Everything you need to know before shopping for a wedding dress - Insider

Everything you need to know before shopping for a wedding dress

  • Shopping for a wedding dress is a complicated process.
  • Insider spoke with four wedding experts about everything brides need to know before they shop for their dream gowns.
  • The difference between bridal sizes and street sizes, how long it takes to custom form a dress, and the cost of alterations are all proper to know before you go shopping.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Although shopping for a wedding dress is a fun experience, it can also be stressful, particularly if you don't know how the process works.

A bridal consultant will be there to help you if you make an appointment at a store, but learning the ins and outs of shopping for a wedding dress can help you make the most of your experience. 

Insider spoke to four wedding experts to find out what brides need to know before they start trying on gowns.

Research dresses before your first appointment, but try to keep an open mind

Showing your consultant photos of dresses you like makes it easier for them to pick the best gowns for you to try on, and many salons even have websites that allow brides to look at the dresses they offer ahead of time, as Jennette Kruszka, Kleinfeld Bridal's marketing and PR director, told Insider. You can also tell your consultant about your venue or theme if you don't have specifics in mind for a dress to give them an idea of what you're looking for. 

But at the same time, too much research can sometimes give brides tunnel vision, so it's a good idea to be open to suggestions from your consultant, as they're experts.

"The advice that I give both my celebrity clients and my bridal clients is don't be unnerved to try something on," Micaela Erlanger, a celebrity stylist who just released a bridal line in collaboration with Brideside, said. "If it doesn't work, you can just take it off."

Researching dresses in advance of bridal appointments is important.

Sonali Lamba, a co-founder of Brideside, said keeping an open mind can also help you find a dress that's most representative of you.

"The beauty of shopping for a bridal gown is that you're looking for a dress that accentuates who you are on the inside and on the outside," she said. "Falling in love with a garment on a hanger or a garment that you see in your newsfeed doesn't necessarily mean that that's the dress that's going to make you shine."

Don't leave the shopping to the last minute

Bridal dresses take months to make, as gowns are custom-made for brides unless you buy a sample dress off the rack.

Both Kleinfeld Bridal and RK Bridal, two of the top bridal boutiques in New York, recommend brides shop for their gowns nine to 12 months in advance of their wedding date, as that period leaves ample time for alterations and fittings. Boutiques can accommodate brides with a shorter timeline, but it often means the bride will have fewer gowns to choose from and will have to pay more for expedited costs.

"Once you have selected your venue and date, finalizing your dress selection early will ease a lot of the planning pressure, allowing you to focus on the other details that also set the vibe for your special day," Madison Debany, the store manager at RK Bridal, told Insider.

But if you are working with a shorter time frame, sample dresses might be your best bet. Sample gowns are dresses you buy in-store, off the rack. They're less expensive and available faster as compared to made-to-order dresses.

"There is a minimal risk when buying a sample dress if you have thoroughly inspected the gown prior to purchasing and avoided saying 'yes' to a sample that is not close to your size, torn, or shows extra wear," Debany said. 

Bridal sizes aren't the same as street sizes

Bridal sizes are measured differently than others, so don't be surprised if your gown is a bigger size than you expected.

"While you might be a size 4 to 6 in jeans, you're in fact a bridal size 8 to 10, and if you're a size 14 to 16,  you're likely an 18 to 20," Kruszka told Insider. "Don't worry about it — sizing is just a number! You'll likely see most of our samples in a bridal size 8, 10, 12, 18, 20, or 22 to try on," she added of Kleindfeld's sizes.

Bridal sizes are measured differently than normal sizes.

"It may seem really confusing for most brides when they find out they are measuring for a size that is larger than what they are used to buying," Debany told Insider. "Each designer has their own size chart and has slightly different proportions."

So even if you're a size 8 in one designer, you might be a 10 in another. "Once you have selected your dress, three key measurements will be taken to help us win the best size to recommend," Debany added. 

And don't dread if your sizing is on the higher end. Most bridal gowns can be custom-made in sizes up to 32.

Make sure to wear the brilliant undergarments to your appointment

Your custom gown could come with a built-in bra that's designed to fit you, but that won't be the case with the sample gowns you try on at the store.

