Everything You Need to Know
Figuring out which of the thousands of wedding dresses out there is the right one for you can feel overwhelming. Figuring out what type of wedding gowns you want, sorting through different types of wedding dresses, figuring out your wedding gown budget… It’s a lot. We’re here to arm you with the best information for finding your dream wedding dress. It’s supposed to be a moment of joy, after all! In our library of weddings, you can see thousands of photos of all types of wedding dresses on real brides, so that you can gain inspiration, see what styles are out there, and bookmark your favorite ones for yourself.
What should you consider when buying a wedding dress?
Narrowing down the wedding dress of your dreams starts with selection—and we’re here to give you the best information and inspiration. Take your cue from photos of real brides on their big day (at some of the most beautiful wedding venues), and see what resonates with you. You might be surprised which wedding gowns catch your eye! Then find out exactly where your favorite dresses are from and directly get in touch with the designers or wedding dress boutiques.
Things to consider: Where do you buy a wedding dress in the first place? What if you don’t have a very large wedding budget? What does a wedding dress cost, particularly for custom-made wedding gowns? How much does the average wedding dress cost when you buy it ”off-the-rack” at a wedding dress shop? What is the average cost of a wedding dress when you want a luxury designer brand? And who are the top wedding dress designers right now?
Lastly, most—if not all—wedding gowns need time for alterations, even if you’re buying one off the rack that fits you well. And wedding gown alterations need some time to complete, which brings us to a wedding dress buying timeline. You may be surprised how far in advance you should start your search for The One in order for it to be ready in time for the big day. But don’t freak out! We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know.
How do you begin the search for a wedding dress?
Start the wedding dress search by making note of (or pinning) your favorite wedding gowns you come across, and seeing if there are certain patterns—cuts, styles, or embellishments—that emerge. Are you looking for a mermaid cut wedding gown? An ethereal or fairy-tale feel? A wedding dress with lace accents? Maybe you find that you’re drawn to long sleeve wedding dresses that are off-the-shoulder… The first place to start is with inspiration, which is why our wedding library of 10,000+ weddings is such a gold mine. Filter by season, color palette, style or location, and start to hone in on exactly what you want..
Note in particular if there’s anything that’s a must-have. Whether it’s a modest cut, covered shoulders, or a full skirt, focus on what's non-negotiable. Then it’s time to think about how your setting can affect the type of dress you want. From fabric (light fabrics for a beach wedding, for example), to cut (shoulders covered for certain religious ceremonies, etc.), to terrain considerations (a shorter dress so your forest wedding venue doesn’t muddy the bottom), it’s important to think through the season and venue to find the perfect look.
Finally, you have to keep your budget in mind. Wedding dress prices can fluctuate enormously, so narrowing down to a specific price is important if you are on a strict budget. Many wedding dress stores will share their starting wedding dress prices either on their website or over the phone so that you can know before making an appointment whether their gowns will be in range or not.
Where do you buy wedding dresses?
Finding a wedding dress is actually the second step, the first is figuring out where to buy your wedding dress. Some stores are geared towards affordable wedding dress options, while other boutique stores have more upscale pricing. Some wedding dress store options include:
Multi-brand Bridal Gown Shops:
These traditionally-run shops represent several designers. This allows you to check out the style you love from a variety of fashion houses.
Bridal Designers’ Shops:
You might also head to a specific designer’s boutique. Doing so works well when you have fallen in love with a particular designer’s style rather, than a particular bridal gown.
Department Stores with Bridal Departments:
If you have a difficult time narrowing down wedding dress designers, you may have better luck at a department store. Their bridal departments typically feature a smaller number of options than large-scale bridal stores, which can make the selection feel less overwhelming.
