Wedding dress shopping is one of the most exciting wedding planning tasks for a bride. We like to think of it as a wonderful and unique journey where brides explore diverse options and finally find a magical dress that transforms them into the beautiful brides they always wanted to be.
However, the path to finding this one and the only perfect wedding dress is not simple. It is fraught with challenges and the options are endless. So, it is essential to plan for the task and avoid drowning in the endless variety of dresses presented to you.
This is where we will help you!
This step-by-step guide will prepare you for your impending wedding dress shopping and the task will not overwhelm you.
Over the next chapters, we will tell you what to expect at each stage leading to wedding dress shopping. We will also tell you how to navigate potential issues so you can enjoy the shopping experience, just like you deserve to.
Let us begin!
Step 1: Factors to consider when shopping for your wedding dress
Are you unsure of how to begin planning for wedding dress shopping?
Don’t worry, for we know exactly what will help you set your shopping criteria. These are practical factors or constraints, that directly affect your dress decision. Start by considering these factors and you will be able to narrow down your search. So, here they are!
Venue and theme
Have you decided on a wedding theme yet? Your chosen theme will determine your venue choice and directly impact your wedding dress selection. We’ll tell you how.
Imagine you have your heart set on a beach wedding in summer. Would it be practical to wear a heavy satin gown with an elaborate train to this venue?
Such a wedding dress will look inappropriate and it will also be uncomfortable.
Instead, you will have to limit your choices to dresses made from light fabrics in simple silhouettes that are comfortable for the venue and weather. Such dress choices will also tie your look to the theme of your wedding.
Wedding dresses are expensive. Nevertheless, there are options for every budget.
If budget is a constraint, you will have to stick to affordable choices. So, this is another factor to plan before you go shopping. The latest designer wedding dresses will be super-costly, while ones from previous seasons are usually cheaper in comparison. Keep this in mind when you go shopping.
Body shape and personal preferences
It does not matter how expensive or amazing a wedding dress is. It will not look good on you unless the silhouette flatters your body shape.
So, you should look for dress styles that flatter your assets and distract from less attractive parts.
If you are either plus-size or petite, you may have to tailor your wedding dress search to suit your specific requirements. Not all bridal salons stock dresses suitable for plus-sized or petite brides. So, call ahead to check whether options are available and you won’t waste time at places that don’t stock collections in your size.
It is also important to choose a style that feels comfortable since you will be spending several hours in your wedding dress. Steer clear of dresses that make you feel conscious, restrict movement, or are too bulky to handle.
So, you are now aware of the different factors to consider before you step into a wedding shop.
Next, let us look at another key step of preparing for your wedding dress shopping—choosing the right time to shop.
Step 2: Choose the right time to go shopping
Is there such a thing as the right timing when shopping for your wedding dress?
Yes! And this is very important when making your shopping plans. We’ll tell you why.
When you place your order with a bridal salon, they pass your details to the designer. The designer then starts creating your wedding dress from scratch. Since wedding dresses are elaborate garments, the entire creation process takes months.
Once the dress is ready, it will be sent to the bridal store. However, it is not yet time to take the dress home.
You now need dress alterations to make it fit perfectly. This can take another month or so.
So, the entire process from when you place your order to taking the fitted gown home can take anywhere between six and nine months. So, this is how early you should finish your wedding dress shopping once you fix your wedding date.
If you shop too late, you jeopardize your chances of getting the gown you love. Although some designers undertake rush orders, they charge extra for it. And imagine the disappointment if the gown you love cannot be created at short notice and you must settle for something else.
Shopping too early isn’t wise either. New collections come out every six months. So, if you shop too early, you may miss looking at the latest trends.
Play it safe and plan your wedding dress shopping six to nine months before the wedding. This should leave you enough time to sort out everything and take your dress home in the weeks leading up to your wedding.
Step 3: Plan the wedding dress budget
Your wedding dress is one of the costliest items in your wedding budget. Be clear about what you can afford to spend on it before you go shopping and you can avoid upsetting the rest of your wedding plans.
To come up with a realistic wedding dress budget, you should first understand wedding dress pricing and associated charges. Let us look at what they are in the following section.
Understand wedding dress costs
Most brides spend between $400 and $1700 on their wedding dress. However, there are dresses that are more expensive or cheaper.
