The aisle runner

Wedding dress shopping: 12 Helpful tips before you start

Wedding dress shopping: 12 Helpful tips before you start

Like many phases of wedding planning, it never hurts to be prepared with a few tips from previous brides or those in the industry. We’ve put together a list of tips to help set you on the path to finding the perfect dress.

You’ve found the person of your dreams and now it’s time for you to find the dress of your dreams! It’s an exciting time and for some of us, a moment we have dreamed about since we were little. For others this is all new and so begins navigating the wonderful world of wedding dresses.

Trying on wedding dresses for the first time can come with a mix of emotions from joy and happiness to feeling overwhelmed or it can simply be that moment that tells you it’s all really happening and you are well and truly on your way to walking down the aisle to marry the love of your life!

Either way, it never hurts to know what to expect and how to make the most out of your visits. So to help we’ve put together this list of 12 helpful tips before you start shopping for wedding dresses.

1. Set your budget (or decide you don’t have one!)

Before you start shopping it never hurts to ask the question… “what is my budget?” If you have a set budget and you need to stick to it, it’s best to find out the price point of the dresses you will be trying before you even walk in the door. This will help avoid any disappointment or shopping at a boutique you know you cannot accommodate your price point.

If you’re unsure, call ahead or when you call to book your appointment, ask what the price range is of the dresses that they stock. While you may find prices vary from  within your range to wildly outside of it, you can always let the consultant know, at the beginning of your appointment, what price point you are comfortable with. This way they will suggest dresses from your price range or show you the suitable areas of the store to keep your search to.

Never forget the cardinal rule of dress shopping... don’t try on a dress that isn’t within your budget!

A few extra additions you may need to factor into your budget:

  • Veil/headpiece
  • Jewellery
  • Shoes
  • Petticoats/crinoline
  • Second dress (if you're planning to have one)
  • Alterations
  • Appointment fees

All these items can cost anywhere from several hundreds of dollars to over a thousand so it’s worth keeping them in mind as you decide on your budget.

Alterations in particular can add up quickly, something as simple as raising a hem line on a wedding dress will usually cost far more than a standard dress as they tend to have several layers.

Never forget the cardinal rule of dress shopping... don’t try on a dress that isn’t within your budget!

2. Start shopping at least 12 months in advance

This may come as a shock but many wedding dress stores require a minimum of six months to order your dress and if it is custom, it may be even longer.

Ideally we would recommend shopping for your wedding dress at least one year in advance of your big day. It’s a big decision and something you should be able to enjoy shopping for without the pressure of order lead times.

Even 18 months in advance isn’t unheard of but any more than that and you may find your body, circumstances or taste could change over such a long period of time.

If you’re under the six month mark already, don’t panic, there’s always a solution. Some stores will still allow you to purchase gowns within this time frame but they may charge a rush fee as a result. Alternatively you can buy floor stock if the boutique is offering this as an option or keep an eye out for sample sales. You can also get creative and think outside the box. Many of the large department stores now stock designers that have beautiful dresses for your wedding day and you can walk out with your dress the very same day.

Trying on your wedding dress 12 tips before you get started

3. Find which styles suit you

If you’re struggling to envision what style of wedding dress may work for you and don’t know where to begin, we’ve listed a few steps you can take to help set you on the right path.

  • Reflect on your best of outfits: Taking a look at your current wardrobe is a great place to begin. What type of neckline suits you best from your everyday outfits, what kind of length skirt or dress do you feel most comfortable in? Do you like to cover your arms or show off your décolletage? Chances are your wardrobe will reflect what suits you most and that can be helpful to follow when you begin looking at dresses. If a deep V neck is your style, start by looking at dresses with a similar neckline. While this doesn’t mean you won’t find something different to your everyday style that suits you, this should give you a good starting point.
  • Window shop: If you’re still feeling unsure, try to find a shopping strip that is known for having multiple wedding dress shops. Take some time to peruse the windows and even go in and take a look at some of the dresses on the rack (most stores won’t require an appointment to simply look at the dresses, though keep in mind some stores are by appointment only), feel the weight, different textures and see which ones are appealing to you.