Other Fashion Retailers:
If you are not averse to beginning a shopping adventure, check out the wedding dresses on online fashion retailer sites. Or you may have a favorite fashion brand who happens to design a bridal collection as well. Buying wedding dresses online has become increasingly popular, but be sure you check each site’s return policy and window, and make sure you have enough time to process a bunch of returns, as well as to have whatever inevitable alterations you need done as well.
What do you need to know before going wedding dress shopping?
When considering where to shop for bridal gowns, there will be two terms you might hear: One refers to a “ready-to-wear,” or prêt-à-porter, wedding gown, which only needs minor alterations and you can buy it off the rack and walk out of the store with it. This is a particularly attractive option for couples who have a short wedding planning timeline. The opposite is a custom-made gown, which is similar to “haute couture in that it is made by hand for your specific measurements. Most of the famous wedding design houses fall into this category (Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhuillier, Vera Wang…), and most brides do not realize when they start their dress shopping journey that all of their gowns are custom made specifically for each bride, they are not produced and sold otherwise. Here are some helpful considerations when going out and shopping for wedding dresses:
Make a Wedding Dress Shopping Appointment
You cannot walk into most bridal stores; you need to make an appointment. This is somewhat so that the stores are not too crowded, but mostly so that a good variety of wedding gowns are available for you to try on during your appointment.
Expect to Try On Wedding Dress Samples
You will likely try on a sample, not a new wedding gown that can be purchased on the spot, which is why there are a limited number of gowns for customers to try on at any given time. Additionally,. most bridal boutiques do not stock each dress in every size. They will have a handful of sizes and will adjust them with a clip or attach the extra fabric to an open zipper so that you can get an idea of what the dress will look like on you. But in most cases, they will not be your correct size.
Don’t Expect to See All the Wedding Dresses
When you walk into most bridal boutiques, you will not see all the styles that are available out on the floor. There is simply not enough space for it. The sales associate will ask you what types of wedding dresses you are looking for, and then will bring out examples from the stockroom to show you.
Bring Wedding Dress Photos
It is helpful to bring photos of wedding dresses you like to show to the sales associate.
Figure Out Your Favorite Wedding Dress Styles
If you are not sure what style of bridal gown you are looking for, try to make your first appointment at a place that has more inventory on display, such as a department store, so that you can try a few styles and begin to have an idea of your favorites.
Try On Other Wedding Dress Styles
While it’s important to have an idea of what you might like, it’s also a good idea to try other styles, especially suggested by a store associate. Many times brides end up changing their minds and falling in love with a bridal gown that is totally different from what they originally wanted.
Understand Which Wedding Dress Styles Are Flattering
Know your body, and tell the sales associate about anything you’d like to emphasize (or minimize), and any other considerations you may have. Bridal boutique assistants will help you find several wedding gowns to try on that fit your list.
Be Mindful of Wedding Dress Colors
A white wedding dress may not look so bright white in the store. That is because, again, it is a sample that has been tried on by several customers, so the fabric may be slightly dulled with time. You may be able to request to see a swatch of fresh fabric to understand what a new dress will look like—which is especially helpful if you are considering an ivory wedding dress, and want to understand just how off-white it will be.
Shop with Your Wedding Shoes
Bring your shoes, if you have chosen them, to try on with the wedding gown. If not, bring some in the heel height you’re likely to wear on your wedding day so that you can see how any potential dresses will look. But once you’ve chosen a dress and begin to have fittings, it is essential that you bring the exact shoes that you will be wearing so that the dress can be hemmed appropriately.
Be Smart About Wedding Dress Shopping Online
If you are determined to shop for wedding dresses online, begin the bridal gown search with a look at your favorite wedding dress designers. Most designers who create custom wedding gowns do not sell them online, but may have a smaller prêt-à-porter collection available (Note: these styles may still have a few weeks’ production time and won’t ship immediately, but they will still be faster than the custom route.) Shopping online may help you to narrow down the selection to only include wedding dress prices within your budget. But be sure to allow extra time (and effort) for returns, as well as extra time for alterations.
