Practical Advice for How to Choose Your Wedding Dress
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve heard of the popular TLC show Say Yes to the Dress. I’ve honestly never seen it. But I have photographed quite a few wedding dresses.
So, how do people who aren’t on TV go about choosing their perfect wedding dress? After that, how do you go about finding bridesmaid dresses that compliment your wedding dress? I decided to look into this and write down what I learned. Accordingly, in this guide, you’ll find practical advice for choosing your wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses, including advice from people who’ve been through it.
One obvious question that I should answer up front is this one: How far in advance should I find my wedding dress?
Generally, the entire process of buying a wedding dress can take up to about a year. When you buy a typical wedding dress from a bridal shop or boutique, they’ll special-order your dress from the designer and it might take up to six months to arrive. After that, you’ll go through several months of fittings and alterations to make sure the fit is perfect.
If viewing this guide in video form seems appealing to you, then look no further. Here it is on my YouTube channel.
How to Choose the Perfect Wedding Dress
1. Start wedding dress hunting early
It may come as a surprise that wedding dresses aren’t usually readily available in a boutique. After you select them, they have to be ordered. The staff of bridal shops Bridal Trousseau and Bridal Affection (co-owned boutiques in Connecticut) advised me that dresses “typically take around three to six months to arrive since they need to be special ordered.” Yikes.
Then on top of that, “the alteration process that follows can take around three to four months.” Needless to say, choosing your wedding dress deserves early attention in your wedding planning process.
2. Define your personal wedding style
Are you going to be a formal wedding couple with a ballroom reception? Having a boho wedding? A high-fashion one? Doing things more casually? Determining your overall wedding style is first because, well, you two will be the central focus of your wedding day. Therefore, what you wear should be unapologetically “you,” however you define that.
3. Narrow down the wedding dress types which appeal to you
Once you’ve established your overall wedding style theme, you’ll probably be comfortable with exploring dress categories. The main attribute to consider here is the wedding dress silhouette, or overall shape.
From there, you’ll want to consider the other important wedding dress features. These include the neckline, waistline, sleeves, length, trains, and fabric.
“I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted but I knew what I didn’t want,” said one bride that I worked with. Another bride admitted that she would’ve rather gotten married in sweatpants. While finding her own wedding dress style may have been a little tougher, she made a very good move by involving family. “I basically just let my mom and sister choose.” That works!
4. Look for wedding dress inspiration
As you start to formulate what your ideal wedding dress looks like, it’ll be time to start looking for wedding dress inspiration. Pinterest and Instagram are great for this, allowing you to search, find photos, and organize them for later.
Don’t forget about friends and family: maybe your favorite cousin’s wedding dress was right up your alley.
The online approach can also be helpful for helping you find designers that you like. Said another marrier I worked with: “I started looking at dresses on Instagram…[and] I loved this designer called All Who Wander. [So] I looked up dress shops that sold the All Who Wander Series. They were only in Boston and NYC.”
5. Visit wedding dress shops in person
The crew at Bridal Trousseau and Bridal Affection offer the following advice: “We acknowledge this is possibly the most important dress of your life.” It goes without saying, then, that you must plan on viewing wedding dresses in person.
I’ve heard from multiple brides (including my wife) that trying on 20+ wedding dresses is perfectly normal…There’s plenty of advice out there on what to bring and wear when wedding dress shopping. Don’t forget to bring close friends and family for support, opinions, and possibly pictures!
Oh, and if the boutiques you plan on visiting have websites, you can decide how much time you’d like to devote to exploring them and getting a feel for what they offer. That could help keep your in-person visit to each shop moving right along.
By the way, this is a great time to factor in your wedding dress budget. Bridal Trousseau (traditional, pick a dress and they order it) staff shared with me that they have dresses ranging from $1000 to $6000. Its sister store, Bridal Affection (off-the-rack dresses only), sells dresses which top out around $2000.
And don’t forget to budget for alterations; it’s best to ask if those are included with your purchase.
Picking Complimentary Bridesmaid Dresses
Once you’ve chosen the wedding dress of your dreams, there will still be work to be done. Here are some considerations for picking bridesmaid dresses that compliment your wedding dress.
Establish the bridesmaid dress color palette
Because it’s probably the first thing guests will notice, and it may dictate designer and dress options, it’s best to pick your bridesmaid dress color palette first. Consider not only the colors you like, but also the theme of your wedding. You’ll probably want to do this pretty soon after you choose your wedding dress.
