20 Years of Wedding Wisdom: Finding the Dress
Timeless advice for choosing your big-day look.
After two decades of featuring some of the most stylish brides, we have learned a few secrets to narrowing in on a dream wedding dress. In celebration of our special anniversary, here are our favorite ones—tried and tested just for you.
Set a Budget
Go ahead and tear pages out of magazines and pin images online. But don't set foot into a store until you've set a spending limit for your dress—shopping without a cutoff point is like driving without a gas gauge. Not sure where to start? Draw up the overall budget for your celebration; the average bride allocates 10 percent of that for fashion.
Mon Amie Bridal
"One issue which causes undo tension for a bride is 'first trying' gowns that are uncomfortably out of her budget, getting stuck on one of those, and being disappointed (or wildly overspending). Remember, there are beautiful gowns at every price point." —Laurel Mungo, Owner, Mon Amie Bridal
Know Your Priorities
Tailor your budget to match your priorities. If fashion is more important to you than, say, flowers, divert some of the floral funds to your dress and accessories. If you're really focused on having the best band and photographer, aim for a more affordable gown.
"'Finishers' are as important as the dress. Don't forget to budget for a veil, shoes, and any other accessories." —Lori Conley, Senior Bridal Buyer, David's Bridal
Give Yourself Time
Start looking for a dress as soon as you get engaged; if you want to have the widest selection and avoid paying rush fees, it takes about six to 12 months from when you place an order to the moment when you can bring the gown home.
"The secret is to make sure you have certain things, like the venue and the time of year, in place before finding the dress, as those can really guide you in your choice." —Regine Ellis, Creative Director, Ellis Bridal
Broaden Your Search
If you give yourself plenty of time to find a gown, you'll be able to fit in a variety of shopping experiences, from appointments at bridal boutiques to designer trunk shows.
"Be open-minded and try every style at least once. Many of my brides end up with a gown that is very different than what they initially thought they would have chosen." —Kelly Faetanini, Founder, Kelly Faetanini
Consider Off the Rack
Short engagement? Not a problem. Chances are, you can still order the dress of your dreams, although you'll have to pay a late fee to rush delivery and alterations. Plus, many bridal salons will also let you try on samples that can be purchased off the rack.
"If you find the perfect gown on your first day, don't be afraid to buy it. Trust your gut and stop shopping; it usually ends up being the one." —Glamour Closet
Do some research. Before you hit the shops, pull pages from magazines and online galleries. Bring those, along with ribbons, fabric samples, and any other inspiration to help your bridal consultant get to know your style; that way she can pull gowns that fit your vision but may not be out on the floor.
"Don't over-prepare. Know what you like, but be willing to try on many styles. Often brides are set on a gown they saw in an image, which may not be best for them." —Catherine Fox Milian, Owner, Chic Parisien
Schedule an Appointment
Most bridal salons don't operate on a walk-in basis; schedule appointments at least two weeks in advance. The store will be busiest on a weekend. If you can, schedule a weekend afternoon for the most relaxed experience and personalized service.
"Have an open mind! Brides tend to pigeonhole their personal style, which can limit their sense of adventure with a gown. Yes, you want your dress to represent you, but why not represent the most romantic, fabulous, excited, and elegant version of you? It's your big day—own it!" —Sarah Seven, Designer/Owner, Sarah Seven
Bring a Loved One
Bring a loved one—or two. If you want all of your bridesmaids to get a preview of your dress, bring them to the last fitting, not the initial shopping expedition.
"I think 'too many cooks in the kitchen' is a big issue when buying a wedding dress. Take a trusted family member and/or friend to help, but then have confidence in your choice. Your gut instinct is usually correct." —Lela Rose, Founder and Designer, Lela Rose
Dress for the Occasion
Wear the right undergarments to shop; a strapless nude bra and seamless underwear are ideal. And bring any items you might want to wear down the aisle, such as shoes or an heirloom veil.
"Treat your fitting like date night. Do your hair, wear a dab of perfume, feel pretty. It's tough to feel beautiful in your gown when you are frazzled or post-gym." —Lee-Ann Belter, Designer, Lee-Ann Belter
Keep an Open Mind
Step out of your comfort zone, and don't turn your nose up at anything until you try it on. Some dresses look like paper bags on the hanger and are drop-dead gorgeous on your body.
"Finding the right silhouette for your body type will make all the difference in how your gown makes you feel. Be open to suggestions from your bridal consultant." —Maggie Sottero
Don't Be Thrown by the Sizing
Ignore the number on the tag; no two designer size charts are created equal, and if you're a size 6 in ready-to-wear, you could be anything from a 2 to a 12 on planet bridal.
"A bride should find a dress that fits her body, that she looks great in, and that makes her happy right now, instead of anticipating she'll lose weight and buying a gown she thinks will look good when she does." —Casablanca Bridal
Suit Your Style
You might love the way a dress looked on your best friend, but you need to find one that fits your proportions and your style.
"The biggest challenge is allowing yourself to dream and explore. Your wedding gown should reflect the magic and elegance of the moment. It's important to be daring and adventurous in order to be sure that you have found a dress that expresses you completely." —Reem Acra, Founder and CEO, Reem Acra
Learn the Lingo
Learn the lingo of the bridal world: do you want a minidress or a cathedral-length train? Familiarize yourself with a variety of styles so you have some idea what might work best on your body type (halters are great on long torsos, for example, while v-necks visually slim the fuller-figured).
