15 Essential Wedding Dress Shopping Tips (Read This Before You Shop!)

Wedding dress shopping tips

If you’re like most brides, you’re probably eager to jump into the hunt for the perfect wedding dress. But just because you’re excited to get started doesn’t mean you should rush the process. 

A lot of preparation is needed for a good wedding dress shopping experience and can eliminate a lot of frustration from your outings. From budgeting to researching dresses to setting up appointments, there’s much to be done before setting foot inside a store.

To help you know what to do — and when — we’ve put together the ultimate list of wedding dress shopping tips. With these in mind, you will be able to enjoy your experience to the fullest and find the dress of your dreams.  

15 Wedding Dress Shopping Tips for a Smooth and Special Experience

As much fun as it can be to leap right into shopping, it’s not efficient and can even lead to disappointment. To help you get it right the first time, take a look at our wedding dress shopping dos and don’ts and keep them in mind for when you begin the process.

1. Do set a firm wedding dress budget

One of the cardinal rules of planning a wedding is setting a firm budget for everything from your venue and catering to your dress. 

Most experts recommend couples allocate 10% of their overall budget to their wedding wardrobe. So, if you were planning to spend $25,000 on your wedding, that would give you $2,500 to spend on the groom’s tux and your overall outfit. That includes not just the dress, but any necessary alterations, the veil, shoes and other accessories not to mention hair and makeup.

Not only does having a budget ensure you won’t overspend, but it saves you from falling in love with a dress you simply can’t afford. If you have a firm dollar amount in mind, you can ask to only see dresses within that specific price range.

2. Do your research

Knowing what you like and what might look good on you is crucial before heading to your local bridal boutique. Do some research on the types of silhouettes, necklines and colors that are available so you can have at least a cursory list for your bridal consultant.

Start by checking out the various dress silhouettes and decide if you like classic or traditional dresses like ball gowns and a-line dresses, retro looks like a tea-length dress or if you want something more modern and figure-conscious such as a mermaid or trumpet silhouette, a sheath or a slip dress. 

Next, you should turn your attention to neckline styles. Knowing if you like sweetheart, v-neck, strapless, halter, off-the-shoulder or illusion necklines before you start shopping can save you a lot of time at the store.

Once you know about the styles available, you can learn more here about what styles will best flatter your body type as well as which neckline will suit you best.

While research will help you to go to an appointment more informed, you should still keep an open mind if your consultant, mom or maid of honor makes a suggestion on another style.

3. Do make a list

Staying organized is one of the best ways to ensure your shopping experience goes off without a hitch. 

A big part of being organized is knowing what you want and having specific examples to show your bridal consultant. For instance, you should have a good idea of what silhouettes and necklines you prefer and know a few designers that you like.

Using an app like Pinterest is an easy way to save images of the dresses from bridal designers, bridal salon websites and blogs. Once you’ve compiled your list, be sure to have it ready on your phone when you go to your appointments.

4. Do have questions prepared

Speaking of making lists, it’s a good idea to make a list of questions in advance so you can make an informed choice when choosing your dress.

Some questions you may want to add to your list include:

  • How long will it take to receive the gown I want? 
  • Will the gown be shipped to me or the salon?
  • How much does shipping cost?
  • Does the boutique offer a discount if I buy my veil and accessories there?
  • Do they offer alterations in-house and how much does it cost?
  • Will the dress require a bustle?
  • Will the boutique store my dress for me?
  • Does the boutique charge for steaming my dress?
  • Will the dress come with a dress bag and hanger? 

5. Do shop 9-12 months in advance

If you plan to order your dress from a bridal salon, you will need to shop a minimum of nine to 12 months in advance. Wedding dresses take between four and 10 months to be made and, once you add shipping times and alterations onto that, you could be looking at a full year before your gown is ready. 

But what if you don’t have that kind of time? If you need a dress in a shorter time frame, there are a few options open to you. You can:

  • Choose a designer that offers rush services for an extra fee.
  • Buy a dress off the rack.
  • Shop online from sites like David’s Bridal, Azazie, JJ’s House, BHLDN or Etsy. Most online sites will have a quick turn around and will also give you an estimated arrival date.

6. Do make appointments

While most bridal salons will do their best to accommodate walk-ins, you won’t be guaranteed good service unless you happen to go on a slow day. On busy days, bridal consultants will be occupied with brides who booked appointments and will give them first priority.

Scheduling an appointment ensures you’ll receive personal attention for the duration of your time at the salon. That said, it’s wise to avoid booking your appointment on a Saturday. The busiest days at bridal salons, going on a Saturday could mean you’ll be competing with other brides for dresses.

If you can schedule your appointments during the week, do so. It will be a much more relaxed atmosphere and you likely won’t have to wait to try on the dresses you want.

