Yesterday, I had a wonderful experience as I was part of a bridal gown shopping entourage for…my mom! I’ve had quite a few of these experiences for friends, my sister and myself, but this was so special on another level. I’m so happy for my mom and it was such a pleasure to watch her trying on dresses and feeling/looking like a princess! I’m proud of her and love her open mind, her beautiful spirit (which comes through no matter what she is wearing) and her love of life. In preparing for the day, I recalled a few tips from past trips to bridal salons, consulted with some online sources, and put together this 13-Step post. Hope it’s helpful for other brides out there! Congrats again to my mom and to you, and Happy Shopping!
1. Do Some Research- Learn about different dress shapes, what is good on different body types, and what designers you like. Find pictures online or in magazines of dresses/styles that you think you would like to try on, and keep them together in one place. See a few infographics at the bottom of this post for help.
2. Start Shopping 6-10 Months Before Your Big Day- Allow time to select, receive and alter your gown, with a little cushion to spare.
3. Plan to Keep Your Shopping Party Small- Invite a couple people who know your taste, will be honest with you and whose judgment you trust. A big entourage can be confusing. You may even consider taking a solo trip first to form your own opinion about what you like and don’t like. I’ve gone shopping with anywhere from 1 to 5 other people each time and it’s been fine, so it all depends upon your comfort level and who you want to have there.
The bride’s dress shopping day has evolved into another bridal party event, sometimes involving a meal, drinks, and more, but know that if you want to keep it small (just you and your mom, for example), that’s fine and your girls will understand- as long as you give them the run-down afterward. You can always celebrate in a similar fashion when you go bridesmaid dress shopping!
4. Plan 1-2 Places in a Day That Carry A Few Designers You Like- Scheduling an appointment is recommended as, in many cases, it’ll give you an hour of undivided attention, and a weekday morning is best. Try to avoid a time crunch, setting aside time in advance just for shopping, if you can. If you have a certain style in mind but the salon doesn’t carry it, try to call in advance and see if they could bring it in for you.
5. Preparing for the Appointment-
What to (Under)wear: A nude colored bra and modest underwear (not a thong) are a good way to go for fittings. If you have a bra but it’s not a good fit, it’s not supportive, it’s not doing you any favors, or it’s old and ready to be replaced, go shopping for a new one before your appointment if possible, and DEFINITELY before your first fitting for alterations. Nordstrom’s Lingerie department rocks- a consultant will happily help you find the right bra for you- and I recommend that you take advantage of that opportunity whether you’re a bride or not. Watch this video on their website to see if your bra is the right fit for you.
Step right Up: Wear shoes at about the height that you’d expect to wear for your wedding (especially if there’s a chance of buying your gown that day, as is).
*Note: Most salons may have shoes and undergarments you can try, but you’ll want to have your own as well.
Makeup Tip: Consider not wearing makeup or going very light on the makeup the day of your appointment. As you get into and out of dresses, you don’t want to smudge up the clean, likely-white fabric.
6. Things to Bring-
Bring a Camera and, if you’re really prepared, a small white board and marker: That way, you can have one of your girls write the price, style #, and salon name (if you’ll be visiting a few) and hold it up for a picture to keep track of everything you like. You may also want to snap a picture of the dress’s tag once the bride takes it off again. Note: Some bridal shops and salons do not allow photography of the dresses. Be responsible and ask before you snap. You can always go online later and find pictures of the dresses.
Celebration-Worthy Goodies: Some salons will allow girls to bring champagne and some will not. Again, you should ask and be respectful of their store policy. You can also bring necklaces, pins, and a tiara for the bride. Avoid food (especially anything crumby/messy), be careful with whatever you bring, be sure to clean up after yourselves and it should go without saying that the bride should enjoy any treats when she’s in her own clothing.
Note: Include your consultant in the fun! She won’t be able to join you for the champagne, but she could wear a beaded necklace and will probably enjoy the fun energy 🙂
Anything You Need to Try on Dresses!
7. When You Get There- Share your budget, vision, styles that you like and extra accessories that you may have brought along with your consultant and your team.
Budget: Consider the cost of the dress and alterations, which could be a few hundred dollars, to avoid falling in love with a dress that’s out of your price range or risk blowing your budget early in the planning.
