Say Yes to the Dress: Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

If you are engaged to be married, you’ve come to the right place! Here is just about everything you need to know to have a successful wedding dress shopping experience. Wedding dress shopping can be fun, stressful, emotional, and exciting! Here are some tips for helping your experience go a little smoother.

Once upon a time I had a dream of being a wedding planner. Then I wanted to be a wedding caterer. Then I wanted to work in a bridal gown boutique. And the only one of those “dreams” that even came close to coming true was the last one. I actually was offered a job at a local wedding dress store, but the hours, unfortunately, didn’t jive with my busy school schedule. However, I still love all things wedding, especially when it comes to wedding dresses. I just think there’s something so magical about wedding dress shopping!

And the only one of those “dreams” that even came close to coming true was the last one. I actually was offered a job at a local wedding dress store, but the hours, unfortunately, didn’t jive with my busy school schedule. However, I still love all things wedding, especially when it comes to wedding dresses. I just think there’s something so magical about wedding dress shopping!

I actually was offered a job at a local wedding dress store, but the hours, unfortunately, didn’t jive with my busy school schedule. However, I still love all things wedding, especially when it comes to wedding dresses. I just think there’s something so magical about wedding dress shopping!

So, obviously I’m not a professional wedding dress consultant, but I feel like I have done enough research (and had a good amount of real-life experience — both with my own dress shopping and going with quite a few others), as well as watched just about every episode of Say Yes to the Dress, that I think I know enough to give a little bit of advice. I actually wrote an article while I was BYU, and I interviewed quite a few professionals as well and some of those tips are included here.

I actually wrote an article while I was BYU, and I interviewed quite a few professionals as well and some of those tips are included here.

Buying a dress can yield all sorts of emotions, and it does help to be prepared! Here’s everything I think you need to know about buying a wedding dress. Feel free to chime in if I missed something!

Before You Go Wedding Dress Shopping

Research, Research, Research

Some people may be able to go into a bridal store, having never thought about a wedding dress before and then buy one that day. However, that’s not the story for most (especially because you can’t always just walk into a bridal store. More on that later, though.)

While I believe that you should be open-minded about what dresses you try on, it doesn’t hurt to go online and look at different styles and see what you think you like.

There are different colors you could look into (white, obviously, then ivory, champagne, etc.), and so many different styles, as I mentioned above. If you find a dress online that you really like, you could bring that picture with you into the store that you are going to and see if they have something similar.

You might even be able to find a store locally that has the dress in stock for you to try on.

Not only should you research dresses, but it’s a good idea to research the different stores in your area. Many stores require an appointment, so to avoid being sad and discouraged when a bridal store turns you away, definitely call ahead of time.

Making an appointment definitely will make your appointment go more smoothly, because the store is expecting you and may even have dresses pulled already.

It’s also a good idea to find out the reputation of the stores you are going to. While I don’t think that online reviews can always be trusted, if you are looking at the reviews for one store and it has tons of negative reviews…you might want to skip that one!

Know Your Budget

Whenever I watch “Say Yes to the Dress,” there always seems to be someone who says they don’t know what their budget is, or they don’t have one. And in almost all these cases, they try on very, very expensive dresses. After doing so, they end up falling in love with one of those expensive dresses, and one of three things happens —

  • They truly did not have a budget, and they buy their super expensive dress.
  • Their father, or mother, or even themselves, decides there actually was a budget, and drama ensues about what to do.
  • They leave empty handed and sad.

I think knowing how much you are willing to spend is important, especially when you are on a budget. Some consultants will still bring out dresses that are way out of your price range (so be sure to check the tags!), but I think most are willing to work with you and show you what is available.

It’s important to be realistic about prices as well and know what kinds of prices to expect at certain stores. On a similar note, don’t feel like you have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars. Because you don’t (unless you want a one-of-a-kind Vera Wang.)

During your Wedding Dress Appointment

What to Expect

Your experience will vary from place to place, but in general, when you first arrive, you will be introduced to your consultant, who will ask you a series of questions (mainly about if you’ve tried on dresses yet, if there are any styles you like, and what dress size you usually wear.)

