We might be slightly (ok, rather!) biased in our opinion, but we totally agree with those that say that dress shopping is the most exciting part of planning a wedding! It’s a golden opportunity to be the centre of attention, have a professional boutique styling experience, try on the DREAMIEST of dresses and find that special design that results in tears, smiles...even squeals of joy!
But when should you begin your wedding dress search? How long will it take to find ‘the one’? And how do you even know that it is the one?
Truth is, each of you will likely have a different experience; some of you will visit just one boutique, others will visit four or five; some of you will wed in the exact style of gown you’ve dreamt about for years, others will be swayed by a complete ‘wild card’; some of you will get full-on butterflies when you slip on the perfect dress, others will simply feel a subtle connection...but one that can’t be shaken!
Whatever the outcome, we find that preparation is key to helping brides stay calm and focused during their search, making them feel more relaxed in their choices and able to fully enjoy that bridal boutique magic!
So, to help you girls step out in the right direction, we’ve put together this super helpful Guide To Wedding Dress Shopping. Here, we cover everything from how to start your wedding dress search and find the right bridal boutiques for you, to what to expect from a bridal boutique appointment. And to make it extra special, we’ve included some words of Little Pearl wisdom and our top wedding dress shopping tips along the way. Planning notebooks at the ready ladies!
Before The Wedding Dress Shopping Begins
1. THINK SEASON, SETTING, STYLE
Consider the season and setting of your wedding - spring rustic barn, autumn urban warehouse, winter boutique hotel, summer festival tipi - then think about the ambience and style of celebrations you’re planning - relaxed, intimate, classic, romantic, vibrant, cool, high-energy.
2. SCAN YOUR WARDROBE
Take a look at the outfits in your wardrobe that you love wearing most. Is there a fashion style - like boho, chic, classic - or a design element - such as sleeve length, neckline or even colour - that you could carry over to your wedding attire choices?
3. WHAT'S YOUR BODY TYPE?
TOP TIP: Don’t forget to think about what works well for your body shape. If you’re unsure which dress styles and cuts suit which figures best, have a quick read of this handy blog post we put together on How To Find The Best Wedding Dress For Your Body Type.
4. GATHER INSPO
Now you have a vision in mind, look online and in magazines for bridal wear that ticks boxes. Instagram and Pinterest are particularly good sources of dress inspiration but be careful not to fall down a rabbit hole of overwhelm or look solely at model images.
5. KEEP IT REAL
PEARL OF WISDOM: We find real wedding features on blogs and in magazines provide the best wedding dress inspiration as you can see how the gown suits real brides with different body shapes and skin tones. You can also search online for weddings that have taken place at your specific venue to give you an even clearer idea of what dress styles will work best.
6. GROUP YOUR FAVOURITES
Note, save and mood board your findings! Gathering together a collection of dress images that tick your boxes will hopefully narrow down design elements and styles that appeal and that you should aim to try on at your bridal boutique appointments. It might also highlight some specific bridal wear designers whose creations you’re drawn to.
7. SET A BUDGET
Finally, before moving onto the next stage, it’s wise to set a dress-spend budget to avoid the heartbreak of falling in love with a gown completely out of your price range further down the line.
Finding Bridal Boutiques & Booking Appointments
1. IDENTIFY YOUR TOP DESIGNERS
If certain designer names have come up during your dress research, look for boutique stockists of such labels online and try to find out if their collections fall within your budget. TOP TIP: If there is a particular dress style you love by the designer, check if the boutique stock that specific design and, if not, if they can call it in for you directly or do they have a designer day or trunk show event coming up where they will have the full collection at the boutique for a limited time?
2. SEEK OUT TRUSTED BOUTIQUES
Search for award-winning bridal boutiques, and those with good reviews or that come highly recommended from family or friends so you know they’re professional at what they do and deliver on their promises.
3. WHAT'S YOUR VIBE?
If your research didn’t identify any lead designer names, look for boutiques that appeal to your style preferences and personality. Are you looking for girly, fun and feminine; classy and timeless; sexy chic or all-out fashion vibes?
4. DOES IT TICK KEY BOXES?
Before booking an appointment, look online to make sure the boutique carries dress styles that appeal to you, that they are within your price range and that their approach resonates with you.
