Wedding dress shopping 101

I’ve been asked by a lot of readers to write a post on wedding dress shopping. It’s amazing how much your experiences vary from person to person. Some of you had a wonderful time choosing your dream dress, others found the whole experience hideous – some of you just didn’t know where to start.

So here’s a little handy guide to wedding dress shopping. I hope it helps make the experience as fun and exciting as it should be!

Wedding dress shopping 101

Pick a budget

Pick a realistic budget, rather. First of all, it’s important to know how much wedding dresses cost. Unfortunately there’s no set rule for this – it depends of you want a second-hand vintage treasure (I’ve heard of brides finding gorgeous 50s gowns for £50 in charity shops) or a designer gown. Generally, bridal shop designer dresses will cost between £700 and £3000 (with some exceptions on either side). I can’t tell you what to set as your budget, but it will determine the next stages of your wedding planning journey.

Narrow down your taste

I bought my dress before I really investigated the world of weddings – and while I loved that Justin Alexander dress (still do) now that I’ve had more time to study magazines and really get to know the industry, I probably would have gone down the route of a Jenny Packham, Anoushka G or Claire Pettibone gown.

It takes time to know what your taste is – it’s not like you wear wedding dresses every day and have had time to develop and hone your style, so take a good few weeks (even months) to look at pictures of dresses in magazines and on blogs.

Don’t limit yourself to one style of dress as, until you try them on, you have no idea what will suit you. Pick a few different styles that you like and designers within those styles.

Try before you buy

Whether you’re buying authentic vintage, going bespoke or buying from a shop, it’s crucial to know which shapes suit your figure. Based on the designers you’ve narrowed down on your list, go to a few local boutiques, or (if you don’t mind it all being a bit more public) head to a wedding show to try on different shapes and see what sort of thing suits you.

Most bridal shops will let you take pictures AFTER you buy the dress without any problems – me at my final fitting

What to expect from a bridal shop visit

Ah Hollywood – you’ve totally ruined bridal dress shopping for the ordinary bride. Unfortunately, unless you go somewhere extremely high end, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be surrounded by a gaggle of friends sipping champagne while there’s a fun “dress fitting montage” where your hair stays totally intact. Here are some things you need to know (or do) before you visit a bridal boutique:

There probably won’t be champagne. At best there’ll be tea, but that isn’t a given.

They might not have your size in the sample sizes. Lots of shops go for a “safe” 10 – 14 in a sample size, but we’re all so different. First of all call ahead and let them know your size if you’re worried, second, sadly, you may have to either be pinned into a dress with clips if the sample is too big or have it unzipped at the back if it’s too small. Don’t let this put you off, I know how horrible it can feel (I’m quite curvy and I hate feeling like I’m being stuffed into something) but try to just accept it as the shop only being able to afford one of each sample gown and not to take it personally or feel hurt by it. If you’d feel more comfortable with a different size, drop me a quick email and I’d personally be glad to give you some contacts for places that have smaller or larger sizes.

Wear a strapless or nude bra and bring heels. Some shops will provide these, some won’t – so make sure you come prepared.

If you’re going to bring more than one or two people, call ahead and check that’s OK. Large groups can be disruptive to other customers and can also distract you from making the right choice – too many cooks in the kitchen and all that.

Be REALLY honest about what you like and don’t like. I’m a “try everything once” kinda gal, but if you have a pet peeve or there’s something you hate, tell the sales assistant you don’t want to try on any dresses with those features. It saves time and energy all round and it helps them get closer to something you’ll love.

If you have your heart set on trying a particular dress, don’t assume they’ll have the design you want just because they stock that designer. Again, call ahead and ask to avoid disappointment.

Try on dresses you wouldn’t necessarily expect to like (as long as you’re not repulsed) they may suit you more than you anticipated.

Most bridal shops won’t let you take pictures before you buy the dress. I’m not entirely sure why that is (any bridal shop owners care to explain? I’ve always wanted to know) but it’s important to be respectful of this.

Spend some time on your hair and make up before you go – that way you’ll be able to see the overall effect of the dress a lot better.

Remember that, unless the dress is a perfect fit, any price will not include alteration costs, so discuss the potential price of these with the boutique owner before you commit to buying. It’s usually between £100 and £200 but every place is different and you may need more done to the dress than that.

So there you go – as long as you’re well prepared and don’t expect the experience to be like it is on TV (sorry – it really is the movie industry’s fault) then you should have a really great time picking out your dream dress. The best possible sign is that you don’t want to take a dress off – so have a ball and listen to your gut. Good luck! 

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