Then, depending on the store, you will either be brought back to the wedding gown selection and choose a few different dresses with the consultant to try on, or you’ll be escorted to a seating area and the consultant will bring out some dresses that she felt met your suggestions, or if you didn’t have any idea, she thought would look good on your body type. You will then be given a dressing room where you can change into the gowns!

You’ll definitely either want the assistance of the consultant, or one of the people you brought with you, because it’s pretty much impossible (I think, at least!) to put on a wedding dress yourself. Just start with the first dress on the top of the pile and go from there.

When you have the gown on, you will be taken out to an area that probably has lots of mirrors, and even a pedestal. The consultant will ask you what you like about the dress, what you don’t like, and how you feel. If you really like it, she will offer you some veils, accessories, etc. to try on to help you visualize what you could look like on your wedding day.

After trying on a few dresses, the consultant will ask if you loved any of them. If you did, she’ll put that one aside and bring back some other ones back that you might like. The appointment will go in whatever direction you take it. If you don’t feel like it’s going well, don’t be afraid to leave. No one wants you to be wasting your time.

Who to Take Dress Shopping

This is really up to you, but it’s recommended to not bring tons of people (especially if all of them are very opinionated.) If you’ve ever watched “Say Yes to the Dress,” you are probably familiar with lots of moms, aunts, cousins, best friends, etc. accompanying the bride, and this can be a good thing…and not such a good thing. You want to bring someone who will be honest (and not just say you look great in everything) but who respects your style and wishes.

What to Wear and Bring With You

You might be thinking — why does it matter what I wear? And in some ways, it doesn’t. You could probably show up in sweat pants and your hair all messy, and you’d probably still get service (though people may look at you a bit strange!)

However, I would recommend wearing something that you can easily change out of and that you are comfortable in. You don’t need to wear a formal outfit but putting a little bit of effort into your outfit choice might make you feel more confident (but who I am to speak – I wore jeans and a t-shirt, and my hair was in a ponytail, the first time I tried on dresses, and I was fine.)

There are two articles of clothing I would recommend bringing. First, bring the shoes you plan to wear in your wedding, or, if you don’t have them yet, bringing a shoe that has a similar heel to what you plan to wear.

This helps visualize how much of a hem you’ll need on the dress and how the dress will fall.

Secondly, wear the bra or undergarments that you will be wearing with your dress. I was told to do this before one of my dress shopping appointments, and I think it’s a great suggestion. Dresses will fit differently depending on what you are wearing underneath it.

And, if you want to make sure you are wearing the proper undergarments, be sure to check out my friend, Courtney’s, bra fitting guide. She’s the best!

I would also recommend bringing a camera. There’s no need for a professional DSLR — a camera phone will suffice, but by taking pictures, you can get a different perspective of how you look. Also bring a pen and pad of paper to write down notes about the dresses you like, model and style numbers, etc. You may be able to find the dress cheaper somewhere else!

Questions to Ask during Bridal Gown Appointment

Be interactive with your consultant! They are there to answer your questions and help you find the dress of your dreams. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • How much are alterations? Even if a dress seems like a great price, alterations can rack the price up hundreds of dollars if you need a lot of work done. Some bridal stores will charge an arm and a leg for these, while others price them rather modestly. I would definitely see what they charge, and then look around elsewhere. Whatever you do, make sure whoever does your alterations has a good reputation.
  • What is the turn around time? If you are in a time crunch, this is especially important. Most stores will have a few months for turnaround time (though I’ve found here in Utah, some of the stores can be a bit quicker.) If you need a dress quicker than that, your best bet will be buying something off of the rack.
  • Do they offer off the rack or consignment? A little-known fact is that often, dress stores will mark down dresses if they are bought as-is, right off the rack. Some stores designate certain days each year for this sales, and others have this available at all times. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Other stores offer the option to sell back the dress after your wedding for a reduced price, and either receive a commission right then, or when someone buys it. You can also buy dresses that people have sold back at a discounted rate. Not all stores will offer this, but it’s definitely worth asking about.
  • If the dress can be ordered (or if it’s the last one left) You may try on a dress, and love it but may not want to commit at that exact moment. In some cases, that’s okay! It might be one that can be ordered pretty easily. However, that’s not always the case. One of the dresses I absolutely loved was the last one available anywhere. I didn’t believe them at first, but I searched online looking for it, and it wasn’t even listed on their site. I didn’t end up getting that dress, because I basically had to decide that second if I wanted it.
  • Is there an in-house alteration department? Sometimes it is easiest just to use the alteration department that a bridal store offers, rather than finding someone yourself. The seamstresses are most likely familiar with the dresses that are in the store, and have experiencing altering ones similar to yours. However, prices will vary depending where you go (see above.) In the months of planning a wedding, you will find yourself wanting to simplify and having everything for your dress done in the same place might make your life easier.

