DOs and DON’Ts of Wedding Dress Shopping

Cats don’t get married, silly. Source:

It seems that my industry is right in the middle of “Bridal Christmas,” with shows competing for attendance left and right and sales all over the place. This past weekend, I attended the Southern Park Mall Bridal Expo in Boardman, and I was very excited that Brian was able to come with me. However, I think the fact that the vendors are tucked in to whatever free space there is along one of the corridors and mall shoppers are trying to get by made it more “meh” than useful. Still, it was slightly productive in that Brian and I have a clearer idea of what we’d like for the tuxes and found more information on a possible ceremony venue.

Due to several factors, I’ll be ordering my wedding dress much sooner than I expected to do so. I didn’t think I’d be looking seriously until at least July, but right now, I have this itty bitty time frame where everything would be ideal for me to pick it. Working in a bridal shop, I’ve learned a lot about things you want to consider while shopping for your wedding gown. Here are some tips to a successful dress shopping experience:

Five people is still pushing it… and this isn’t even the biggest group I’ve seen on that show! From Say Yes to the Dress

1. DO make an appointment at the bridal shop. This will help ensure that you’ll have a consultant there to help you pull dresses, lace up corsets, etc. Ideally, you want to go for earlier in the day when your consultant first comes in. Also, avoid weekends if at all possible. Saturdays and Sundays are always the busiest days since many people have them off, and its likely that your consultant will have another bride or bridal party to work with at the same time. The bridal shop will probably be packed, too, which brings me to my next point…

2. DON’T feel like you have to bring a ton of people with you when you try on dresses. Regardless the size of the bridal shop where you’re browsing, when you bring your mom, sisters, aunts, grandmas, BFFs, teachers, and neighbors with you, that fills up the sometimes small area you have to model the gowns. Not everyone will get a chair, if those are even available, and someone may get grumpy/hungry/bored/other counterproductive feeling. Most importantly, when you have a large number of people in your group, you may get a lot of unsolicited opinions that may make you second-guess a dress you’ve had your heart on. They may want to put you in dresses you have zero interest in or are way outside of your budget. I’ve had brides find the dress of their dreams only to return to the fitting room in tears because of one skeptical opinion from someone who really had no place to voice an opinion. When it comes to selecting your audience, DO stay small: mom, sister, and best friend, if that.

Are you more of a trumpet style, like Anne? Or do you prefer a ball gown like Kate’s? Photos from “Bride Wars,” dresses by Vera Wang. Source: Anne with an “E”

3. DO your research. Does you bridal shop have a website displaying all of their gowns? Before your appointment, check it out and jot down a few styles you like. If you don’t wear dresses often, you may need to try on at least one dress in each style (mermaid, A-line, ball gown, etc) to find what silhouette is going to be best for your body, or to see which style is most comfortable for you. This handy guide will give you more information about skirt, neckline, and bodice styles.

4. DO wear the appropriate undergarments the day you try on dresses. Wear a strapless bra and bring along any other undergarments you typically wear under dresses (shapewear like Spanx or panty hose, etc.). Plus, and I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this, but since I’ve encountered this: DO shave your armpits. Sometimes, your consultant will need to pull your dress up from the top, and, well, that’s kinda gross. Some bridal shops will provide a long-line strapless bra for you to try on with your dress, as well as a slip that will be appropriate for your dress style. (A full, ballgown-style slip wouldn’t be right for a trumpet-style dress.)


5. DON’T pick a wedding dress just because its trendy right now. Even though a particular dress might look just like a celebrity’s wedding dress, it doesn’t mean that 5, 10, or even 15 years from now, that dress won’t look horribly dated. A lot of times, that may mean staying away from large bows, flowers, or poofs in certain areas. At this point, you DO want to focus on finding the right silhouette for you.

6. DON’T just focus on the bottom of your dress. While a lot of girls are enamored with embroidery on the train or lace around the bottom hem, its very important to remember to look at the neckline and bodice of your dress. This is the area most people will be looking at for most of the night at your reception, and the area that will show up most in pictures. If your dress needs a little “umph” from the waist up, try adding a colorful sash to coordinate with the other wedding colors, or check with an alterations specialist to see what the top might look like with a strap or cap sleeve added.

I wouldn’t try on the one on the far right… no, thank you… Photo via Wedding Bee.

7. DO try on as many dresses as you need. You may not find your dress your first time out, and it may not be the very first one you put on (although that does happen sometimes…). Check with your bridal shop on how long your appointment will last. Having a set amount of time isn’t just for the consultant’s benefit: trying on too many dresses in a short period of time can confuse you, and it can be tiring. Some of those dresses can be pretty heavy. Though you want to go into your first appointment with a positive, “I’m gonna find it today!” attitude, do keep setting a comeback appointment in the back of your mind.

8. DON’T freak out about sizes. Its typical for wedding dresses to run a size or two smaller than your normal pants size, or top size. At my shop, we order dresses based on your largest measurement. If you’re on the pear-shaped side, they’ll use your hip measurements; if you have a little more up top, they’ll use your bust measurements. I always tell my brides not to worry about the size that ends up fitting her, and even don’t understand why the dresses run small. I know that this is the last place a girl wants to think she’s gone up a size or two. We just need to focus on which size is going to be right for her and then worry about altering it to fit her perfectly later on.

9. DO ask lots of questions during your appointment. Your consultant can be a great wealth of knowledge about how to outfit your wedding party. They may be able to suggest a style based on dresses you’ve previously tried, and they can tell you about what can be done with a particular gown in regard to bustling the train, adding straps, or coverage options. Ask about payment plans and what other brides have done when styling their gowns. You may hear an idea you hadn’t considered before!

10. DON’T forget that all dress and accessory sales are usually final. Your wedding gown is a big purchase that is part of an even larger commitment. Some places will allow for exchanges, but only under certain circumstances.

Finding your dress doesn’t have to be like those TV shows on a certain channel that includes “learning” in its name. (“Learning” my rear end…) Those are so unrealistic anyway, and how could they be? People will act differently from how they normally do when a camera is shoved up their noses. Check with you bridal shop to see if you can take pictures for decision-making purposes, they all have different rules. Take those few moments while its just you and the consultant in the fitting room changing dresses to let them know how you feel the appointment is going, what you do and don’t like about the dresses, or any other concerns. Not everyone is going to cry when they find the dress. Most importantly, DO remember this appointment is about you and what you’re going to be wearingIf your consultant is any good, they’ll pick up any tensions that are going on between you and your group and can help back you if you need it.

Do you already have your wedding dress? What tips would you add to this list?


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