Vision: Are you going for a certain feel, decade, theme, level of formality (formal ceremonies usually call for floor-length gowns and long trains, while informal ceremonies are a great opportunity to wear a shorter gown without a train at all, or a brush/sweep train- See below for Train Styles)?
What is the time of year, day and and the location of your ceremony? More traditional ceremonies will call for a white gown, but wedding dresses aren’t all pure white these days. Popular choices include ivory, champagne and off-white, but pink is also a popular choice these days. Pick what you feel beautiful in. In the Winter, you may want a longer dress made of a thicker fabric, and may consider sleeves, a bolero or a hooded cape. In the Summer, you may want something lighter with less coverage and may even consider a shorter dress or a convertible dress (take an outer skirt off of a long dress and you have a short dress)! At a religious ceremony in a church or synagogue, you may be required to cover your shoulders.
Style: Think about the styles you loved before you came shopping, and those you really didn’t like. You’ll save time and energy by making these clear when you start. Think about your comfort level, your dancing level and your favorite styles (romantic, classic, elegant, modern or glamorous).
Accessories: Do you have a special necklace, tiara or veil that you’re planning to wear? Did you buy a pair of shoes already with the big day in mind? Tell your consultant, as they could contribute to the styles that (s)he picks out for you to try. Oh, and of course, bring them along!
8. As You’re Modeling The Gowns- Know your body type and the best shape for you. Focus on your personal style and what looks best on you. Buy a dress that fits now, not one that you want to fit into later. It’s easier (and cheaper) to have a dress taken in than let out.
Consider the following, and if the answers are not “yes”, then it’s not the dress:
Do I feel beautiful, confident and comfortable?
Can I dance in it?
Can I sit down?
Am I self-conscious about any part of my body in my dress?
Can it comfortably fit into the budget we’ve set?
A gown may be gorgeous, but if you can’t move in it, can’t sit in it, can’t afford it or don’t feel like it’s as beautiful on you as you wished, then it’s not the right one for you.
9. Keep an Open Mind- but don’t let anyone make the dress decision for you, if you’re not absolutely in love with it. Allow the salesperson to make recommendations, allow your entourage to help and chime in, and be open to trying something on (even if you’re not sure about it at first), but ultimately know that the decision is yours.
10. Focus on Fit, Not Size- Sizing for wedding gowns is a little bit different, and while you may not like the number, know that guests won’t see the tag- they’ll see the way it fits you and the confidence and beauty you exude when you wear it.
11. Consider Accessories- while you’re there and ask your consultant for recommendations. You may want to pick out a wrap, headpiece, jewelry, shoes, a garter, etc., but before you buy anything, know that most of these sales are final, so if you’ve just started looking, just note what you see and you can always come back in a few months.
*Note: I have a hunch that the watteau train is going to make a comeback since Disney’s Frozen was such a hit and Elsa’s dress was SO gorgeous. Would you wear one?
12. Find a Deal- “You don’t have to spend a million bucks to get the perfect gown. Besides having sale racks, many salons hold big sales once or twice a year to clear out ‘gently worn’ or discontinued samples (usually in sizes 6, 8, or 10). To find out when these are, call stores, go to designers’ websites, and sign up for mailing lists. Also register for trunk shows, where designers debut new lines. Sometimes boutiques offer discounts if you buy on the show day”. -Martha Stewart Weddings
One of my best friends found her wedding gown in a store, then looked online and found somebody selling the same one, in her size, brand new, for a fraction of the price. It was perfect and in my mind, was such a win!
I purchased and sold my dress in an upscale bridal consignment shop, saving money and then getting money back. Win, win, win.
13. When You Find The One, Get the Details in Writing and Know What They Say– Before putting down a deposit (usually 50 percent), go over the contract with your bridal consultant. Find out when the gown will be ready, the estimated fee for alterations, if it can be shipped out of state (or country), what the cancellation policy is, and what recourse you have if the dress is damaged or comes without the requested modifications. If there are alterations included in the price, check to be sure that the number of alterations is correct as well. Finally, double-check that the manufacturer’s name, style number, size, price and color are correct before leaving.
A Few Helpful Wedding Gown Infographics: