Your wedding dress is likely to be the most photographed outfit you’ll ever wear – no pressure, then!
From a bespoke one-off design, to a high street hero, there are lots of different places to find the gown that will make you feel fantastic. For the classic bridal experience though, a boutique is hard to beat. You’ll need to make an appointment at one of these specialist shops, where the staff are not your usual sales assistants.
“At the good stores, the staff are stylists,” says Peta Hunt, You & Your Wedding’s fashion guru. She advises that before you book your appointment, you are open and clear about your budget to make sure the shop will have options you can afford.
“Look at dresses in Y&YW and set up a Pinterest board so you have an idea of styles you like at your price point,” suggests Peta. “But on the day, don’t be afraid to try on dresses that look totally different from what you have already considered.”
Remember, the dress you choose will be made to order by the designer, so you’ll need to allow plenty of time – we suggest starting your search 12 months before w-day, and ordering 6–8 months ahead. You’ll also need to factor in time for adjustments and alterations to ensure a perfect fit.
We asked four boutique brides with different experiences to share their stories and advice for those about to start their dress journey…
“I was a wedding dress model for a few years, so I suppose I thought picking one would be easy. But when it came to choosing my own, it was difficult. I felt huge pressure, though once I stopped being so hard on myself, I really enjoyed the whole experience."
"When I put on my dress, I felt this whoosh of excitement – nothing can beat that feeling of, ‘YESSS! I’ve found it!’ I also loved trying on veils, as these really made me feel like a bride."
“I learned to take just one or two people to appointments. I think brides-to-be have this image of their bridesmaids around them drinking prosecco after finding The One. White Mischief suggested just bringing a couple of people, and I’m so glad I followed their advice – I just took my mum and sister. The reality is that some dresses you try may accentuate parts of your body you don’t like, some may not fit, or some may need pinning. You don’t want to be self-conscious. You have all the time in the world to show off your dress and body at later fittings and on the big day!"
“Before arriving, I created a wish list from the shop’s online dress selection. This was helpful, as it gave me a starting point, but dresses look very different on a body than they do hanging up."
"I wanted the wow factor, but to keep my look elegant. I also wanted to feel comfortable all day and make the most of the dance floor. “I chose a strapless, classic fishtail with lace by Augusta Jones. It was gorgeous and felt like The One when I tried it on – but I still worried I hadn’t made the right choice."
"There are so many photographs online, but many of the models are pinned into the dresses for the photos. In reality, you wouldn’t be able to walk, let alone sit. Once I found this out, I felt amazing in my dress again, and I’m so glad I chose it.”
“I began the whole process feeling quite daunted – I really had no idea what I was looking for, or what would suit me. I took Thalia, my best friend and maid of honour, to appointments as I trust her advice completely and knew she’d be honest if something wasn’t right. She told me to be very open-minded, which I took on board.”
“Ellie Sanderson was the perfect consultant for me. She was so calm, listened to everything I was saying, and kept me on the right track with options. Her advice on how I was feeling practically about each dress, as well as emotionally, was most helpful. We discussed how I imagined the wedding day to be, so I could think about how comfortable I’d be in each dress."
“By trying on the different styles, fabrics and colours suggested by Thalia and Ellie, I found an amazing dress I would never have chosen by myself. When I tried on Fern by Suzanne Neville, it felt like The One from the moment I saw it in the mirror."
"It’s a full-length, soft-structured, ivory lace design with a mocha lining. It has a full lace back with classic button detailing and an incredible mesh front. I was blown away by how beautiful it was, but as someone with quite a short frame, it was also incredibly comfortable to sit down and move around in – which most of the larger ballgowns and corseted styles weren’t."
“I then asked my mum to the second appointment to confirm my dress choice. Like Thalia, she’ll always be honest with me when I ask for her opinion or advice. She got very teary when she saw me in the dress, and I knew it was the right choice. In my bubble of excitement and wanting to make sure everything was perfect, it was really helpful to have her calm and objective view."
“On the day itself, I felt like a million dollars, and the dress looked elegant well into the evening. I had lovely reactions to it and every time I look at the photos I fall in love with it all over again."
"Trying on all the dresses in the appointments was such a unique experience, and as someone who doesn’t wear a lot of dresses, it was a chance to really indulge. I just wanted to wear it all week!”
Victoria Lane chose Blackburn Bridal Couture’s Thalia gown at the shop in Blackheath, London, for her destination wedding in Spain. “My main advice to brides-to-be would be to never try on a dress before you’ve found your venue.”
“Before deciding to get married in Spain, I looked at locations in the UK – and what I would have had as a dress for a wedding here would have been very different from what I chose for Spain."
"Blackburn Bridal was the third shop I went to, and I actually didn’t think I’d find my dress there, as all the designs I could see looked quite boho, and I already had an idea of what I wanted.
“For our black-tie wedding, I was looking for something quite dramatic and strapless. I described this to Russell Blackburn, the owner and director, and he said he knew which dress I’d love."
"I put it on and knew it was The One! I hadn’t considered it because it had straps, but it’s amazing how much you can change a design – so take advice from your boutique’s consultants."
"Russell understood exactly what I wanted. The first time I put on the dress, he suggested what could be removed and added."
"I was with my bridesmaids when I first picked it, but went on my own to my fittings as I didn’t want too many opinions. I felt like the staff really got involved as it was just me."
“The dress was nude-blush, with a gold-coloured underskirt, lace and tulle, with a low back. What I loved most was that it was so light. I didn’t want anything heavy because of the Spanish weather, and I had to carry the dress on the plane. I bought a big box from Blackburn Bridal and they packaged it for me.”
"I called the airline to check the box could go in the overhead locker, and they were so nice – they put a special priority tag on it so it was literally above my head for the whole flight! When I got there, I pulled the dress out and it just fell perfectly – the material didn’t even crease. On the day, I felt amazing, even though it was about 27 degrees. I wouldn’t change a thing about my dress.”
After a dress disaster with another boutique, Claire Delfont-Mistry found a Jenny Packham gown from White Mischief Bridal that was the perfect fit for her city celebration.
“My first dress shop went into liquidation – with my dress and my money. I called White Mischief an hour after I found out and they were incredibly helpful, fitting me in that afternoon. I arrived to calming and reassuring staff who were well aware of my very short timescale, but at no point added to the pressure.”
“We were having a small, late afternoon wedding with a champagne reception, so I didn’t have to worry about dancing in the dress. I wanted something that was not overwhelmingly bridal, but which didn’t just look like an evening gown, and would be relaxed and fitting to the tone of our day. Quite a tall order!”
“White Mischief listened to my concerns about feeling strange in conventional wedding dresses and pulled out a few options for me which were viable for the lead time."
"I chose the Faith dress in barley by Jenny Packham. This had a champagne-blush underslip and a top layer of tulle, with a stunning embroidered floral pattern of white, silver and gold beads and sequins. It was the most beautiful maxi-dress ever."
“The staff then liaised with Jenny Packham in London to get me the right size in time. From the minute I walked into White Mischief Bridal, everyone went above and beyond to help me have the dress I wanted."
“Changing dresses meant changing my style of bouquet, the colours of the flowers, my shoes, my jewellery and hair vine – but in the end, it worked out perfectly for me. I was much happier in the dress in which I married. It was less formal than the first, so I was more relaxed on the day. It just felt right."
“My advice to brides-to-be is to take out good wedding insurance as the first thing you do – in the scheme of wedding costs, it’s nothing. Hopefully you won’t ever need it, but if you do, then it may save you thousands.”