The Ultimate Guide To Choosing Your Perfect Wedding Dress
Updated: May 15
The Ultimate Guide To Choosing Your Perfect Wedding Dress is here to help!
Take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, and imagine the most beautiful day of your life, your wedding day. Now exhale, letting your mind dwell on those imagined moments, the moments that will soon become a reality. You may have been thinking and planning your perfect wedding dress since you were young, or this may be the first time you've given it serious thought. Either is fine; this guide will lead you by the hand and help you make the right decision. Shopping for that special dress can be stressful since this is likely the most expensive single dress you'll ever purchase, but that's okay, we're here to help. If terms like A-line and fit-and-flare leaves you wondering, not to worry, we've got your back. And, you may have heard about multiple dresses (what in the world is that?) with a formal one for the wedding, and something more casual (or crazy) for the reception, we've still got you covered.
Part One – Discovering Your Perfect Wedding Dress
By having that vision in mind as you shop, you can more easily narrow your choices.
It helps if you can have two or three words in mind as you meet with your consultant. An example might be, "I want a dress that is dramatic and sexy."
Let's dive in and start moving steadily toward your goal.
Research and Planning
Walking into a bridal boutique or shopping for a wedding dress online, shouldn't be undertaken on a whim, rather with planning and prowess, otherwise, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the abundance of wedding dress choices.
Do you have a theme in mind?
It's fine to be fun and creative, after all, this is going to be YOUR perfect day, and you'll be wearing your perfect dress no matter whether it be:
Historical and Vintage
Or any theme you can imagine, there is a wedding dress created specifically for your theme and venue.
The idea is to have the perfect wedding dress for your theme, venue, and budget.
It's likely your wedding dress will be the most expensive single garment you're likely ever to purchase, and that's fine. Still, just as we'd search diligently for the best price and perfect floor-plan in our first home we'll do the same here, we'll learn to be savvy shoppers, narrowing the choices until in a moment of awe we'll discover our perfect wedding gown like an oasis in the desert. It's a journey we've helped many a bride walk. We're happy to do the same for you. Go ahead and dream big, we'll rein you in where and when needed.
TIP: While it's fine to gather ideas from celebrity weddings, do realize their budget may be well beyond what you can afford.
Being a savvy shopper doesn't mean you'll end up with a lessor dress, you won't, you will simply need to spend your dollars with a bit more creativity. There are wedding dresses to fit even the most modest budget; you simply may need to look a bit harder, and that can be fun for you and your entourage.
Each of us is unique, with different desires, goals, and expectations, and yes, body shape. We may or may not have the body of a runway model, and what looks stunning on a wedding model may not be as flattering on us. That's not said as a determent, rather an encouragement, you are unique, and so too should be your dress, the perfect wedding dress, the one that enhances your charms and diminishes any shortcomings. Remember, this guide is about choosing YOUR perfect gown, not necessarily the one seen in a bridal magazine or Pinterest.
TIP: Not every bridal salon carries plus or petite sizes. To save time and possibly a frustrating afternoon, call ahead and ask if your requested size is in stock or if supplies can be made available for your perusal.
TIP: Your perfect dress should not simply be stunning, but also comfortable with freedom of movement. You'll be spending (at a minimum) several hours in your gown, make those hours comfortable and secure with a perfect fit.
When and Where to Shop?
We have professional relationships with multiple bridal shops and we're happy to offer recommendations on our website by using our store locator, but it is important to know when you should make your wedding dress selection since you don't want to wait till the last minute and possibly find your choices limited or forced to pay a rush charge.
TIP: If possible, plan your initial bridal salon shopping for mid-week, avoiding Saturdays. Why?
Simply that Saturday is the busiest bridal shopping day, which means you can shop with less stress and more personal attention during the week.
TIP: There's an expression that goes, "Timing is everything," and this certainly holds when shopping for your perfect wedding dress.
Too early and fashions may change before your nuptials.
