Top 10 Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

Bride Wedding


Congratulations, you are getting married! One of the first big purchases is your wedding dress.

Your dress is a major part of the wedding. Many brides design their entire wedding around the dress. Some brides are even willing to break the bank and blow out the wedding budget for THE dress. A wedding dress is not an investment. It is an outfit that you will (likely) wear once. The dress is the prominent visual for the wedding ceremony and photos, you want to look your very best for the big day!

Here are the top 10 shopping tips to find your perfect wedding dress, and you do not have to spend a fortune!

  1. Know your budget.
    • Determine your absolute maximum (including tax) amount for your dress.  Nothing will ever compare to the gorgeous twice-your-budget dress that you know you cannot afford – so do not try it on.  It will only make finding YOUR dress that much harder.
    • I really like the dress budget as a percentage of the overall wedding budget.  10% of your budget for attire is a common starting point, but this is entirely up to you.  This keeps the dress purchase proportionate to the entire wedding.  Evaluate the entire budget and allocation to each item, this will add perspective to your spending and identify the real priorities.
  1. Most bridal salons take reservations. When you book your reservation, tell them your wedding date (if already set), state your price range of dresses, and confirm that they can work within your budget.  Typically they will pre-select dresses for you based on size and price before you ever see the inside of a fitting room.
    • Bring a trusted friend or family member to take photos (if allowed), keep you within budget, and provide an honest opinion.
    • Remember to cancel any reservations that you are not going to attend.
  1. Bring a few different style bras with you to try on dresses (at least 2).  There are different levels of padding, coverage, and adjustable straps or strapless. Leave your sports bra at home.  You might need to buy a new low back bra or full-length shapewear, starting with a good bra for fitting will make a huge difference in appearance.
  2. Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 7.13.38 PMBring at least one pair of dress shoes with you that coordinate with the location; you will wear different shoes for a fancy church wedding, outdoor garden venue, versus beach wedding.  Most likely you will buy wedding shoes after you pick the dress, these fitting shoes are to better visualize the complete outfit.
  3. Wear good panties. When I owned a Bridal store, I was horrified at the number of women that did not wear panties to try on wedding (and even Prom) dresses.  Almost as bad, avoid panties that will bunch up or wild prints that will distract you.
    • I recommend nude vanishing edge undergarments or light colored panties that have a soft lace edge.
  1. Know the difference between Junior and Misses sizes.  What sizing is the dress?  Is this the correct fit for you?  Sales staff should be able to help you determine your size and what dresses will fit you.  Remember, dress sizes are not standard, meaning that one dress may fit perfectly and the same size dress of another brand could be too big or small.
    • In fact, ignore the size completely.  Proper fit is more important than a number.
  1. Off the rack versus made to order. Ask if you are buying the exact dress on your body, or if the store is ordering the same style dress for you.
    • If they order your dress confirm exactly how long it takes, then multiply by 1.5 to determine if you have enough time before your wedding. (Store estimates 6 months, this should be at least 9 months before the wedding).
    • When buying off the rack, inspect every inch of the dress for damage, stains, or uneven seams.  This is YOUR dress.
    • Off the rack is great for elopements and short engagements.  I sold many wedding gowns to same day brides!  One bride bought her dress less than 2 hours before the ceremony, and she looked fabulous!
  1. Try different silhouettes, fitted, straight/column, A-line, ball gown, strapless, single strap, halter, and others to find out what looks great on you. Let the sales staff pick a few dresses for you.  You might find a dress that you love, one that you would not select for yourself.
  2. Try on the entire outfit including shoes, bra, and veil. Take off anything that could distract from your bridal look.  Bring a hair clip to pull your hair up, see how the neckline looks with an updo or hair down.
  3. Tailoring & Alterations
    • You will likely need the skirt hemmed.  Finalize your shoes before the hem is marked.  Once the hem is finished you are locked into that height shoes.
    • Be wary of any store trying to sell you a dress more than 2 sizes too big this ensure that you will spend more money on alterations.  Extreme alterations can change the shape of the dress, and you may not be happy with the results. Bonus Tips

  • White (and ivory) special occasion dresses, aka Prom and Pageant dresses, are significantly less expensive than Wedding gowns. Many Bridal stores carry designer Prom dresses and sell them at the much higher Bridal rates.  Avoid Bridal only stores, and shop formal boutiques for the lower priced same styles.  Early spring has the best selection of Prom style Formalwear.  You may be able to score your perfect dress at significant cost savings.
  • Buy a used dress. Bridal consignment and resale shops sell designer dresses 40-80% off original retail prices.  Check eBay and local boutiques for an amazing deal.
  • Go Vintage! Wear a stylish piece of history on your wedding day with a vintage gown. Check out the variety and LOW PRICES of Vintage Gowns on Etsy and other vintage resale shops.

DIY wedding decor to leave more money for your dress!

11 thoughts on “Top 10 Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

  1. Really good tips, especially the frugal ones. I always think panties are the most important thing to consider carefully when going to try on dresses – they can ruin the look of an otherwise perfect dress!

  2. is it weird that I think number 3 (bras) is soooo important? I look at a gown and think about how comfy I’d be in it and what bra I’d wear. Also number 4 is very important, with planning outdoor weddings. I’d even say think about wearing heels AND flats with the gown if you can. hm, it’s clear with these comments that I value comfort over style…

  3. I made the mistake when I bought my dress of only going to one shop and buying the first dress I tried!! How I wish I’d have taken the time to try different styles so I didn’t always wonder if I made the right decision!

  4. Wow, I would have never thought about looking at white or ivory prom dresses as a budget friendly alternative wedding dress! And yes, I absolutely agree with the wear panties advice…. ew!!

  5. Great advice, especially about bringing a few different bras and panties, although when I tried on my wedding dress they were nice enough to get me into a corset they had and even spanx. In my opinion that makes for a really great dress shop! It helped me see what I would like in my wedding dress on the day of the wedding, and because it fit so perfect I bought it off the rack. That was just something I was lucky happened because it did save me a lot of money.

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