5. SCHEDULE YOUR VISIT WISELY
When it comes to making an appointment, try not to leave it any later than 10 to 12 months prior to your wedding, so you don’t feel pressured during your search and to allow time for ordering the dress and alterations to be made. That said, if you have less time, don’t panic, we professionals can still help you find your dream dress in a limited timeframe. PEARL OF WISDOM: Avoid booking more than two appointments in one day. While they’re super fun and exciting, they can also be quite tiring, and nobody wants a late afternoon changing room meltdown!
6. READ UP ON WHAT TO EXPECT
Many boutiques (ourselves included!) have a section on our website letting you know what to expect from your bridal boutique appointment and dress journey, plus answers to commonly asked questions, which can help set your mind at ease before visiting. Simply click here to find out what a Bridal Experience at The Little Pearl entails.
When Attending Bridal Boutique Appointments
1. SELECT YOUR #SHOPPINGSQUAD WITH CARE
Make sure you’ve read the boutique’s guidelines on how many guests you’re allowed to take with you, and choose your dress shopping companions carefully. Current Covid restrictions may mean this is limited to just one or two, but trust us when we say it’s about the quality of the feedback, not the quantity. Sometimes too many opinions cause confusion rather than clarity, so it’s best to arm yourself with those who know your style best and will be 100% honest with you.
2. TAKE ALONG THE ESSENTIALS
In terms of what you need to take with you to a bridal boutique appointment, a strapless bra and nude underwear are helpful as is a pair of shoes roughly around the heel height you plan to wear on your wedding day, though many boutiques (like us!) will have shoes available for you to try on with the dresses.
3. PLACE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR BRIDAL STYLIST
Show the dress images you’ve collected to your stylist and tell them about the type of wedding you’re planning so they can help pick out dresses that fit with your vision. TOP TIP: Be open-minded to trying on varied styles of dresses. Us stylists have dressed hundreds of brides, and so we know what works well, plus a gown can look completely different on the hanger to on a bride - if we suggest a ‘wild card’ go with it, you might just be surprised!
4. SHOP FOR YOUR SHAPE, NOT A CERTAIN DRESS SIZE
Ignore the sizes completely. Just like high street shops, different bridal wear designers’ sizes totally vary. As mentioned, it’s all about shopping for your shape and then getting the perfect fit through the alterations process.
5. DON'T BE STATIC WHEN TRYING ON
Move around in the dresses. On your wedding day, you will need to be able to eat, drink, sit (and possibly kneel if in church), hug and dance, so you need to feel comfortable.
6. RESIST THE URGE TO TAKE PHOTOS
PEARL OF WISDOM: Tempting as it is, we always discourage brides from taking photos during their appointments. This is because we want you to hold on to how you felt in the dress rather than looking back at images where the fit or lighting wasn’t quite right, perhaps you were having a bad hair day or hadn’t done your makeup to your liking - all things that could unjustifiably put you off the perfect dress.
The Wedding Dress Alteration & Bridal Accessory Styling Appointments To Follow
1. PLAN YOUR FITTINGS ACCORDINGLY
What happens when you’ve found your wedding dress? How long will your gown take to arrive? How many bridal alteration appointments will you need? These are all important questions to ask your bridal stylist as made-to-order dresses can take months to arrive, and you will need to factor in time for alterations, too, with the majority of brides requiring two to three fitting appointments.
2. USE A PROFESSIONAL SEAMSTRESS
TOP TIP: Find out if the boutique you are purchasing your dress from offers an in-house alteration service or if they have a trusted external seamstress recommendation. The fit of the dress is super important to how it will look on the day of your wedding, so ensure an experienced seamstress will be making the changes.
3. PURCHASE YOUR FINISHING TOUCHES
Enquire if the boutique offers accessory styling appointments. If so, they will know and stock the types of accessories that will complement their dress collections, so you can tick off those finishing touches too. If they don't carry accessories, your stylist should hopefully be able to suggest accessory designers suited to your desired look.
4. BE PREPARED
When attending your fittings take along the underwear, shoes, veil, accessories and jewellery you plan to wear (if possible) in order to achieve the very best fit and give you an accurate picture of how you will look on the big day.
5. DON'T BE TEMPTED TO KEEP LOOKING
PEARL OF WISDOM: Once you’ve said yes to the dress, stop looking! There will always be more designs out there, but you can’t have them all, and you don’t want to start doubting yourself. Instead, have confidence in your decision, remember that incredible feeling your dress gives you and get excited about the celebrations to come. You’re going to look amazing!
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