The idea of wedding dress shopping is exciting, full of fantasy and filled with lots of emotions. It's not, however, an easy task. From researching your preferred dress, to making appointments, alterations, and beyond, this is an endeavour that requires expert advice — and I'm here to guide you through the most important steps.
When to start
You should start researching, shopping, and planning appointments about 9-10 months before your wedding date. Your goal should be to have made a decision about your dress and to have ordered your gown no later than six to eight months before the wedding. Six months may be cutting it close, depending on the style of the dress.
With the current post-pandemic wedding boom, many designers are jumping through hoops to meet deadlines. Of course, shorter timelines can certainly be feasible, but prepare yourself for the possibility of a rush fee, buying a sample dress or a dress from last season. The fact is, when to go wedding dress shopping depends on the length of your engagement. If you don't find your dream wedding dress during your first shopping appointment, don't panic; it's normal to take a few weeks of looking around to find the right one for you.
Why do you need so much time?
Most wedding dresses are made to order, especially if you plan to purchase your gown from a professional bridal shop. Once you've found a dress you love, the stylist takes your measurements and shares them with the designer, who then creates a brand-new dress for you. The entire process can take up to six months, which is why it's important to get the ball rolling shortly after your engagement. Once the design specifications are signed off on, the store or design house begins to source all fabrics, detailing, and embroidery/beading needed for the dress. Each dress brand has a unique timeline.
Many design houses rely on fabrics and lace from Italy and France, embroidery from India, and fasteners from Asia; therefore, it's important to not shop too late (to avoid rush fees or options being unavailable to you).
Before the pandemic, most bridal gowns were released seasonally, in October and April, and were then shown to buyers a year before they were available in stores. With the recent wedding boom, designers have begun to release new styles as see-now, buy-now pieces, where designs are released and available for order immediately.
To help you seamlessly navigate this shopping process, I'm going to give you a break-down of how to get started. Stay on track by booking appointments well in advance, since spots at bridal dress shopping appointments fill up quickly. Here's a timeline guide:
Nine months before the wedding: Narrow down your final dress of choice at a bridal salon, pinpoint any desired customisations, pay a deposit of 50 to 60 per cent, and allot six to nine months for the bespoke creation to be ready.
Six to eight weeks before the wedding: This is when you should do your first fitting. Make minor tweaks (change neckline, trim train, etc). This is also a good time to have a friend or family member learn to bustle your dress.
Four weeks before the wedding: Undergo the second fitting.
Two weeks before the wedding: Some dresses only require two fittings, but a third, final round of alterations may be necessary.
Top tips to get through the process
1. Do your research
You've likely had an idea of what you hope your wedding dress would perhaps look like long before your partner popped the question. If you don't already have a vision of your ideal gown start saving pages from bridal magazines, looking at trends and noting your designers. Get a good understanding of the elements you love — the neckline, a silhouette, a textile, beadwork, et cetera. Walking into your first appointment with a clear understanding of what you like will be extremely helpful in determining what you should try on first.
2. Be realistic about your budget
Stay within your budget. Having a number in mind will help you to keep your overall budget in check. 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.
3. Don't overthink it
Many women go into wedding shopping with expectations of how the process will unfold; don't overthink things. Avoid trying on too many dresses as it will leave you feeling confused and can make your final choice feel anticlimactic.
4. Limit your entourage
Keep your crew small and intimate, perhaps one to two persons, while shopping. Whether you hire a stylist versed in bridal attire, or you choose to do it alone with the help of a curated group of friends and family, just remember: more people mean more opinions. A large group will likely leave you feeling like there are too many cooks in the kitchen. You should also note that some bridal stores limit the number of persons dress shopping.
5. Consider your venue
I suggest going gown shopping only after you've chosen your wedding venue, which makes sense considering it's where it'll be worn. A beach ceremony with an elaborate ball gown, for example, might not be the best choice.
Working with a time crunch?
Not all brides have this much time and the above timeline might not apply to you.
Maybe the bride is planning an elopement or is very laid-back seeking other alternatives to the traditional dress. Think about buying a dress off the rack, online or opt for a sample dress.
Remember the goal is to not only get your dream wedding dress but to enjoy the time you spend shopping for it too.