Wedding Dresses
Andi WillisBride Online Columnist

How To: Shop For Your Wedding Dress

There's plenty of useful information available to do with the fit and style of your prospective wedding dress, but so little on how to go about shopping for it. Is there a particular protocol? Etiquette? Major traps you can easily avoid? We've addressed the commonest questions we receive about this very subject, and discuss every step involved in shopping for your ultimate gown.


Decide when to begin shopping

A good rule of thumb is that it’s never too early to begin window shopping, but things could end in disaster if you leave it too late. Experts generally recommend that you begin shopping at least 9 months prior to your wedding, and up to a year before if you prefer to err on the side of caution. It often not only takes months to find the right dress, but depending on the dress’ brand and design, can take several weeks to order in, and then several more weeks to have it altered.

Decide where to begin shopping

This will depend on both your location and budget. Consider if you’d like to buy from a chain store, a boutique, a luxury designer, bridal warehouses, have a dress made up, or even rent a dress for the occasion. If you live in a big city, you’ll most probably have access to just about any dress you’d like, but if you live in a smaller town, you'll have to decide how far you’re willing to travel to see the dress in person.

Get to know how to shop at any given location. For example, whilst bridal warehouses will generally allow you to browse on your own and for as long as you want, some boutiques and chain stores will rather ask you for a description of what you want and show you only dresses in matching styles. If you'd prefer to browse freely, call the store ahead and find out how their sales proceed. If need be, avoid shops that could potentially make you uncomfortable.

Before you start booking appointments at bridal shops, check their business bureau rating, read online reviews, and ask newly-married friends and family where they purchased their dress, and what their shopping experience was like. All good salons should have experienced sales assistants who will be able to advise you on design detail, fabric, silhouettes, trends and style. They should be able to find a gown to suit your personality, complexion, figure, wedding theme and any other needs you might have.

 Another good idea is to always book an appointment, even if it ‘s not strictly necessary. This means that you won't have to wait around for the salespeople to deal with other customers before you- customers with appointments are always prioritised.

Enquire how much time you’ll have for your consultation

The wait for a bridal consultation as well as the length of the consultation itself will vary from salon to salon. Generally speaking, most boutiques and chain stores have a waiting list of approximately four weeks, and the consultation sessions last between 1.5- 2 hours. Depending on stock availability and personal queries, this is sometimes enough time to select your veil, headpiece and accessories in one session. If you do happen to run out of time, make sure that your gown sample will be available to be tried on with the additional accessories at a later date. Bring in any pictures of dresses that you like, and see if the salon can offer anything similar. Also, if you’ve already chosen another item that you’d like to wear with your wedding dress (any accessories, for example), bring the item in with you to try it on with potential dresses.

Choose how many people you’d like to bring with you

Whilst it is absolutely advisable to bring someone to give you a second opinion (aside from the consultant’s), consider who exactly you would like to bring. The key here is quality over quantity: bring as few people as possible (eliminating the problem of clashing opinions), who will be honest and have your best interests at heart, and whose opinion you trust. If you really are dying to bring a crowd, save their invitations for a later fitting when the dress has already been chosen (and if youre going to the trouble of organising a crowd, wouldn't you like it to be under conditions where they have to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’?). Bring a camera (preferably digital) so you can see yourself outside of a mirror, and to see how the dress photographs.Some stores, however, have a ‘no photo’ policy (but it’s always worth asking).

Find out prices before you visit the bridal shop

Provide your sales assistant with an exact price range so that they dont show you styles that are beyond your budget. Also ask to check their ‘trunk show calendar’- this is where designers visit the store to promote their line, and you are sometimes able to buy their gowns at a discounted price at such an event. It’s also the best way to see the designer’s new collection!

Shop Around

Once you’ve found the dress, consider seeking out the same dress for a cheaper price at different locations. You may be able to find your dress online, but be extremely wary- try to see the dress in person before an online purchase. You may additionally be able to find the dress second hand at a greatly reduced price. The only precaution to take here would be to take note of how the dress has already been altered, and to consider that before you purchase it/ have it altered yourself.

Pay attention to whether or not alterations are included in the sale price

While some salons charge a flat fee for alterations (unlimited alterations at a fixed cost), others cap the alterations at a certain amount (where only a certain number of alterations are included in the sale price). Be aware of these subtle differences as it could affect your budget!

Find out how the payment process works

Most bridal stores require a 50-60% deposit on the gown. Check the cancellation policy, as every contract is different- if the dress is already in production and has already been altered, you may have to forfeit your deposit.

Find out when to pick up your finished gown

It can take anywhere between 5-9 months from the time you order the gown to the time it is completed. Some designers will accommodate a shorter timeframe with a ‘rush cutting’ but there is often an additional fee. After the dress has arrived in- store, you will required to pay the balance and book further fittings.

Consider whether you need preservation services

This generally consists of storing the dress in conditions that will disallow mould growth or disintegration of the dress- usually storing the dress in a satin lined, resin coated box that must be kept out of the sun and warm temperatures. This will ensure that the dress can be passed on to the next generation and become a family heirloom!


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