Like one bride told me, “I chose a muted pink. We were getting married in the spring, and the only thing I kept saying I didn’t want was a wedding that looked like an Easter egg. Our venue was a rustic barn, so the blush pink I chose went very well with the venue/theme.”
And no, your bridesmaids’ dresses don’t have to all be the same color. Storyboard Wedding has a really great guide on wedding color theory.
I’d guess that most couples (my wife and me included) establish the bridesmaid dress colors before worrying about what the other partner’s attendant colors will be.
Choose a single bridesmaid dress designer
If you’re super practical, this point might seem like nitpicking. Be that as it may, you’ll probably want to choose a single bridesmaid dress designer to maintain some level of consistency with your attendants’ dresses.
Dress designers have specific ways of sourcing fabrics, dying colors, and even designing each and every ruffle on their pieces. Going with a single designer will help remove any doubts about the look you’re trying to achieve.
One bride I worked with had this to say: “Azazie was flawless. The bridesmaids and my mother in law all did their ‘custom size’ where you input measurements and they tailor it for you. Everything came back perfect and quick.”
To match or not to match
Mismatched bridesmaid dresses are very popular these days and for great reason. Not only can your crew get really creative, but allowing your attendants to choose their dress styles helps maximize their comfort on your wedding day.
In this department, you can really add some flair to your wedding day while also ensuring that your bridesmaids are cozy.
But take it from someone who has been there: “I honestly didn’t want to try to find a style that would match everyone’s body type and felt it would be best if everyone selected their own.”
So how can you go about getting your bridesmaids on the same page?
Matching bridesmaid dresses are awesome, too! You’ll just want to keep each of your attendants in mind when choosing your one bridesmaid dress. Comfort is important.
Lay down the bridesmaid dress ground rules
After you choose your wedding dress and make decisions on the first two bridesmaid dress points, dive into the details and tell your attendants what you’d like them to go and do for their bridesmaid dresses.
All told, your list of directions might look something like this:
- Color (e.g., coral) or color family/palette (e.g., fall-themed oranges and reds)
- Designer and/or shop (maybe you’ve chosen this or you put one of your attendants in charge of it)
- Dress name(s) and/or silhouette, length, strap/sleeve type, back style, neckline, fabric type
- Accessories, such as shoes, cover-ups, and jewelry
Regarding the budget for your bridesmaid dresses, this is situationally dependent. Here are the two main options:
- Wedding dresses online is a big concept. I’ve found that many of the popular designers like BHLDN (pronounced “beholden”), Birdy Grey, and Azazie have bridesmaid dresses starting in the range of $99 to $150. Don’t forget to consider the cost of alterations, if necessary.
- Considering local wedding dress shops and bridal boutiques, the prices may be slightly higher, but a higher level of service will be involved. Also, sometimes your wedding dress shop will give you a discount if your bridesmaids get their dresses there as well.
Where to Buy Your Wedding Dress and Bridesmaids Dresses
By now, you have a good idea of how to approach finding your wedding dress and what to consider when deciding on bridesmaid dresses. If you’re getting married in the northeast, I’ve created a guide for wedding and bridesmaid dress shops in Connecticut and the surrounding areas.
Conclusion: Say Yes to Your Dress, Your Way
Perhaps overlooked because people assume it’s easy or quick, choosing your wedding dress is an important part of planning your wedding! There’s no one-size-fits-all way to get your perfect dress (no pun intended). Using these tips as a starting point should help you along the way.
Do it your way and you’ll be happy.
I used the following references at different points in this post:
- “How to Choose Your Dream Wedding Dress: 70 Things to Know,” Sarah Z. Wexler and Blair Donovan, Brides
- “How To Find Your Wedding Style,” Here Comes the Guide
- “Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Styles & Silhouettes for Your Shape,” Karen Willis Holmes
- “Wedding Dress Necklines, Silhouettes, Waistlines, Trains and Fabrics Defined,” PreOwned Wedding Dresses.com
- “Pulling Off Mismatched Bridesmaid Dresses Perfectly,” Tulle & Chantilly Wedding Blog
- “Say Yes to the Dress,” Kleinfeld Bridal
- “21 celebrities who appeared on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’” Gabbie Shaw, Insider
- “BHLDN,” Wikipedia
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