Wedding Tips | Wedding Dress Shopping

    A couple embracing pictured from above with the bride's dress fanned out

     It’s wedding dress time!!  I figure that this is the perfect wedding tip to write about seeing as I just experienced this first hand in planning our own wedding!  I was so nervous, and excited, and just all-around emotional…even with a career in the wedding industry, I really had no idea what to expect (except for what I’d seen on “Say Yes to the Dress”…which can be scary!). 
    I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted, except lace, I knew I wanted lace, I knew more of what I didn’t want.  As a wedding photographer, I see so many behind the scenes of what I don’t want in a wedding dress.  From dresses that don’t fit right, to brides who can’t sit in their dress, to dresses falling apart before the ceremony even begins. 
    Here is a list of tips that will help you to be more prepared (even more than I was) when you are shopping for your dream wedding dress.  Not only from someone who has experienced wedding dress shopping, but from someone who has experienced the other side…being there on the wedding day with the bride while getting ready.
    1. Set Your Budget.  Wedding dresses can range in price from $100 to $15,000 and even more!  Set yourself a reasonable budget and be sure not to try on dresses financially out of reach.  This can set yourself up for disappointment if you fall in love with the higher-priced dress.  If shopping at a Bridal Shop, be sure to tell your consultant what your budget is (usually they ask right away) and they will only show you dresses within your budget.  Used dresses are also available at some Bridal Shops, and you may also find Bridal Shops that are strictly consignment.  You can also check out local ads for used dresses, but be sure you can try the dress on first.  No matter what your budget, keep quality in mind.  We have had a few brides purchase their dresses online for under $200 and in every instance, the seams tend to come apart in some places even before the ceremony starts.  Just something to keep in mind!  Also, you’ll need to account for dress alterations, which can vary between $100 and $300.
    2.  Shop Early.  Everyone always tells you not to wait too long to shop for your wedding dress…this is very true.  It is suggested that you begin shopping 8 to 10 months before your big day.  Keep in mind, you may not find the perfect dress on the first day…you may even end up heading out of town to shop in a larger city, so you need to give yourself enough time to find the right dress.  Your size may then need to be ordered in, which can take about 4 months.  Your first fitting will take place about 8 weeks before your wedding day and your final alterations will be done.  So give yourself plenty of time, as to not rush the process.
    3. Think Venue.  When determining the style of your dress, take into account your wedding venue.  A ball gown type dress may not be as fitting for a beach wedding.  Also, from experience as a wedding photographer, think about the material of your dress.  Crinoline and lace will attract more dirt, leaves, hay, etc than a smoother surface such as satin…if your wedding ceremony (and/or wedding photos) is outdoors in a park, ranch, etc, the material of your dress may be something to take into consideration.  Ahah!  Something most people wouldn’t have thought of, hey?!!
    4.  Book An Appointment.  While you may luck out and be able to try on dresses without an appointment, many Bridal Shops require that you book ahead.  This way you will have your very own consultant and most Bridal Shops book two-hour appointments.
    5.  Bring You Most Supportive People.  Limit the number of people you bring with you.  While some Bridal Shop fitting rooms can fit quite a large number of people, try and keep the number to 3 or less…choosing the most positive and supportive people.  This will limit the overwhelming feeling of pressure with everyone throwing out their own opinions.  I was lucky and did this right the first time!
    6. Learn the Lingo.  I am, by no means, a fashion expert, so a lot of the “wedding dress lingo” or vocabulary was way over my head.  I mean, some of it is more common sense, like “ball gown” (we’ve all seen Disney movies), but some descriptions like “sweetheart” and “empire waist” is a little less self-explanatory.  Here are a few charts to help you be better prepared than I was.
     Here are the most common silhouettes of wedding dresses:
    Photo from
    A “Trumpet” is not shown above and is very popular.  It is a lot like the “Mermaid” but the flare is not quite so low.
    Here is a chart showing wedding dress necklines:
    Photo from
    Think Body Style.  When choosing the style of wedding dress, keep in mind your body style.  This will ensure that you choose a dress style that is most flattering to your body.  Here is a chart outlining the different body styles:
    Photo from
    Empire Waist Silhouette – High waisted gown that extends from the bustline.
                            Great For:
                                        Pear-shaped brides to disguise hips
                                        Not so busty brides
                                        Pregnant brides
    A-Line Silhouette – Hugs your torso with a flared skirt and an A shape.
    Great For:
                                        Flattering for all figures
                                        Short brides – creates the illusion of height
                                        Full figured brides
    Ball Gown Silhouette – A fitted bodice with a full skirt.
                            Great For:
                                        Busty brides
                                        Hiding larger hips
