The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping

The ultimate guide to wedding dress shopping.png

Congrats girl, you're getting married!! Have you pictured yourself walking down the aisle in your dream dress a million times and now are (more than) a little overwhelmed at actually picking the dang thing out? If you're excited about finding the most gorgeous wedding dress but need a little guidance on the process, you've come to the right place. I gotchu!

Let's dive in and start with the basics.

Step 1: Nail down a budget

I know, this is definitely the most boring step...but it's also the most important one. If you haven't noticed already, planning a wedding can be outrageously expensive at times...and the dress is certainly no exception. I certainly don't believe that you need to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for this thing, but you do need to get realistic about how much you can and want to spend. Don't forget that you'll need to factor in for alterations, shoes, accessories and undergarments. More on those later, but keep that in mind when coming up with a number.

Step 2: Do your research

Now we can finally get into the fun stuff! Start looking up the kinds of dresses you like. Make note of the silhouettes and fabrics you tend to like, but don't get too rigid on this. You might adore every photo you see of form-fitting lacy dresses but later realize that free flowing chiffon dresses look straight up amazing on you. Have an idea of what you like and don't like, but be open as well. Once you start to narrow this down do some digging into the prices of these dresses as well as the designers. You don't want to get sticker shock during your salon appointment when you realize that you'll need to sell all of your possessions just to purchase your dream dress (not worth it, I promise). I personally love the wedding dress finder from Martha Stewart (don't you just love Martha??) to narrow down styles.

Step 3: Decide where to shop

Now that you have an idea of what you'd like to spend and what you like, you can finally start making those appointments! (Scheduled around a mimosa-fueled brunch, obviously). You have a few options which I'll outline below, so feel free to pick your favorite or maybe mix and match:

Chain retailer

The biggest of these is, of course, David'd Bridal. It can be a great place to start because they'll carry a wide range of dresses and styles at a great price. Even if you don't find exactly what you're looking for there you will still walk away with a much clearer vision of what you want and what looks great on you. Keep in mind that these places can get especially crowded on weekends--if you're able to sneak away on a weekday afternoon instead, I'd highly recommend it.

Bridal salon

There will be huge variations in boutique bridal salons but most are appointment only and they create very relaxed and intimate dress buying experiences. When you call ahead, be sure to ask about their range of prices as well as the designers they carry.

Consignment store

Because wedding gowns are only worn once high-end bridal consignment stores are on the rise--and I'm loving this trend! If you have your heart set on a dress from a particular designer that's too far out of reach of your budget, consider buying second hand. Do some research in your city because there are salons that only carry designer dresses worn once that have been carefully cleaned and inspected--your guests will never know that it's second hand! (Don't worry, I won't tell anyone).

Trunk Shows

If you're like me and you love the adrenaline that comes from a combination of a good sale and a rush of people (Black Friday, anyone?!) a trunk show or sample sale may be for you. Do some research to find out the dates of the ones going on in your area and you may just find your dream dress at your dream price. This is great for those that already know the types of styles that they like. At a trunk show, the designer will bring all of his or her collection to be showcased so you can see more than just the few that may be carried in a particular salon.

Step 4: Try them on

Here comes the fun part--finally trying them on! Once you've made your appointments you'll want to come fully ready to enjoy the experience and find your dress sans meltdowns. Here are a few pointers to do just that:

Limit your entourage

If you've ever watched Say Yes to the Dress, you know why they always recommend this. It can be confusing to have too many opinions floating around, so limit the appointments to just the VIPs. I you're having a hard time narrowing down you can always invite half the gang to your first appointment and the other half to your second.

Pace yourself

While this process is extremely fun, it can also get a bit tiring. Don't make more than 2-3 salon appointments at most in one day and make sure to rest and fuel up between them as well.

Think outside the box

If your stylist recommends you try on a few styles that you didn't originally have in mind--try them on anyway! You can always say no, but sometimes the most flattering dresses come as a surprise.

Move around

If you're planning on tearing up the dance floor at your wedding (as you absolutely should!) you'll want to make sure you can do more than stand looking pretty in front of a mirror in your dress. Walk around the salon (extra points for busting out a move or two) to make sure that it'll be comfortable all night long.

Step 5: Purchase your dress and keep track of details

Most of the time when you purchase your dress it will need to be custom ordered so you'll want to ask when it is coming in to make sure you have enough time to get it fitted and altered. Write down the size, color, designer, style and any other details related to the dress. Ask about any undergarments needed (some have sewn in bras while others don't) and schedule your first fitting. Most salons will require a 50% deposit up front but don't be afraid to sleep on it if you're on the fence about a particular dress.

Step 6: Complete the look

Congrats, you've found your dream dress! Now you just need a few more pieces to make your wedding-day look complete. Here are your final items to tackle:


The salon where you bought your dress will likely have accessories, some complimenting your dress perfectly (such as a pretty sparkly belt) but the prices will be high. Strapless dresses and plunging necklines tend to look best with statement necklaces but, at the end of the day, just remember to wear whatever makes you feel most beautiful and not what some bridal magazine says you should wear. If you're feeling stumped, bring photos of your dress to the counter at Nordstroms or your favorite jewelry store and see if they can make some recommendations.


If your dress doesn't have a sewn in bra, or you want a little extra support, make sure to get a great fitting undergarment. It might be helpful to buy these right before your first fitting so that if they don't fit well with the dress you can still return it. Va Bien sells some gorgeous undergarments, shape wear, and lingerie.


You will definitely want to have purchased your shoes by the time you go to your first fitting so that you can have your dress altered accordingly and your dress should ideally be just skimming the ground. Feel free to have some fun when it comes to shoes! Whether you choose more traditional wedding heels or a more unique option, make sure to wear them around the house to break them in and make sure they are comfortable enough to (literally) support you throughout your entire wedding day.

There you have it! Now you can relax knowing that you've conquered one of the more involved parts of wedding planning (and no more dreams of showing up naked on your wedding day!). I'll leave you with one last pro tip: have someone come with you to one of your fittings to learn how to bustle your dress who can help you with it on the wedding day. During the reception you'll want to be free to move around without your train getting dirty.

Have a story of how you found your dream dress? I'd love to hear it! Leave it in the comments below :)

Happy planning!