1. Have an idea of what you want before you step foot in a bridal shop
Find dresses you love via magazines and Pinterest before you head to the stores. Come armed with magazine tears, style numbers, and designer names. Making a decision will be so much easier if you narrow your choices down ahead of time.
2. Begin the process early — but not too early!
Most experts would advise you start looking around eight months before your big day to give yourself enough time for alterations.
On the other hand, if you buy your dress too early, you run the risk of second-guessing your choice in the months leading up to the wedding day. So time your bridal shopping appropriately.
3. If you’re getting a custom design, plan 6 to 8 months out—at least
It’s not impossible to get a custom gown made in a short amount of time, but you may have to pay extra for it. If you’re getting married in the next few months and really want a custom gown, some places will do it, but will charge you a steep rush fee. Factor that into your budget, if that’s the case.
4. If you can, buy between Thanksgiving and Christmas
Stores expect a huge rush of end-of-year engagements and stock up around then to accommodate. So if you shop before the New Year, you’ll beat the newly engaged rush, and possibly get a deal on some of the older stock stores are trying to move through.
5. Be clear about your budget
Up front. And say it out loud — to yourself, your friends, and the bridal shop associates, so they’re clear about what your boundaries are. And don’t forget to factor in alterations to your budget. Alterations can add an extra $200 to $800 onto your end bill.
6. Make bridal salon appointments during the week, and don’t forget to block out time for fittings
Do you like fighting the crowds at the mall on the weekends? No. You’re not going to like fighting the masses of wedding-obsessed bridezillas at bridal boutiques, either. You’ll get much more individual attention on weekdays than on weekends. And hey, you deserve it.
Once you’ve found your dress, the next step will be to block out appointment times for fittings. You’ll probably need two to three fittings to really get your gown perfect. But if, after the third fitting, you’re not absolutely thrilled with the way things are, don’t be afraid to ask for another session. You’re entitled to have your gown just how you want it.
8. The easiest way to save big? Shop at non-bridal locales
Often, simply adding the word wedding in the description will add on a couple zeros to the price of a dress. Wedding dress boutiques are notoriously pricey, and they’re not the only places to find great wedding dresses. Try your favorite dress shops and boutiques—even department stores—for dresses you can modify or really make your own.
9. Involve your trusted counsel
That could be your mom, your mom-in-law-to-be, your best friend, or your sister. Bring along whomever’s opinions you trust. Keep the list tight (too many cooks, blah blah blah), and also make it clear who has the final say. (That’s you).
13. Get your gang together before you go shopping
Have your friends, mom, and mother-in-law-to-be together for drinks or dinner. They’ll bond and become friendly, and learn each other’s tastes. That way they won’t be jockeying for dominance during your appointments.
16. Try a sample sale or trunk show, but be prepared to pay for your dress up front
If you’ve got limited time or budget, or aren’t entirely sure what you want, hitting up a sample sale can’t hurt. Otherwise, it’s probably not going to be worth it for you. After all, if you’ve already got your mind set on a cream lace empire waist Vera Wang gown, there’s probably no point in putting yourself through a sample sale.
If, on the other hand, you’re up for an adventure, a trunk show may be the way to go!
But beware, if you’re buying from a sample or trunk sale—you’ll likely be required to pay for your wedding dress up front. Possibly in cash.
17. Or try an online sample sale
Online sample sales often offer bottom of the barrel super cheap dresses. Bridepower is a popular site with rotating deals, and David’s Bridal even offers online sample sale deals (starting at under $150!)
18. Find out what the return policy is
Because you might need it—especially if you’re purchasing online. Also, check on the lead time for the dress. Just because you’re purchasing something you see stocked in the online store doesn’t mean it’s actually going to be shipped out to you right away. Some dresses take up to six months to actually arrive, and that’s not even factoring in the alterations you’ll need to make once it actually gets to you.
19. Consider a vintage or second-hand dress
Think about it: Wedding dresses are typically only worn once, at most. You can save tons of money by going for a second-hand dress. Vintage shops and charity shops are great places to find gorgeous wedding gowns on the cheap. And nobody has to know that your dress isn’t a total original. It’s a total original to you!
20. Or buy a dress for a good cause
You can also do some good with your wedding gown purchase if you wish. There are several charities that offer both gently worn and new dresses for sale, with all proceeds going to the cause. Brides Against Breast Cancer hosts trunk shows around the country, and proceeds to breast cancer research. And Encorebridal donates funds to cervical cancer research. How’s that for awesome wedding day karma?
22. Take a look at what’s already in your closet when trying to decide what shapes will work
You don’t have to start totally from scratch. If you’re super confused about what silhouettes might work for you, take a peek in your closet. Do you tend to favor skater-style dresses? Do you really like spaghetti straps? If there are certain similarities in a lot of the items that are already in your wardrobe, you may want to think about incorporating them into your gown.
24. Go for a corset if you’re short on time
If you don’t have the option of sitting through multiple alterations, you may want a corset-style dress, because it’ll allow you the option of making it as tight or loose as you need it, no matter if you gain or lose a few pounds.
26. Don’t forget about the headpiece, veil, shoes, and all the other little details that are going to complement your dress
Your dress is just one part of the whole picture. There’s also jewelry, your veil, hair pieces, shoes, and way more to consider. As your buying your dress, think about the other pieces that’ll come into play.
Special order veils or headpieces often take just as long as custom gowns to be created, so factor in that time when you’re considering those items.
29. Focus on how the dress feels—not on your perceived physical flaws
A lot of bridal salons don’t let you take photos of potential dresses, which may actually be a good thing. Sales consultants say that when women take pictures of themselves, they tend to focus on their flaws, rather than actually noticing the dress itself. So as you’re standing in the bridal salon, looking at yourself in the mirror, think about how the dress makes you feel. Do you feel great/amazing/beautiful/princess-y? Awesome! If not, maybe this is not your dress.
30. Get your wedding dress details in writing
Before you hand over your (or your parent’s) hard-earned cash, make sure you and the bridal salon are super clear on what you’re buying. Make sure you get everything in writing, including the schedule for alterations, the cancellation policy, the manufacturers name, the model number, and any other pertinent information. As anybody who’s watched “Say Yes To The Dress” knows, this is especially crucial if you’re dealing with a larger bridal salon, where tons of dresses are purchased each day.
32. Remember: It’s just a dress
Yes, it’s your dress, but the wedding gown is just one part of the whole shebang, and shouldn’t eclipse the reason for the day—the special dude or lady you’re marrying. Keep your dress buying stress in check by remembering the point of the whole thing—to celebrate your love (or whatever).
33. But when you found the right one, you’ll know
Don’t feel pressured to buy something you don’t actually want to buy because it’s on sale/someone else likes it/you’ve already looked at 5 million other dresses. You’re theoretically only going to do this once, so give yourself the time and space to do it right.