In any case, you should have realized that wedding dresses cost more than regular dresses. Wondering why this is so? Here are the obvious reasons.
- Wedding dresses use expensive fabric. Most silhouettes also have several layers of fabric. This larger quantity of high-quality fabric contributes to the price.
- Wedding dresses involve intricate details like embroidery, lace appliques, and beading. Most of these details are done by hand. The labor and time involved in creating such stunning gowns add to the price.
- Wedding dress construction is different from that of regular dresses. Internal boning is used in many designs and the structure has several layers of fabric. This involves more effort and hence a higher cost.
- Finally, wedding dresses by famous designers are more expensive due to the designer tag accompanying it.
These factors justify the higher costs of wedding dresses. More details on why wedding dresses are so expensive are available here, on the Southern living blog page.
One important thing that you should know when buying a wedding dress is that your expenses aren’t limited to just the cost. There are some unavoidable additional charges that you will incur, and here they are.
Unavoidable additional costs—accessories and alterations
Apart from the price of the wedding dress, expect to spend some money on the following.
Alterations and fittings: When you order a dress, you pick a size that is closest to your actual measurements. This means that once your dress arrives you will need custom alterations to have the dress fit to your exact measurements. These alterations are additional expenses. The actual cost will depend on the extent of the changes needed. More information on wedding dress alterations are available in the following video.
Accessories: Your bridal look is incomplete without the right accessories. This includes your wedding jewelry, shoes, veil, head-piece, and undergarments. You will have to set aside a part of your wedding dress budget for this purchase as well.
Here is a video that outlines how to accessorize your wedding dress.
For more tips on choosing your wedding day jewelry, take a look at this video we created for the purpose.
Dry cleaning and preservation: Whether you decide to keep your gown after your wedding or sell it off, you must have it professionally cleaned after your wedding. Otherwise, the quality of your gown will deteriorate over time and it won’t be suitable to hand down or sell. So, factor in this cost as well.
Now you should have a better idea of how to calculate your wedding dress budget and all the factors to consider.
What if you are on a tight budget?
Although wedding dresses are expensive, there are still ways to save money on your wedding gown. Read on to find what your options are.
When your wedding dress budget is small
How nice would it be if you could shop without limitations for the wedding dress of your dreams!
Unfortunately, this is impossible!
When the price is a constraint, there are some ways to maximize your wedding dress budget and find a fabulous dress for a bargain price.
- Limit your dress selection to dresses that fall within budget. Resist the temptation to try on dresses that you cannot afford to avoid disappointment.
- Remember that the more details a dress has, the costlier it will be. Choose from simple styles for better prices and dress it up with statement accessories to complete the effect. Low-cost accessories like beaded belts, vintage veils, sparkling jewelry, and shrugs can enhance your overall bridal look.
- Look out for sales at bridal boutiques, where you can find great deals on wedding dresses. During sample sales, boutiques sell their stock at discounted prices to make space for new collections. You can score fabulous gowns at bargain prices at such sales.
- Mix and match bridal separates to create your unique look at an affordable price. This not only lets you stay within budget but is a modern and smart approach to wedding dress shopping.
The wedding dress budget is a critical factor concerning wedding dress shopping. Once you figure it out, it is time for the next step which is researching your options.
Step 4: Do your research
A little planning goes a long way, and we want to make sure you are well-equipped with all the information you need to make the right choice. So, we will tell you all the different things you should analyze, understand, and note down before you set foot in a bridal store.
Understand essential wedding shopping lingo
When you attend your wedding shopping appointment, you will hear terms like mermaid, fit and flare, empire, butterfly sleeves, illusion necklines, organza, tulle and more. Do you know what these terms mean?
If not, spend some time trying to understand wedding dress lingo, so you aren’t lost and confused at your wedding shopping appointment. Here is an easy glossary of wedding dress jargon for the uninitiated.
Wedding dress necklines:
Apart from the silhouette, the neckline is another distinctive feature of any wedding dress. Apart from the square, round, and V-necklines, here are the other types of necklines seen on wedding dresses.
Strapless: Bodice cuts straight across the bust and there are no supporting straps or sleeves
Sweetheart: Strapless style where the top part of the bodice resembles a heart.