    You may even find once you’re in a store you are drawn towards certain dresses as you look through the racks. Do you keep pulling out beaded dresses or sweetheart necklines? You may start to see a pattern emerge, this is a good starting point to go from when you are ready to try on dresses. If you find any dresses you love and intend to come back and try seriously, it might be worth doing a quick price check to be on the safe side.
  • Have a taste tester appointment: Another good way to get started is to pick a wedding dress boutique which has lots of variety and good length appointments (even better if they’re free). You can use this appointment to try on a variety of different shaped wedding gowns to help you hone in on what style might suit you best. There are many different types of wedding gowns so process of elimination can be key when you are uncertain. Again, don’t forget to check the price range before you head in store.

4. Book an appointment

You don’t always need an appointment, but most stores will advise you to book one if you would like to try on dresses. It’s also nice to have time set aside where you and your guests can be properly attended to, after all it’s a fun occasion and you want to enjoy the experience!

Some stores will require a booking fee for your appointment, these can vary from $50 - $150. If you just want to peruse the dresses on their hangers, most stores won’t have an issue with walk-ins but keep in mind if you find one you would like to try, you may not be able to if they have a full day ahead.

5. Research before your appointment

We all know it never hurts to be well researched and wedding dress shopping is no exception. Researching a brand before you go in to try on their dresses is always advisable. Boutiques can stock hundreds of dresses and different brands, so if you already know which dresses or designers you may like, it will go a long way.

If there are any particular dresses you know you would like to try, it’s a good idea to phone ahead and let the boutique know when you book your appointment. Not only will you save yourself time during your appointment and feel less rushed, but you’ll also save yourself from being disappointed as some stores lend dresses out for photoshoots or have different stock in different locations. This way you can be sure the time you have booked will have the dresses you wish to try on available.

If there are any particular dresses you know you would like to try, it’s a good idea to phone ahead and let the boutique know when you book your appointment.

6. Keep your entourage small

As exciting as it is to finally have your moment trying on dresses with all your loved ones, bringing too many people to your appointment can sometimes work against you. Try to limit your number of guests to three or less, in particular for your first appointment. Too many opinions can become overwhelming and some stores will enforce a maximum guest number for this exact reason.

You will probably find you end up visiting multiple stores and sometimes the same store more than once. If this is the, case and your entourage is too big for one booking, you can spread them over different appointments to ensure everyone feels included and you have a chance to share this journey with all those who are important to you.

7. Come prepared

You’ll find most stores won’t carry every size available so you may end up with something too big or small that they will clip together to give you an idea of how it will sit. This can make it a bit tricky to get the full effect and trying an ill fitting dress with bright pink bra straps and socks won’t help you see the sparkling vision you will be on your wedding day.

Wearing neutral and suitable underwear for your dress style will always go a long way. You don’t have to take your wedding day underwear to your first appointment, but a strapless bra is always handy if you know you will be trying on strapless dresses.

It will also help to give you a clearer picture if you can style your hair and accessories as you feel you might on your big day. For example, if you plan to wear your hair up, try to do your hair up for your appointment to give you an idea of how your neckline will appear. Vice versa if you’re planning on wearing your hair down, half up etc. If you have any heirloom or existing jewellery you know you would like to wear, bring it along and try it with your dress selection to help you get the full picture.

Finally, keep in mind trying on wedding dresses can be a workout physically and mentally. Not to mention, the sheer enormity of it all can sometimes hit you and leave you feeling a little faint.

Items to bring to your wedding dress appointment

Helpful items to bring to your appointments

  • Any jewellery/headpieces/accessories you already have
  • Your veil if you are using one passed down or already have one chosen
  • Your shoes if you already have them, otherwise take a pair that are a similar style and height
  • Wedding day undergarments, once you have your underwear for your wedding day it’s worth taking it along to future appointments to make sure it’s doing the right job
  • A bottle of water to keep you hydrated
  • A snack to nibble on in between/after appointments
You don’t have to take your wedding day underwear to your first appointment, but a strapless bra is always handy if you know you will be trying on strapless dresses.

