Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

Helpful Advice for a Successful Wedding Dress Shopping Experience

Woman in a bridal shop looking at wedding dresses
Getty Images/Peter Cade

Trying on wedding dresses is such an exciting part of the wedding planning process. Many brides dream all their lives about the gown they will wear when they say "I do," but the actual shopping part can be a little stressful at times. Between deciding which style you love best and choosing a gown within your budget, there are many variables at play. These helpful tips should help you navigate the dress shopping waters with a little more ease and confidence.

Know Your Budget 

As it's been said repeatedly, you should never spend any money on your wedding before you know the total budget you have to work with. Once you have set your wedding budget, figure out what portion you can allocate to your wedding day attire. Ask the sales associates to only show you gowns that fall within your budget. If you only look at and try on items you can actually afford, then you will have a lesser chance of overspending due to emotional impulse.

Begin Searching Early

Most gowns that you try on in bridal salons will have to be special ordered and custom created to your measurements, so you want to ensure that you make your gown selection with plenty of time for it to be produced. It is important to give yourself plenty of time to make decisions prior to ordering, so starting at least 8-10 months in advance is recommended.

Do Some Online Pre-Shopping

Create a Pinterest board of looks that you love that you've seen online. Be sure to make note of styles that you tend to be drawn to. If there are specific styles that you have fall in love with, find out who designed those dresses. Then, you can do some online research to find out if any of your local bridal salons carry the designer you are looking for. Be sure to call ahead to the salons to find out if they have a sample in stock of any major contenders before you make appointments to save yourself some time. 

Make an Appointment

Before you head out for a dress shopping excursion, it is best to make an appointment. Many bridal salons do allow for walk-ins but making an appointment ahead of time will save you time and energy in the salon. When you make your appointment you can let the sales associates know what your budget is and what designers you are most interested in seeing, so that they are prepared to show you what is most appropriate for you when you arrive. 

Shop During Off-Peak Times

If you make your appointments on Saturdays, you are likely going to be surrounded by other brides who are also shopping. So if you want a quiet environment with a little more freedom and privacy, try taking a day off during the week to visit stores to try on dresses. A less busy store means more personal attention and a calmer experience that allows you to relax and enjoy.

Have an Open Mind

Of course, it is also important to keep an open mind, even if your local salons do not carry your dream designers. You may have dreamed all your life of a classic Cinderella type ballgown, but the reality may be that the style swallows you up and doesn't highlight your best features. Allow the sales associates at the dress shop to make suggestions on styles that will flatter your figure. Often times the salespeople at dress stores have been styling brides for years and will know the types of gowns that look best on your body type. Never say no or turn down an opportunity to at least try something on to see how you feel in it or if it will flatter your figure. 

Don't Be Swayed by Trends

Stay true to yourself and your own personal style. Sure, there are always going to be yearly trends when it comes to bridal attire, but it is more important for you to feel comfortable and natural than to sport the latest in bridal fashion trends. If you are more feminine and romantic in your style then just say no to modern and minimalist designs. Wear what makes you feel like yourself because your fiancé should be able to recognize you as you walk down the aisle!

Consider Your Theme

Of course, there are some exceptions to every rule. If you're getting married in a hotel ballroom, you likely won't want to wear a laid-back bohemian wedding dress, just like you wouldn't want to wear a bedazzled ball gown for a backyard wedding. Keep the vibe, theme, and style of your wedding plans in mind when selecting your dress so that you create a cohesive look and experience for every aspect of your day.

Bring a Trusted Friend (Or Two)

Wedding dress shopping can be so very fun, but it can also be overwhelming. It is important to bring along one or two people who know you best to support you during the experience and enjoy the moments with you. You will likely want to bring your mom, and perhaps your best friend or maid of honor, but resist the urge to bring along your entire squad to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many opinions.

Primp Ahead of Time

When we look our best it often leads to feeling great and having more confidence. Make sure to fix your hair and apply some very light makeup so you feel your best while trying on gowns. Make sure not to go overboard, though. If you wear heavy makeup you will run the risk of damaging or staining the dresses while trying them on. To ensure you don't transfer any of your makeup onto the dresses, apply just enough to make you feel beautiful and natural, a little mascara and concealer should do the trick! 

Visit Multiple Shops

Often times each bridal salon will have different inventory to choose from since each shop stocks styles from different brands or designers. Don't be afraid to visit multiple shops to try on gowns to open yourself up to a wider variety of dresses to choose from. 

Don't Rule Out Chains

National bridal retailer David's Bridal carries a large assortment of dresses created in designer collaborations, so do not let the lower price tags lead you to assume the quality is lacking. With collections designed by the likes of Vera Wang, Zac Posen, Jenny Packham and Melissa Sweet, there are some truly gorgeous gowns that you can grab for a total steal at David's Bridal. BHLDN has locations across the country where you can try on their wedding gowns as well, and they offer incredible style at prices brides love. 

Consider Your Accessories

Your undergarments will likely depend on the style of dress you choose, but be sure to keep them in mind when trying on gowns. If you are a bit busty, you may not want to choose a dress with a plunging back that doesn't allow for a supportive bra to be worn underneath it. At the very least, bring your own nude colored bra with detachable straps and any shapewear or Spanx you plan to wear underneath to your appointments to try on gowns. It's also important to bring a pair of shoes with height relative to those you may wear for your wedding to know where the length of your dress will fall on the big day.  

Check Out Indie Designers

If you are having trouble finding "the one" among the sea of dresses you've tried on in your local shops, take to the internet to discover some interesting and unique indie designers. You could always check for upcoming trunk shows in your surrounding areas or opt to go the custom route if you are looking for something one hundred percent unique. 

Order a Dress in Your Current Size

Many brides will lose weight throughout the wedding planning process, but it is much easier to take a dress in than it is to let it out if it is too small. Order a dress that fits you at your current size so that any alterations that may need to be made closer to the wedding are easier and less expensive. 

Consider Alterations Costs

If you purchase a dress that requires major alterations, it could majorly impact your overall cost. Make sure to choose a dress that is as close to your current size as possible to lessen the need for alterations or adjustments. If you choose a gown with a corset-style back, it can greatly reduce your need for alterations as you can easily tighten it to make it fit your figure using the laces of the corset. 

Bust a Move

You will likely wear your dress for quite a bit of time on your wedding day, so practice doing a variety of activities in it. When you find a dress you love, make sure to practice sitting, spinning, dancing and walking in the gown to ensure that it moves with you and doesn't restrict you. 

And Finally...Trust Your Gut

If you have a tugging sensation that a certain gown is "the one" then it likely is! Trust your instincts if your heart is tugging at a particular gown. Above all, it should be within your price range and fit the style of your wedding so you can move forward to purchase your wedding dress with confidence.