The Best Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

April 16, 2023

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It’s almost the busiest time for bridal boutiques and wedding dress shopping.  Most bridal boutiques will really ramp up after the New York Bridal Fashion Week, which was last week! 

Here are some tried and true things to consider before heading out.

1. Wedding Dress sizes are not the same as your street clothes.  You can expect to size up 2-4 sizes when trying on wedding gowns.  It’s a cruel world.  Remember, it’s just a number so don’t go crash dieting to fit into “the perfect size.”  The dress will also be ordered to your largest body part.  If you are large chested, or have wider hips, the gown will be ordered to fit these parts.  It will of course be altered to fit the rest of you once it comes in. 

2.  If you don’t wear strapless tops and dresses in real life, you may not like it on your wedding day.  Sure you see all of these gorgeous gowns in the magazines and online, but remember to stay true to your personal style.  If you are going to be uncomfortable, and spend the whole night pulling on your dress, just pass on the strapless.  There are so many gorgeous gowns that have many different options for straps and sleeves.  Just make sure that you can still raise your arms and break it down on the dance floor. 

3.  Don’t start dress shopping until you have a venue and a date.  If you have always planned on a summer wedding, but the venue you love is only available in the winter, you are going to need a more “wintery” gown.  Same if your venue has several stairs, is on the beach, or has an outside ceremony space. You want your dress to fit the atmosphere and style of your event.   Pro-Tip:  Tight fitting mermaid style gowns are hard to maneuver stairs in.  If your venue requires a bunch of walking or stairs, I would suggest either a dress change, or a more fluid style gown. 

4. Limit the amount of people you bring with you.  I personally went dress shopping by myself.  I knew exactly the style I wanted, it was just a matter of finding the right fit.  I enjoyed taking my time perusing the dress shops, not feeling rushed because people were waiting for me.  I didn’t want anyone else’s opinion.  I did not want to second guess or feel bad if someone didn’t approved of my selection.  To this day I am still very happy I went alone.  I know that is not for everyone.  Making a girls trip out of dress shopping is definitely a milestone in the wedding planning process, and it can be so much fun.  I would just advise to keep your friends and family to a minimum.  Bring someone honest that will tell you if something doesn’t look good, and make sure you bring your patient friends.  You don’t want to feel pressured or rushed when selecting your gown.  You can always bring your girlfriends to the first few appointments and then when it’s really time to narrow it down maybe just bring one friend, or go alone.  You will appreciate being in your own headspace when you make your final decision.  Do, however, bring someone to your final fitting.  The seamstress can show them how to bustle the gown, and how to best go to the bathroom.  It’s even a good idea to video the bustle on your cell phone so you don’t forget.

5.  Don’t be afraid to hate your ‘dream’ dress.  I know you spent hours pinning images of gorgeous gowns online and you have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for.   Go into the store, try them on, but don’t be surprised or upset if you don’t love it.  Sometimes gowns just don’t hang right, or the color looks different in real life.  Keep an open mind and try on several different styles.  Talk to the bridal consultant and take their advice.  They spend their entire day putting brides in dresses with all different body types and skin/hair coloring.  They will have a better idea of what will look great on you. However, if you just don’t love what they are pulling for you, let them know.  It’s your dress, pick out what feels best for you.

6.  Be honest about your budget.  Do not go into a luxury boutique to “get ideas” and try and find that gown somewhere else.  It is a race to disappointment.  You will inevitably never find that gown. The material will be different, the construction will be different, the experience of the boutique will even be different.  There is a reason those gowns cost what they do.  Determine your budget and visit those shops that have gowns that fit into your budget.  If you shop around for a while and can’t find a gown that you love, you may want to re-evaluate your budget, just be very sure that you can afford the gown and still have a great wedding day for you and your guests. 

7. Sample Sales.  Sample Sales are great ways to get designer gowns at a reduced rate.  These are the dresses that have been hanging in the store and have been tried on but never actually worn out.  They may have a snag, a missing appliqué, a bit of a dirty bottom, etc.   However, don’t dismay.  A great seamstress and cleaner can get it looking brand new in no time.  Sample sales do tend to get a bit wild.  I would recommend doing some “normal” dress shopping before hitting the sample sales so you know exactly what you like and don’t like.  They are also usually crowded so limit the amount of people you bring with you.  Most sample sale gown are also final sale.  If you are undecided or not ready to commit they may not be for you. Also be smart about how much cleaning or altering a dress will need.  You don’t want to spend all of your savings on getting it ready when you could have just bought a brand new one. 

8.  Don’t try on too many dresses.  Do your research and know a general idea of what you think you’ll like before you head out.  Make sure that you are ready to buy.  If you are just browsing, and not ready to make a purchase, you can get turned around pretty quickly in the world of sequins and tulle.  Not every bride has that “moment.”   When you find a gown that fits you well, goes with your overall event and venue, fits in your budget, and that you love, buy it.  Don’t wait until you have tears rolling down your face.  You might not ever have that reaction, and you will pass up “the dress” waiting for it.  You will eventually have to end the shopping experience, don’t rush it, but do make sure you aren’t just shopping for the sake of shopping.  

9. Do your hair and make up before trying on gowns.  Now I don’t mean put on some eyelashes and get an updo, but definitely do a bit more than BB cream and lip gloss.  It might be tough to visualize yourself as a bride without a bit more effort put into your look. If you plan on having very dramatic make up make sure that it won’t overpower the dress.  On the flip side if you opt for a more dramatic gown you may need to think about wearing more makeup than usual so you can really have a cohesive look.  

10.  Bring proper undergarments and shoes.  Wear a nude bra and underwear.  Having hot pink panties creeping through the chiffon may be distracting.  I would also suggest throwing a pair of spanx in your bag.  If you decide on a more form fitting gown, you’ll want to see what it looks like when your body is smoothed out.  Even the smallest people can benefit from proper undergarments.  As far as shoes, you don’t necessarily need to know the exact shoes you are going to wear, just a general idea on the height and angle of the shoe.  Different shoes cause your body to sway in different ways.  You want to make sure the dress hangs properly.  As you start your fittings you will need to have your actual shoes and undergarments so the seamstress can get the measurements correct.

11.  If you are plus sized call ahead.  Many bridal shops will only carry “sample” sizes in the store.  Make sure you call ahead and check to see if they have your size in stock.  There are also several bridal shops who specialize in plus size weddings gowns.  The consultants in these shops have been educated and trained on what looks best on your figure. 

12.  Move around in the dress.  Seriously get off that pedestal.  Walk around, feel the weight of the dress.  Gowns that have lots of beading or several layers can be very heavy.  Imagine wearing that for hours on your wedding day.  Make sure you can raise your arms, turn around, dance, and most of all make sure you can sit.  If you can’t sit in that dress you are going to need to keep looking.

13.  Sales tax.  With a high ticket item sales tax can be pretty steep.  Make sure that you factor taxes into your budget when dress shopping.  There are also several states that don’t have sales tax at all.  If you are close to any of them it might make sense to cross over to do your dress shopping. 

Bonus Tip:  Enjoy the process.  Yes this might be the most expensive piece of clothing you have ever bought, but it’s for a special day.   The gown, although important, is a small piece in the overall experience and look of your wedding day.


As always, I would love to chat.



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