1. Choose your venue
First and foremost, fix your date and venue. You may have a relaxed, boho style dress in mind, but if you end up choosing a winter wedding in a stately home, a floaty, whimsical number might not fit. Equally, hay bales may not mix with lots of jewels and glamour! Once you know the ‘feel’ of your wedding, you’ll know the style of dress that will work with it.
Once you know style of wedding you’ll be having, the second thing to do is set a budget for your dress. Always, always do this before you go shopping. It’s so easy to let your mind run away with you once you see all the dresses in front of you. Know your budget be that £500 or £5000, but ensure you stick to it. It’s so typical to fall in love with something that is out of your price range if you just look at everything in the shop. If you have a strict limit ask your bridal consultant to only show you styles that fit that price bracket. If you blow your budget on the dress, you’ll have to scale back somewhere else. For example, adding £500 to your dress budget could be the difference between inviting another 5 guests to your wedding, or having that photographer you desperately wanted.
3. Start early but not too early
The ideal time to start looking for a dress is around a year before your wedding. It is of course possible to find a dress in a shorter time scale, especially with more high street designers now offering dresses to buy ‘off the peg’. Most wedding dress designers however, like to allow around 6-9 months for a dress to be ordered, created, delivered and fitted.
While you could just book appointments at all your local bridal boutiques its worthwhile looking them up online to see what designers they stock. You may not like any of the styles or they may all be out of your budget, in which case you’re wasting the boutique and your time. Most boutiques will require you book an appointment. Due to a growing trend of brides trying dresses on in boutique and then buying copies online, many boutiques are now charging for appointment times. Don’t be put off by this aspect. Most will allow you to redeem your appointment fee against a purchase, some even refund it when you keep your appointment.
5. Boutique alternatives
Where to buy is a totally personal decision. High street shops offer some amazing wedding dresses nowadays and if you’re on a lower budget these are often more affordable. You also have the bonus of being able to order and receive your dress much more quickly than ordering a designer dress. You’ll usually still need to have your dress fitted to you though so factor in time for this. Likewise buying a dress second hand can save you a lot of money. Oxfam sell wedding dresses at a fraction of their original price as do many online selling sites, meaning you could still get a designer dress. Bare in mind these dresses may have been fitted to their original bride so there may not be much flexibility left in the fabric for further fittings. If you buy online your dress will typically be much cheaper than a boutique and sometimes second hand, but for a reason. Often these dresses are poorly made and from cheaper fabrics. Some brides are lucky, but decide if that’s a risk you’re willing to take.
Wedding dress shopping can be a great bonding experience. Sharing that moment when you find your dress with your nearest and dearest can be really special. That said, don’t take too many people. Too many voices can mean too many opinions, making your decisions harder rather than easier. There is also the chance you’ll end up choosing a dress because you’ve persuaded it’s the one and want to keep everyone happy.
7. Keep an open mind
Most brides go with a style in mind before they start looking. Often though many women say the dress they actually bought was nothing like the one they imagined initially. Always keep your mind open to trying on any style and listen to the advice of your bridal shop. It’s their job to advise on styles so don’t be afraid to ask especially if there’s a bit of you e.g. your arms, you want to cover up.
Linked to choosing your venue, practicality may not be high up on your wish list for a wedding dress. However, we’re not talking about going for a wipe clean dress practicality! We mean think about how your day will play out. Does your venue have lots of steps, if so how will you manage those in that figure hugging fishtail style? If your church has a narrow aisle, will your ballgown dress make for a very elegant entrance? Getting married on a beach, maybe best not to choose a full skirted dress with sleeves? Think about the fabric too, will the dress become too heavy as the day goes on or the use of synthetic fabrics can feel hot and uncomfortable. You’ll be wearing your dress for 10 hours plus on the day so ensure its practical to do so.
9. Underwear and accessories
You won’t know what underwear you’ll need until you’ve bought your actual dress, but you still need to think about it before you buy. When dress shopping wear white or nude underwear, preferably with a strapless bra. That way you should be able to try on most styles without being distracted by the black bra straps peeking through. Equally if you know you want to wear that heirloom necklace or have already chosen your wedding shoes take them with you to check they are going to work with the style you choose. Planning on having a veil, ask the shop to let you try one on with your dress. Even if its not the veil you’ll be wearing it will give you an idea of whether or not it will work with the style you’re choosing.
10. Remember to sit down
This might sound silly, but is something often overlooked when you are busy twirling around in ‘the one’. However, remember you’ll most likely spend an hour or two sat down in your dress for your wedding breakfast, so check that you actually can sit down. Corset style dresses with boning definitely offer the sleeker silhouette but can feel quite restrictive when sitting. Also remember if you’ll be kneeling in church, practise in advance. Likewise check you can lift your arms for that all important first dance without your dress slipping down and revealing too much!
11. The one
Having been bridal shopping for my own wedding I waited for the wow moment to come when I found ‘the one’. For me though, whilst I loved my dress (and still do) I don’t think I felt that moment. This was something that played on my mind constantly in the lead up to my wedding once I’d purchased my dress. However, since confessing that to other brides, many of them have admitted to me that they didn’t actually feel ‘that moment’ either. For some there will be no question when they try on a particular dress, it has to be that dress. But don’t panic if you’re not reduced to floods of tears when you make your final decision. If you’re comfortable, feel beautiful and can see yourself walking down the aisle in that dress, you’ve probably found it. When I wore my dress on my wedding day and saw my husbands face when he saw it for the first time, that was when I knew I’d picked the one – both the dress and the other half!
Final tip – make sure it’s you. Yes, your wedding dress is the opportunity to buy a dress you wouldn’t usually wear but make sure it’s still a reflection of you. When you look back on your wedding photos in 20 years time, you want to be sure you’ll still love your dress and how it made you feel.