Bateau: Designed in the shape of a boat and reveals collarbones, as it extends from one shoulder to the other
Illusion: Sheer or see-through neckline over the underlying bodice. Often embellished with lace or bead accents.
Single shoulder: Features a single shoulder strap and reveals another shoulder
Queen Anne: Neckline rises at the back of the neck and it has a V-neckline or scoop in the front
Halter: Straps wrap around the neck revealing a low-cut back and deep armhole
High neck: Neckline sits above the collar bones
Off-the-shoulder: Sleeves fall off shoulders to reveal décolletage and collar bones
Spaghetti straps: Thin straps support the bodice on either side
Here are the most common wedding dress silhouettes.
Ballgown: Structured bodice and ample skirt with layers of fabric that fall to full length.
A-line: Fitted on top and flares away from the body at the waistline, resembling the shape of an A.
Sheath: Column-style dress that outlines the natural curves
Trumpet: Fits snugly along the bodice all the way down to the hips, from where it flares out into a full skirt. Also known as the trumpet
Mermaid: Silhouette structure similar to the trumpet, but skirt begins below the knee creating a more dramatic effect
The terms full sleeves, half sleeves, and three-fourth length sleeves are self-explanatory. Apart from these, there are other types of sleeve styles as follows.
Cap sleeves: Barely cover the shoulders and top of the arms, revealing the armhole
Bell: Fitted sleeves that taper into a bell-shape as it reaches the wrists
Juliet: Fitted at the wrist and puffed in the area between the shoulders and wrist
Basque: V-shaped defined waistline
Empire: High waist that begins just below the bust and continues into a full skirt
Dropped Waist: Bodice extends to beyond the actual waistline
Wedding dress trains
The length of fabric that extends beyond the wedding dress contributes to the overall impact and adds to the attractiveness of a dress. Based on length, the following types of trains exist.
Sweep: Short train that just brushes the floor as you walk
Court: This train extends to a foot beyond the hemline
Chapel: Longer than the court train and usually measures three to four feet long from the natural waistline
Cathedral: Dramatic train that measures over six feet from the waistline
Royal: The long train that flows to twelve feet or more length.
Wedding dress fabrics
Fabrics like chiffon and crepe are lightweight and soft. Satin and silk are also soft but have a distinguishing sheen. Taffeta is heavy with a lustrous sheen. Organza and tulle are stiff fabrics used in structured gowns. A variety of lace also appears on wedding dresses. Find out how to identify each type of wedding dress lace in our article here.
Although we have covered most of the terms you will come across when you go shopping for your wedding dress, this list isn’t exhaustive. If you would like to learn more about these terms and in greater detail, here is an article on the Brides website to help you.
Now let us move on to the next important part of your research—identifying your body type and suitable wedding dress silhouettes.
Identify your body type and shortlist best dress silhouettes
We already mentioned that not all gowns look good on all body. To improve your chances of finding a dress that is right for you, you should first identify your body type.
There are four body types: Triangle or Pear, Inverted Triangle or Apple, Hourglass, and straight or Rectangle. Each body type has its own characteristic features.
Triangle or Pear: Small bust but wide hips and waistline that lacks definition.
Inverted Triangle or Apple: Broad shoulders and a slighter lower half.
Hourglass: Well-balanced upper and lower halves and defined waistline.
Straight or rectangle: Similar proportions in the upper and lower halves and waistline not well-defined.
The right wedding dress will flatter the positive aspects and hide the less attractive traits of your body. So, find your body type and later use this information to choose the right dress silhouette for it.
This post on Who What Wear will help you use your different measurements and correctly identify your body type. Check it out!
Here are some practical silhouette suggestions for each body type.
Triangle or Pear: Hide the larger proportions of your hips and waistline with A-line gowns and ball gowns that flare out at the waist. Avoid the trumpet and sheath, since these styles accentuate the hip and stomach area.
Inverted Triangle or Apple: A-line dresses and ball gowns with thick skirts that nip at the waistline are suitable for this body type. We do not recommend the trumpet and for this body type.
Hourglass: If you have an hourglass figure, you can carry almost any wedding dress silhouette with ease. Aim to show off your curvy figure and slender waistline with dresses that closely follow your natural curves.
