How to Prepare for Wedding Dress Shopping

When I began the search for a wedding dress, I really had no idea what to expect.  As a planner, I focus on the logistical side and design aspects of putting together my client's weddings, but generally do not advise my brides on which dress to pick (trust me, you look amazing in every dress! I would be so unhelpful!). I had gone with my sister wedding dress shopping, but still, to be on the "trying on" side would be different than sitting and watching someone come out in new dresses every five minutes. 

I attempted to read a few articles online about what to bring or how to be most prepared - after all, as a wedding planner, I certainly did not want to show up unprepared!  I didn't find any of my readings to be particularly helpful, so I hope this can post can help to be a guide for those of you beginning the process or soon to begin shopping for a wedding dress.  

Months ago, I wrote down the designers I gravitated toward to keep a running list of the various dress designers I would like to try on that might be a good fit.  This task was not too difficult since I have seen many dresses over the past few years in the industry, but I suggest browsing blogs like Green Wedding Shoes and Style Me Pretty to look at the dresses brides are wearing and take note of the brands you seem to be attracted to.  Once I had my list of designers, I went to each brand's website, and found their tab (often called "stockists") to find out which stores carry their dresses in my area -- keep in mind that not every single one of their dresses of every collection may be in the store, but at least you can check out the brand in person to get a better idea of fit and overall design aesthetic.  I wrote down which stores in my area carried the designers I was interested in, and made appointments with those.

I spaced my appointments out over a few months (October - December), and would say it's really personal preference if you want to stack them all, or space them out like I did.  Spacing out worked for me because 1. I had the time and didn't have to order right away (generally, try give yourself at least 6 months for certain bridal salons, but dresses can always be rushed in less time than that) and 2. It gave me more time to see which dress(es) continually stuck in my head, where it might be a little bit harder to remember how you felt in each dress if you're going once a week to appointments.  I didn't book multiple appointments in one day - it is really fun to try on dresses, but afterwards I needed time to look through the photos and absorb each dress fully. 

When it came time to attend the appointments, I came a bit overly prepared to my first appointment, but it turns out it is much better to be over prepared than underprepared.  I made a list of the dresses I liked from online, so the selecting process was a bit quicker which cuts into the time you have to try on the dresses, which goes quickly!  There were a few more I liked in person to add to the dress list as well, or thought I liked online that turned out I didn't love seeing in person.

Here's a list of my advice on what to bring and what to do during your bridal appointments to make the most of it:

1.  Bring an open mind. It is worth trying on different styles to find out what you do like, and even if a dress doesn't appeal to you on the hanger, you may very well change your mind when you try it on.  One of the dresses I thought was going to look awful, but wanted to try on for the fun of it, ended up being one of my favorites. 

2. Bring a pair of heels or wedges that are easy to slip on and off.  Some salons offer heels for you to try on with the dresses, but many do not and it can help in photos since the dresses were really long on me to bring them up a little bit and not look so big. 

3. Bring a strapless bra just in case.  I never ended up wearing this, but it can't hurt to bring it if you are trying to different style dresses where you may be able to get away with a strapless bra, or if you are feeling modest.  

4. Wear comfortable underwear that is a neutral color.  At a few of the salons, I was helped in and out of the dresses by stylists, and was happy to have worn underwear that covered me enough to feel comfortable.  The stylists in these stores have seen hundreds of people in their most intimate forms, so try not to be uncomfortable. They're professionals, but it can't hurt to feel good in what you're wearing.  I wore nude underwear for every appointment, except the last one where I wore light blue... whoops! It did show through slightly in all of the photos! It does make a difference! 

5. A smaller entourage. If you're like me, having too many opinions on each dress will end up confusing you further.  It was difficult for me to narrow down, and had there been more people in attendance, I think it would have been even harder, or even more difficult to hear opinions of dislike on dresses that may have been my favorites.  I went with my sister-in-law and mom, and only my mom to some.  I trust both of their opinions and was glad to not have too many different cooks in the kitchen.    