7. Do ask about stock and sizes

When you call to book an appointment, it’s a good idea to ask about what designers, dresses and sizes they carry. 

While most bridal salons carry popular designers, they may only have select dresses in-store. If you want to try on specific gowns, it’s a good idea to ask if they have them in stock. If they don’t, the salon may be able to order a sample size for you. 

Also, if you aren’t a standard size, it’s a good idea to find out what sizes they carry in-store. If you wear a size 0, you may find yourself swimming in their samples. If you’re plus size, you could have the opposite problem. No matter what size you take, you should make sure the salon has an adequate number of dresses for you to try on.

8. Do manage your expectations

Wedding dress shopping can be a long process. While some brides do indeed find their dream dress at their very first appointment, it’s not the norm, so don’t be disappointed if that doesn’t happen for you.

9. Do choose your entourage with care

Having a large wedding dress shopping entourage is never a good idea. Remember, the more people you bring, the more opinions there will be and different opinions can lead to stress and drama — two things you don’t need. 

To avoid quibbling and hurt feelings within your wedding dress shopping entourage, keep your group to three people or less. If you can’t keep your group small without hurting someone close to you, bringing up to five people is fine, as long as you’re sure everyone will get along.

10. Don’t shop on an empty stomach

If you’re like most brides, you probably have two, three or more appointments scheduled for the same day. And that can make for a busy, hectic day.

If you don’t eat enough, you could go to your appointments hangry and that is never a good idea. Starving yourself all day will negatively impact your mood, not to mention your attitude toward the dresses you’re trying on.

While most brides won’t want to eat a large meal before trying on dresses, it’s important that your body has the fuel it needs to get through the day. Having a smoothie, some fruit and yogurt or a piece of toast with nut butter before your appointment will give you the energy you need without making you feel too full.

If you have multiple appointments all in one day, it’s vital you make time for lunch. Grabbing a light, nutritious lunch like soup, salad or a sandwich will keep you going — and you won’t have to worry about feeling bloated.

11. Don’t wear a lot of makeup

The pale material of wedding dresses can smudge easily, so keeping your makeup minimal on the day of your appointments can save you a major headache. After all, you don’t want to be forced to buy a dress you don’t want because you got lipstick on it.

When getting ready for your appointments, opt for tinted moisturizer and, if needed, concealer on areas you need a bit of extra coverage, as well as waterproof mascara and untinted lip gloss. Makeup to avoid includes: bronzer, powder, foundation, heavy blush, lipstick, tinted lip gloss, liquid eyeliner, eyeshadow and non-waterproof mascara. 

12. Do wear the right clothes

Choosing an outfit that you can easily change in and out of is a must when you go wedding gown shopping. A dress or a pullover top with a wide neckline and a pair of pants or a skirt that are easy to get in and out of are your best bets. 

Your undies should be seamless and nude in color so they’ll disappear under the dresses you try on and be sure to wear or bring a strapless or convertible bra.

Flat or low-heeled shoes that are comfortable and can be slipped on and off easily are also a must and will ensure your feet aren’t killing you at the end of the day.

Aside from wearing the right clothes, there are a few items you should bring with you. Click here for our in-depth list of what to bring.

13. Do keep an open mind

Despite all of the research you’ve done on dress styles and designers, it’s important to keep an open mind once you’re in the bridal boutique.

The truth is, unless you’ve worn a lot of formal gowns in the past, you may not truly know what will look best on you. So, while it’s important to try on the dresses on your list, it can be a good idea to try on a few other styles too. 

Ask your consultant what style they’d recommend for your body type. Even if you’re a fan of sheaths, you may discover that you look amazing in an a-line dress or love the drama a mermaid silhouette offers.

Keeping an open mind will not only make the experience more enjoyable, but it may offer you a larger selection of dresses to try on.

14. Don’t try on dresses out of your price range

This is one of the most important tips we can offer: Never try on a dress you can’t afford to buy.

Trying on dresses outside of your price range can lead to one of two major problems. 

  • You ignore your budget and buy a dress you can’t afford.
  • You fall in love with a dress out of your price range and every other dress, including the ones you can afford, pales in comparison.

Neither of these scenarios is good and could potentially ruin your entire shopping experience, not to mention your budget.

Pro tip: If you have a $1,500 budget, shopping for dresses that are $1,000 or less ensures you’ll have enough left over for alterations.

15. Do listen to your gut

The No. 1 thing to remember when wedding dress shopping is that your opinion is the one that matters most.

Even if you put on a gown that your entire entourage loves, if you don’t love it or feel uncomfortable in it, it doesn’t matter how well it fits or what anyone else thinks — keep looking.

Always be honest about how you feel and don’t worry about what anyone else wants. It is your big day and you should only buy a dress if you truly adore it.

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