The Quick Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping

The Quick Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping

The big wedding dress search is equal parts exciting and daunting. For most of us, this is the first and only time we'll be shopping for a wedding dress or outfit, and, as you can imagine, it's not quite the same as picking out an outfit for work. Finding the perfect wedding dress can be quite a long process and isn't always easy. So to make the process as fun and easy as possible, we've put together this quick guide to bridal shopping with our top wedding dress shopping tips. It's a few simple pointers, gleaned from the experience of many real brides and tips from our recommended bridal boutiques – we hope it helps!

Before you Start Wedding Dress Shopping

  • Think about your day, and what kind of wedding dress or outfit is most appropriate – a beach wedding vs. formal ballroom reception, winter vs. summer, outdoor ceremony vs. restaurant dinner for 25 etc. Different styles of wedding call for different styles of dress.
  • Think about your body shape and personal style – consider all your choices, the style and shape of the wedding dress or outfit, including necklines, length, waistlines, trains, sleeves etc.
  • Do some couch research – spend a few days or weeks looking at wedding websites before venturing to the shops. Look at bridal collections as well as real weddings. Save the styles you like, create a mood board (Pinterest and Instagram are so handy for this too!) and a clear picture will start to emerge – if you've saved dozens of off-shoulder styles, for example, you know this is something you definitely want to try!
  • Be realistic – you may drop a dress size before your wedding, (not that you need to!) but you're not going to grow six inches or switch your D-cup to a AA chest (well it's unlikely anyway!) – think about what suits you now and what you love to wear, not what looks fab on someone else.
  • Set a budget – the average wedding dress from a bridal boutique costs €1,500 – €3,000, but there are lots of more affordable dress options out there. And, of course, you can spend a lot more than the average, if you want to! Settle on an amount that you're happy with, and stick to it. Remember to budget for alterations, shoes, accessories, and lingerie too!

Give Yourself Enough Time to Find the Right Dress

  • Start looking sooner rather than later. It's never too early to start trying on dresses as it will give you an idea of what you like and what suits you.
  • It can take up to six months for a dress to be made to order from a bridal boutique, if you leave it any later you may have to pay extra for a rush order.
  • Make sure you factor in time for alterations.
  • While it's fine to start trying on dresses whenever you like, don't buy a dress before you've made some of the big decisions on your wedding, e.g. wedding venue, date and key suppliers. Your outfit should fit seamlessly with the vibe of your wedding, so it's a good idea to wait until this is clear in your mind before purchasing.
  • Lots of brides on a budget plan to pick up a high street or online wedding dress – these aren't always available year-round and sell out fast, so sign up for mailing lists of your favourite brands and be ready to pounce when the collection is released (often between March and May).
  • Feel free to consider all the options; bridal boutiques, high-street shops, online, rental, sample sales, second-hand and charity boutiques.
  • Some bridal boutiques are really popular and you may have to wait several weeks for an appointment, particularly on weekends, evenings, or in January – so if you have your eye on somewhere, book your appointment well in advance.

Making a Bridal Boutique Appointment

  • Before you make an appointment, check what dresses a bridal boutique carries and see if they meet the look and style you're after, while most boutiques have a range of styles, some will carry only classic styles, others vintage and some will be more high-fashion.
  • If you have a certain dress in mind and you've found a stockist for the designer, call ahead to check if they they have a sample of that particular dress – many boutiques will only keep samples of the most popular styles but they might be able to order it in.
  • If you have special requirements, or are worried about whether a boutique will have samples to fit you, just call ahead and explain your concerns. Bridal boutique staff are so lovely, and they'll try to meet your needs as much as possible.
  • Check in advance if the shop charges a service fee for trying on dresses – this is quite common, and will often come off the price of your dress if you make a purchase.
  • Organise to go to the appointments on your own, with your Mum or with one or two friends whose opinions you know you can trust. Don't bring an entourage. You need to be able to hear yourself think, and follow your own instincts about which dress makes you look and feel great.
  • If you have kids, leave them at home (with a babysitter of course!), a bridal shop is not a place for children.

Heading to the Bridal Shops

  • Make sure to wear appropriate underwear, as you will be helped in and out of dresses. Bring a couple of good quality bras, including a strapless bra, and nude pants.
  • Wear little or no make-up to protect the dresses, and to give yourself the chance to see which shades are more flattering to your skin tone. Fake tan is a no-no!
  • Bring along any items you have already decided to wear, like a veil or piece of jewellery, to make sure it ties in with the dress. Even if you think you'll buy accessories on elsewhere, try on veils, belts and accessories in the shop while you're wearing the dress, just to get an idea of what goes with your gown.
  • Bring along heels in a similar height to those you will wear on the day.
  • Check with the boutique beforehand about whether you can bring along a camera, as most bridal shops don't allow it. If you can't take photos, keep a note of the dress name or number, as well as the designer, so you can look them up online later.

In the Bridal Boutique

  • Don't get too caught up on designer labels. Choose the dress, not the label, and stick to a price range that's realistic for you and your budget.
  • Decide on a size that is realistic. Remember, a dress that is too small leaves you with way less options than a dress that is too big.
  • Be open-minded, try on a range of styles, even a few dresses you don't like on the hanger, and listen to the boutique assistants' recommendations. They really know their stuff!
  • Don't get discouraged, you may visit several stores and try on dozens before you find The One, so try to be patient!
  • Bring pictures of dresses you love with you when you shop. Your boutique may stock something similar and if not, they will help the assistant get a feel for your style.
  • If you have found The One, shop around for the right price before you commit to buying, remember when you order your wedding dress, it is a final sale.
  • When you have found your dream wedding dress, stop looking! We cannot stress this enough!
  • Use your credit card to pay for your wedding dress – it means your money is protected if there is any issue with the store. This tip came from a bride whose boutique closed down before she'd received her dress.
  • When your dress arrives, put it away in a relative's house or somewhere else safe. Don't look at it. This eliminates the risk of temptation and doubt setting in.

Wedding Dress Alterations

We've got a full post on wedding dress alterations here, but for now, here are the basics:

  • Make sure to allow for alterations in both your budget and your time frame.
  • Do your research before choosing a seamstress. We've got a handy list here, word of mouth and personal recommendations can be great too.
  • Some boutiques may include alterations in the price of the dress so be sure to ask when purchasing.
  • At a bridal boutique where an alterations service is offered but not included in the price, it can be more expensive than another seamstress. That said, it may still be worth going with the in-house alterations service, as, that way, the boutique is responsible if any issues arise.
  • Before your final fitting, make sure you have sourced your shoes, underwear and accessories, and bring them along to make sure it all works together.

Final words of advice

Wedding dress shopping should be fun, but lots of brides tell us that they found it stressful, and not at all like how it appears in the movies! It's worth remembering that you might not get butterflies in your stomach or goosebumps, but your dream wedding dress or outfit should make you feel gorgeous and get you excited to wear it – if it doesn't, move on! And remember, wedding dress shopping provides the perfect excuse for a bit of pampering or down time with friends and family, so consider pairing your shopping trips and fittings with Afternoon Tea with your Mam, cocktails with your bridesmaids or manis with your sister!

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