How to Shop for a Wedding Dress

Now that you've already decided what you're looking for in a wedding dress, you're ready to hunt it down and make it yours. To make shopping for your wedding dress fun, easy and painless, don't just hit the stores and wait for the dress to fall on your lap. Make a plan!


  1. Image titled Shop for a Wedding Dress Step 1
    Decide when to shop. There's no time too early to start looking, but there is a time that's too late. Depending on where you get your dress, it could take several months for your dress to be ordered and shipped. From then, you'll need several weeks for your seamstress to make alterations. You should start shopping about 9 months before your wedding, but preferably sooner. There's nothing wrong with beginning early, even a year before you'll actually place an order. But don't make the mistake of buying yet. The last thing you want is to buy what you think is your dream dress two summers before your wedding, and find out the following summer that your real dream dress has just been created.
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    Decide where to shop. This will probably be a decision based on your budget. Decide whether you'll shop at chains, small boutiques, etc. Decide how far you'll travel to see dresses in person. If you want an expensive designer dress, you may have to travel to New York City to actually try it on. However, if you've chosen to include places like David's Bridal, you're sure to find one nearby. In bigger cities you'll have access to a number of shops and boutiques, which will carry gowns from a number of designers, but they'll probably be more on the expensive side.
    • Be careful when shopping online. Getting the dress sized correctly is very important, and this is best done by actually trying it on. If you're not careful you could seriously regret your decision and spend double the money if you don't like the dress you bought online and have to buy a new one. If you decide to shop online, do so with great care.
    • Many places don't require an appointment, but you should make one anyway. This is to ensure you don't wait around for an hour while the consultant helps customers who did have appointments. People with appointments will always come first.
    • Some people claim to have had bad experiences with chain stores, such as encountering sales consultants who are unfriendly or not helpful. It's hit or miss. The good news is, those stores will always have another location somewhere nearby, and you can always go to the other one. If you get a consultant who isn't nice to you and you don't want to check out the other location, just ask for a different consultant. If you're too embarrassed to do so, just leave and report her to the manager anonymously. No sales consultant has the right to be unkind to a bride!
    • Some shops will not let you browse freely through the gowns. They'll ask you for a description of what you're looking for and then bring you gowns they think match it. If you really hate the idea of not being able to see everything yourself, avoid these places. Call and ask first if it's important to you.
    • Large warehouse type stores are excellent places to find gowns. They have dresses for every budget, and will usually let you browse through the gowns as long as you want and try on as many as you want.
    • Look for a company that specializes in rental dresses. This can be a great solution for the bride on a budget. Men rent tuxedos - why not rent the dress too?
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    Take what you need with you.
    • Make sure another person goes along with you. You'll definitely want an opinion aside from the consultant's. However, don't make the mistake of taking your mother, your maid of honor, your bridesmaid, your other bridesmaid, and your other bridesmaid's little sister. Not only will they get in the way, but none of them will all agree on anything, and mostly likely, at least one of them won't like whatever dress you're trying on. It's probably best to take one person (or maybe two, like your mother and maid of honor), whose opinion you trust and value.
    • If you're allowed, take a camera (preferably digital) with you to take snapshots of the dresses you love the most so you can keep a record of them. You'll probably try on many dresses during your search, and you'll probably quickly forget the details of each dress as you try on the next one you love. Having photos helps you remember and compare them later so you can narrow down your choice. If you can't take photos, keep a list of the designer and dress number or name so you can look them up online and save the photos that way.
    • Take along a bottle of water or something else hydrating. Trying on dresses can turn into a time-consuming experience, and it can also be a workout, so make sure you bring a beverage. Just be sure to keep it away from the dresses.
    • Photos of dresses you found online or in magazines, if you have any. Even if they're dresses made by another designer, the shop you're in may be able to help you look for something similar. A lot of chains have styles that bear a resemblance to dresses by an expensive designer as a cheaper alternative for brides with smaller budgets.
    • If you've already decided to wear a certain item (such as a specific pair of shoes, veil, or jewelry) because it has sentimental value, take the item along with you. If it's absolutely necessary that you wear it on your wedding day, you'll want to make sure the dress you choose goes well with it (though this may narrow your options considerably).
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    Look at choices for length, sleeve style, necklines, waistlines, trains, etc.There are a ton of options out there! Do a little research on what's possible for certain fabrics and silhouettes, but don't rule out gowns of a specific type because they don't have all the little details you prefer. If you see what looks like the dress of your dreams but it has sleeves and you wanted a sleeveless, or if your dream gown ends up having a huge train and you wanted a shorter one, you can ask a seamstress to alter these things. However, remember that seamstresses often charge a whole lot for little things, so if you want to change many things about your gown, you may be better off continue your search. Also keep in mind that most of the time, the same dress can be ordered in various colors. When you start to shop or search for gowns online, don't pass up a dress just because it's stark white and you want champagne. If you love it, check to see if it's available in champagne.
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    Beware of salespeople. Don't let the sales consultant talk you into anything. Remember that many consultants work for commission. Sadly, many sales consultants won't care if you really do look beautiful -- they'll want you to purchase the most expensive dress, regardless of how it looks on you. Some of them will have a genuine interest in helping you find the dress of your dreams. But don't take a chance, and stick to your own opinion and that of the people you take with you.
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    Don't be discouraged. Most women will try on many, many gowns during their search. It's not only normal to not find the perfect gown on your first try, it could be a warning sign that you're making a rash decision you'll regret later. Some women get lucky and do find their dream dress shortly after they start looking, but it's most likely something they realized later, after looking through many other dresses that didn't compare to the one they found in the beginning. No matter what, the savvy shopper will keep looking and then go back to that dress later if it really turns out to be The One. Expect to try on anywhere between 30 and 150 dresses before finding the final one. Some women try on hundreds. Don't feel bad if you shop for months and try on 600 dresses before you find the one that seems to be made for you.
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    Shop around. Once you've found the dress you want to wear on your special day, consider shopping around for various prices before you make your final purchase. One shop may have the dress you want on sale for considerably less than another. You may be able to find your dress online (but remember to always be sure you actually see and try on the dress in person before you ever purchase online). If you don't mind wearing a gown that's already been worn by another bride, you can save a great deal of money. You'll just have to consider that it's already been altered to fit the other bride, so make sure you get a very detailed description of what's been done to the dress.
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    Have fun! This is a time in your life when you get to try on as many exquisite and expensive dresses as you want. You'll be the center of attention (at least among your group at the shop) and people will treat you with special kindness because you're a beautiful bride. Have fun!