 Is it the one?

When I went with my sister, Cindy, dress shopping, we first went to a tiny dress boutique in Salt Lake City. There was only one lady there, and she was so helpful. As my sister tried on dresses (and she looked amazing in all of them — she could have worn a potato sack and looked pretty), she seemed conflicted about what dress she loved the most. The bridal gown consultant told her that she should go home and sleep on it, and whatever dress she found herself thinking about the most was the dress she should get. And guess what — that’s exactly what she did.

The bridal gown consultant told her that she should go home and sleep on it, and whatever dress she found herself thinking about the most was the dress she should get. And guess what — that’s exactly what she did.

Most brides will talk about just “knowing” when they found the right dress. And perhaps that will happen to you, too! But in all honesty, I think the best thing you can do is take lots of pictures, try on lots of dresses, and, unless you are 150% sure, don’t buy it right away. Go home and think about it, look at the pictures, and separate yourself from the excitement of trying on dresses. It can be super overwhelming and exciting to try on dresses, which may cause you not to think entirely straight. Which is totally fine. However, taking some time to really think about it will hopefully help you make a sane decision!

Go home and think about it, look at the pictures, and separate yourself from the excitement of trying on dresses. It can be super overwhelming and exciting to try on dresses, which may cause you not to think entirely straight. Which is totally fine. However, taking some time to really think about it will hopefully help you make a sane decision!

It can be super overwhelming and exciting to try on dresses, which may cause you not to think entirely straight. Which is totally fine. However, taking some time to really think about it will hopefully help you make a sane decision!

Miscellaneous Tips

Be open minded

You may think you know exactly what you want in your dress, but there’s no way to really be sure until you try on dresses. It’s even hard to judge a dress in a bag. Trying on dresses is the best way to eliminate a style. Even if you totally think you’ll look terrible in

Buy the dress you love

I know this isn’t always a possibility, but I think if you are going to put the money into buying a dress, you should buy the one that you feel most beautiful and happy in! Give yourself plenty of time when shopping, so you don’t feel like you have to just buy a dress as fast as possible. Although I did end up really liking the dress I had, the dress I loved (and still think about!) was left on the rack because I didn’t have time to go back to the store.

Although I did end up really liking the dress I had, the dress I loved (and still think about!) was left on the rack because I didn’t have time to go back to the store.

You’ll also get a variety of opinions on the dresses you try on. And while I think most people are well-meaning with their comments, and their advice may be sound, don’t buy a dress because your sister loved it, or your mom loved it, or you think it’s the kind of dress you should love. Buy it because you feel comfortable and beautiful in it!

Buy it because you feel comfortable and beautiful in it!

Avoid Fixating on the size

Dress sizes really vary. I tried on three different sizes at different stores, and they all fit fine. It can be tempting to feel like you have to fit into a certain size to be beautiful, but the truth is, you’re going to look beautiful in your dress no matter what size you are! The size doesn’t dictate your worth or how much of a stunner you’ll be at your wedding. From what I’ve seen, most people end up wearing a larger wedding dress size than they actually are. And if you do, try not to feel bad about yourself.

The size doesn’t dictate your worth or how much of a stunner you’ll be at your wedding. From what I’ve seen, most people end up wearing a larger wedding dress size than they actually are. And if you do, try not to feel bad about yourself.