"We suggest wearing a supportive strapless or convertible bra, seamless underwear, as well as any shapewear that will ultimately help you feel confident while trying on dresses," Debany said.

The shapewear is particularly important if you plan to wear it on your wedding day. You want to get an idea of how the dress will actually look on the big day, and the shapewear will make a difference in the final look. 

"You may also want to bring a pair of heels that will have a similar heel height that you would wear on your wedding day," Debany also said, as it will help you get a better idea of how the whole look will come together.

Think carefully about the people you bring with you to an appointment

Boutiques are currently limiting the number of people allowed at bridal appointments because of COVID-19. Both RK Bridal and Kleinfeld allow brides to bring only two guests with them to appointments at the time of writing.

But limitations aside, it can tranquil be confusing to bring a lot of people with you to a bridal appointment. Too many opinions might overwhelm you, or it might just not feel right if you're not one who loves the spotlight.

"Some brides really just don't like wearing dresses or they're really uncomfortable and kind of feel strange in this moment," Lamba said. "You should be able to set your own expectations of what you want your experience of shopping for your wedding gown to be."

It's not a good idea to try on a gown that's over your budget

Trying on gowns that are over your budget is dangerous.
Bogdan Kurylo/Getty Images

Trying on a dress that's over your budget is dangerous, as you might love a dress that's more than you can afford or form unrealistic expectations for the detailing a dress in your budget might have.

"Our bridal consultants do not recommend trying on dresses outside your budget," Kruszka said of Kleinfeld. "We do not want you to fall in love with a dress that is over budget."

It's also important to factor alterations, taxes, and the cost of accessories into your budget as well. The base cost of the dress doesn't include taxes, and many brides end up paying thousands of dollars in alterations. Kleinfeld has a base cost of $895 for alterations, while RK Bridal told Insider its alterations can cost up to $850. 

Plus, if you know you want to splurge on expensive shoes or a pricey veil, you need to keep that in mind as you budget for your gown.

Make sure to move around in your dress when you try it on, and see how it looks in photos

There's a big difference between how a dress looks on a rack, how it looks as you stand, and how it looks when you move around in it.

Take time to walk in the dress, as well as dance. You might discover the dress is too hard to bend down in, which might be a problem if you plan to dance a lot at your wedding.

It's also a good idea to take a few photos in every dress you try on. Although how the dress looks and feels in person is most important, you'll be looking at your wedding photos for the rest of your life. If a dress makes you look washed out in photos or doesn't accentuate your natural beauty, you worthy want to pick a different gown.

Erlanger also said to keep in mind the environment in which you will be taking photos as you pick a dress. "That sets the tone for where you're getting married and for what your photos are going to look like," she said. "You want your dress to complement your overall aesthetic."

If you're shopping virtually, don't feel like you need to compromise anything about your experience or your dress

Brideside specializes in providing an at-home experience for bridesmaids and brides to try on gowns, with brides even being able to physically try on gowns at home while communicating with a consultant virtually. Lamba told Insider Brideside has worked to ensure its program doesn't take away from the fun of trying on dresses.

For instance, she said you can still form a relationship with your consultant via FaceTime or Zoom. "You can still demand a relationship from the person who's helping you pull together your look for presumably one of the most important days of your life," Lamba said.

Likewise, you can have friends and family members at home with you as you try on gowns, bringing the fun of going into a store home. 

Micaela Erlanger designed a line of wedding dresses in collaboration with Brideside.
Micaela Erlanger/Brideside

Erlanger advises brides to ask specific questions about gowns when they try them on at home. "You really need to ask and understand what the construction is like," she said. "Is there a support inside? Do you need to wear undergarments, a bra, or special shapewear? Can certain things be modified?"

Erlanger also said she has confidence in virtual shopping because of how she works with celebrities. "I've been styling celebrities, and for as long as the iPhone has existed, I have been doing virtual fittings with my clients," she said. "I can't always be in the same city or spot or country even. So if celebrities are comfortable with the virtual fittings, brides should be."

You can learn more about Erlanger's line with Brideside here.

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