Bridal Gown Shopping Guide

Before you start shopping for your fantasy wedding gown, get the lowdown on what to expect during the search
Published June 25, 2016

Choosing your wedding gown is one of the biggest decisions you'll make as you plan your wedding. Every bride is searching for her dream dress, the perfect, most flattering style to make her look as gorgeous as she feels.Some brides start to look for their dream gown as soon as they get engaged (or before!), and while it's great to get inspiration early on, don't begin to seriously shop until 9 to 12 months before your wedding. This way, you'll be closer to your wedding-day size but will still have plenty of time to browse before ordering the dress. Higher-end gowns, which are custom made to your size once you order, usually take at least six months to make, including time for fittings closer to the big day.

Discover your bridal style
To get ideas about what you love in a gown, buy bridal magazines for inspiration. Check out Pinterest and Instagram. Let yourself dream and create a vision of your perfect wedding day. What mood do you want to evoke? Do you picture a sun-drenched beach? The casual chic ambience of a garden? The elaborate elegance of a church? The possibilities are endless! When you are clear on the style and type of venue, then begin shopping for the appropriate gown for the occasion.

Keep track of all the gowns that you love by creating a folder of your favourites, whether from magazine pages or from websites. Bring this portfolio to the bridal salon when you start shopping. Also be sure to have a budget in mind and be prepared to tell your salesperson what you like about your choices and why. Stay open to suggestions—your salesperson may suggest a different style for your body type that could end up looking fabulous!

Where to shop
Your options range from small salons to bridal mega-stores. Where you shop will be determined by a variety of factors.

  • Tap into your personal network
    Ask newlywed friends or wedding planners for referrals of bridal salons with reputations for excellent service. If you are interested in a specific designer call the store to be certain their collection is available there.
  • Tune in to "the bride within"
    Ask yourself what kind of shopping experience would make you the most comfortable and be the least stressful. Choices range from small, intimate boutiques with personal service to large warehouse-style shops with a wider selection but less individual attention.
  • Just say no to online shopping!
    Beware of seemingly good deals. Quality and fit are often poor and return policies are worse.

What to expect at the store
You'll need to make an appointment first. They usually last about an hour and you will be assigned a salesperson. She'll work with you to pick out a few dresses to start with and will help you get into and out of each one.

Wedding gown samples may not be stocked in your size, so you might have to tap into your imagination when trying on gowns. If the dress is too roomy, large plastic clamps are used to cinch up the back. If the gown is too small, a piece of elastic is stretched between clamps on each side of the open zipper. Ignore these crazy contraptions and visualize the gown fitting properly. All reputable salons have alteration departments. Expect to pay extra for alterations which are necessary to ensure a perfect fit.

Bridal gowns are also sized differently from regular clothes, so don't feel discouraged if you have to order a gown that's a size or two bigger than you normally wear.

What to wear to a fitting
Wear clothes that are easy to slip on and off, and take along a pair of shoes that are a similar to those you'll be comfortable wearing with your gown. Also bring a strapless bra and any other undergarments (such as a slimming shaper or control-top pantyhose) you plan to wear. Since you'll spend a fair amount of time undressed waiting to be measured or between try-ons, wear nice underwear. Your salesperson probably won't notice the difference, but it will make you feel better about sitting around in your skivvies!

Making the final decision
Stay aware of your feelings. How do you feel in the dress? Are you smiling? Do you feel sexy and beautiful? Watch for goose bumps and tears! A strong emotional response is a good indication that a magical moment is occurring and you have found the perfect gown.

Most importantly, be realistic about sizing. Avoid ordering a gown for the "future you" in too small a size. It's much easier to take in a dress than to let it out. If you are trying to lose weight, find out the latest "order by" from your salesperson date so you will be closer to your ideal size.