Avoid Buying a Dress Expecting to Lose Weight

Everyone wants to look their best at their wedding — that’s a totally worthwhile goal. However, when you buy a dress, don’t buy one that doesn’t fit, thinking you’ll lose weight. Maybe you will…but there’s also a big possibility that you won’t! I don’t mean to be discouraging, but really, I think it would be even more discouraging to have a dress that doesn’t fit. Planning a wedding can be stressful at times, and stress doesn’t usually go hand in hand with losing weight.

I don’t mean to be discouraging, but really, I think it would be even more discouraging to have a dress that doesn’t fit. Planning a wedding can be stressful at times, and stress doesn’t usually go hand in hand with losing weight.

You’ll most likely go through a series of alterations leading up to your wedding day, and if you do lose weight (assuming it’s not something crazy, like 50 pounds, from the time you bought your dress), it will hopefully be able to altered.

Beware of first dress syndrome

When you first try on a dress, you might feel like you are on cloud nine, and you might be tempted to just buy the first dress you try on because you feel so pretty! The first dress you try on might be the best dress for you…but it’s also possible that the 15th dress you try on is going to be the perfect one. When I went with my sister-in-law dress shopping, we went to a dress shop first that had discounted dresses. To put it simply, these dresses weren’t that great, and the styles were about 10 years old it seemed. So when we went to another store, and she tried on dresses that were actually pretty and fit her well, we thought the first one she tried on was the one! However, after trying on more (that day and another day), she found dresses she liked better. But it was just the initial shock of feeling like she looked amazing (which she did!) that made it seem like it was the “one.”

The first dress you try on might be the best dress for you…but it’s also possible that the 15th dress you try on is going to be the perfect one. When I went with my sister-in-law dress shopping, we went to a dress shop first that had discounted dresses. To put it simply, these dresses weren’t that great, and the styles were about 10 years old it seemed. So when we went to another store, and she tried on dresses that were actually pretty and fit her well, we thought the first one she tried on was the one! However, after trying on more (that day and another day), she found dresses she liked better. But it was just the initial shock of feeling like she looked amazing (which she did!) that made it seem like it was the “one.”

To put it simply, these dresses weren’t that great, and the styles were about 10 years old it seemed. So when we went to another store, and she tried on dresses that were actually pretty and fit her well, we thought the first one she tried on was the one! However, after trying on more (that day and another day), she found dresses she liked better. But it was just the initial shock of feeling like she looked amazing (which she did!) that made it seem like it was the “one.”

However, after trying on more (that day and another day), she found dresses she liked better. But it was just the initial shock of feeling like she looked amazing (which she did!) that made it seem like it was the “one.”

Buying online, Craigslist, from Ebay, or from China

A trend nowadays is to try on dresses in the store, and then find a similar (or potentially, the same) dress online for a fraction of the cost. And I’ve heard both success and sob stories about doing this. I personally would have been too nervous to do this, but if this is what you choose to do, here are a few tips:

  • If using Ebay or DHL Gate, research the seller. Read as many reviews as you can and search around online to see what others say about the company. There are legitimate companies that will deliver a beautiful dress that was customized just for your body. However, I’ve heard and read about plenty of horror stories, where a dress arrived looking nothing like the picture. The good news is, you probably won’t be paying a ton for a dress bought from one of these sources, so you could probably afford to get another dress. However, if it’s super close to your wedding when the dress arrives, and you don’t like it, you might be out of luck. Here is a great post from The Perfect Dress in Salt Lake City about buying a wedding dress online. Be smart when buying a dress online.
  • If you buy it locally, from a website like Craigslist, first of all, be safe and take someone with you (or meet in a public place.) Secondly, realize that even if the listing says it’s a specific size, the dress has most likely has alterations specific for that person’s height and size. Unless you are that person’s long-lost body twin, it probably won’t fit perfectly. And, unless the person selling the dress had it professionally dry cleaned, that’s another expense you’ll have to consider when buying a dress used.

Bridal Gown Tips from an Expert

I thought it would be fun to share some tips from an actual wedding expert. My friend, Kelley, from Miss Information Blog, owned a bridal store in Georgia called The Wedding Knot, and she was so kind to share a few wedding dress shopping tips for this post. A few of them I’ve already touched on, but it was nice knowing I wasn’t giving terrible advice after reading her tips!

