Tips for Wedding Dress Shopping

I feel like I could go on forever on this subject... although I guess I kind of did back when I shared my "how I found my gown" story :). I had such a fun experience shopping for my wedding dress last October and I thought it would be worthwhile to share some things I learned along the way. I encourage you to share with any brides-to-be in your life! These are helpful things to know, too, if you're going along with a bride to help shop for her gown. Dress shopping can be super overwhelming, so I've written down some tips that might help. The most important one is to just breathe and stay calm: you will find your dress! But I also wanted to share some other, more practical, tips.

First, a brief recap on how I found my gown. I made three appointments over one weekend: two on a Saturday and one on Sunday morning. If you're in the Boston area, you can read more about the three salons I went to and my thoughts on each here. My mom and sister/MOH came with me to all three appointments (and my bridesmaid Ashley came to the first appointment). I tried on a total of 19 dresses and I didn't make my final decision until after all three appointments. Then, I returned to the first salon, tried my dress back on (which happened to be the very first dress my stylist put me in), and knew for sure that it was the one!

Of course, the decision wasn't as easy as I just made it sound. Here are some things that helped me, or that I wish I had done differently.

Ask Questions

The stylists who work in bridal boutiques and salons should be well-versed on the dresses and designers that they're showing you. Ask them questions! The first one I would ask every time is "how will this dress fit or hit me differently when it's in my size?" This is important because you'll likely be trying on gowns that are more than a few sizes larger than what you will order. Find out how that will impact the lines, the bust, and even the train length.

The other things you should ask about are fabrics, colors, necklines, and silhouettes. This way, you can start to learn what it is you like and you don't like, and put a name to it. Maybe you realize you're not a fan of tulle, and a mikado gown is more your style. And who knew that dresses could be white, ivory, bright white, off-white, and more? This way, you can effectively communicate with your stylist, and even go on to your next appointment and say right off the bat: "I want a fit and flare with a sweetheart neckline and chantilly lace. What do you have that hits those marks?" Or, "ok, so i've discovered I don't like a cap sleeve. We can eliminate any dresses that have them!"

Keep an Open Mind

Even though you might have a pretty good idea what style dress you might want, let your stylist put you in a few different silhouettes at your first appointment. Especially if you (like me) have never really worn a gown before, it can be helpful to see a few different shapes to start. While I had a pretty specific list of dresses that I wanted to see at my second two appointments, I went in with a sort of blank slate to my first appointment. I kept my responses to the salon's questionnaire pretty vague, just touching on the overall theme and feeling I was going for. This led my stylist to make her own picks, and wouldn't you know that in the end I chose the very first dress she put me in, by a designer that wasn't even on my radar and featuring a neckline that I didn't know I wanted.

Take Live Photos

So, I never would have thought to do this, and I'm not even sure if we did it intentionally. But while we were at my dress appointments, my sister was snapping photos on my iPhone and she had the "Live Photo" feature turned on. This ended up being REALLY helpful to have when I was looking back at the dresses I tried on. After two appointments, I hadn't made a decision yet, primarily because I was waiting for my third and final appointment the following day. But, by the end of the first day I was somewhat torn between two gowns. Looking back at the live photos and how the dresses moved, and how I moved in them, was really cool, and actually very persuasive. It just provides a much more dynamic reference point than a bunch of still/flat photos.

p.s. Don't forget about the other little white dresses you'll need for showers and celebrations! Here's a few that I'm loving right now.

Look at Real Brides in your Finalists

Just like the live photos, this was really informative for me, as well. It may seem counterproductive because of course the way another woman looks in a dress might not reflect at all how you look in it. But, this trick can be especially useful if you're torn between two gowns. In fact, seeing my top two dresses in a real "wedding setting" was actually a huge part of my decision. I shared this in my original gown post, but I was pretty sure that I was going to choose one particular dress. But, after seeing it on a few other brides on their wedding day, I realized I was sort of underwhelmed by it. It looked stunning in the sort of plain bridal shop setting, but against flowers, decor, bridesmaids, and a whole big celebration, I wasn't in love. Plus, the wow factor on this gown was the back of it, and looking at other brides' photos made me realize that most of your photos will be taken, of course, from the front.

So, how did I find other brides' photos to look at? One way to do it is to go to the designer's website and find the particular dress you're looking at. Sometimes on a dress's page, designers will feature social media posts from real brides in their gown. Otherwise, you can also go to the designer's Instagram and check to see if they have tagged brides, or been tagged by them, from real weddings. Sometimes designers use specific hashtags for each gown, too.

One more note about why it's helpful to look at real brides in your dresses: if you want to go back and reference a dress and didn't get great photos of you in it (or maybe you haven't been able to try on a particular dress and you're wanting to decide if it's worth having a sample shipped to a salon... more on that in a second) I think it's much more worthwhile to look at the gown on a real bride versus a model on the designer's website. This is kind of for obvious reasons, but looking at someone with your similar build or body type will be much more informative than a model, who might even be re-touched!