  • If you have a smaller budget, it may be helpful to you not to try on dresses you know you can't afford. If you really fall in love with one, you'll be sad you can't buy it, and you may actually never be satisfied with a lesser priced gown after finding what you feel is "The Dress" in a price range a couple thousand dollars higher than what you can afford. Don't risk it!
  • Before you buy your dress, find someone who can alter it for you so you're not locked into the place where you bought it. This can save you money. If you buy a dress that is bigger than your present size, they will have plenty to work with. This allows you to buy a dress that you find that is at a good price or is just the one you've dreamed of without worrying about it being gone later.
  • You don't need a $5,000 dress to feel like royalty on your special day. Contrary to what some people may believe, chains like David's Bridal have gowns of excellent quality, and they have lines from their own designers, such as Oleg Cassini, who create many beautiful, very well-made dresses that can't be distinguished from gowns that are thousands of dollars higher in price. Remember that you'll only wear it for one day, so what matters is not where your gown came from, but that you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, and that you can always look back on the photos and think the same. If you're that concerned about labels, have the evidence removed by a seamstress or replaced by a customized label that's embroidered with the date of your wedding, your names, or a special message.
  • Even if you have a big budget, don't automatically rule out lesser-priced gowns. The dress of your dreams may end up being a $300 gown on a sale rack somewhere. Buy the dress you love, and if it's less than your budget allowance, you'll have extra money for something else, like the honeymoon!
  • Your dream dress is the one that makes you not care what the centerpieces are at the reception.
  • Second-hand dresses can be wonderful! You can find dresses on the Internet, speciality stores, local want ads, and from your friends and relatives. They can be economical choices. Be sure it fits well, or a little big to be let in. A good seamstress can make a wedding dress look completely different than how it originally started out.
  • There are a few scenarios where you might make an exception and buy your dress early:
    • You've found your dream dress, but then find out it's being discontinued. If you feel strongly about the dress and think you'd be really upset if you missed your chance to buy it, it's probably better to be safe than sorry. If worse comes to worst and you do change your mind after buying, you may have to sell it for a cheaper price and lose a little money, but it's still probably better than wishing you were in The Dress That Got Away on your wedding day.
    • You've found your dream dress, and suddenly it's on sale. Chances are, it'll be on sale later too, but if you're really going to save a lot of money and don't want to risk it not being on sale later, you might choose to buy now. As written above, if you do change your mind later, you can always sell it, and you may be able to get away with selling it for its non-sale price.
  • If you can't find a dress... If you've searched for months and tried on hundreds of dresses, and you're seriously convinced no dress exists that you can wear on your day, consider having a local designer make one for you. You can choose every single detail about your dress, and it will be completely unique. This generally costs anywhere from $1000-$5000, depending on how complicated your dress is. Shop around and you'll be able to find something in your price range.
  • If you prefer to wear a dress that looks like you're going to the Oscars, rather than one that is Similar of the traditional, poofy wedding dress, you can nab a white designer evening gown from an upscale department store for under $1000, which is often less expensive than a traditional wedding dress. An added perk of doing something like this is that the dress could be re-worn at a future, upscale event, such as an opera or maybe even the Oscars.


  • If you plan to have your dress altered, make sure you get references on the person or company you will be using.
  • It is OK if the dress (or anything else about your wedding) isn't absolutely perfect! Planning a wedding can lead you to over-focus on details, even to the point of obsession in your life. Of course you want things to be wonderful. Yet the truth is simply that all brides are beautiful, and that includes you, the bride. It doesn't matter specifically if you have beading on your dress, which veil you choose, or how much the dress cost.
  • Although women often keep their wedding dress, don't lie to yourself and think you'll pass it on to your daughter. (If you're reading this YOU aren't going to wear your mother's dress, right?)
  • Some stores do not allow you to wear make-up and/or lipstick when trying on dresses. Go without or at least be prepared to remove it.
  • Don't wear socks, stockings, or shoes that need to be tied. Lessening the time between dresses helps you to compare.

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