1. You will almost always wear one size bigger than your normal dress size. Don’t stress about this. It’s just the way they are made.

2. An A-line is the most flattering style on most body style

3. White is not the best color for everyone — buy the color that most flatters your skin tone

4. Don’t take everyone you know with you, take your Mom if she wants to go and one friend that is honest with you and that you trust – that is all you need, too many opinions can become overwhelming

5. If you’re ordering your dress and not buying it off the rack normal shipping time is 12 weeks give or take 2 weeks. If someone tells you six weeks, they are lying and trying to get your money quicker

Bridal Gown Dress Shopping Tips from Readers

I also thought it would be fun to share some tips and stories from some of our readers. I asked on Facebook for any stories or tips, and I was excited with the response!

“I bought mine used at a bridal resale shop, and my mom made alterations to it.” – Karen

“I went to all the boutiques and wrote down the model number and designer of my favorites and the size I needed. Then I went to netbrides.com and got my $1200 dress for $300. It shipped right away and was flawless.” – Kayla from Say Not Sweet Anne

“Do what feels right for you; don’t let other people pressure you into taking them along . . . for me, I took only my mother. We’ve had a rocky relationship in the past, and this was something important and special that I wanted to share with just her. I’m so glad I trusted my gut on that one.” – Kalyn Campbell

“Find one you like after trying dresses on at the boutiques and then purchase one on Ebay.” — Lisa

“Be sure you take a trusted friend/family member with you who will be honest with you. And don’t take more than a couple of people with you when dress shopping. Too many opinions, and it can get overwhelming.” Julie from Confessions of a Cooking Diva

Wedding Gown Terminology

As soon as you walk into a bridal store (or even before, when you start researching your dream gown), you’ll be bombarded with all sorts of terms that you may or may not have heard before. A-line, Queen Anne, Chapel…it’s like a whole new language. This is a great list of wedding gown terminology, but I’ll highlight some of the ones I think are most common below:

Type of Wedding Dress Silhouette

There are quite a few wedding dress silhouettes; here are some of the most popular

  • Ball Gown: A fitted bodice with a full skirt; typically best on full figured women, pear-shaped women, or slim women
  • Empire: The waist of the dress begins just below the chest and continues with a slim skirt; best for petite, thin, or pear shaped women
  • Princess: The dress has vertical seams and a flared skirt; best for hourglass shaped, full-figured, or petite women
  • Sheath: A very form fitting dress; best on thin, petite, or hour glass shaped women
  • Tiered Skirt: The skirt has layers that fall gradually
  • Mermaid: Very form fitting; doesn’t typically have much train and ends in fishtail skirt

Types of Neckline

  • Queen Anne: Tall collar in the box, sweetheart neckline
  • Boat: Goes straight from shoulder to shoulder with a small dip in the center
  • Halter:  Ties in the back, scoops in the front.
  • Keyhole back: Tear shaped opening on the back of the dress
  • Sweetheart: Heart-shaped
  • Square: Well, it’s square.
  • Strapless: Without straps
  • Decolletage: Deep and plunging neckline

Types of Sleeves

  • Cap: Very short and typically cover the shoulder and nothing else
  • Tulip: Covers the shoulder a little bit below — the fabric overlaps, making a tulip like effect (this is the kind of sleeve I had.)
  • Off the shoulder: Self-explanatory
  • Three-quarter: Ends between the elbow and forearm
  • Spaghetti Straps
  • Fitted: Very tight fitting, close to the arms

Types of Trains

  • Sweep: Very short train, usually only about eight inches long
  • Cathedral: About 6-7 feet waist
  • Chapel: About 3-4 feet from the waist

Types of Veils

  • Blusher: Very short and typically goes over the face during a wedding ceremony and is usually attached to a longer veil
  • Cathedral-length: Very long, trails behind bride
  • Fly-away: About shoulder-length, multiple layers
  • Ballet: Falls to the ankles
  • Fingertips: Falls around the fingertips

Wedding Dress Colors

here are probably endless amounts of colors that a person could probably order for their dress, but these are the most common:

Saying Yes to the Dress-  The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Dress of your Dreams

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