If a salon doesn't have a dress you want, ask if they can get it!

So, if you're Type A like me, you'll have already devised a whole spreadsheet complete with a numerical rating system for the gowns you want to try on. Most of the time, salons only advertise what designers or collections they carry, and not necessarily which gowns they have in-store. This is usually because they change out their stock based on how gowns are selling or if they're being discontinued by a designer. But, if you have your heart set on trying on a specific dress, call a salon in your area that carries that designer and ask if they have a sample of it and if not, whether or not they can get one. Salons can often borrow dresses directly from the designer. In my experience with the third salon I went to, I was able to pay $75 to have three dresses shipped from the designer to their salon in time for my appointment. If I ended up buying my dress from them (regardless if it was one that I had shipped), that $75 would just go toward my purchase. Now, that's still a sort of sizable fee to have on the line, so make sure that you're really interested in trying a dress or dresses on before you special request them. These three happened to be my three favorite, most highly anticipated dresses, and I knew I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about them if I didn't try them on.

That said, another tip would be to only special request dresses after you have had an initial appointment and have tried on wedding gowns for the first time. I say this only because two out of the three dresses that I special requested had an element that I ended up ruling out after my first appointment at a different salon. So, if I had waited to request these dresses until after my first appointment (rather than doing it ahead of all three of my appointments) I could have probably eliminated them.

Style your hair (somewhat)

By no means do you need to have your hair done professionally or even how you think you might want it on your wedding day. But, I would recommend at least styling your hair a little bit before going to your dress appointments. This would be as opposed to just throwing it in a pony tail or messy bun, especially if those aren't styles that you would consider your "nicer" look. It just helps you to have a clearer picture of how you'll look on your wedding day in any given dress. And, this way you won't be distracted by messy hair, allowing you to really focus on the dresses themselves. I also think that it's easier to imagine your hair up (if you think you might want an up-do) while actually wearing it down, versus trying to picture your hair down around your shoulders on your big day if you have it thrown up for your appointment. Does that make sense? It does in my head :).

Don't rush the Veil

This one comes from my personal mistakes...plural. When I went back to try on my dress and make a final decision, I think I was so wrapped up in the excitement over the gown that I didn't give my full attention, at any point, to the veil I was choosing. The stylist who was with me that day chose one that complimented my dress, and I liked the look of it enough so I thought, "Let's just check that off the list too!" Well, within a day or two after I purchased my dress and veil, I realized the one I had bought wasn't really what I wanted. Thankfully because the order was just placed, the salon was able to have me come back in to try on a few more veils and switch out my order. I went back on my own (another mistake) and ended up ordering a veil that they didn't have a sample of, but that I thought I wanted based on the others I had tried on. Fast forward four months later to when my dress and veil both came in: I tried it on and it just wasn't right for me or my dress. I confessed this to my sister and she admitted that, although she wasn't going to say anything, she wasn't a fan.

Because it was made to order, the veil was final sale so I couldn't return it. Fortunately, I was able to re-sell it online. Then, I went back to the photos that we took months earlier at all three dress appointments and actually worked with a stylist at Flair in Boston to place a new order. I said this in my dress shopping post, and I'll say it again here: I can't recommend Flair enough. I didn't end up buying my dress there simply because they didn't carry the designer who made the gown I chose, but the team there seriously goes above and beyond (even for a crazy bride like myself who has changed her mind more times than I can count on my veil...). My sister found her wedding dress at Flair, and we loved both consultants my family worked with. Special shout-out to Zoe, in particular!! If you book an appointment at Flair, request her.

But, let this be a lesson! I wouldn't recommend choosing your veil the same day you choose your dress. This is especially important to consider if you end up choosing a dress that is much different from what you initially pictured yourself in. Take a few days to explore similar dress styles on Pinterest or Instagram and see what types of veils designers or real brides have paired with that type of dress. Don't feel rushed just because you're in the salon that day to buy it all at once. Most bridal salons have dedicated accessory appointments, so take advantage of that and go back for a separate appointment. Don't just tack on trying to choose your veil to the end of your gown appointment, because chances are that you'll use up most of the time in your session trying on dresses. Really take the time to try different lengths and styles, and don't settle!

Stop Shopping after your find your Dress

This one may seem obvious, but it was advice given to me by my stylist after I found my gown. Once you fall in love with and pick your dress, don't keep looking at other gowns online. You'll just confuse and torment yourself, and you'll question the feelings that you had in the salon that led you to rule out or decide on certain elements, like the silhouettes, fabrics, and necklines we talked about before. This one hasn't been an issue for me at all, thankfully; every time I see photos on social media of other weddings and bridal gowns, it actually just makes me that much more excited to wear my dress. That's how I know I chose right!

Hopefully this gives you a few actionable items to bring to your appointment whether you're a bride-to-be or you're part of an entourage. I really could talk anything wedding for days, so feel free to drop a comment or get in touch if you have questions. Happy shopping!


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