Top 21 Tips for Choosing Your Dream Wedding Dress

Everything you need to find that special dress for your wedding day

Your wedding day. Maybe you’ve been dreaming about it since you were 6 and picturing how you’d look in that flowing, white wedding gown. Then again, maybe your mom just reminded you for the umpteenth time that, with only a few precious few weeks or months to go until your big day, you still haven’t looked at any bridal dresses! (Hey, we get it, you’ve been busy with everything else.)

The truth is, however, that finding the perfect wedding dress for your biggest of big days isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you’re like most women, you’ve probably never even tried a bridal gown on, let alone purchased one. Plus, wedding dresses are expensive! It’s very likely yours will be the most expensive piece of clothing you’ve ever purchased, bar none.

Not enough stress? How about the fact that, whether a formal affair or a backyard bash, your wedding dress will set the tone for the entire wedding. Everyone you know will be there, family, friends, and even folks you’ve never met, and they’ll all be looking squarely at you, young lady.

Then, of course, there’s all the wedding dress jargon like organza, tulle, fit-and-flare and the rest, and the fact that many of today’s modern brides are choosing 2 dresses (one for the ceremony and one for the reception). It’s at this point that you suddenly realize you’ve got your work cut out for you to find one that looks truly amazing. (Do we need to mention all the pics your photog will be taking of you in your lovely bridal gown? You know, the ones you’ll treasure for years to come?)

So yes, the stress is definitely on and the choices can seem completely overwhelming. That’s why, now that we’ve got your attention, we’ve put together a massive list of the Top 21 Tips for Choosing Your Dream Wedding Dress. No matter your style or your budget, the tips below will help you to find the wedding gown you’ve been dreaming about since you lost your first tooth (or since last week, your choice). So relax, grab an adult beverage, take notes if you need to and let’s find you the perfect wedding dress!

Tip 1- Open Your Mind to the Possibilities

Do you have a vision of the perfect wedding dress in your mind’s eye? If yes, you’re not alone, but here’s the thing; there are a lot of bridal gowns out there, in a wonderous assortment of styles (and colors). Be open to trying on everything because you never know if a wedding gown style you weren’t even thinking about ends up being your absolute fave.

Tip 2- Start Searching for Bridal Dresses Early (But Not Too Early)

With all the other plans you have to make you’ll find that time isn’t on your side. Then there’s the fact that the average wedding gown takes months to make. Add in alterations and accessorizing and starting your search early looks more and more like a smart idea.  During ‘wedding season’, April through October in wine country, good seamstresses get backlogged, making it more difficult to get the changes you desire finished on a timely basis.

On the other hand, don’t start too early as styles tend to change rapidly and wedding dress designers are always coming out with new designs that you might end up loving even more.

Tip 3- Stick to the Theme

Planning a low-key wedding in a garden setting? Maybe you’re going fully formal or a having a Celtic ceremony? Whatever your choice of wedding theme happens to be, make sure the wedding gown you choose fits the occasion and doesn’t clash with your wedding bash.

Tip 4- Set Your Budget Before You Shop

Whether you’re paying for your wedding dress or someone else is footing the bill, know what your limit is before you start shopping. This will save you a lot of stress (and maybe a little bit of heartache too). Plus, if someone else is paying and you know their limit, you’ll also know if you can afford to pay the diff if the bridal gowns you like are a bit over that number.

Tip 5- Don’t Let the Sizing Get You Down

So let’s say that you’re normally a size 16, which is the new average. What you need to keep in mind is that wedding gowns are usually at least one size higher than your usual size, if not two (and, very occasionally, three). That’s perfectly normal and shouldn’t get you down. Also, keep in mind that, whatever the number, nobody at the wedding will know it but you.

Tip 6- Keep All Your Options Open

There are certainly plenty of bridal salons to choose from in most bigger U.S. towns and cities, and the vast majority of them are excellent. That being said, there are many other options to find the perfect wedding dress. Major retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor. Online options like Lulus wedding dresses. There are lots of options too, so keep them all open until you find a wedding gown you absolutely adore.

Tip 7- Don’t Forget About Used Bridal Gowns

There’s no law that says you need to purchase a brand new wedding gown. In today’s day and age, many women are buying their’s gently-worn. Not only to save money but also to ‘go green’ by recycling. Borrowing Magnolia, for example, has thousands of beautiful gowns from top wedding dress designers. Elegant and gorgeous, they’re also up to 80% less than their original retail price tag.

Tip 8- Start Low and Go From There

Sure, you could go directly to the most expensive bridal salon, retail store, or online bridal shop and start there. You might get lucky and find a gorgeous wedding gown too (or you might not). But what’s stopping you from starting at the low end and working your way up? You might find something you love along the way and save yourself a lot of money, which you can then use for something else, like a better band, better food, or some extra perks on your honeymoon.

Tip 9- Don’t Forget Your Undergarments

Wedding gowns come in all styles including many that are strapless. Most are quite curve-hugging also, which means you need to wear the right underwear and bra to see exactly how they look on you. One suggestion is to bring a few different undergarments with you to use with different wedding gowns.

