I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many women dream of wedding dress shopping. I was certainly one of them. I couldn’t wait for the day I could try on dreamy gowns and look like the very best version of myself.
It came as somewhat of a surprise, therefore, to discover not only did I not enjoy wedding dress shopping, but I made the mistake of buying a bridal gown I knew wasn’t right for me and consequently didn’t end up wearing. (Big mistake, huge!)
The dress I ended up wearing (and adoring) as I said ‘I do’ times two, was a last-minute rescue purchase after the original gown I ordered looked nothing like I imagined it to be.
With hindsight, of course, I can see that I made every mistake going when it came to wedding dress shopping. So here are some of my tips for buying the perfect wedding dress for any new brides-to-be.
These are things I wish I’d known before saying yes to the (wrong) dress.
8 things to know before going wedding dress shopping
- Do your research
This is an obvious point but one I failed to fully comprehend before getting started. I was so excited to start wedding dress shopping that I rocked up to my first boutique without a solid idea of what style of dress I wanted.
I knew what shapes suited my figure and had a long list of things I didn’t want for my bridal gown, but apart from that I expected the shop assistants to work some form of magic and produce dresses for me that would be absolutely perfect.
In reality, many stores have a LOT of dresses and the women working in them don’t know your exact style and taste. I wish I had looked at more wedding dresses online and identified particular styles, themes or designers I wanted to see.
Even if you don’t have a solid idea of what dresses you want to try, coming to the bridal store armed with a Pinterest board that shows your likes and inspirations will help the assistants get started.
2. The dresses won’t fit
This point applies particularly to ladies, like me, who aren’t sample sizes. I had foolishly hoped that bridal stores would hold a range of sizes to try on but, in Australia in particular, I found most gowns available to try on were a size 8 to 10 and I’d be really lucky if someone had a size 12 I could get into.
This means that for a lot of fittings you will be pinned or tucked into something too small and you have to imagine it fitting you properly.
Some stores are excellent at this and will corset and clamp you in discreetly and expertly, others, however, expect you to flounce in front of your friends with your pants hanging out, or as happened to me in one case, with just an assistant with cold hands running around behind you holding the dress together.
I tried some absolutely gorgeous gowns that I would have happily paid the hefty price tag for, if only they could have shown me one that went over my hips.
3. Pay attention to what size your dress is ordered in
Unless the sample you try on in store fits perfectly, the store will be ordering you in a dress in a different size, which, as I discovered, may change the look of the dress completely.
From talking to other brides I’ve discovered that it’s standard practise for bridal stores to take your measurements and then order in a dress to fit the widest point. This makes sense in a lot of cases, after all a bride doesn’t want a dress arriving that’s too small, but for someone like myself who is up to 2 sizes smaller on her top half than bottom, this is a massive problem.
What happened to me is I fell in love with size 10 sample dress (which admittedly was a tiny bit too small for me) but had the perfect proportions I was looking for to flatter my small bust and hide the sins of my larger bottom. But unbeknownst to me a dress was ordered in to fit my bottom half (even though the gown was not fitted over the bum) and I ended up with a bodice that was 2 sizes too big – it hardly touched the sides on my first fitting. After 4 rounds of alterations and the addition of cups a size larger than my breasts, the dress was made to ‘fit’ me, but I assure you it was far from flattering. The proportions of the sample dress I fell in love with were nowhere to be seen and the multiple alterations to the gown had caused creases in the bodice that weren’t on the one I ordered.
Apparently, this style of ordering is standard in wedding dress shops but I met 2 brides during my dress shopping who this didn’t work out so well for either. In hindsight I would have A) asked what size they were ordering and insisted on a smaller one or B) paid more for a made to order gown that was my exact size to start with.
4. Pick your bridal store carefully
After identifying a designer whose boho bridal gown I liked, I looked for a stockist of this designer somewhere in central Sydney (where I was living at the time) so that I could easily get there for appointments. Now, with that blasted hindsight again, I can categorically say that choosing where you buy your dress on location alone is a terrible idea.
Despite getting a feeling from the start that this shop wasn’t the best at customer service, I persevered and then massively regretted it, because their bad service ultimately effected how I felt about my wedding dress and marred our overall wedding experience.
