I hear wedding bells! If you’re reading this, you’re probably eager to start looking for the perfect dress for your big day. You came to the right place, girlfriend. As a bridal stylist and former pageant girl, I’ve seen it all, so I’m sharing my top tips for dress shopping to make your experience easy, fun, and extra special.
Determine your budget before going shopping
Before your first appointment, decide how much you’re able to spend on your dress and who will be paying for it. Be aware that most bridal gowns range anywhere between $500 and $5,000, while certain details or fabrics can be more expensive than others. For example, if you hope to stay under $500 but want a cathedral train full of intricate lace and beading, you may find that those gowns are out of the price range you had in mind. Similarly, be sure to factor in the cost of tax, shipping, accessories, and alterations, which can add about $500-1,000 onto your total cost. Having an idea of your full wedding look budget BEFORE you shop will save you from heartache at the checkout.
Bring along key players
I’ve worked with brides who bring their entire wedding party and extended family, and I’ve worked with brides who come alone. Both are equally fun and special experiences. HOWEVER, I recommend ONLY bringing along people who you need there in order to make your decision. For example, if you’re coming alone but need mom to see your dress before you commit, at least make sure she’s available for a video chat! I’d hate for you to have that special “yes” moment without her there if her presence is something you desire.
Limit the size of your entourage
On the other side, I totally understand wanting to include everyone you love during your appointment, but too many opinions can sometimes overwhelm the bride. I recommend bringing mom, mother-in-law, and maid of honor or grandma to keep things manageable. You can always FaceTime other loved ones once you say “yes” so they can get a sneak peek of your dress! Whatever you do, please refrain from bringing little ones–your group should be focused on YOU, and most small children will get distracted during a 2-3 hour appointment in a store full of sparkly things!
Keep an open mind
Whether you come into the store with a good idea of what you like or if you have no clue where to begin, your stylist is there to help. The best way to arrive to your appointment is with an open mind. Coming in with VERY specific requirements may seem helpful, but it often limits your stylist to very few dresses, which may leave you disappointed. I can’t tell you how many times a bride starts with an idea of what they want and ends up choosing something totally different! The more open you are, the more options your stylist will be able to show you. You never know when a dress you didn’t initially envision yourself in might be the one!
When you shop for your wedding dress, almost everything you try on is a designer’s sample. Once you find your dress, it will typically be ordered for you in your correct size, which can take anywhere between 4-7 months to manufacture. Be sure to start shopping around 9-12 months from your wedding date to allow enough time for the dress to arrive, have alterations done, and gather the perfect accessories. While many dress stores allow you to buy off the rack or choose rush shipping, it may limit your options and cause unwanted stress and added expenses.
Be honest with your stylist
Your bridal stylist is there for YOU. We aren’t there to find a dress for your opinionated grandmother or force you to try on dresses your group chooses that aren’t your style. The goal is to help you find your wedding dress and make your experience special and personalized. We serve as your personal shopper for the day, filtering through our stock room to find the perfect look for you. While trying on dresses, be very honest with your stylist about what you like (or don’t like) in each dress you try on. We didn’t design them, so we’re not offended if you don’t like something we pull for you. Our objective is to listen to you, so give us all the feedback! It’ll help us choose dresses that best fit your style, and in turn, find something you love.
The size on the tag doesn’t matter
When shopping, prepare for sample sizes to be too big and too small. Typically, the store only carries one or two sizes of each style to try on, so nothing will quite fit you perfectly right away. Your stylist will be able to manipulate the dress with clips or pins so you can see how it should look in your correct size. Bridal sizing also depends on the silhouette of the dress and is notorious for running much smaller than normal clothing, so don’t be surprised if the dress you order is a few sizes larger than what you typically wear. For example, if you normally wear a size 8, expect to fit a 10, 12, or even size 14 wedding dress. Remember that nobody knows what size is on the tag besides you and your stylist, so don’t let the number bother you. The way you see yourself in the mirror is what truly matters!
Wear the right undergarments
It’s hard to envision what you’ll look like in the dress on your big day if your colorful bra straps are visible! Before heading to your bridal appointment, be sure to wear undergarments that reflect what you’ll wear on wedding day. Leave the printed panties and pink push-up at home, and opt for a nude thong and nude strapless bra (or no bra at all). If you plan to wear shapewear under your dress, bring those Spanx along to your appointment, too!
Prepare to be nearly nude
At most bridal salons, your stylist will accompany you in the dressing room to help you change in and out of each dress. This is very different from most other shopping experiences where you’re in a fitting room alone. While undressing can be uncomfortable, bridal stylists are professionals. Your stylist is only there to zip, clip, and make sure the dress is on properly. You should be offered a slip or robe at the beginning of your appointment for coverage and comfort as well. If you have any concerns about modesty during your appointment, be sure to let your stylist know. It’s our responsibility to make sure you have a comfortable experience.
It’s okay if you aren’t emotional
Shows like Say Yes to the Dress have set the expectation that you and your group will all be fighting for the tissues when you find your dress. However, sometimes that just isn’t the case, and don’t let lack of tears make you second-guess your decision! Many of my brides say “I don’t want to take it off” or “I could dance in this all day” and that’s how they know it’s the one. Bridal shouldn’t be complicated. If you feel beautiful and can picture yourself getting married in it, say YES!
Be careful not to over shop
I understand wanting to try on a lot of different options before choosing the right dress, but sometimes trying on too many dresses can overwhelm you and and cause you to forget what you’ve tried on already. If you start to feel this way, take a break or make another appointment to come back with a fresh perspective and revisit your favorites. Similarly, after saying yes to your wedding dress, STOP SHOPPING. When you found your fiancé, you didn’t keep looking, right!? The same goes for committing to your dress. Put Pinterest to rest and let yourself relax. Remember how you felt when you put on the winning dress and move on to other parts of wedding planning.
There are no rules
Getting married on the beach but want a princess ball gown? Do it. Fell in love with sleeves but you’re getting married outdoors in July? No problem. There are no rules when it comes to your dress. It’s YOUR day. If you feel beautiful and confident in it, go for it. The rest will fall into place.
I hope this helps you get a good idea of what to expect on your wedding dress shopping trip. For my gals reading from the midwest, don’t hesitate to send me an email or DM to schedule a visit with me to find your dream dress. It’s such an honor to be part of some of life’s sweetest moments and I LOVE playing fairy godmother for my brides. Cheers to you and wishing you all the best on your magical day!