After visiting twelve bridal shops, I feel like I’ve become somewhat of an expert at the wedding dress shopping thing. It’s been a steep learning curve, though, and there are a few things I wish I’d known from the beginning.
1. Book your appointments well in advance.
If you’ve already hit the wedding blogs this one may seem obvious to you, but when I decided it might be fun to check out the NYC bridal shop scene a couple of weeks after getting engaged I didn’t even know that appointments were a thing—let alone that to snag a prime weekend spot at the top stores you might need to book as much as a couple of months in advance.
2. Do your research.
Try to get a sense of your preferred styles—and which brands carry them—before deciding which bridal salons to hit up. That said, plenty of designers run the gamut style-wise—and be mindful of the fact that the photos you see on a shop’s website might not always be representative of which styles are currently in stock.
3. BYO undergarments.
A well-fitted strapless bra is your friend during this process. I can’t say I followed this advice myself, having made my way through my appointments with a combination of loaner bras from shops and a bedraggled and ill-fitting decade-old strapless from my own collection—but there were times I really wish I had, as it’s something that really affects the way some dresses fit.
4. Never give David’s your real email.
I’m not sure if it’s the same with David’s in the UK, but here in the States they will sell your contact info to every wedding vendor within a hundred mile radius—this is only a slight exaggeration. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive an unwanted email from a photographer, DJ, or venue, all courtesy of David’s. This is borrowed advice from elsewhere online (that I wish I’d encountered before my David’s appointment rather than after!), but I think it bears repeating.
5. Always take pictures.
So long as you’re allowed, that is—and if you’re not allowed, maybe consider taking your business elsewhere? I admit I’m a cynic, but the only reason I can think of for these bans is that, with only your glowing memories to rely on, you’ll be more likely to fixate on a dress that made you feel great in the moment but may or may not have been all that in the harsh light of the camera flash. Having photos to look back on certainly helped talk me down from a couple of dresses that weren’t quite as flattering as I remembered. A few of the shops I visited (including Kleinfeld) professed to have no-photo policies on their websites, but none save Bridal Garden actually enforced them (and since Bridal Garden sells one-off second-hand dresses that aren’t likely to linger in-store, I’ll give them a pass).
6. Be assertive, but keep an open mind.
It’s great to go in to your appointments with an idea of what you’re looking for, but don’t refuse to try on a gown your consultant/mother/bridesmaid pulls because you’ve decided ahead of time you just can’t do, say, a sheath. There’s obviously a limit to this, but I tried on quite a few dresses that didn’t immediately speak to me that I ended up liking much more than I thought I would.
7. Try all the dresses.
Similar to the above, but even if you think you know exactly what you want it’s never a bad idea to pick out a range of styles to try on. On another note, I’m going to disagree with the oft-quoted advice about not trying dresses you can’t afford. Even if you know you can’t take it home with you, there’s something magical about just trying on a couture stunner or two (or, um, a dozen). You have to know yourself, though—if you suspect you’re the type who won’t be able to let go of that Jenny Packham when you’re on more of a David’s budget, maybe ignore this one.
8. There’s nothing wrong with splashing out on a gown you love.
As long as you can afford it, that is—I don’t think anyone should go into debt buying a dress. I admit that when I started shopping I was a little uppity about people who spent into the upper (or even middle) four figures and beyond on wedding attire. But a few things—namely, finding out just how much fun wearing an over-the-top gown can be and also reading this post in defense of expensive wedding dresses—made me reconsider. A dress may be just an object, but wearing it is most certainly an experience—and if it’s an experience that’ll give you £5,000 of enjoyment, how is that any more frivolous than spending the same amount travelling or going to fancy restaurants or buying a nicer car?
9. You might not find The One.
You hear so much about brides trying on a dress and knowing that it’s the one for them—it seems like you can hardly make it through a real wedding writeup without mention of that most transcendent of all shopping moments. But know that while it might happen for most brides, sometimes it doesn’t—and that’s okay. Though there were a handful of dresses that made me feel amazing, none ever struck quite that chord. I don’t know if it’s a personality thing or if the right dress just failed to present itself. Though I can’t say it was easy sorting through my options without that sort of clarity, I’ve nonetheless managed to make a choice I feel great about (to be revealed next time).
10. Try to have fun.
Unless you’re in a position to buy couture on the regular, shopping for a wedding dress is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience (or at least a very rare one)—so try to savor it. I realize this is easier said than done, between body image issues and potential drama with mothers, bridal parties, and the occasional less-than-considerate consultant. But do your best to surround yourself with positive people, carve out plenty of time for your appointments so you don’t feel rushed, and make some great memories.