I would advise that you pay massive attention to things like how long the store keep you waiting, whether they listen to your opinions and even the style and lighting of the fitting rooms.
Some of the things that sucked about my bridal store experience in Sydney include:
- Having alterations take place behind a curtain in the storeroom as the fitting rooms were full. (This was a pre-arranged alterations appointment I had paid $550 for!)
- Being asked to move off the box half way through someone cutting my hem as another bride (who they were trying to talk into making a purchase) needed it.
- The lowest point of my dress experience, however, was the day I mentioned not being happy with the creases in the bodice, which resulted in an assistant putting her hands up the front of my skirt and pulling up my knickers to try and fix the faulty stitching. This was in the middle of a glass-fronted shop. Lovely!
Basically, I wish I’d been a bit choosier about who I spent $4k and a large part of my wedding build up with!
5. Don’t let the stores timeline panic you into buying something
When it got to about 9 months before our destination wedding every bridal store I went to told me I needed to make a decision soon if I wanted my dress to arrive in time. I think this pressure led me to make some of the mistakes I’ve mentioned already.
In my experience, it’s far better to keep looking until you find something you love, rather than settle for something you’re unsure of because you’ve been rushed into making a decision.
It can actually be beneficial to not start looking too early as the details of your wedding might change and, as new gowns are released, so might your preferences.
Although stores would like you to order with as long a lead time as possible, I ultimately managed to buy, collect and alter a gown (from Brisbane!) within 2 weeks when my first choice went pear-shaped.
I wish I hadn’t rushed what is a pretty big and expensive decision in the first place.
6. You might not get what you pay for
I’m sorry to say that any bride-to-be will quickly discover there is a special wedding tax that makes everything twice as expensive as soon as you mention the word wedding.
I found that this applied more so in the case of wedding dress shopping. Granted, some dresses are an absolute work of beauty and if you feel so special in it and can afford to drop big bucks on your outfit for your big day – go for it!
But what frustrates me most about my negative wedding dress experience is that I’ve had better overall customer service spending $400 on a dress in a designer store than I have dropping $4k on a wedding gown.
7. It’s an emotional purchase
My friend Christine described it well when she said your wedding dress is the most emotional garment you will ever purchase. I totally get what she means. There is so much tied up with the gown you wear – how you pictured you’d look on your wedding day, how your parents pictured it, your self-esteem, your groom’s wishes. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the things I mentioned in points 1 to 6.
Although the dress is by no means the point of a wedding, I believe it totally effects how a woman feels on the day and how she looks back on it. Do all you can to make sure you feel good every time you look back on the wedding pictures!
8. Get help from friends
I’ve read a lot of articles about how you shouldn’t take too many friends (and their opinions!) wedding dress shopping but having gone through my dress experience mostly alone, I can vouch for how important having your friends and family there is.
As I was living in Australia at the time of planning my wedding, I went to most dress shop appointments solo. I sneakily tried to take photos of me in gowns (most stores don’t allow you to take pictures, which is massively unhelpful if you live overseas!) and sent them to friends and family, but it’s hard for them to give feedback on just a picture without seeing how you feel in it.
Ultimately, I said yes to the dress because the family and friends who were waiting for the bride in the changing room next to me were very complimentary and I got carried away with it! It was lovely of them to try and help me but had these strangers been my mum and bridesmaids instead they might have said things like: ‘This is lovely Jayne but didn’t you say you didn’t want a train?’ or ‘Won’t you get a little hot in that in Thailand?’. Sadly, they weren’t there to make me think twice and by the time they woke up in the UK the store had taken my credit card details.
So, that’s just a few things that went wrong when I was wedding dress shopping. I hope that by sharing my rookie errors I can save some brides-to-be from the same mistakes.
And if you’re already wed, does any of the above resonate with your experience of wedding dress shopping? Is it just me who found it very different to the movies?!
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Tips for planning a destination wedding
Our Thai beach wedding at The Sarojin
Our intimate and low-key Sydney Harbour wedding
Additional images thanks to Celia Michon, Tron Le & Anna Docking Unsplash