Should you visit bridal boutiques with friends or family?
Shopping for a wedding dress can be splendidly fun, but it can also be a bit stressful—especially all on your own. Some brides find that bringing family and friends not only allows them to celebrate with you, but it’s also helpful in terms of getting a second (or third) opinion on a style. Experts (including bridal boutiques) recommend keeping the group on the smaller side to make sure the focus is on the shopper, and to keep varying opinions to a minimum. And be sure to choose your companions carefully—the ideal ally in a bridal boutique is someone who will be helpful when comparing bridal gowns you are torn between, knowledgeable about wedding dress designers if perhaps you are not, but not overly opinionated to the point that they will push you to dismiss your favorite bridal gowns. That being said, you are not obligated to bring anyone—this is your purchase and your special day.
How far in advance do you need to buy your wedding dress?
When buying a wedding dress, even one off the rack, you must allow sufficient time for alterations—from simple hemming to the changing of straps and embellishments. Detailed wedding dress timelines instruct brides to start their search about a year out from the ceremony, and to expect to make a final decision and put down a deposit approximately nine months before the big day, assuming your dress is being custom made. With three months to go, the bridal boutique will typically schedule the first fitting. (If you bought your wedding dress online or outside of a bridal shop, you can talk to a tailor to determine the timeline.) Approximately one month before the wedding, you will have a final fitting.
Are you thinking of working with a bridal stylist, who is a wedding fashion expert who can help you search and shop for the perfect dress and come up with a cohesive wedding look that includes your accessories, hair and makeup? If so, you may want to begin the process even earlier than the 12-month mark in order to allow additional time to try on various wedding gowns with the pro’s input (and in coordination with their often-busy schedules). However, this type of pro can be well worth it, as they can help you narrow down wedding gown designers, advise which bridal gowns would work best on your body, and even make appointments at bridal boutiques.
How much does a wedding dress cost?
To give you some context, The average wedding cost in the United States is approximately $31,213, and the average wedding dress cost at a bridal boutique in the U.S. is $1,357. And while you can certainly spend less than that (or much, much more!), there are several things to consider when it comes to understanding what determines a typical wedding dress cost:
Wedding Dress Designers
The names on the labels at wedding dress stores make a huge difference in the price. A world-famous, luxury wedding dress designer will cost a good deal more than a vintage find at a thrift store that you have altered.
Wedding Dress Materials
Are you going for silk? Lace? Charmeuse? Tulle? The quality of the fabric—and therefore, the cost of it—will affect the overall cost of a wedding dress. Similarly, the more intricate and elaborate the details are—hand-stitched embroidery, appliquéd pearls, etc—the more expensive a wedding dress can be.
Wedding Dress Customization
Want to add sleeves? Or a tulle overlay? Want to take the top of one style and combine it with the skirt of another? Any sort of customizing of your wedding dress will likely cost more.
Wedding Dress Alterations
You should assume that any wedding dress you buy—whether it is off-the-rack or custom-made, will require some amount of tailoring. And even if you’re just shortening a hem or tightening a strap, the littlest of wedding dress alterations still costs some money, so it’s important to allocate alteration costs as part of your wedding budget. More complicated wedding dress alterations, like reshaping a bodice or a particularly heavy or ornate fabric may cost more.
Wedding Dress Cleaning and Preservation
Some wedding dress stores offer cleaning preservation services to brides who buy their dresses there (which can be included wedding dress prices or supplementary.) But most often you will need to have your wedding dress professionally cleaned following your big day. Even if you take it to a typical dry cleaner, because wedding dresses are typically more fragile, more fabric, and more delicate fabric, the cost to clean a wedding dress is frequently higher than cleaning a regular dress.
What are the different types of wedding dresses?