"Fit should be paramount for a bride during her gown search, as it is the key to feeling comfortable, sexy, and at your best on the big day." —Martine Harris, Chief Creative Officer and Head Designer, Martina Liana
Track the Contenders
As you home in on what you like, track the main contenders on your smartphone. Make sure you have a photo you like before you move onto the next shot—a bad angle or dim lighting can make even the most amazing gown seem "eh." If a store doesn't allow photos, take detailed notes recording all the pertinent information, and make a pros and cons list.
"There are so many options! Narrow down the silhouette you feel most beautiful in, and from there find the dress that makes you happy. I believe finding a wedding dress is like finding a true friend; you should be able to trust it, you should never regret it, and when you see it…it should always make you smile." —Sareh Nouri, Designer, Sareh Nouri
Don't Feel Tied to Convention
Some houses of worship have requirements—such as no bare shoulders—that may influence your choice of dress (or inspire you to alter it). Beyond that, don't feel tied to convention; choose the cut, color, and style that suits you, and remember, since most wedding dresses are custom made upon being ordered, you may be able to change your version significantly from the one you tried on.
"The most exciting change I've seen since I've been in the wedding business is that designers now have the ability to accommodate a bride's desires and sizing for fit issues." —Anne Barge, Designer, Anne Barge
If you choose an unconventional cut or color, you can still look like the bride. Veils and accessories will help you stand out, and you can dress your wedding party to make the most of your gown, putting bridesmaids in white if you're in color, for example. Most important of all, you'll be the only one walking down the aisle with a huge grin on her face to marry the person she loves.
"Now that there are so many options, a bride can select a dress that fits her personal style. Brides can experiment with color; pale pink or blush can be quite enchanting for those looking for something non-traditional. Long sleeves, once considered as conservative, are now an opportunity to showcase a bride's aesthetic. Shorter hemlines are also great for the more casual, outgoing person." —Monique Lhuillier, Designer and Creative Director, Monique Lhuillier
It's All in the Details
Labor-intensive embellishments such as appliqué and embroidery can drive up the price of a dress. If you're trying to keep costs low, look for options whose details come from fabric, such as ruffles, ruching, or a colorful ribbon belt.
Robert Bullock Bride
"Wear the gown, don't let the gown wear you. There's nothing worse than seeing a gown walk down the aisle and not noticing the bride is in it." —Robert Bullock, Designer, Robert Bullock Bride
Read the Fine Print
No matter how excited you are about a gown, don't buy it without reading the purchase contract. Have the consultant walk you through all the details including price, color, style number, delivery date, deposit, estimated alterations fee, and cancellation policy, before you put down the standard 50 percent deposit.
"Don't choose a dress because of a trend; pick a style that flatters your figure and that is comfortable. This is a celebration, and you want to enjoy every moment." —Vivian Dessy Diamond, Dessy Group
Mind Your Deposit
Never pay more than a 50 percent deposit; if you do, and the gown you ordered doesn't end up being what you expected, you could be out thousands of dollars.
"Find a dress you truly love. There is nothing better than when a bride looks amazing and also has an emotional connection to her gown. Make sure you feel like your most confident, beautiful self and not like you are in a costume playing 'the bride.'"—Claire Pettibone
Tally the Extras
When calculating the final cost of your gown, take tax into account. Many brides forget to budget for it, and in some states, such as New York, California, and Indiana, tax can be as high as eight percent.
"The mistake most often made is when the bride's personality and the dress's personality do not complement each other. Be true to your personal style; your wedding pictures will live on forever." —Rita Vinieris, Designer/Creative Director, Rivini
Have Efficient Fittings
You don't need to schedule 300 fittings, just three effective ones. Bring the heels you want to wear so the seamstress can alter appropriately, bust a move at the fitting to make sure you'll be comfortable dancing all night long at your wedding, and speak up if at any point you aren't happy with the fit.
"Make sure your dress is altered with perfection and trust in it so you can enjoy the day." —Angel Sanchez, Director, Angel Sanchez
Keep the Trimmings
Ask your seamstress for any leftover fabric that is cut off when your dress is hemmed; you might want to use it later, say as a ring pillow or a bow for your flower girl (or pet of honor!).
"The biggest challenge is to ensure that a gown enhances and accentuates the bride's proportions. An elegant solution is to use a veil to finish the look and give importance to the whole outfit." —Oscar Garriga, Sales Manager, Intersposa SA/Trading as Jesus Peiro
Consider Your Accessories
Choose your accessories wisely to complement your dress, and try them on at your second fitting to see the entire ensemble together; this gives you time to make changes before your final fitting.
"When putting together an ensemble, do what looks good on your body and don't feel like you need to overaccessorize. Sometimes less is more." —Matthew Christopher, Designer, Matthew Christopher
Coordinate Jewelry to Your Silhouette
Tailor your wedding jewelry to the neckline of your dress. Strapless is the ultimate blank canvas and looks great with collarbone length necklaces and small earrings; a v-neck works best when teamed with long earrings and a delicate pendant, and a bateau begs for a necklace with some length.
"Brides can turn into magpies by adding unnecessary jewelry, belts, or fussy veils. One must always remember what Coco Chanel said, 'Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.'" —Justin Alexander
Put It Altogether
Schedule a hair and makeup trial on the day of your final fitting to get a preview of your entire look.
Ines di Santo
"I would recommend that your look be as natural and 'you' as possible; otherwise you stand the chance of feeling like you are in a costume. Your gown, accessories, and hair and makeup should really represent your everyday sense of style, but elevated by the degree of formality of your occasion." —Ines di Santo, Designer, Ines di Santo
The Dress Theory
"Don't over think the decision, Trust your personal style and make decisions that feel like you. Don't be afraid to be yourself." —Camille Wynn, Owner, The Dress Theory