Too late and you risk not having time (unless you pay "rush fees") to shop, decide, and alter your dress for that perfect fit. Three to six months has proven to be your best window of opportunity since new designs usually follow a six-month cycle.
TIP: Don't depend on a diet to fit into your perfect dress, shop true to size. If all goes well and you lose weight, great! A small alteration can make it a perfect fit but adding inches can be expensive and time-consuming.
Planning Your Wedding Dress Budget
If you're planning to give that Royal wedding a run for its money, you're likely not concerned about costs.
We'll assume you have a more modest budget, yes?
Most brides will spend between $1000 and $3000 on their wedding dress with an average spend of $1,500.
The fact is, no matter the size of your budget, finding and buying your perfect wedding dress is a major part of your wedding expense, so you'll want to plan accordingly.
Let's answer a question you're likely asking, "Why are wedding dresses so expensive?"
Expensive fabric, with most silhouettes having multiple layers.
Intricate details like embroidery, lace, and beading are time-consuming even for the best designers.
And, if you do purchase a designer brand, you'll pay extra for the higher quality and peace of mind.
Here's an important item to keep in mind, there WILL BE additional costs, even with a modest wedding dress you need to plan for these expenses.
What are they?
While one might think that once they've swiped their card, the deed is done, you need to be prepared for a few unavoidable expenses.
When you place your order, there are always small alterations needed, a pinch here and there to ensure a perfect fit.
TIP: While small alterations are standard (adjusting the hemline), avoid major alterations if at all possible. Changing the silhouette or adding sleeves could potentially make the cost of alterations more than the initial price of your dress.
Think of these adornments the same way you would a beautiful kitchen. The kitchen by itself is a wonderful room, but it's the appliances that make it run, and it's the same here, you'll need:
Bridal undergarments (perhaps some spicy lingerie to make you feel a little sexy)
Wedding Veil (this adds mystery and intrigue)
Headpiece, or hair accessories
Bridal shoes (comfortable enough to dance the night away)
Clutch bag for essentials
Garter (for a little tradition)
Light jacket or cardigan to cover shoulders (in case of a chill, even beach weddings may have a coastal breeze)
And, for that extra wedding march, sparkle a careful and considered selection of jewelry.
What Happens After Your Wedding Day?
Whether you plan to pass your gown to a daughter or granddaughter, sell it or let it sit serenely in a garment bag, you'll need to have it professionally cleaned to maintain its quality. While prices vary, you can expect to pay plus or minus $200 for this service.
TIP: Save money by resisting the temptation of designer dresses priced beyond your reach. Be upfront with your bridal consultant concerning budget constraints; this will save you both time and frustration.
TIP: If your budget is tight consider a simple, unadorned wedding dress, then make it unique with a beaded sash or broach.
TIP: Ask your bridal salon if they have sample sales.
Typically, these are wedding dresses from previous seasons in sizes 6 to 12. Some contain stunning gowns with deep discounts.
TIP: If you're set on a designer wedding dress, ask about "trunk shows." These are shows featuring a specific designer and usually offer discounts of 5 to 10 percent (not a lot, but it could help your budget stretch just enough.
Are Wedding Dress Alterations Expensive?
Yes, if you need to make major alterations like adding sleeves or altering the bodice, the costs could be extensive.
It's much better if you choose a dress that looks perfect "on the hanger" and only needs minor alterations.
While some bridal salons have in-house tailors, others do not, and it may be up to you to find an expert wedding dress tailor. Not to worry, your consultant should have several recommendations, plus here are a few questions to help narrow your choices.
Ask about the number of fittings required.
Get a time estimate on how long the process will take.
What type of alterations do they suggest?
Are they familiar with your type of dress, both the fabric and silhouette?
Find out the costs involved.
How will your dress be stored?
What do they suggest you bring to your first fitting?
Plan at least 60 days for alterations prior to your big day.
WEDDING FACTOID: 76 percent of bridal salons charge alteration fees based on the piece rather than a fixed alteration price. Be certain to ask, so you are not caught unaware when the final invoice is presented.