8. Arrive early to make the most of it

There’s a good chance your appointment will have a time limit so to make the most of it, be sure to leave plenty of time for parking and even aim to arrive a little earlier. This will give you time to peruse the dress selection before your appointment begins.

9. It never hurts to keep an open mind

It may sound unlikely, but sometimes we can be surprised by how someone can know what suits us better than you yourself. Even if you are convinced you know what style of dress you want, if someone suggests a new style you hadn’t considered (or don’t feel will suit you), it’s worth humouring them at least once as you may find you are pleasantly surprised. Of course, if everyone keeps recommending you try dresses you simply don’t see yourself in, you may need to fend them off as you don’t want to spend your entire appointment trying on dresses you aren’t interested in.

Trying on wedding dresses

10. Sizes may appear smaller than normal

Wedding dress sizing tends to run in a league of its own. Try not to worry about the number as you may find it is bigger than your regular size clothes as wedding dresses tend to run smaller. Instead try to focus on how the dress fits your body and makes you feel. At the end of the day almost everyone will have alterations to make their dress fit their shape as best as possible. The size is just a number for the consultants to work from.

11. Consider functionality

You may be shocked to hear a head to toe beaded dress can weigh up to 30kg or more and a ballgown can also be surprisingly heavy! No matter what kind of wedding dress you are considering, it’s worth thinking about the functionality and what is most important to you for your wedding day.

I’ve seen brides having to partially lay down in the car on the way to their ceremony thanks to some corsetry and others holding on to guests for support from exhaustion being covered head to toe in heavy beading in sweltering heat.

Here’s our quick checklist of things to consider:

  • Can you dance in it: Whether you are planning to have a traditional first dance or like to get down and boogie, it’s worth considering if your dress will allow you to move freely. Will your partner be able to get close to you or dance without stepping on your train, can you pull off your signature dance move in it? If not, is that a deal breaker or does it mean you need to consider a second dress to change into?
  • Can you sit comfortably: A high split can look sexy and sleek as you’re walking down the aisle but when it comes time to sit, you may find it’s a different story. Corsets and boning can also cause issues, while they look great on the figure they don’t always make you feel at ease when seated and chances are you will be seated for at least a few hours at some stage.
  • Is it weather appropriate: Summer is a popular time for weddings and a long sleeve heavily layered ball gown on a 30C day won’t exactly feel great. It’s worth thinking about your ceremony and reception settings and if there will be air conditioning or not and how this may impact your comfort on the day.
  • Are your dress and shoes compatible: Depending on the fabric of your dress it’s worth considering what type of shoes you are planning to wear. Many bridal shoes have beading or crystals and this can sometimes snag on fabric and damage your dress.
Wedding shoes
A high split can look sexy and sleek as you’re walking down the aisle but when it comes time to sit, you may find it’s a different story.

12. If allowed, take pictures

You may very well think you will only visit one or two stores but before you know it you could be 30 plus dresses in! If you are allowed (some stores have a no photos policy), it's a great idea to take photos, especially of the dresses you really love. Try taking photos from a few different angles to get a sense of how it looks on you and for reference after your appointment. This can be a big helping factor when deciding if you're ready to purchase a dress.

Most importantly, have some fun!

This is such a precious moment in time when you get to bask in the warmth of your love, not only with whom you are about to marry, but with the love of friends and family who are there to support you throughout this joyous journey.

I hope this has helped give you a few helpful pointers to get you started and on how to make the most out of your wedding dress shopping experience. At the end of the day it’s all about the journey so be sure to enjoy yourself and have some fun!

– By The Aisle Runner

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Hi, I'm Tracey

I work as a bridal personal assistant and wedding coordinator.
My goal is to make your wedding planning journey easy and enjoyable so that it is a pleasant memory for years to come.

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