How to Choose YOUR Perfect Wedding Dress

Never in a million years did I think I would have so much to say about wedding dresses. But a few weeks ago, a dear (and engaged!) friend of mine went dress hunting for the first time and I found myself overflowing with advice. I am one of those brides who didn’t have a this-is-it! moment.  Choosing a dress was kind of tricky.  Here are a few tips and tricks that I learned along the way.  I hope they’ll help you find your perfect wedding dress.

YOUR perfect wedding dress

Sources left to right, top to bottom: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Be Prepared:

1. Make appointments! What? I’ve never had to make appointments to buy clothes before, but apparently this is a necessity in the wedding dress world.  Call ahead of time.  Many peak times (like weekends) book up quickly.  Just after Christmas is also a really busy time in the wedding dress world, since so many people get engaged over the holidays.  Plan ahead!

2. Wear appropriate undergarments.  The consultant is probably going to help you get into the dresses. This means it might not be the best time to wear your most revealing unmentionables.  Nobody wants to blush.  Keep in mind though that those bright pink granny panties probably aren’t the best either.  Go for full coverage and nude.  Strapless nude bras are also best, because they allow you to try on a plethora of necklines.  Many salons will actually let you borrow a bra if you forget, but, well, that’s kind of weird. If you plan on wearing Spanx or something similar, by all means wear it to your appointments! You want to know what these dresses are really going to look like!

3.  Allow for plenty of time.  My dress took almost 5 months to ship.  Why? I have absolutely no idea.  I highly doubt it’s handmade, so what on earth takes so long? Sashes can take an equally absurd amount of time to arrive.  After that, factor in time for fittings.  Even though they’ll measure you in 5 million places before ordering your gown, you’ll still need to get it tailored.  It’s just the way the business works. You’ll need multiple fittings with a tailor to get the dress just right.  Sure, sometimes quickly selecting a dress is the only and/or best route, but if you want many options and little stress, give yourself abundant lead time.

4.  Do your homework!  Go into the appointment with an idea of what you’re looking for – the more specific the better.  Hate trumpet gowns? Tell them! Love those little buttons? Let them know!  There are so many dresses available that lots of details help your consultant to narrow down the right dress for you.  Don’t feel like you’re being picky or  the ever-dreaded “bridezilla;”  you’re simply helping the consultant to do her job.  You can always change your tune if you find your initial guidelines aren’t working out.

Follow the Rules:

1.  Never buy a dress on the first visit.  They’re going to try to offer you deals you can’t refuse. 15% off if you buy before you leave, etc, etc. But don’t do that! This is a big decision, both emotionally and financially.  Go to multiple shops and try on lots and lots of dresses – when else will you be able to do this? And always, always sleep on it.

2.  Try on your least favorite dress first.  The very first time you try on a wedding gown you can’t help but fall in love.  For many girls wearing a wedding dress is something they’ve dreamed of since they were little.  It is easy to fall in love with the idea of yourself in a wedding dress.  So easy, in fact, that a lot of girls end up buying the first dress they try on and come to regret it down the road. When the consultant brings dresses into your fitting room, pick out your least favorite to try first.  That’s not to say the first dress can never be the dress, but buyer beware.

3.  Take pictures (even if you have to sneak them).  I was shocked by how many bridal salons don’t allow pictures.  This is detrimental for a couple of reasons.  First, when you try on multiple gowns (and you should) it gets tough to keep them all straight.  Second, these salons are filled with smoke and mirrors, sometimes I’d really like a dress and then see in the picture that it really wasn’t so flattering after all. Do everything in your power to get pictures.  Bring your smartphone.  Have a code word with somebody who is going with you, so she knows when to stealthily snap a photo.  If there’s a dress you really like, ask for an accessory like a veil or sash.  The consultant will leave the room momentarily and you can snag a few photos.  Or, just ask.  If there’s a dress you really love, ask to take a picture.  Tell them you need to share with your maid of honor/mom/friend who couldn’t be there today. Generally, if the consultant can tell you really love the dress, she’ll let you take a few pics.

4.  Tell the truth! I kept telling consultants I liked the dresses they chose even when I hated them.  I remember waiting impatiently while one consultant tied me up in this one really elaborate dress, knowing that I hated it and willing her to just stop already so I could move onto the next one.  Yet, I let her tie me in and take me out to show the dress to everyone.  Why did I even bother? Not wanting to hurt her feelings just wasted everyone’s time.

5.  Stick to your budget. I cannot tell you how many bridal consultants tried to up sell me! I can’t blame them, as it is part of their job, but be prepared for this. Many bridal salons offer 15% day of purchase – you can play the salons at their own game if you find your dress at one salon and realize another one also carries it.  Bam! You’re ready to buy on your first visit and nab that discount.  Remember – sashes, veil, hair pieces, alterations – they all add up. Keep this in mind when you set your budget.

The Guidelines:

1.  Comfort is key.  No, I’m not saying this dress should feel like your sweatpants (although it would be really awesome if it did!), but you need to feel comfortable and, most importantly, confident in your dress.  If you’ve always felt awkward in strapless dresses, now might not be the time to break one out. If you aren’t enamored with your midsection maybe you should try an empire waist option.  The great thing about the plethora of dresses out there is that there is sure to be one that makes you feel like a million bucks. And you shouldn’t feel anything less on your wedding day.

2. Be open to new ideas.  Maybe you’ve always pictured yourself in a big pouffy princess gown on your wedding day, but you’re trying them on and none seem to feel right.  It might be time to let go of the vision you’ve had since you were 6 years old and slip on a mermaid or a sheath.  You might be surprised at how what your 6 year old self imagined doesn’t really fit your current self.  Your definition of bridal might have changed over the years.

3.  That being said, don’t wear a new trend solely because it’s trendy.  Think about what you’ll want to look back on in 50 years.  Yes, the wedding is about wayyy more than a dress, but while that scandalous cutout may seem on-trend right now, I’m not sure you’ll want to show it to your grandchildren….I am really into the cap sleeve trend that is dominating the fashion world right now, but every time I tried on a dress with sleeves, it felt too tight in the arms. I don’t think I have particularly large arms, but clearly this trend, while pretty, was not for me.  Refer back to Guideline #1.

3. Narrow in on what makes you feel like a bride.  Silk? Ball gown? Ethereal sheer fabrics? A classic silhouette? What makes you feel like a bride? You are, afterall, about to be one.  When I was trying on dresses, I really loved this one dress, but then I announced that I felt like I could wear it to work.  Everyone in the shop freaked out and told me to take the dress off immediately.  Sure, I loved the dress.  But should you really want to wear your wedding gown to the office? There are lots of pretty dresses out there, find the one that means “bride” to you.

4. Embrace your unique personality. Whether that means breaking the rules with color (I cannot get enough of the dress above) or throwing in some personality with accessories, don’t forget to let yourself shine through on your wedding day. If you’ve found a great dress that just needs a little help, many designers and/or tailors are more than happy to help you to alter your dress.  Adding sleeves to a strapless can be done with just a yard or two of extra fabric. Removing some of that beading isn’t usually a big deal.

I hope this tips and tricks help you on your wedding dress hunt! Most importantly do what feels right for YOU and don’t forget to have fun!!