Even for the shopping obsessed, that aforementioned complexity combined with a global pandemic creates a slew of challenges most planning small weddings in 2020, and larger events in 2021 and into 2022, weren't expecting.
The concept of wedding dress shopping is exciting, full of fantasy—yet no easy task. As a result, getting started can be daunting, and the process is (admittedly) not always glamorous. It's a moment most fashion lovers dream of, but it's a whole new world, different from off-the-rack shopping at brick-and-mortar stores and more detailed and labor-intensive than online shopping.
To help you seamlessly navigate this shopping process, we’re breaking down how to get started and when to shop, and flagging all the mistakes brides make on the hunt for their wedding gowns. This is an endeavor that requires expert advice; whether you hire a stylist well-versed in bridal, haute couture, and all things formal, or whether you go it alone with the help of a curated group of friends and family.
1. Be Realistic About Your Budget
Keep in mind that the price tag on your gown doesn't include alteration fees, accessories, your veil, shipping, sales tax, or any post-wedding dry cleaning and preservation. Keep all expenses in mind when deciding what you are comfortable spending on a wedding dress. Go into appointments with a game plan: Stay. On. Budget.
That doesn't mean you aren't able to be flexible with how much you are willing to spend, but having a top-line number in mind will keep your overall budget in check and leave room for the other looks you'll need surrounding the ceremony. If you're still unsure about where to cap your spending, ask yourself what price tag would turn your "dream dress" into a gown that's not for you.
2. Do Your Research
Don't stress: You don't have to know exactly what you want upfront, but consider your venue, dress code, the season you're getting married in, guest count, and preferred silhouettes so that you have somewhere to start and build from. Also, keep it simple: If you love sleeves and dislike super-fitted, mermaid silhouettes, that's a start. If you're planning a wedding with a large guest count and prefer to don a ball gown to stand out in a crowd? That's a fine jumping-off point as well.
We'll say it a little louder for the brides in the back: Don't go into this process blind! In pandemic times, this applies more than ever before. On the upside, you have time to do the research. Use your weekends at home to scour designer websites, online publications ( like magazine ), Instagram, and more.
Get a solid understanding of the elements you love—be it a neckline, a silhouette, a textile, beadwork, et cetera. Walking into your first appointment with a baseline understanding of which brands, gowns, and styles you love will be extremely helpful when it comes to starting your search; it also gives your consultant a road map to determine what you should try on first. For those who love fashion and already have an idea of their dream wedding dress, manage your expectations.
You might have a mental picture in mind, but that imaginary gown may not exist in real life exactly as it does in your head. Go into the shopping process with an idea of what you are looking for, and keep an open mind. If you’ve had your eye on a specific brand or dress, get in touch with the store to ensure it will be in-house at the time of your appointment.
3. Don’t Overthink It
After ordering your dress, alterations come months later. A solid memory of your gown is key to your first fitting running smoothly, so if you've tried on too many dresses, odds are you won't have a clear vision of what you loved and ordered, which can make the experience both confusing and complicated, and result in the dreaded "this isn't what I ordered" nightmare you've most likely been fearing.
Many women waltz into wedding shopping with expectations of how the process will unfold. For some, they imagine getting emotional once they've found the gown; for others, there's a deep-seated fear that nothing will fit, nothing will suit, and they'll leave empty-handed. The only sure thing is that overthinking this look can take away from the magic of the hunt for it; brides whose expectations are too specific can lose out on the wow factor of finding the dress.
Once you find the one you love, or even just like, consider that gown a placeholder. Use it to judge all subsequent dresses by, replacing it with another only once you one-up it. If no gown comes close, that's a clear indication you've found the one. Once you purchase your gown, stop shopping—unless you're shopping for a second look. Wedding planning is all about making decisions; second-guessing without a backup plan will set you back and likely negatively impact your budget. Further, trying on too many dresses can make landing on your gown feel anticlimactic.
Many stores limit how many dresses a bride may try on per appointment anyway. And due to COVID-19 safety precautions and regulations, stores are steaming dresses and sanitizing dressing rooms in between appointments. So since you can't try on the whole store, doing your research (as we discussed) is key.
4. Limit Your Entourage
When you try on each dress, look in the mirror for a gut check; acknowledge how you feel before turning to your support system for additional opinions. Be wary of those who offer their opinions too quickly; how you feel should come first, and strong voices can cloud your judgment. If a dress isn't for you, understand what about it doesn't fit the bill—then move on. Keep your crew small and intimate, one to two people max, while shopping—regardless of where you go.
More people means more opinions, and a large group will likely leave you feeling like there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Plus, it takes only one negative voice or a small spat to destroy the positive tone of an appointment. Be honest with yourself about who builds you up and who in your inner circle could stand to make you feel insecure. Also worth noting: With current COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, most stores are not allowing more than the bride and a plus one, maximum plus two, anyway.
5. Give Yourself a Runway to Make Decisions
Each dress and brand have unique timelines, so it's important to not shop too late (to avoid rush fees or options being unavailable to you) or too early (to avoid missing out on styles that will release between now and your deadline to place an order). Lead time is key.
Bridal gowns are made to order and not always made to measure. That means the process of making your wedding dress does not begin until your measurements are taken and deposit has been paid. Once the deposit is received and any and all design specifications are outlined and signed off on by both you, the client, and the store or design house, all fabrics and embroidery/beading needed are secured. Logistics are then put in place in the designer's atelier to produce your gown over the course of a few months, to reach you in time for three fittings prior to the wedding date.
Choose the boutiques and designers you shop wisely based on your research—then, trust them. No store or consultant worth their salt will show you anything that won't be available in time for your wedding date.