Buying your own wedding dress can feel stressful enough, so imagine how overwhelming it can feel to find the perfect dress for your entire bridal party. From dealing with various personalities to different taste preferences, brides often find the process more difficult than they anticipate. Luckily, many tough parts of the experience can be easily eliminated with a little foresight. Claudia Hanlin, founder of The Wedding Library, shares seven smart tips to make bridesmaid dress shopping as smooth — and fun — as possible.
1. Be upfront about budgets
Weddings can sometimes feel like an etiquette minefield, and your bridal party members' budget is one of those sensitive topics that can disrupt even the most meticulously planned process. Don't put off having that conversation, advises Hanlin. It will help determine where you should shop. Luckily, bridesmaids today have a variety of gorgeous options at any price point, whether they choose to buy off the rack at stores like J.Crew or opt for custom designer frocks at high-end salons. Also don't forget to factor in costs for alterations when setting your budget.
"Almost 75 percent of bridesmaids need to have their dresses altered," says Hanlin. "That cost can be anywhere from $25 to over $100."
2. Do some research online first
"Know what type of look you're going for before you start making appointments at salons and it'll make the process so much easier," says Hanlin. "Every style of bridesmaid dresses can be seen online so research is easy (and fun!) to do and will save much time later."
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3. Shop early for the best deal
"You should start shopping for your bridal party at least seven to eight months before the big day," says Hanlin. "Not only is this less stressful for everyone, but you're also more likely to be able to hit a sale (if you're buying off the rack) or find a quarterly trunk show (where you can get a 15 percent discount) to order the dress and still have enough time to get it delivered without any last minute rushes."
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4. Factor in more time than you think
"Unless you are buying off the rack, you need to budget at least three months from when you place the order to when you get it," warns Hanlin. "Many designers have their dresses cut overseas so it's actually impossible for the boutique to expedite the process beyond a certain point." Orders for the entire bridal party are also placed at the same time to ensure quality control, she explains. Translation: Those perpetually late bridesmaids can delay the entire process!
5. Have your bridesmaids professionally measured
Even though many bridesmaid dresses are being made to order, the customer is not getting a custom dress. Instead, 'maids are measured and then fit into a preexisting size (usually two to 24). Because each designer sizes differently, it's important that each bridesmaid provide correct measurements in order to prevent problems later. While many boutiques might have their sales staff measure bridesmaids, they are not seamstresses, Hanlin says. "Ultimately the customer is on the hook for providing her correct measurements, so it's very important that she also goes to a professional seamstress to get them taken."
6. Make multiple appointments at the boutique
"Don't bring your entire bridal party into the shop the first time you start looking for dresses," recommends Hanlin. "Instead just go with your mother or your maid of honor or one or two bridesmaids and have them help you narrow down your initial choices." Once you've found a few favorites, then ask the rest of the party to weigh in. Have the consultant set aside your picks and show only those to your bridesmaids, she says.
7. Don't forget to inquire about extra length
"If your bridesmaid is 5'8" or above, she might need extra length if you're wearing a long dress, especially if she's wearing high heels," says Hanlin. "Bring accessories to the initial fitting and know that there's often an additional cost associated with extra length."