistline, sleeve style, skirt details, fabric, finishes, train. Learn the basic dress silhouettes and figure out which one will best suit your body.
Now is also the time to consider the formality of your ceremony and the features of the ceremony and reception site. Your dress should also reflect the time and place of your nuptials. A formal candlelit ceremony is not the time to be sporting a short sun dress, nor is an afternoon garden party the place to break out the cathedral-length train and veil.
Take a minute to close your eyes and envision yourself as a bride. What do you see? Are you wearing a full ball gown with your hair in romantic ringlets? Or are you outfitted in an ethereal, flowing dress and loose hair sprinkled with flowers? Write down six adjectives that best describe how you want to look and feel on your wedding day. Some examples: princess, sexy, sophisticated, over-the-top, classic, boho.
What to Expect
When you get to the bridal boutique, a specific salesperson will be assigned to you. You will work with this person every time you return to the store. A good salesperson will ask you what type of wedding you’re having, how you envision yourself looking on your wedding day and what kinds of dresses you’re drawn to. She will also probably check you out and decide for herself what style will look good on you based on your body type, then she’ll bring you dresses to try on. If you’re uncomfortable with this, try to find a shop where you’ll be free to look through everything for yourself.
From the moment you enter the store, be mindful of the way you’re being treated and of the way the salespeople are making you feel. Are they treating you respectfully? Or are they haughty? If it’s the latter you may want to take your business elsewhere. This is where all the knowledge you’ve armed yourself with will come in handy. If you can talk expertly about dress silhouettes and styles, the salesperson will know she’s dealing with an informed consumer. Take advantage of a salesperson’s expertise. She works with brides every day — if anyone knows about dresses, she does. Bounce ideas off of her and consider her advice. If anyone tries to talk you out of or into something, or makes you feel uncomfortable about your decisions, remember that a good salesperson will never push you to buy something you’re unsure about.
How to Shop
When you finally step into the dressing room, try to keep an open mind. If the salesperson brings you something she says you must try, try it — even if you detest the way it looks on the hanger. Many a bride has ended up waltzing down the aisle in a gown the salesperson had to persuade her to try on. And while certain styles work best on certain body types, it helps to try on all different kinds of dresses, then decide what shape and style you look and feel best in.
One of the biggest misconceptions about bridal gowns is that they only come as is. The truth is, most gowns can be ordered in alternative forms. So if you like the bodice of one and the skirt of another, ask to have them put together to form your dream dress (provided, of course, that both gowns come from the same designer). And don’t be afraid to ask to have embellishments like bows and beads added or removed. Keep in mind, though, that the more you stray from the original design, the more it will cost you in the end.
Something else to remember: You didn’t get engaged on your first date and, likewise, you shouldn’t buy the first dress you try on. Give yourself options and lots of time to think by shopping more — and elsewhere — before you buy. Even after you think you’ve found your dress, take a day to be absolutely sure it’s the one for you. Since bridal gowns are custom-made, most boutiques put a no-return policy in their contracts.
And lastly, always trust your instincts. Ask yourself, can I really see myself walking down the aisle swathed in this gown? Is this how I pictured myself looking as a bride? If not, take it off and move on. But if the gown passes muster, take a deep breath, smile at your reflection, and breathe a huge sigh of relief — your search is over!
- Hollee Actman Becker