Tip 10- Look Closely at the Length

If you’re getting hitched in an outdoor location at, say, a wine country wedding venue or some or a rustic setting, you might want a shorter, tea-length wedding dress or minidress instead of the traditional long wedding gown.

Tip 11- Bring Shoes

If you’re headed out to some salons and department stores, make sure to bring the pair of shoes you intend to wear with the bridal gown with you. The reason? Because if you’re wearing sneakers or sandals, your wedding gown isn’t going to look right. Some locations will have a set of communal heels you can use but, let’s be honest, that’s kind of gross. So make sure you bring a pair of your own.

Some brides change their shoes between the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception for comfort and dancing.  But if your dress length is set for tall heels, and you transfer to flats – the skirt will drag while you’re trying to bust a move.

Tip 12- Remember that Wedding Gowns Always Look Better On You than On a Hanger

Your average wedding dress usually has quite a few different details that, when it’s on a hanger, can make it sag or droop in a weird way. That’s why you always need to try on a wedding dress before you pass on it. You never know what it will look like once it’s hanging from your lovely shoulders rather than on a hanger.

Tip 13- Consider Renting a Designer Wedding Dress

We’ve talked about the possibility of purchasing a gently worn wedding dress but there’s also the option of renting instead of buying. Here’s a fact; if you’re like the vast majority of women, after your wedding day is done your wedding gown will be put in a box and shoved in the back of your closet. If that doesn’t sit well with you, there are plenty of online shops where you can rent some of the biggest wedding dress designers. Rent the Runway, and White Silhouette are two great examples but there are plenty of others.

Tip 14- Beware of Embellishments

If you’re trying to stick to a budget you need to know that embroidery, beading and other embellishments add quite a bit to the cost of a wedding gown. Keeping it simple (but still elegant) is always going to cost less. Of course, if you still want a few embellishments you should get them. Just know beforehand that they’re pricey and ask what the additional cost will be.

Tip 15- Try, Try and Try Again

They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince and the same goes for wedding dresses (minus the kissing). Unless you get very lucky you’re going to need to try on a lot of wedding gowns to find one that fits you perfectly and tickles your fancy the most. The most important thing you can have when searching for a wedding dress is patience. (The help of someone with a keen eye for style wouldn’t hurt either.) It might take multiple shopping trips over a few days to find yours, so keep calm and try on!

Tip 16- If It’s Too Much Money, Don’t Try It On Honey

If the sky’s the limit when searching for your bridal gown, go for it! Try them all on! If not, however, trying on a dress that’s far above your budget isn’t such a great idea. First, you’ll only be torturing yourself. Secondly, once you’ve tried on something super-luxurious everything else you try on will pale in comparison. In short, if there’s no way that you can afford a certain wedding dress, there’s really no point in trying it on.

And beware!  Some bridal shops will use this technique to try to get you to buy a more expensive dress.  So setting your wedding dress budget before shopping, and being clear with the shop when you arrive, will help to keep everything on the right path.

Tip 17- Take the Family (Heirlooms)

Many women want to incorporate something from their family into their wedding gown ensembles like a veil or a specific piece of jewelry. If that’s you, a great suggestion is to bring it with you when you’re shopping for your wedding gown. That way, you’ll be able to make sure that the gown you choose and the heirloom you want to use is a match.

Tip 18- Pose for Some Pics

A great way to see if your wedding dress looks really good on you is to have a few pictures taken when you were trying it on. If you’re shopping with your mom, or some of your gal pals, have them take a few pictures of you from the back, the sides and up top, and sitting down too. You’ll see exactly how you look, even better than in a mirror, and this will make your choice a bit easier.

Tip 19- Figure It Out on Facebook

Let’s say that you’re not sure which wedding dress to choose but you’re down to two. If that’s the case, use those pictures we talked about in Tip #18 and share them on Facebook with the group Brides to Brides. You’ll get unbiased feedback from women in the same position and, hopefully, it will make your choice a bit easier.

Tip 20- Get Measured By a Pro

Whether you’re going to buy your wedding gown from a wedding salon, rent it online, or have it made by a craftsperson on Etsy, make sure that a professional seamstress takes your measurements. This isn’t the time for DIY.

Tip 21- It’s Your Wedding Day, So You Do You

All of the advice we’ve given here today, and all of the advice that you’ll likely get from other sources, is great. That being said, you don’t have to listen to any of it and should do whatever feels best for you because, when all is said and done, it’s your big day.

We want to wish you all the best not only with finding your perfect wedding gown but also with your wedding day itself. It’s a big step, to be sure, and will change your life completely. We also hope your special day is truly wonderful and that, whatever dress you choose, you look exactly like you dreamt you would back when you were 6 years old!

About the Author, John Alden

John Alden, owner of Mountain House Estate, a Northern California wine country wedding venue located in Cloverdale, Sonoma County, has helped wedding couples at his wine country wedding venue for the last 5 years.  His goal is to share his wisdom and experience to help you craft the wedding of your dreams.