13 Tips for Choosing Your Dream Wedding Dress

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 Deanna deBara

bride wedding dress shopping
Photo by Pinehurst Photography

Of all the exciting wedding planning to-dos, most brides agree that shopping for your dream wedding dress pretty much tops them all. 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 dream 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 wedding dress styles you like best. Here are wedding dress shopping tips for before, during, and after those shopping appointments to make picking the best wedding dress that much easier.

1. Define your Wedding Theme

Before you start looking for a wedding dress, make sure you have a clear understanding of your wedding theme. Think about the venue you’ll be getting married in, the time of year you’ll be hosting your event, and whether you’re having an indoor or outdoor wedding. Your dress should be a reflection of your personal style on your big day—but it should also reflect the overall style of your wedding.

2. Pick 3 Adjectives to Describe your Dream Dress

Much like picking your wedding theme, you’ll also want to think about what you want your dream wedding dress to look like. And a great way to narrow down your dream wedding dress idea? Think of a few words to describe your perfect wedding dress style.

Before you head to the bridal shop, jot down a few adjectives that describe the kind of dress you’re looking for―for example, romantic, simple, and classic. This will give your shopping experience some direction and help stylists choose the right wedding gown for you.

Plus, since not all bridal shops carry the same type of dresses, honing in on exactly what you want from a dress can help you find the right bridal shops for what you’re looking for.

3. Be Open

The best strategy when shopping for your wedding dress is to keep an open mind. Many brides go in thinking they want a certain bridal gown, only to then fall in love with something completely different. Your dream dress could be something you didn’t necessarily expect or plan for, but is ultimately perfect for you—so make sure to keep an open mind and be willing to try on a variety of dress types. You never know which will be the perfect dress for you!

4. 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 (like a-line vs. mermaid), 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 “ball gown” or “sweetheart neckline” 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

5. Set a Budget

Before falling in love with a dress you just can’t afford, set a budget 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. Do this before you go in for your first appointment. This way you have a clear price range to keep in mind when working with the stylists and designers, and the temptation to grab something too expensive won’t overtake you. 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.

6. Plan Extra Costs into the Budget

When setting a budget for your wedding dress, you need to think beyond the cost of the dress—and factor in the additional costs of your wedding attire, like tailoring, special undergarments, wedding shoes, and other accessories. Make sure to add a cushion to cover these extra costs; otherwise, you could find yourself going over budget.

7. Start Shopping with Time to Spare

Timing is key when it comes to shopping for your wedding dress. Not all bridal boutique shops offer grab-and-go gowns you can pick off the rack and take home with you that day. Dresses can take four to eight months to make, not including the time needed for additional alterations, multiple fittings, and shopping for wedding accessories. For this reason, it’s best to start shopping at least eight to ten 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).

8. 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. You can also use this time to mention any styles of dresses you’re already considering. The consultants helping you will be able to curate a selection of dresses, ready for you on the day of your appointment.

9. Bring a Few Confidants - but Not Too Many

While your bridesmaids, 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 to 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. Maybe invite only your maid of honor and mother, or your closest family members. 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.

10. 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

11. Bring Undergarment Options and Shoes

It’s smart to bring different styles of 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 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 in the dressing room.

12. Pay Attention to the Fabric

The fabric of your wedding dress can influence the overall look of the dress, how it falls on your body, and if it flatters your body type. Think about the shape you want to create and choose a fabric that provides that kind of silhouette. For example, if you want something that’s going to cling to the body, you might go with something like silk—or, if you want something that will keep its shape, you might want a more structured material, like lace or tulle.

When choosing a fabric, it’s also important to consider how it feels on your body. Remember, you’re going to be wearing the dress all day and into the night—so choose something comfortable.

13. 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.

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