The Ins and Outs of Wedding Dresses 

The love of your life just popped the question, you said yes, and you’re basking in the glow of your new engagement. Congratulations! Now it’s time to plan your wedding and find that perfect dress. If you’ve never planned a wedding, you may not know that buying your wedding dress is one of the first things you should do after getting engaged. It takes a lot (seriously, a lot) of time to figure out what you want, find your dress, wait for it to be made, and have it altered. Most stores recommend that you buy your dress at least nine months before your wedding. That means if you’re planning on having a short engagement, you’ll need to get started on the whole process right away.

But don’t worry! This post will teach you everything you need to know about buying a wedding dress. We’ll cover shopping timelines, what kind of research you should do before shopping, wedding dress sizing, what to know when shopping, and what you need to know about alterations. On top of that, we’ll cover what you should do if you’re shopping on a short timeline or with a limited budget. Keep reading to learn all the ins and outs of wedding dresses! 


When to Buy Your Wedding Dress 

First, let’s talk timeline. It’s recommended that you buy your wedding dress at least nine months in advance. To be safer, a year in advance is recommended. And to be sure your dress will arrive in time, try to order at least six months in advance. Wondering why you need to order your wedding dress so early? 

If a wedding dress is made to order (and many, if not most, are), it can take six to nine months to be created. That means that even after you buy your dress, it will take six to nine months for it to arrive at the store you ordered it from. Plus, you also have to factor in time for your three alteration sessions, which take about eight weeks in total. 

While you should keep this timeline for ordering your dress in mind, it’s important to note that it’s best to have your venue booked before getting your dress. That’s because your venue can have a big impact on the kind of dress you’ll want to wear. For example, you might end up going with a beach venue, where you wouldn’t want to wear a stiff, satiny ballgown type dress, which could be uncomfortable, sweaty, and just the wrong vibe. If you know your venue before you go shopping, you’ll be able look for a dress that works for both your personal style and your venue. 

What to Do Before You Go Wedding Dress Shopping: Research, Research, Research 

Before you go wedding dress shopping, you’ll want to do some research on styles, silhouettes, and what’s in your budget.

Researching Wedding Dress Styles 

First, let’s talk about wedding dress styles and finding the style that’s right for you. Do you want a glamorous, sexy dress? Or a unique, bohemian dress? Or maybe a traditional style? To help you have a smoother shopping experience, you should get an idea of what you want before you hit the stores. 

Websites like Pinterest and The Knot are great tools for style research. The knot has created an entire page going over certain gowns, check that out here! Pinterest is particularly useful because you can use it to make inspiration boards. If you don’t know what you like, pin anything you’re drawn to, then look at your board to see if there are any common themes (like, maybe you’ll find that you love lace, strapless dresses, or dramatic touches).

Researching Wedding Dress Silhouettes

In addition to researching styles, you should learn about silhouettes, which are the different shapes of bridal dresses. Silhouettes can lend themselves to different styles (for example, a ball gown will have a romantic, princess-y vibe). And certain silhouettes can be more flattering on different body types. 

Wedding dresses usually fall into one of seven different silhouette categories: a-line, empire, trumpet, column, mermaid, tea length, and ball gown. When you’re looking at dresses, think about which of these shapes you’re most drawn to and which you would be most excited to wear. While these are the seven most common silhouettes for wedding dresses, remember that you can wear anything you want on your wedding day— you just want to feel like the best version of yourself. So, if you’d feel more like you in a mini dress or a nice suit, go for it! 

Researching Wedding Dress Stores

Bridal Dress

Once you have an idea of the types of dresses you like, it’s time to research places to shop. Before you make an appointment at any bridal store, you should learn what kinds of dresses they carry and how much the dresses they carry cost. 

Some bridal stores carry a wide variety of styles, while other stores specialize in certain styles of dresses. After you know what you’re looking for, do some online research to find stores that carry the types of dresses you love. You can check store websites and store social media pages to get a feel for what different places carry. If you aren’t familiar with the stores in your area, Yelp is a good place to start searching. 

Some of my favorite bridal store are: BHLDN, Laneige bridal, Lovely Bride, Aandbe Bridal Shop

Research What’s In Your Budget 

On top of researching different styles, silhouettes, and stores you’re interested in, you should research what’s available in your budget. Certain dress styles (more embellished ones in particular) and certain designers will come with higher price tags. 

Bridal designers and wedding boutiques are notoriously evasive about posting their prices online. But, with a little googling, you can find the prices of different dresses and designers on various sites and message boards. You can also call bridal stores that carry designers you like and ask them what their price ranges are.  