A wedding dress, complete with alterations and bridal accessories, will likely be the most expensive single garment you may ever buy, choose carefully, then enjoy the moment.
TIP: If after reading the above section, you think, "I'll never be able to afford my perfect dress", don't despair, we've been down that road multiple times, and we understand the feeling. Here are a few suggestions.
Limit your choices to only those dresses that fall within your budget
Consignment shops often have beautiful gowns at a fraction of their retail price (these will likely be last year's selections, but still beautiful).
The devil is in the details, which means the more detailed the dress, the more the price tag.
Choose simpler styles, then accessorize with a little "Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue". There are ample choices here, beaded belts, vintage veils, jewelry, shrugs, and more.
You simply need to be a bit creative, and you can still pack a wedding day punch.
Ask about "Sample Shows," which is when bridal shops clear their inventory to make room for the latest collections. SIGNIFICANT savings can be found, and with a bit of luck, you'll find your dream dress at bargain-basement prices.
Mix and Match bridal separates. It's amazing what some brides come up with going this route. Not only do they look fabulous, but they also make a unique statement.
Part Two – Research and Rewards
Ever visited a country where they didn't speak your native language? You can quickly become confused unless you have an interpreter.
That is precisely the feeling one might have when they hear terms like
"The Mermaid may work"
"Let’s try a Fit and flare; that could work perfectly."
"We should consider the Empire for her neckline."
"Butterfly sleeves could be perfect."
"I think the Illusion neckline fits your body type".
"We should consider Organza."
Tulle, and more.
Those are all terms that are meaningful to a bridal consultant but may seem foreign to you.
Once understood shopping for your perfect wedding dress will all fall quickly into place.
Let's start with wedding dress necklines.
The most distinctive part of any wedding dress is the silhouette, but this is followed closely by the neckline.
The most familiar are square, round, and V-neckline, but that is only the beginning of your choices.
Strapless: No supporting straps or sleeves. It is cut directly across the bust.
Sweetheart: A bit like it sounds, the top of the bodice resembles a heart shape.
Bateau: Extending from one shoulder to the other in a shape much like a boat. Collarbones are featured.
Illusion: Beautifully crafted as a see-thru over the bodice and often adorned with lace or beads.
Single Shoulder: As it sounds, one shoulder is revealed while the other carries a single but elegant strap.
Queen Anne: Regal in name and appearance. It rises at the back of the neck while the front is V-necked or scooped.
Halter: Low cut back with thin straps wrapping around the neck.
High neck: As the name implies, the cut is high and sits above the collar bones.
Off-the-shoulder: Beautifully crafted, the sleeves fall off the shoulder, revealing a measure of décolletage.
Spaghetti straps: Slim straps supporting the bodice on both sides.
Wedding dress Silhouettes
The essence of your perfect wedding dress, the part that defines the look and feel.
Ball Gown: Full length, multiple layers, and structured bodice
A-line: Very much as the name implies, thin or fitted on top, then flaring as you move down, much like the letter "A."
Sheath: Outlines the natural curves of your body.
Trumpet: Fits snugly from the top down to the hips, then flares to a full skirt.
Mermaid: Similar to Trumpet, but offering a more pronounced and dramatic effect.
Wedding Dress Sleeves
From a day to day standpoint, you may think of long sleeve and short sleeve, but there are new varieties when a wedding dress is involved.
Cap sleeves: Very sleek as they barely cover the shoulders; they draw attention and can help define the look of your dress.
Bell: Often associated with a Victorian feel, they are tapered then flare into a bell-like shape as they near the wrist.
Juliet: Fitted snugly at the wrist, with a bellows or puffy look along the arms.
Basque: French in origin. V-shaped and tight-fitting, they resemble a corset. Usually extending below the waistline or over the skirt.
Empire: High waist beginning just below the bust and flowing into a full skirt.
Dropped Waist: Much as it sounds, the bodice extends below the actual waist.
