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A Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping From Start to Finish

Finding a wedding dress should be exciting, not stressful. Bookmark these wedding dress shopping tips to stay on track and prep for all your bridal appointments.

bride stands on platform at wedding dress fitting while seamstress fluffs the train of her gown

The search for your wedding dress is definitely one of the most exciting parts of wedding planning. From bridal Pinterest boards, trend reports, and Instagram saves, to shopping with your BFFs and trying on a wedding dress for the very first time, there are so many OMG moments that happen as you look for your perfect dress. Because this decision is also an incredibly crucial one, we're helping you through the entire process with this guide to wedding dress shopping that covers the most important steps—and fills you in on the details you might not have thought about yet. So whether you're in the process of creating your wedding dress budget, vetting the best bridal shops in your area, searching for money-saving tips, or wondering how the alterations process works, start here. Our guide to wedding dress shopping will help you say 'I do' to the gown you've always dreamed of.

same-sex LGBTQ couple two brides on the beach lean against a palm tree and hug

When to Buy Your Wedding Dress

Waiting until the last minute to shop for your wedding dress isn't what we'd recommend, period. Even if you find your wedding dress on your very first shopping trip, it can sometimes take up to six months for the dress to be ready (especially if it's made-to-order), so it's better to start shopping as soon as possible—ideally, at least a year before your wedding. You'll also need to factor in time for alterations and finding the right accessories to match your gown. Our wedding dress shopping timeline breaks it all down, step-by-step.  

Read more: The Wedding Dress Timeline Every Bride Should Know »

wedding dress shop with blue velvet couch and racks of gowns in the background

How to Find a Wedding Dress Shop

When you’re on the hunt for your wedding dress, it's best to visit bridal shops that match your style, budget, and desired experience. The shop(s) you choose should not only carry the designers and types of dresses you want to try, but the staff should make you feel welcomed, relaxed, and excited to find your gown. To help you and your loved ones have the best possible experience, we’ve pulled together our go-to rules for finding the best bridal shops for you.

Read more: How to Choose a Bridal Shop That’s Right for You »

bride and groom look at each other and smile while holding hands

Wedding Dress Questions to Ask a Potential Shop

Another way you can make sure you're visiting the best bridal shops is by asking about their policies and offerings in advance. Questions like, 'Which designers do you carry in-store?' or 'What are your payment plans like?' will help you determine if a potential shop is the right fit—without requiring you to spend time visiting those that aren't.  

Read more: 12 Questions Every Bride MUST Ask a Wedding Dress Salon »

modern bride wearing pink leather moto jacket with "til death" written in black calligraphy on the back

What to Do If You Need a Last-Minute Wedding Dress

Step number one: Don't panic. You might be pressed for time, but all hope is not lost! First, try calling bridal salons in your area to ask if they have any dresses that are available for a rush order. Sample sales are another option—this is when bridal shops sell dresses off the rack, which means you can take your purchase home the same day. If you're not able to buy a dress locally, the next best thing is a trusted online wedding dress retailer, like David's Bridal or BHLDN. 

Read more: Need a Last-Minute Wedding Dress? Read This »

boho bride holding bouquet of dried palm leaves and pampas grass

How to Save Money on a Wedding Dress

Falling in love with a gown that’s out of your price range can feel like your worst nightmare come true. You try on the dress, it gives you all the feels, and then your stomach drops at the sight of that price tag (cue crying emoji). But there are several budgeting hacks you can follow to help avoid sticker shock AND find a gown that won’t break the bank, such as visiting trunk shows or limiting customizations. Here’s how to be smart with your wedding dress budget while also getting everything you're looking for. 

Read more: How to Save Money on a Wedding Dress in 6 Simple Steps »

close-up of lace wedding dress train and tulle veil

Wedding Dress Fabrics

We're betting you already know the basics—tulle, lace, etc.—but many popular wedding dress fabrics can seem surprisingly similar upon first glance. Fabric can play a big role in how your wedding dress looks, feels, and costs, so we suggest taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with some of the most common options.   

Read more: The 8 Most Popular Wedding Dress Fabrics and Materials »

Asian bride and groom laugh candid wedding portrait

Wedding Dress Necklines

Each type of wedding dress neckline offers a different look and varying level of coverage, so whatever you choose should ultimately be based on your personal preference and what makes you feel the most fabulous. Whether you want a plunging v-neckline, a romantic strapless sweetheart neckline, or a modern one-shoulder neckline, this glossary explains all of your options to help prep you for that first wedding dress appointment.    

Read more: The 12 Wedding Dress Necklines You Need to Know »

bride wearing lace wedding dress with sweetheart neckline and illusion sleeves

Wedding Dress Silhouettes

Ahead of your bridal appointment, there are six wedding dress silhouettes we'd recommend learning. Not only will this help you convey what you're looking for when you talk to your bridal consultant, but you can focus on dresses with the silhouette(s) that you think best reflects your overall wedding vision. One last thing: Even if you know you definitely want a specific silhouette, it's important to be open-minded if your consultant recommends trying on a variety of others, just in case. You might be pleasantly surprised!  

Read more: The Top 6 Wedding Dress Silhouettes Defined »

bride and groom hold hands as they walk down the street during golden hour

The Best Wedding Dresses for Every Body Type

It’s true, not every dress will be the perfect fit—and that’s okay! What’s most important is finding a gown that makes you feel like a million bucks, regardless of what you or someone else thought you should wear based on your body type (remember to keep these body-positive tips in mind during your appointment). But whether you're looking to elongate a petite frame, draw attention to your waist, or enhance your curves, there are some tried-and-true ways to do it—and you can start by trying on wedding dresses that are typically flattering for your body type. In the end, there's no right or wrong, so consider this as your general starting point.  

Read more: Here's Your Ideal Wedding Dress, Based on Your Body Type »

laughing bride surrounded by her bridesmaids

Wedding Dress Shopping Etiquette 

You’ve done your homework budgeting for your dress, bookmarking inspiration, and researching bridal shops. Now, it’s time to visit a salon and try on a wedding dress (finally, the fun stuff!). But before you agree to a spur-of-the-moment shopathon with your MOH, there are some basic wedding dress shopping etiquette rules we'd recommend following, especially if you're bringing a group of friends or relatives along. For example, did you know that an appointment is required at almost all bridal salons? Yup—unlike those scenes in movies and television shows where the bride walks by a dress shop and spontaneously decides to go shopping with her friends, you'll probably need to call ahead. These golden rules will ensure your dress shopping experience runs smoothly and remains drama-free for all parties involved.

Read more: 10 Wedding Dress Shopping Etiquette Rules You Must Follow »

Black bride and groom kissing with rose petals falling around them

How to Know You've Found Your Wedding Dress

As the saying goes, when you know, you know. When you finally find your dress, there might be tears involved—but if not, that's okay too! While every bride's reaction to finding her wedding dress is different, there are a few major giveaways that will let you know you're ready to make it official.  

Read more: 8 Telltale Signs You've Found the Perfect Wedding Dress »

bridesmaid zipping up lace wedding dress on bride

Wedding Dress Alterations

So you’ve found THE dress. Yay! But slow that bridal roll, because you’re not done just yet. Now it's time to focus on alterations and fittings—two major things that will help your wedding dress fit like a glove. Even if your dress was made to your measurements, chances are it will still need a little bit of tweaking, such as raising the hem or taking in the waist if you lost weight. Regardless of your tailoring needs (minor or major), it’s a good idea to know what the alterations and fitting process entails before meeting with your seamstress.

Read more: 8 Tips for Wedding Dress Alterations and Bridal Fittings »