Today on the New Bride Guide we tackle the most important detail — the dress. Like the venue, this is a decision to take seriously, because it sets the stage for your entire day. Budget plays a big role in choosing a dress, but we found some tricks to help you out if you have champagne taste on a ginger ale budget.
Above all, give yourself plenty of time to make a decision on a dress, generally at least six months before the big day so it can be ordered and sized properly. Be sure to always make an appointment where ever you go in order to assure that you get the best service.
1. Your budget: For under $1,000 you can buy a machine-made wedding dress made from synthetic farbics from a chain such as David’s Bridal. There won’t be much hand detailing such as beading or lace, but it will be pretty. David’s Bridal carries lines from Vera Wang and Melissa Sweet, so you can find something with visual interest on a budget.
If you can spend between $2,000 and $4,000, you can get a designer dress. You’ll buy it at a wedding salon where they’ll order it straight from the designer. This is where you can get into hand beading, lace and other detailing.
If you can spend over $5,000, you can get a custom gown from a designer. This will be made to fit for you and the sky’s the limit when it comes to detailing.
No matter where you fall on the budget spectrum, factor in extra money for alterations (you’ll likely have three fittings), lingerie, shoes and any accessories.
2. Location, season and theme: We already went over how picking a theme for your wedding is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. As the bride, you’re the center of attention, and your dress should reflect the theme. A ceremony in a grandiose church begs for a big ballgown, while a seaside ceremony allows for something more casual. Remember: you don’t have to stay in the big dress all night. Reception dresses are a real trend — even Kate Middleton wore one — so you can slip into something more comfortable once the ring is on your finger.
3. Your body type: Are you pear shaped? Curvy? Petite? Spoon? Hourglass? Figure out your shape (here’s a tool for doing so), then find out what dress silhouettes work best with your shape. For example, pear shape looks best in a ball gown (accentuate the waist and hide the hips!).
This should be intuitive, too; look at what you regularly wear and then look for a wedding dress with similar lines. Everyone will tell you that you can’t go wrong with a classic A-line dress, and they are right. Even if you’ve had your heart set on a sleek, strapless number, at least try something with sleeves or an illusion neckline. You might be surprised.
It’s also okay to like the first dress you try on, assuming you try a few others after. Much like finding your groom, you’ll know when the dress is just right.
4. What accessories and undergarments you’ll wear: The right bra or shaper can make an okay dress outrageous, so bring them with you when you try on dresses. A little Spanx goes a long way. Same goes for shoes. Bring heels that are roughly the length that you would want to wear on your wedding day. Most likely, those won’t be sky high stilettos. If you have a veil you want to wear, like a hand-me-down from grandma, you’ll need that, too, to match the color.
5. The trends: High-low dresses were a big deal last year, but if you don’t want to show some leg, they will never be fore you. Ditto for colorful wedding dresses, which have been made popular in recent years by designers like Vera Wang. If you always dreamed of getting married in white, it’s OK to pass on a pink dress like Reese or Jessica’s.
When buying a wedding dress, think long term. Will this style be dated in a few years? Some past trends, like poofy sleeves and high necklines of the 80s aren’t great for photos years later, but other trends, like lace, are forever. Do your research.
6. What your bridesmaid are wearing: Your bridesmaids are part of the scenery, er, event, so their look needs to in sync with yours. If you’re in a ballgown they at least need to be in cocktail dresses — not sundresses. If they’re wearing long dresses, your gown should be more formal – either in silhouette (trumpet skirt or ball gown) or embellishments (beading, applique, etc). If they are wearing fall tones, consider an ivory or off-white dress, which pairs nicer than with white.
7. Whether your dream dress is on a re-sale site. There is a huge market for pre-owned dresses (it’s an expensive piece you wear only once, no wonder most brides sell theirs). Re-sale sites could be a way to get that designer dress you’ve always wanted, so check their inventory before heading to the bridal salon. PreOwnedWeddingDresses is a good place to start. They have designers such as Vera Wang and Monique Lhullier. Just make sure you read our tips for shopping at re-sale sites, and how to make sure you don’t get scammed.
Another trick: Look at formal bridesmaids dresses. Sometimes a bridesmaid dress in white is exactly what you’re looking for and it will be hundreds of dollars cheaper.
8. If there’s a sample sale or trunk show in your area: If you are in the New York City area, sign up for sample sale alerts on sites such as SHEFinds, Racked.com, DailyCandy and New York Magazine. Usually these sales include both dresses and accessories (veils, shoes, etc.). Sample sale gowns are ones that are used during bridal appointments, so they may have a bit of wear and tear. You’re buying them As Is, rather than custom or from the factory.
Sample sale gowns are typically in a bridal size 10 or 12. That translates into a standard size 6 to 10. Gowns can usually be tailored down two to three sizes, but it is more difficult to go up in size.
Arrive early, bring a wingwoman and hit the racks. You’ll likely be changing in the open, in front of strangers, so wear clean underwear. It is important to know that gowns cannot be held for you to think it over. Sample sales are all about love at first sight so be prepared to buy if you find The One.
9. You have the final say on a dress, not the salesperson: Salespeople work on commission, so don’t say yes to a dress unless you absolutely love it. That doesn’t mean it will be the most expensive one you try on, or even the fanciest. If someone starts giving you the hard sell on a dress (It’s our last one! It’s discontinued!) that may be the point in the program to leave. In this age of technology you can always find another one. Unless you’re at a sample sale, you can always sleep on a decision.
10. You don’t need an entourage: You’re the one wearing the dress, so the fewer opinions when choosing it, the better. If you bring your mom and sister, that is plenty. Buying a dress is not an activity for the entire bridal party. Besides, don’t you want everyone to be surprised when you walk down the aisle?