Wedding dress trains
Immediately offering a regal feeling, the train enhances a wedding dress, affording an impact it may not have otherwise held. They come in a variety of lengths.
Sweep: Barely sweeping the floor, this is a short train, but can still enhance the look and feel of the moment.
Court: Extending to a foot beyond the hemline and more closely approaching the ambiance a train creates.
Chapel: Measuring three to four feet beyond the natural waistline.
Cathedral: When one thinks of a wedding train, this is one that comes to mind, measuring over six feet from the waist.
Royal: This would be the type seen in movies, possibly needing handlers. This train measures twelve feet or more.
Wedding Dress Fabrics
Chiffon and crepe, lightweight and soft.
Satin and silk, soft but with a certain luminance or sheen.
Taffeta is a heavier fabric, but also has a sheen.
Organza and tulle are a stiffer fabric used in structured gowns.
TIP: What kind of wedding theme do you have in mind? Casual garden, beach party, or formal romantic in a church or cathedral. These decisions will have a marked effect on which dress you choose. The last thing you want is for your dress to clash with your theme.
A Variety of Body Types
Some of us may have won the genetic lottery, have a perfect figure, and can wear any dress and look radiant.
Most of us, however, will need to be a little more selective, wearing a dress that complements our strengths, helping us look and feel our best, particularly on our wedding day.
With that thought, it's important we define our body type so we can take a considered look at which styles and silhouettes will work to our advantage.
Triangle or Pear
Inverted Triangle or Apple
Straight or Rectangle.
Here is where your bridal consultant (kept in check by your entourage of two or three trusted friends) can help you find the perfect dress for your body type. Your perfect dress will enhance your best features while hiding less attractive areas.
TIP: Shop for your perfect wedding dress with two or three (no more than three) trusted friends or family members whose opinion you trust.
Practical Thoughts on Silhouettes Based on Body Type
While your bridal consultant can help significantly in choosing the right dress for your body type, here are a few suggestions to help narrow the choices.
Triangle or Pear
SUGGESTED: A-line and ball gowns that can effectively hide the hips and waist.
AVOID: Trumpet and sheath, which feature the waist and stomach.
Inverted Triangle or Apple
SUGGESTED: A-line and ball gowns
If this is you, then your choices are wide and varied. You can carry off most silhouettes with ease. Choose a dress that shows off your curves and falls within your budget.
Straight or Rectangle
SUGGESTED: Ballgown and sheaths, which can give the illusion of curves.
AVOID: Mermaid and dropped waist, which features straight contours.
Part Three - Where to Buy Your Perfect Wedding Dress
By this point, you should have an idea of what your perfect wedding dress will look like. You've set your expectations; you understand that budget is a consideration, and you realize you need to make a decision six to nine months before your wedding day. All fine and good, but where will you make this once in a lifetime purchase?
When you visit a bridal salon, you'll be walking into a world of choices, but a world filled with carefully selected gowns chosen by professionals. You'll enjoy one-on-one service and can confidently ask questions concerning costs, alterations, accessories, and what other brides are wearing.
Personally try on dresses of interest
Shopping in a bridal salon
remains an important and valuable part of a brides-to-be's purchasing decision.
95% stated they visit a store in person before making a buying decision.
88% of brides make their purchase from local bridal salons.
These are sales sponsored by a particular designer. New collections are offered to those in attendance at a reduced cost (usually around 10%)
This is potentially an opportunity to save money. As new collections are introduced, bridal salons need to clear older inventory allowing you to save money while finding the dress you love but couldn't afford otherwise. Sizes are almost undoubtedly limited, and these may be floor samples.
You'll likely need to have your dress professionally cleaned before wearing.
While it may take a bit (or a lot) of looking and hoping, the potential savings can be worth the effort. Your perfect dress, often in pristine condition, maybe hanging serenely on a hangar waiting for you to find her.
Dramatic savings potential
While perusing and gathering ideas online can be beneficial, actually ordering your dress this way is not recommended. Consider this option only if you are unable to visit a bridal salon personally.