                                        Adding curve to a boxy bride
    Traditional look
    Sheath Silhouette – Form-fitting silhouette from head to toe.
                            Great For:
                                        Tall slender brides
                                        Elongating short brides
                                        Casual intimate weddings
    Giving the body shape
    Mermaid/Trumpet Silhouette – Fitted gown that flares at the knees/lower thighs.
                            Great For:
                                        Showing off curves
                                        Slender brides
                                        Confident brides
    Elongating torso
    8.  Be Open-Minded.  Try on LOTS of dresses and in all styles…even if it goes against your body style.  You just never know!  Just because you don’t like it hanging on the rack, doesn’t mean it won’t flatter your figure and make you feel beautiful!  Also, keep in mind that certain properties of a dress can be changed, such as more “bling” added, “bling” taken off, necklines can be altered, etc (but also keep in mind that those changes may cost extra).  If your consultant brings you a dress that you don’t think you’ll like, try it on anyway!  They are professionals and it never hurts to try it on.
    9.  Ask for Referrals.  Be sure to ask your friends and family who were previously married for referrals.  Find out which Bridal Shops they loved and which ones they didn’t.  This goes a long way.  Book appointments with the most referred Bridal Shops first.  You can still check out the less referred Bridal Shops later, because you just never know.  With such a great experience with the first place I went to, I am so glad I did this; the service was amazing, I felt very important and I was able to get into every single dress (which I was worried about being about a size 12), at least to get a feel for each style.  In the second Bridal Shop we went into, I couldn’t get the first 5 dresses past my butt, which was horrifying!  I found out that most of the dresses in this shop were closer to size 6, which I can’t imagine why the consultant even let me try them on!  I couldn’t have imagined how I would have felt if that was the first Bridal Shop I had gone to; I just may have called off the whole wedding!  So definitely ask around for past experiences.
    10.  Shop Around.  Try at least 2 or 3 Bridal Shops. It never hurts to check out your options and compare prices and service.  Not all Bridal Shops are created equal.  I was pretty sure I had found “my dress” in the first Bridal Shop we went into…but to be sure, I checked out 2 more.  The service and selections at the second and third shops didn’t even compare to the first one, so it sealed the deal. 
    11.  Don’t Be Too Ambitious.  We all want to look AMAZING on our wedding day, but don’t buy a dress that is too small, in hopes that you will lose enough weight to fit into it on your big day.  Buy your dress to fit you NOW and it can always be taken in.  While dresses can be altered larger, it is much easier and cheaper to be altered smaller.
    12.  Bring Your Accessories.  Once you have narrowed down your dress choices, add in your accessories to get a feel for your whole wedding look.  A nude bra and panties are helpful too and you may even want to smooth everything out with some formfitting undergarments such as Spanx.  Put shoes on (in a similar height as your wedding footwear).  This will also give you an idea of how much your dress will need to be hemmed (if any).  Finish your look off with the veil (if you are choosing to wear a veil) and get a realistic feel for how you will look on your wedding day.
    13.  Move Around and SIT!  Many brides don’t take into consideration how well they will be able to move around in their dress.  Sitting can also be quite the feat on your wedding dress, so be sure to walk around a bit, even take a seat while trying on dresses.  Also, when you sit, how high does your bust go?  Not something most brides think of, but when photographing a wedding, many times a bride can’t even sit for photos…or if they can sit, their bust heads very close to their chin, just looking awkward and uncomfortable in photos.  So much to take into consideration, I know!!
    14.  Doing Up the Dress.  Your Bridal Shop consultant will not be there on your wedding day to do up your dress.  Whether you choose a lace-up dress, zipper, or buttons (or all of the above), you will need someone else to do up your dress on your wedding day.  The best way to have this person prepared is to have them there for at least one of your dress fittings.  It may be your Maid of Honor, Bridesmaid, or mom, but have the Bridal Shop consultant show them how to properly do up your dress.  All too often,  I am the one to do up a bride’s dress on the wedding day, because no one else knows how…some can be pretty tricky to just “wing it”.  Although as your wedding photographer, I don’t mind, at all, it is much better if I am photographing the dress being done up by someone significant.  
    Well, I think that should give you TONS to think about while you are shopping for your dream dress.  I know I wish I had been just as prepared, but I am glad I can pass along my great experiences and not so great experiences, as well as my expertise from a wedding photographer perspective to help your wedding dress shopping go AMAZING! 
    Good luck!
    A bride and groom standing under a flowing veil
    Photo By Candid Apple Photography
    To be sure you don’t miss any of our Wedding Planning Tips, sign up on the right-hand side at the top to join our email list!  By joining our email list, you are also entered into our quarterly draw for a free Engagement Session!
    Cassandra :)

      Leave a Comment