Remember to keep alterations in mind when thinking about your budget. Alteration costs can vary widely. On average, brides pay between $75 and $250 for wedding dress alterations. But those costs can go way up for embellished dresses or special alteration services, so plan accordingly. 

A Note on Wedding Dress Sizing

There’s one more thing to cover before going into the shopping tips section: wedding dress sizing. 

Wedding dresses aren’t sized like normal, off-the-rack dresses. They run small. For example, someone who usually wears a 6 or 8 will wear a 10 or 12 in a wedding dress. That’s because most wedding dresses are in European sizing, which runs smaller than American sizing. So, when you go to try on dresses, don’t stress when they hand you a size that’s two to four numbers larger than you’re used to. 

Also, when you go to try on dresses at a boutique, they’ll usually have only a sample size of each dress, which will be a size 10 or 12 that they’ll clip together in the back to help you see how it would look in your size. But if you’re shopping for plus sized dresses, that sample size might not work for you. 

Wedding dress shopping should be fun— and trying to squeeze into an uncomfortably small sample size is no one’s idea of fun. If you’re shopping for a wedding dress in a plus size, make sure to specifically look for a shop that has plus size samples. There are many boutiques that specialize in plus size dresses and you can also call any boutique to ask they have plus size options to try on in store. 

How to Shop for Your Wedding Dress 

Now that know you know what you like, it’s time to shop! There are two ways to buy a wedding dress: go the traditional route and shop at a bridal store or explore off-the-rack and other cheaper options. 

Buying a Wedding Dress at a Bridal Store 

If you’re shopping for a wedding dress at a bridal store, you’ll need to make an appointment to shop. While some places will let you drop in if they aren’t fully booked, many stores get booked up quickly, so it’s always best to make an appointment. Generally, you’ll have what’s called a “bridal consultant” attending you when shopping a bridal store or boutique. Fancy! This attendant will help you find dresses to try on and help you get into the dresses. And, yes, this does mean that they’ll see you in your underwear, so be prepared for that. 

At the bridal store, you should tell your bridal consultant what you’re most interested in (now’s the time to show them that Pinterest board) and be clear with them about your budget. Then, they’ll pull dresses for you in your preferred styles and will probably make suggestions on other kinds of dresses they think you’d like. 

One thing to note about trying dresses on is that it should be fun! If you feel like you don’t click with the employees at a certain store (maybe they make you feel uncomfortable or they don’t get the look you’re going for), don’t hesitate to go to another store. 

Once you do find your dress, the standard way to pay at a bridal store is to put down a 50% deposit when ordering, then pay the rest when it comes in. 

Buying a Wedding Dress: Cheaper and Faster Options 

Okay, so we’ve talked a lot about traditional dress shopping in this post. But what do you do if you don’t have the budget or timeline for that? One of the best ways to get a wedding dress on a budget is to buy used. Used wedding dresses can be up to 80% off! Some excellent sites for used wedding dresses are are Borrowing Magnolia, Stillwhite, Nearly Newlywed, and Tradesy. There’s also the option of buying a dress off-the-rack. If you’re on a limited budget, you can buy a dress from anywhere for your wedding dress. There are lots of stores that sell ready-to-wear wedding dresses— or just white dresses that could be your wedding dress.

Another option is to rent your wedding dress. Services like Rent the Runway have dedicated bridal sections that can help you get a wedding dress for your big day, for much cheaper. If you’re on a time crunch, all of these cheaper options are faster than waiting for a bridal boutique dress to be made. Also, if you have your heart set on a bridal store dress, and you’re still at least a couple months out from your wedding day, you can call around and see if you can find somewhere that does rush orders.

Everything You Need to Know About Alterations 

Finally, we have the last step in the wedding dress process: alterations. 

You want your wedding dress to be perfectly you and part of that is making sure it fits like a glove. Generally, brides will get their dress fitted and altered three times before the big day. In order to get those fittings properly spaced out, you want your to have your wedding dress in your possession three months before your wedding day. Then, you’ll get fitted six to eight weeks before the wedding, four weeks before the wedding, and two weeks before the wedding, with alterations after each fitting. 

After your dress is fitted, the only thing left to do is to enjoy your dress on your big day!

I know that this is a lot of information, but if you break it into steps and really think about exactly what you want, you will get EXACTLY what you want for the price you want. YOU GOT THIS!

Wedding Dress