Gathering Your Perfect Wedding Dress Thoughts and Ideas
If you've read to this point, you are well on your way to finding, buying, and bringing home your perfect wedding dress. By having your thoughts organized, you'll be in a much better position to make the very best buying decision possible.
If you haven't already done so, start a Pinterest board and begin collecting Pins of bridal gowns that intrigue you.
Likely, you'll quickly have dozens if not hundreds of saved pins, and you may think, "I love all of them, how can I decide." Not to worry, you can thin your choices with a few considered questions.
Does this dress suit my wedding theme?
Will it be suitable for the weather in June (or whatever month you plan your wedding).
What is the one thing about this dress that I love?
Will this dress be flattering to my figure?
As you look at these fabulous images in magazines or Pinterest, you'll begin to see a pattern become evident. That pattern is what will help you make an informed buying decision.
Then, create a secret Pinterest board where you ONLY save the images/pins that match your thoughts perfects. It is those images you'll share with your bridal consultant and your entourage.
Getting Ready To Take The Shopping Plunge
By this point, which may have taken days or weeks, you've done your research, determined your budget, and found images that match your criteria, so what's the next step? It's choosing two or three close friends or family members to go shopping with you.
You don't want more than two or three (some stores may have a maximum allowed), you want only those whose opinion matters and that you trust. You want them to be honest and help steer you in the right direction. Once you've chosen wisely, the next step is…
Book an Appointment
Find a time that works for everyone ideally a mid-week morning or afternoon since it will most likely be less crowded. Plan on a girl's day out, you're going to have fun, but you're also going to accomplish something essential which is choosing your perfect dress.
Shop prepared, wear clothes that you can easily change in and out of. If you plan on wearing heels for your wedding, then bring heels as you try on gowns.
Every bridal appointment is different, but there are similarities. When you sit down with your consultant, you'll be speaking with a professional. Yes, she wants your business, but more than that, she wants you to be satisfied. Her job is simple: make you look and feel beautiful by finding the perfect dress for your body, budget, and theme. Feel free to ask questions and be responsive should questions be posed to you.
Tip: give your bridal consultant a budget! You don’t want her giving you dresses to try that go over it.
Certainly, share all the research you've done, in particular your selection of images, the ones you've chosen as your favorites.
At this point, it will be time to start trying on dresses, be prepared for this to take some time, don't crowd your appointment into a morning of rushing around, take your time considering this is a decision you'll remember the rest of your life.
The final choice on which is your perfect dress will, of course, be your decision, but be open to suggestions. Listen to your consultant, and don't be fearful of trying on a dress you may not have considered, it could be a match made in heaven, and you won't know unless you try.
TIP: Realize that even with the best preparations, you may not find your perfect dress on your first visit. That's okay, be patient and flexible, your perfect dress is there, just waiting for you to try it on.
Part Four - Secrets from the Pros
We'll close our guide with a few secrets from the pros. Read these with an open mind, some may pertain directly to you and yours, others may not, but all are offered by bridal consultants with multiple years helping others in their wedding day endeavors.
NARROW YOUR ENTOURAGE
Ever heard the expression, "this is like herding cats?" While it's encouraging to have two or three TRUSTED friends or family members with you while shopping, bringing too many will only hamper the process. Keep it to two or three max.
BRING THE RIGHT UNDERGARMENTS
Trying on a strapless wedding gown with bra straps showing is troublesome at best.
Come to your appointment wearing a strapless bra and bring or wear Spanx.
If you're planning a destination wedding and a ball gown is in the cards, better check with the airlines first. All may be fine, but you don't want to be denied at the ticket counter based on the size of your garment bag or, worse, have your luggage lost or damaged in transit.
If you plan on wearing heels during the wedding march, then try on your gown wearing similar heels. Some bridal salons offer loaner heels, but who wants to do that?
BEST PHOTO PICKS
While you may have looked through hundreds of images, only show your consultant your best picks.