If you think about the most iconic wedding gowns in history, you’ll see as much variety as you will inspiration: long trains, layered silk, and gorgeous veils; full-skirted ball gowns, mermaid wedding gowns that cling to the body, and timeless A-line silhouettes. Wedding gown designers can vary in their approach, sometimes drawing on a handful of signature silhouettes that are typical of their collections. But that means you should be able to find designers who offer styles from classic to completely cutting-edge, depending what you’re looking for.
One style choice to consider: If you are getting married at a religious venue, consider whether you need to have your shoulders covered for the ceremony, and therefore whether a long sleeve wedding dress is ideal. Some brides opt for removable sleeves, capes, or jackets that cover your shoulders, and can then be taken off for the reception.
Are wedding dresses always white?
The white wedding dress tradition is actually quite a new one, and for centuries it wasn’t always the traditional color of brides. Before the 20th century, bridal gowns came in a rainbow of colors because they were typically a woman’s most formal dress that had to do double-duty. Most women would not have had dedicated funds for a wedding dress cost they would wear only once, so even if they were getting new dresses, their wedding gown needed to be more versatile.
But that all changed with Queen Victoria, whose white wedding dress featured locally-produced lace during a time when that industry was struggling, and who wanted to appear more as a woman marrying a man who loved her rather than a bejeweled monarch whose wealth was the appeal. The patriotic move became a trendsetting moment for other brides, who replicated her decision to wear a white wedding dress, embracing the symbolism of white as a representation of purity and innocence.
Today, while white wedding dresses may be the norm, modern brides are increasingly playing with unique wedding dress colors, whether that be strapless wedding dresses with multicolor floral embroidery, or alternative bridal gowns in shades of blush, champagne, or pink. Many bridal stores can now accommodate your wish for an ivory wedding dress, pink wedding dress, or even red wedding dresses, which in Chinese culture, is traditionally worn as a symbol of good luck. Many of the great designers are looking beyond traditional strapless wedding dresses in white in favor of more avant-garde, unique wedding dresses in soft grays and pearl tones.
What are some wedding gown alternatives?
Now, you may begin your wedding dress search and realize, you don’t want to wear a wedding dress. And that’s totally fine! There are so many wedding gown alternatives today that are not only acceptable, but popular. Whether you’d be happier in a wedding suit, separates, or the increasingly trendy wedding jumpsuit, this is your day, so anything goes! Or if you like the idea of a dress, just not an over-the-top formal ball gown, a short wedding dress might be a fun alternative depending on your style or venue. Or maybe you like both ideas, and want to change from a big gown to a minidress or jumpsuit for an after party. After-party outfits are extremely popular options so that brides can move and dance more freely into the wee hours.
How do you preserve your wedding dress?
After you go to so much trouble browsing thousands of wedding gown photos, trying on dozens of bridal gowns at several bridal stores, finally landing on The One, which you have meticulously altered to fit you perfectly with multiple fittings… your wedding day finally comes, and you wear it. But then what?
Many brides like to preserve wedding gowns so that they can become future family heirlooms. Even if you are not thinking that far ahead, it’s important to take your wedding dress to be cleaned as soon after your wedding as possible—which might seem unnecessary, since you are not likely to wear it again any time soon, but the longer a stain has to set in, the less likely it will come out. White wedding dresses can can also yellow or change color over time, so experts suggest having bridal gowns professionally cleaned and then stored in an acid-free environment in order to be preserved.
While some wedding dress stores incorporate preservation in the dress cost, many charge between $1,000 and $2,500, depending on the makeup of the gown, or you can seek out independent dry cleaners who are able to not only clean, but preserve, your wedding dress.
We’re Here for All Your Wedding Dress Needs
Now that you know nearly all there is to know about wedding gowns, it’s time to start shopping! Start your search in our wedding library where you’ll see everything from lace long sleeve wedding dresses to unique red wedding dresses, and everything else in between. Figure out your personal bridal style, then get in touch with the wedding dress designers and boutiques where your favorites came from to start setting up your shopping appointments.
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