8 Popular Tips for Wedding Dress Shopping Success

Find the wedding dress of your dreams with our round-up of the 8 best tips for wedding dress shopping—from who to bring to how to budget.

By Jenn Sinrich

bride wedding dress shopping
Photo by Pinehurst Photography

Of all the exciting wedding planning to-dos, most brides agree that shopping for your wedding dress pretty much tops them all. In fact, many have been dreaming of the experience since they were little girls. We agree: There’s something fairy tale-esque about the whole experience. While wedding dress shopping can certainly be magical, it can also be overwhelming, to say the least. Finding that perfect dress can be a pressure-filled experience, too. So, it’s important to be prepared—and, no, we don’t just mean you should know what styles you like best. Here are wedding dress shopping tips for before, during, and after those shopping appointments.

Set a budget.

Like all other areas of wedding planning, it’s important to set a budget in advance of shopping for your wedding dress. Understanding how much you can afford, or simply how much you want to spend, will save you time, energy, and a whole lot of frustration. Not sure how much to spend? Consider 10% of your total wedding budget—this is generally the max amount you would ideally want to spend on your wedding dress.

Don’t forget to factor in the all-important costs of alterations. While some bridal salons don’t charge for in-house alterations, other salons don’t offer it at all. This means outsourcing your alterations and most definitely paying for them. On average, alterations for a wedding dress can cost you between $400-$1,000, so be sure to include that in your wedding dress budget.

Do your research.

Even if you think you know the exact kind of wedding dress you want, don’t forget that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of wedding dresses out there—different brands, different cuts, different styles, etc. To make the most of your time, as well as the time of any family or friends who are tagging along on your search, do a little preliminary research.

Pinterest is a great starting point. Simply type in the words “wedding dress” and dozens of photos will formulate on your feed. You can also add additional keywords, like “ballgown” or “A-line” to help narrow your search. Once you start to find dresses you like, make a note of the designer, the cut, the price and where it is sold. We also recommend browsing the wedding dresses in our Wedding Shop for inspiration.

Elizabeth Craig Photography InlineImage 1080x720 Photo Credit // Elizabeth Craig Photography

Start shopping with time to spare.

Timing is key when it comes to shopping for your wedding dress. You want to allot enough time to shop around without the constraints of your big day being just around the corner. Additionally, you want to be sure you have enough time to get it tailored, have several fittings, shop for wedding accessories, and practice walking in it. For this reason, it’s best to start shopping at least 8-10 months before your wedding date.

If you don’t have a full year of wedding planning ahead and need to find something quicker, that’s OK, too. Be sure to prioritize your dress like you do your venue and be upfront with dress salons about your timeline. They’ll be able to point you in the direction of dresses that won’t require tailoring or expedite any alterations (likely for a fee).

Schedule appointments.

Most bridal salons are appointment-only, meaning you can’t just walk in and browse the racks to find your dress. It’s best to call your desired salons in advance to schedule your appointment with an in-house stylist. He or she will block off an hour or so of time to help guide you in finding your gown.

Bring a few confidants—but not too many.

While your entire bridal party, mother-in-law, cousins, and colleagues might be begging for an invite to help you find your perfect wedding dress, it’s up to you who you ultimately choose bring. Remember that the process is quite personal. In addition, you might want to keep the surprise for the big day for as many people as possible.

It’s best to select only a few people close to you to accompany you to your salon appointments. Choose those you trust—who have your best interest at heart, but aren’t afraid to speak up if they feel that a certain dress doesn’t suit you.

Do your makeup and hair.

You might not be dying to impress everyone at the bridal salon, but consider doing your hair and makeup similarly to how you’d imagine wearing it on your wedding day. This is ideal for two reasons. First, it’ll boost your confidence. Upscale wedding gowns and rolling out of bed don’t always mesh, especially under the lights of a wedding dress salon. A bit of color in your cheeks and lips may help you feel more like a bride than your more casual weekend look.

Second, it’ll help you imagine what you’ll actually look like in your wedding dress. If you’re planning on wearing your hair half-up, all the way down, or in an updo, rock that hairstyle as you try on your dresses so you can see how that style works with each dress.

Shifted Focus Photography InlineImage 1080x720 Photo Credit // Shifted Focus Photography

Bring undergarment options and shoes.

It’s smart to bring different style bras and underwear so that you can truly imagine how you’ll wear a certain dress. For example, you might not wear a strapless bra to your actual fitting, but it’s a good idea to have one on hand for when you try on that gorgeous strapless gown.

The same goes for shoes. You’ll want to have heels of varying heights and styles so you can decide what might work best for that dress. If you forget, or simply don’t have the means to carry so many pairs, rest assured that most salons have try-on shoes you can wear.

Sit in every gown at least once

You might love the look of a certain dress, but if you can’t sit in it comfortably, you’re going to be uncomfortable, to say the least. Make sure that a dress truly has what it takes to be “the one” for you and sit in each gown that you really like. This will help you rule out the dresses that’ll force you to stand your entire reception and ultimately lead to some major back pain and exhaustion.

Wedding dress shopping is meant to be fun. The best tip we can give is to keep it light—and remember this moment is about you. Embrace the chaos of dress salons and come prepared. The perfect wedding dress for you is out there.