This will not only save time; it will help narrow the choices she shows you.
LISTEN TO YOUR CONSULTANT
Your consultant is a wedding professional, so take her advice to heart.
While it is ultimately your decision, take heed if she says that dress is or is not flattering to your figure.
Visit both Trunk shows and Sample sales. At Trunk shows, you can often meet the designer who may offer to make changes if requested or offer discounts.
Sample sales are when a salon clears older inventory to make room for the new. Dramatic savings of 25 to 50 percent can sometimes be found.
DON'T TRY ON GOWNS BEYOND YOUR BUDGET
If you can't afford it, don't try it on, you will only cause your own disappointment.
If you're a plus-size, call ahead to ensure they have your size available.
Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at a bridal appointment only to find there are no gowns to sample.
Be prepared to try on many gowns. While it's possible to find the perfect dress on the first try, the odds are against you.
Be patient and schedule a follow-up appointment if needed.
It's fine to take inspiration from celebrity weddings as long as you're aware you likely can't match their wedding budget.
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
It's fine to listen to the opinion of your mom, sister, or best friend, but remember, you have the final call.
TRY ON A NON-WHITE DRESS
While white is the traditional color, try on something in eggshell or ivory, romantic blush, or even a red. While it may or may not be for you, take a picture if only for the memory.
If you intend to utilize a family heirloom, bring it with you. The only way to find a perfect match is to see it against your gown of choice.
BE SURE BEFORE SAYING YES
Unless you are 100% sure you've found your perfect dress, wait a day, sleep on it, then make your decision.
It easy in this day and age to take photos, so have a friend or family member click, click, click away. You can look at these later to see how each dress will potentially look in bridal photos.
Tip: Make sure to ask your bridal shop permission to take photos. Most don’t allow it until after you choose a dress.
TRUST YOUR FEELINGS
Ultimately, you want the dress you choose to make YOU feel beautiful. Trust your feelings when trying on gowns and choose the one that truly touches your heart and soul.
DON'T FEEL PRESSURED
No bridal consultant should pressure you to make a purchase. This is a decision that will last a lifetime. If you're unsure, take a break, walk away and shop another day.
AVOID RUSH FEES BY ORDERING EARLY
Rush fees can increase the cost of your perfect dress by as much as 30%. To avoid this, shop and order as far in advance as is practical.
Have a professional seamstress take your measurements. This isn't the time for guesswork, have it done by a pro.
Far better for your dress to arrive a little large that having a zipper that won't close. A dress can (fairly) quickly be taken in a size or two, but having a zipper that won't close can ruin an otherwise perfect day.
CAN YOU MOVE IN YOUR DRESS?
Make certain you are comfortable and have freedom of movement. You may be dancing or kneeling at the altar, make certain your dress gives you that freedom.
PUT ON MAKEUP AND DO YOUR HAIR
When dress shopping as much as possible, you want to look and feel the same way you will on your wedding day.
If that means putting on makeup and doing up your hair, go for it, it will only help the process.
Tip: Be careful not to transfer your make-up on to the dress when trying it on.
CONSIDER VINTAGE BOUTIQUES
If you want to find something unique, you may need to stray away from salons and head to a vintage store. It's worth a trip if only to see what brides wore long ago.
BE HONEST AND OPEN
Don't hold back when speaking with your consultant. Tell them as much as possible about what you want, what you can afford, and what concerns you may have. This will help them serve you better and find your perfect dress that much easier.
If you're getting married in the Caribbean, you'll want to shop for lighter wedding dresses (destination gowns).
Conversely, if you're ceremony is in New England during the winter, then fabrics like satin or taffeta make more sense.
We hope this guide has given you some thoughts, a bit of inspiration, and a fact you may not have been aware of. Remember to keep an eye on wedding trends.
If there is anything we can do to make your perfect wedding experience easier or more satisfying, please do not hesitate to get in touch or use our store locator to find the best bridal shop or consultant that will help you find your perfect wedding dress.