Wedding Dress Shopping 101

The task of finding a wedding dress seem like an overwhelming task?  This article by Emily of Southern Weddings will surely point you in the right direction!


Pull inspiration. Start by gathering images of dresses that appeal to you (Pinterest, of course, is a great place to collect them!).  Don’t worry if they vary widely or don’t seem to fit the type of wedding you’re having — at this point, you’re just trying to pull together a visual representation of your style.  Take note of recurring features or designers.

Decide on your budget. To determine your gown budget, you’re going to need to have a firm handle on your entire wedding budget (we covered wedding budgets here). The industry rule of thumb is that the wedding gown generally makes up 10% of the overall budget, but that doesn’t resonate with me — I spent about 4% of our budget on my gown. However, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else is doing as long as it works for you!

Nail down the basics. The location, venue, and time of year of your wedding will likely have a big impact on the type of gown that feels appropriate for it. Make sure you’ve determined these basics before you begin dress shopping!



Start the process well in advance. Unless you’re planning to buy off the rack (think J. Crew or BHLDN), know that it can take 6-8 months for a custom gown to be made, ordered, and, if necessary, altered. If you have it, the 15-to-10-month-out time range gives you plenty of breathing room to avoid making a panicked decision (but only if you’ve established your basics!).

Choose your shop(s) carefully. There are nearly as many bridal shops as there are brides, so there’s certainly one out there that will be a perfect match for your personality. Do you want an intimate boutique experience? Or do you want to see as many gowns as possible? Are you in love with a particular designer? (It seems obvious, but make sure the boutique you’re headed to carries her line!) Does the shop offer a range of gowns/lines in your budget? Have your friends had a wonderful experience there?

Do your hair and makeup. On the day of your appointment, take a little extra time to do your makeup and hair — just the fancy version of your usual look! If you’re anything like me, this will help keep you from nixing gowns just because you’re not feeling super confident that day. In addition, if you are SURE you’re going to want to wear your hair up, put it in a bun or a ponytail. Same goes for wearing it down.

Ask the RIGHT people to come with you. Dress shopping tips often focus on the number of people to bring to an appointment, but I think the TYPE of people is much more important. You want folks who will be supportive, kind, and generally hesitant to share their thoughts unless you ask (ha!). Now is not the time for the opinionated or the attention-hungry. If only your best friend falls into the first category? She’s the one who’s coming. If mama, mama-in-law, grandmama, sister, and best friend fit the bill? I think that sounds like a fabulous bonding experience.


Bring inspiration… Again, a lot of advice pieces tell you not to do this, but I think that’s absurd — I certainly did! I brought four printed pages of my favorite gowns to communicate my aesthetic to my consultant.

…but be open to anything. The point of bringing inspiration is to share the look you love, NOT to box yourself into a specific gown or designer you’re committed to. Dresses often look and feel VERY different on you than they do in photos, so be open to trying on anything! Even if you are absolutely SURE you would NEVER wear that gown the consultant is holding up, try the dang thing on. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re there to try on dresses, so have fun! Respect your stylist’s expertise (they do do this for a living, after all), but respect yourself, too — it goes without saying that you should never feel pressured into actually buying a gown you don’t love. As a final note, I can’t tell you how many interviews I’ve read on this site from brides who ended up picking a gown 180 degrees different from what they originally envisioned 🙂

Only try on dresses in your price range. There’s no point falling in love with something you can’t afford, so be honest with your consultant about your budget. The only exception I’d make here is if you are committed to the idea of selling your dress post-wedding, like I did — then, I think it’s okay to wiggle the budget up a bit to compensate for the fact that you’ll recoup part of the cost later.

Be gentle with yourself. I expected dress shopping to be an easy experience — until I found myself in tears after my second appointment, convinced I’d never find a gown I loved. While I was pretty shocked and more than a little embarrassed to feel that way, it is what it is — don’t beat yourself up about it if you something similar happens to you, and don’t feel pressure to feel a certain way! That goes for “the moment,” too. Neither I nor my Mom cried at any of my dress appointments — I just felt calm and happy.


Consider your husband. Yes, you’re the one wearing the dress, and yes, you should absolutely choose something that’s your style and that you feel beautiful in! But just as the wedding day is about the two of you, I think it’s worth a passing thought to consider your fiance’s style as you make your final decision. Know he hates anything too frilly or fussy? Save the rows of ruffles for your next black tie event.

Wait for a trunk show. Finally, if you’ve zeroed in on THE dress and have a bit of time before you need to order it, see if the designer will be having a trunk show nearby anytime soon. Most offer 10% off to those who order during the show, which can be a great way to save!

What do y’all think? Did I miss anything?  How was your dress shopping experience?  Painful, amazing, stressful, fun? How many shops did you visit or dresses did you try on?  I’d love to hear!


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