Straight or rectangle: Increase your feminine appeal with ball gowns and sheaths that create the illusion of curves. Avoid fitted styles like the mermaid and dropped waist dresses that enhance the straight contours of your body.
Find the right place to buy your wedding dress
Remember what I told you in the beginning about factors that affect your wedding dress selection?
Based on your personal preferences, specific needs, and budget constraints, decide where to shop. The following are the options available to you.
Bridal salons: The traditional place to buy a wedding dress, you can enjoy a one-on-one session with a dedicated consultant who will take you through your choices during your appointment slot. Bridal salons have a variety of designer collections, and you can try dresses based on the ideas you communicate with your consultant.
Trunk sales: The perfect option if you want dresses only from a particular designer. New collections are introduced to such customers at highly reduced prices, so you can choose a dress at a lower price than you have to pay otherwise.
Sample Sales: This is when bridal salons sell off old stock to make space for new collections. The dresses, in this case, are either floor samples or those in the store inventory. So, there will be limited sizes and you may have to clean the gown before using it on your wedding day.
Consignment shops: This is the perfect place to find designer dresses at a discount. Good consignment stores will have dresses that are good-as-new, available at a fraction of the cost of a similar original gown.
Online: Consider this option if you have no way to shop at a real store. Online wedding dress shopping is risky and many brides have terrible experiences when choosing this route. This post sheds some light on why online wedding dress shopping isn’t a wise idea.
Compile all information and shortlist your options
A quick question—What do you think was the idea behind all this wedding dress research?
It was to collect all relevant information and use it to narrow down choices to the right selection criteria.
As you do your research and understand about wedding dresses, collect and compile information on dress styles and features that appeal to you. Start a Pinterest board and start collecting pictures of dresses you like.
Don’t worry if you seem to fall in love with all the dresses you come across when you first begin. To narrow down your options, ask yourself the following questions
- What features of this dress are suitable for my wedding theme?
- What makes it suitable for the weather at the time of my wedding?
- Why is this dress a comfortable choice for my wedding?
- What is the stand-out feature of this dress that is most appealing?
- Will this dress flatter my natural figure and best features?
Soon enough, you will see a pattern emerge and this will help you identify what dress features appeal most to you. This information will be of valuable help when you go shopping.
Step 5: Get ready for your shopping session
By this stage, you have all the information you need and are ready to go shopping. So, here is what is left to do.
Choose your entourage
Your wedding dress is the most important dress you will ever choose, and you must make this decision wisely. So, invite two or three of your closest family members or friends to help you. The reason we tell you to limit the size of your party is that too many people will do more damage than good. Take along only those whose opinions really matter to you, and who can actually contribute to your decision.
Book your appointment
Find a convenient time and date for your shopping appointment at the boutique you choose. Preferably have your appointment on a weekday when the salon will be less crowded.
Get everything you need for your appointment ready
Make sure that you are prepared for dress shopping by carrying all that you need for the day with you. Wear clothes that are easy to change out of. If you will be wearing heels on your wedding day, carry a pair to your shopping appointment. For more tips, visit this post.
Understand what to expect at your bridal appointment
Every bridal dress shopping appointment is different. The better prepared you are for what to expect, the more likely you are to have a productive and pleasant shopping experience. We suggest that you read the information here, to obtain a fair idea and prepare well for your shopping trip.
Set your expectations correctly
It is easier to find the perfect gown when you are flexible and open-minded. You will have experienced bridal consultants directing you, so listen to them. Try on their suggestions even if it isn’t something you would pick. You may be lucky and find your dream wedding dress this way. Trust me, this happens all the time!
Remember that you may not always find your wedding dress on your first trip to the store. This is perfectly normal. Be patient and flexible and you are sure to find the perfect dress that completes your bridal vision with perfection.
As you prepare for your wedding dress shopping, don’t forget to visit our bridal gallery at Best for Bride for inspiration. Find an immense variety of jaw-dropping designer collections in every price range and with every feature you may seek in our collection. Shortlist your favorites and get ready to go shopping. With expert consultants, excellent infrastructure facilities and all associated services under one roof, Best for Bride is the best destination for you to find your wedding gown, whenever you are ready.