If you ask us, wedding dress shopping is the jewel in the crown of wedding planning. Of course, choosing your cake flavour is fun and sorting stationery has its own charm, but finding the perfect dress is something we’ve dreamt of since we were little girls.
We always imagined ourselves twirling around fitting rooms and finding “the one” as soon as we bounce into the boutique, but this is sometimes not quite the case.
We spoke to wedding dress designer Phillipa Lepley on what to expect from your trying on sessions, as well as brides-to-be and industry experts on their advice for making the most out of wedding dress shopping.
Image | Phillipa Lepley
What to expect
Your dress appointment is likely to begin with a long chat with the boutique staff, with them trying to get a feel for your big day – the more they know about your dream wedding, the better fixed they are to find you the dress you always imagined.
Something many brides are taken aback by is that the staff often help you into your dress – trust us, you’ll need them; getting into a layered tulle number is harder than it looks.
It can be uncomfortable to be in your lingerie in front of a total stranger, but it’s the every day job of wedding shop staff and they’re totally unfazed, we promise. They’re entirely engrossed in helping you find the dress of your dreams, not thinking about how you look in your underwear.
Don’t worry about having a mini meltdown, or getting a bit weepy, either. It’s an emotional occasion, and the staff are sure to be discreet and professional at all times. And they’ll have a hanky to hand too.
While you may have your heart set on an ivory fishtail gown, make sure to try on more than just the dresses you think will suit you.
“Be open-minded and leave all pre-conceived ideas at the door,” advises Phillipa Lepley. “The wild card dress is so often the one!”
“Even if you have your mind set on a particular style, you actually need to try on different ones as you will most probably change your mind,” points out bride-to-be and PR Manager at Aisle 8, Jade Jackman.
“I thought I would pick a long sleeved lace number and it didn’t suit me at all,” Jade continues. “The sales assistant suggested I try on one dress in particular, which I really didn’t take to on the hanger, and it ended up being the one I fell in love with and ordered for my wedding day.”
“Try on dresses that you don’t like on the hanger,” agrees You and Your Wedding’s Lifestyle Editor Hollie Bond. “You’d be amazed how often you like them when they’re actually on you.”
Allow plenty of time
With so much to get done it can be tempting to only book a short slot at your boutique of choice. Trust us, unless you’re one of the few who finds their dream dress immediately, only allowing a small amount of time to dress shop will cost you more time in the long run.
“At your first appointment you’re likely to try on up to 15 dresses,” shares Phillipa. “At our boutique we allow an hour and a half for our appointments, but they often run over and this is absolutely fine – whatever it takes! Don’t rush it, just enjoy every minute.”
In addition to allowing enough time, carefully consider what time of day you’d like your appointment at.
“I made a pre-lunch appointments so I was feeling my best, and not bloated!” shares blogger and bride-to-be Steph Marston, of StephStyle.com.
Image | Phillipa Lepley
Choose the right shoes
Even if you don’t have “the” shoes yet, take some along that are a similar as the ones you hope to wear as possible.
“Bring shoes that are roughly the same heel height for what you’d like to wear on the big day, that you feel comfortable in,” advises Phillipa.
“I think every bride’s nightmare is of tripping up whilst walking down the aisle, so it’s best to bring heels with you to check whether the length will need altering,” adds Jade.
Linger over your lingerie
As we mentioned, you’ll be spending a bit of time standing in just your lingerie, but we’re not suggestion you don your most sultry set, far from it!
“To get a good sense of what your dress is going to look like on the day, go to your appointment wearing appropriate underwear,” says Jade. “At my first fittings the sales assistant saw me half naked more often than not, so best to wear a nice set.”
If you’re planning on wearing a backless dress be sure to take along an adjustable bra that can best showcase your dress, similarly, if you’re a brave bride going for a plunging gown, take a deep v bra.
If you turn up to the appointment still totally in the dark about the type of dress you want, wear a basic nude bra that will go with anything.
Go it alone
We bet when you imagine wedding dress shopping you’re surrounded by you besties and your mum, maybe even your mother-in-law and sister too. While it is a lovely occasion to share with your nearest and dearest, going alone to your first appointment might be a better idea.
“I suggest brides come alone for their first appointment, or just with one person if they really want to bring someone,” advises Phillipa.
“It can be difficult to hear yourself think and to follow your own instinct if too many helpful bridesmaids or family members are telling you what they think. There’s plenty of time to involve them in your second fitting when you’re more sure of your dress.”
Image | Phillipa Lepley
Do your research
Don’t go blindly into booking appointments in boutiques – look at the kinds of dresses they stock before going in. You’re only wasting your time (and theirs!) if you know the dress designer you want and they don’t stock it.
“Really research the designer that each bridal boutique stocks to make sure they fit what you are looking for, and if there are any dresses you particularly love ask the boutique if they stock it a few weeks before your appointment,” suggests Steph.
“If they don’t, they may be able to call in a sample for you for a small cost.”
The staff in the shop are there to help you – they’re experts in the field, so don’t feel intimidated.
“I envisaged that the staff in bridal stores would be really snooty, but I had a great experience, especially at Vera Wang, where I eventually bought my dress,” shares Jade.
“My mum, step-mum and sister were all treated to champagne whilst I tried dresses on. I found the sales assistants really helpful, and I felt comfortable telling them my budget. They suggested styles to complement by body shape and made me feel at ease.”
Sharing your budget is crucial; talking about money can make us all feel awkward, but it the assistant knows what you can afford it stops you from falling for a dress that is out of your price range.
Unfortunately, not everyone has an amazing time when they’re dress shopping, but don’t let that deter you.
“Don’t be put off if you have one bad experience,” says BIMS09, one of the brides on the You and Your Wedding forum.
“The staff in first shop I went to didn’t offer advice or suggestions and the whole appointment felt rushed, and my mum and I left feeling underwhelmed. The second shop we went to was totally different, though. A good assistant helps you in and out of the dresses and offers suggestions too.”
Image | Phillipa Lepley
Expect the unexpected
Whether you’re all set to try on countless dresses or imagining you’ll fine the one straight away, chances are it won’t be the case; maybe the boutiques won’t hold your dream dress, or the sizing will be all wrong.
“I was amazed and disappointed by how ‘one size’ the sample dresses you get to try are,” shares Hollie. “All the dresses I tried completely swamped me and I found it hard to imagine how I’d actually look in one that fitted.”
It is possible to strike lucky and hit the dress jackpot quickly though, as Jade shares: “I wasn’t expecting to find my dress so quickly. I tried on a total of 15 dresses but the first dress the sales assistant picked out for me at my second appointment ended up being the one I went with. After I left the store that day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s true what they say, when you know, you’ll know.”
Whatever your dress experience, it will certainly be a time to remember; it’ll be emotional, exciting and probably tiring, but it’s the only time you’ll ever get to try on princess-worthy dresses and have everyone coo over how flawless you look. Make the most of the sessions, as many brides even feel sad once it’s all done and dusted.