I spent six months working as a sales representative at Mon Amie Bridal, one of the largest bridal stores on the West Coast. It was my first experience in high-end retail; we sold dresses anywhere from under $1000 to $10k. During my time on staff, I had the opportunity to meet several designers visiting for trunk shows, and l also got thrown into modeling gowns at our fashion shows.
Here, from the fruits of my experience, my tips for planning and attending your dress shopping appointments.
Before you go
How to stay on budget
I suggest starting your shopping with an overall Apparel budget, meaning all the items you'll be wearing. For instance, an apparel budget of $1000 might look like:
Dress (don’t forget sales tax!), $500
Accessories (be specific), $125: necklace, bolero for Mass, tiara/headpiece, etc
Additionally, it’s wise to come up with a number value before going in and trying on gowns. It’s so easy to get attached to gowns you can’t afford. And know that “affordable” isn’t a number; it means something different to everyone. Be able to tell your consultant at the store, “I’m looking for a dress in the range of [number] to [number].”
Keep dress codes in mind.
Check with your church to see your shoulders must be covered, or if other guidelines are requested for for brides and bridesmaids. Because your wedding will be before the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, present in the Blessed Sacrament--as well as in a house of worship--modest dress is appropriate. Many brides opt for shawls or small jackets to be removed after the ceremony. There are also so many beautiful, current gowns available with sleeves.
Give everything to Jesus in prayer. For inspiration, begin with this beautiful prayer for brides as they prepare to dress shop. Each time we bring the Lord into the center of our decisions, we can trust that he will provide and can practice keeping him at the center of our lives.
Consider timing. Shop earlier, rather than later.
Even if you have a long engagement, plan to purchase your dress 6-8 months before your wedding. If your dress has to be custom-made--through Etsy, for instance--or ordered from overseas, you’ll have plenty of time for its creation and journey through customs.
Short engagement? Pick out a dress as soon as you’re able. The bride’s gown often sets the tone for the formality and style of the wedding, and it will help you make other aesthetic decisions down the road.
If you can swing a weekday appointment, the salon will be much calmer. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest times, as is typical with retail. The same applies right after the New Year, when many holiday proposals have taken place.
At Your Appointment
Two’s company, three’s a crowd.
Take a small number of trusted individuals with you when you shop; women you can trust to give you an honest opinion on fit and style. The first time I went dress shopping, I actually took my mom and dad, and tried on the gown I would end up buying five months later. It was simply the right one for me.
Get a sense of what you like.
Bring a few photos with you, or whip out your Pinterest board. If your consultant has a keen eye, he or she will be able to notice patterns in your selections and offer some great suggestions. With that in mind…
...Let your consultant make a few recommendations.
Even if you are dead set on a sparkly ballgown, it’s okay to try on a lace sheath with sleeves, just to rule it out. You may end up realizing certain details or silhouettes you hadn’t considered are flattering and beautiful.
Additionally, don’t be afraid of sample dresses or those off the rack--these items can be a great fit and perfect deal. Many stores like ModCloth, Nordstrom (be sure to check out the white bridesmaid section for beautiful, more affordable options), and BHLDN have dresses you can purchase online and try on at home. Rent the Runway also offers fun dresses and accessories worth peeking at.
It’s okay to say “no thank you.”
If for any reason your consultant is being pushy or pressuring you to buy, it’s alright to politely say, “no thank you.” It’s also okay to speak to a manager and ask for a new consultant if the one assigned you is not treating you well in any way. Be an advocate for yourself.
This definitely applies if you find your gown at your appointment. Try on different lengths of veils, ones with lace or edging, and different headpieces while you’ve got the gown on. Feel free to ask the consultant for bustle recommendations if your dress has a train. Your gown will be bustled either during photos or at your reception, which means it will appear this way in a large portion of your wedding images.
Buy for the size you are now.
You are beautiful, just the way you are. Don’t purchase your dress in a smaller size than you need. It can always be altered down, but it can be next to impossible to size up with certain styles.
Speaking of sizing, bear in mind most designers do not use “street sizing,” so if you’re normally a size 8, you could end up ordering a 10 or 12 according to their size chart. Bridal stores generally go by your largest measurement, but you ultimately have the final say--it’s your money and you are the person signing the contract. Just remember, it’s only a number. If size bothers you, you can always cut the tag out. No one will know the size anyway, and the right dress will make you look and feel amazing!
The Final Purchase
Read and understand every detail of your contract. Ask questions if you need clarification. This applies to every single contract you sign for your wedding--no exceptions!
When you arrive, check with your salon about their photography policy. Some permit you to photograph anything, while others only allow picture-taking once you’ve purchased a gown. Be respectful of their policy.
I hope this guide helps you feel more confident as you prepare to shop for your wedding gown. It’s not often we get to shop for sacraments!
Share with our community; what was your wedding dress shopping experience like?