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Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping

Embarking on the search for the perfect bridal gown? First, check our handy tips for wedding dress shopping

The Big Wedding Dress Search - equal parts exciting and daunting. For most of us, this is the first and only time we'll be looking for a wedding dress, and it's not the same as picking out an outfit for work. Finding the perfect wedding dress can be quite a long process and isn't always easy. So to help you avoid any bridal boutique faux pas or dress search frustrations and to make the process as fun and easy as possible, we've put together this quick guide to bridal shopping with our top wedding dress shopping tips. It's a few simple pointers, gleaned from the experience of many real brides - we hope it helps!


Before you Start Wedding Dress Shopping

  • Think about your day, and what kind of wedding dress is most appropriate - a beach wedding vs. formal ballroom reception, winter vs. summer, outdoor ceremony vs. restaurant dinner for 25 etc. Different styles of wedding mean different styles of dress

  • Think about your body shape and personal style - consider all your choices, the style and shape of the wedding dress, necklines, length, waistlines, trains, sleeves and so on...

  • Do some couch research - spend a few days or weeks looking at magazines and wedding blogs before venturing to the shops. Save the styles you like, create a mood board and a clear picture will start to emerge (Pinterest so handy for this too!)

  • Be realistic - you may trim and buff up for the wedding day, but you're not going to grow 6 inches or drop your D-cup to a AA chest (well it's unlikely anyway!) - think about what suits you and what you love to wear, not what looks fab on someone else

  • Set a budget - the average wedding dress from a bridal boutique costs €1500 but there are much cheaper ways to find a dream dress, and you can also blow the bank if you want to. Agree an amount with your other half and stick to it. Remember to budget for shoes, accessories, bridesmaids etc. too!


Give Yourself Enough Time to Find the Right Dress

  • Start looking sooner rather than later. It's never to early to start trying on dresses as it will give you an idea of what you like and what suits you

  • It can take up to six months for a dress to be made to order from a bridal boutique, if you leave it any later you may have to pay extra for a rush order

  • Make sure you take time for alterations into consideration

  • While it's fine to try on, don't buy too far in advance (more than a year) as styles change each season

  • Make sure you look into all the options, bridal boutiques, high-street shops, online, rental, sample sales, second-hand and charity boutiques

  • Some bridal boutiques are really popular and you may have to wait several weeks for an appointment, particularly on weekends, evenings, or in January - so if you have your eye on somewhere, book your appointment well in advance.


Making a Bridal Boutique Appointment

  • Before you make an appointment, check what dresses a bridal boutique carries and see if they meet the look and style you're after, while most boutiques have a range of styles, some will carry only classic styles, others vintage and some will be more high-fashion

  • If you have a certain dress in mind and you've found a stockist for the designer, call ahead to check if they they have a sample of that particular dress - many boutiques will only keep samples of the most popular styles but they might be able to order it in

  • If you have special requirements, or are worried about whether a boutique will have samples to fit you,  just call ahead and explain your concerns. Bridal boutique staff are so lovely, and they'll try to meet your needs as much as possible

  • Check in advance if the shop charges a service fee for trying on dresses

  • Organise to go to the appointments on your own, with your Mum or with one or two friends whose opinions you know you can trust. Don't bring an entourage. You need to be able to hear yourself think, and follow your own instincts about which dress makes you look and feel great

  • If you have kids, leave them at home (with a babysitter of course!), a bridal shop is not a place for children.


Heading to the Bridal Shops

  • Make sure to wear appropriate underwear as you will be helped in and out of dresses. Bring a good quality strapless bra and nude pants

  • Wear little or no make-up to protect the dresses and to give you the chance to see which shades are more flattering to your skin tone. No fake tan!

  • Bring along any items you have already decided to wear - like a veil or piece of jewellery to make sure it ties in with the dress. Even if you think you'll buy accessories on elsewhere, try on veils, belts and accessories in the shop while you're wearing the dress, just to get an idea of what goes

  • Bring along heels in a similar height to those you will wear on the day

  • Check with the boutique beforehand about whether you can bring along a camera, most bridal shops don't allow it. But if you can, do take snaps of the dresses  you like so you can look over later and compare them. If you can't take photos keep a note of the dress name or number as well as the designer so you can look them up online and save them that way


In the Bridal Boutique

  • Don't get too caught up with designer labels. Choose the dress not the label, and stick to a price range that's realistic for you and your budget

  • Also decide on a size that is also realistic. If you have chosen to slim down before the big day, buy the dress at your size now, therefore the dress can be taken in, whereas if you put on weight it is more difficult to to release the dress (seamstress speak for "make it bigger"). A dress that is too small is far worse than a dress that is too big

  • Be open-minded, try on a range of styles even dresses you don't like on the hanger, and listen to the boutique assistants' recommendations, they know their stuff!

  • Don't get discouraged, you may visit several stores and try on dozens before you find 'The One' - try to be patient!

  • Clip pictures from magazines or online of designer dresses which may be out of your price range and bring them with you when you shop, the boutiques and shops you visit  may be able to help you look for something similar. A lot of shops have styles that bear a resemblance to dresses by an expensive designer as a cheaper alternative for brides who have smaller budgets

  • If you have found The One, shop around for the right price before you commit to buying, remember when you order your wedding dress it is a final sale

  • When you have found your dream wedding dress, stop looking! We cannot stress this enough!

  • When your dress arrives, put it away in your mum's house or somewhere safe. Don't look at it. This eliminates the risk of temptation and doubt setting in


Wedding Dress Alterations

  • Make sure to allow for alterations in both your budget and your time frame

  • If you need to have your dress altered, make sure you do your researchon the person or company you will be using, you don't wan't to risk it! Word of mouth and personal recommendations are best

  • Some boutiques may be "all-inclusive"  so alterations may be included in the price of the dress

  • At a bridal boutique where an alterations service is offered but not included in the price, it can be more expensive than an outside seamstress, but if a mistake is made by the in-house alterations service, the boutique is still responsible for it

  • Always have a back-up plan for your wedding dress, just in case - the high-street has amazing dresses right now that can be bought at short notice

  • Before your final fitting, make sure you have your chosen shoes, underwear and accessories, and bring them along to make sure it all works together


The most important thing about wedding dress shopping is that you have fun! You might not get that 'butterfly feeling' if that's not your jam, but wedding dress should make you feel gorgeous and get you excited to wear it - if it doesn't move on!

Why not make a day of it, pair your dress fittings with an afternoon tea with your mum, cocktails with your bridesmaids or manis with with your sister - you're a bride, make the most of it!

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