6. Expect 60 minute appointments.  Try not to spend too much time on the selection of dresses, or come prepared to know the designers or specific dresses of each designer that you'd like to try to help speed up that process.  The stylists will help you select new dresses throughout that they think you may like based on your feedback, so don't worry about missing something - they know what their inventory is and will have ideas of what to pull next.  After an appointment or two, you'll also start to know which necklines don't look good, or which styles aren't going to be your favorite, so you'll become a bit quicker at selecting the dresses that you actually think will be viable options.  The most dresses I tried on was 10, and that is a very quick turnaround time, and then at the end I re-tried on a favorite or two from the beginning that I liked and wanted to engrain them into my memory one more time.  Typically, 6-7 dresses is what you'll get through.  If you immediately don't like a dress, no use in taking the time to examine more closely, it's better to spend more time in the dresses you like!   

7. Do think about weight of the dress and how hot it will be in your dress.  If you're getting married in summer, something with sleeves might be fine, but you'll want the dress to be a light and breathable material- keep that in mind before you fall in love with a dress.  Maybe you love beadwork, but if you're a big dancer, keep in mind the weight of the dress and how it may affect your ability to get down on the dance floor.  It could be helpful to jot down a list to bring to the appointment of different aspects you want to keep in mind before you get caught up in each dress - a little checklist for each one you try on (does it pass the heat test, does it pass the weight test, sitting test, dancing test, etc.)

8. Know your budget limits.  Trying on dressed out of your budget could be useful if you love a certain cut, but if you are quick to fall for dresses, I would avoid trying on anything that you know you can't afford.  You want to feel great in your dress, but you also don't want to spend more than what you have already allocated and feel comfortable spending.  If you put more toward your dress, that means pulling from somewhere else which may be difficult, depending on your overall budget.  

9. Do take videos and lots of photos in each dress with different poses and angles!  I can't stress this enough!!! It was my mom's idea to take videos of me walking in each dress, and I'm so glad she did!  It was much more helpful than looking at photos of myself which don't necessarily show the movement of the dress that it will have in person.  Also, I made the mistake of not really varying the poses I did in each dress, I tended to just stand and look at the camera, but if the dress has movement, don't be afraid to lift your arms, or hold up the skirt to show it.  It will help in how you remember the dress and when you show photos to friends or other family members. Also, having the person taking photos do a little rapid fire isn't a bad idea either - if you only have one photo in each dress and you're mid-blink and talking, it could easily change how you feel about the dress looking back at it, since you aren't looking your best and will associate that you don't look good in that dress.  

10. Take a little time to do your hair and makeup.  You may not know if you want your hair up or down at this point, but if you have an idea, try to wear your hair in that style so you can get a better feel for the overall image of yourself in the dress.  Put on a little bit more makeup than you might normally to replicate how you'll look on your wedding day - it helps to feel your best when trying on the dresses. 

11. Don't feel bad if you don't have some *ah -ha* moment. So many shows glorify the process of finding your wedding dress and that you will cry when you find "the one".  That's awesome if you do have that experience, but for me it certainly was not like that.  I felt torn and oh so confused and did not decide until I was at home which dress I would go with after hours and hours of consideration.  This wasn't some instantaneous thing for me.  It totally might be for you, and that is amazing to know so quickly, but if it doesn't happen for you, try not to be discouraged, it doesn't mean you don't love the dresses, you just need more time to actually decide!  

12. Give yourself limits.  I was feeling so torn on dresses that I felt like maybe I should make some more appointments, but knew in my heart that wasn't the best choice.  I forced myself to sit down and decide.  Once you try on a bunch of dresses, trying on more isn't going to make it easier - it will just confuse you more and take up more of your time.  Give yourself a time limit - my time limit was to make a decision by the end of December, and I knew I couldn't push this back otherwise it would never end! 

I hope this helps you know what to expect on your journey to find your wedding dress and that you come equip with some new tools to help you make the best decision!  

And because dress shopping is so fun, here are a few photos of dresses I had a blast trying on! 


Have any other tips? Leave them in the comments below for others to read!