You know when insider information helps you with an advantage for challenging situations that you’re trying to navigate? And no, we’re not talking about insider trading or anything even remotely shady. We’re talking about wedding dress shopping, which ultimately ends with a happy ending, but the in between isn’t as straightforward as the movies tend to make it seem. Like other pursuits and projects in your life, finding your dream dress—in the least stressful way possible—involves focused preparation and groundwork, and we’re here to give you a leg up on your dress search.
Or rather, the experts are, to help you with their in-the-trenches, on-the-front-lines perspective and experience, i.e., bridal salon owners. Because we’re all on the same team, right? They want to help you help them find you the perfect dress and are more than happy to drop some behind-the-scenes secrets, no holds barred, like even how to save some funds for your honeymoon.
So let’s hear from Lanie List, founder of Lovely Bride, with 12 locations around the country; Mark Ingram, owner of Mark Ingram Atelier in New York; Lauren Crispin, cofounder of The Mews, bringing Parisian style to New York and London; and Jennette Kruszka, director of marketing, Kleinfeld, the iconic New York bridal salon founded in 1941.
“Plan your shopping approximately nine months to one year in advance of your wedding date. Wedding dresses are typically not ready-to-wear. Most dresses are made to order, after the bride has been measured, chooses a color, and adds any other extras. Expect to wait approximately four to six months for your dress to arrive after you have ordered it. Then you want time to bond with it.” —List
Clear your calendar.
“Know that almost all bridal shops are appointment-only, so plan accordingly. That is because they designate a personal stylist who really focuses on trying to make a match between you and a dress. If that feels too stressful for you, and you are not ready to buy, call your local salons and see if they have a browsing policy. Most salons would rather have you come in to get comfortable before allotting the time for the full appointment, so it really benefits both parties if you just take a peek first.” —List
Research, research, research!
“Being that most bridal shops are by appointment only, we really appreciate brides who do their research on what designers we carry, the price range offered, and which sample sizes are carried. Many times you can tell by the designers listed if the store is going to be your style or on budget. This will also help save you lots of time and effort. —Crispin
Know—and commit to—your budget before making a salon appointment.
“It’s important for the bride to establish exactly a price range she’s comfortable with and be serious about it. She also needs to convey that to the bridal salon or at least ask the salon what their price range is. There’s nothing more disappointing than coming into a salon and not having anything you can try on because you can’t afford it. Or find something you love and realize that it’s too expensive. It’s really hard to go backward from that point. It can also be very disheartening to a sales consultant [helping you].” —Ingram
Go in with an open mind.
“You might have found your favorite dresses or styles when you look at images online, but you won’t know what really works until you try them on. Sometimes the dress you never thought would suit you ends up being the perfect one for your shape.” —Crispin
Be prepared to buy the first dress you try on.
“There is a lot of thought and preparation put in on your part—and your stylist's part—when choosing dresses for you. You likely have 100 images on a Pinterest board, and your stylist has read your appointment notes and looked at your style preferences, body type and budget, and has great opinions on what you might like. It freaks some brides out to buy the first dress, but it’s not a random pick. It’s typically everything you asked for. —List
Gussy up a bit for your appointment.
“It’s much easier to envision what you will look like on your wedding day if you have your hair and makeup looking great on the day you try on dresses. Also bring figure-flattering undergarments that you may likely wear on your wedding day, as it can really change the way gowns fit you and give you a better idea of the final product.” —List
Check out the trunk shows at your local salons.
“At a designer trunk show, you will shop the latest collection and may have the chance to meet the designer and customize your dress with them. Kleinfeld typically hosts two trunk shows per week where the designer will bring their newest collection hot off the runway. Not only can you meet the designer and customize your dress, but you can also get a discount of 10 percent or more if you purchase during a trunk show.” —Kruszka
Brave the sample sales.
“Shopping during a sample sale is the best way to find budget-friendly designer wedding dresses. Kleinfeld hosts sample sales at least two times a year where brides can find dresses from top designers, such as Christian Siriano, Pnina Tornai, Hayley Paige, Dennis Basso, and many more starting at just $899.” —Kruszka
Don’t succumb to (size) sticker shock.
“When you are ready to say yes to the dress, do not be surprised when the size of your wedding dress is ordered two times bigger than your normal size. Many bridal designers use a size chart which reflects a sample size 10 as a true size 6/8. Also, keep in mind that the dress needs to be ordered according to your largest measurement. For example, if you’re ordering a dress with a dropped waist and your hip measurement is larger than your waist, the dress may be ordered according to your hip measurement on the designer size chart and will need to be altered later at your fittings.” —Kruszka
See more: The Best Way to Buy Your Wedding Dress
DO NOT BRING YOUR ENTIRE SQUAD TO YOUR SALON APPOINTMENTS, says everyone.
“In the excitement of trying on wedding dresses, it’s really tempting to bring everyone you know, but we can tell you that this can lead to disaster,” says Crispin. Basically, too many opinions and too much feedback can be really discouraging and overwhelming, especially when during initial visits and shopping appointments.
“Do you want opinions or do you want support?” asks List. “Let your guests who come shopping with you know what you are looking for, since too many varying opinions will leave you really stressed and confused. It’s really hard to choose one of anything, so even the most chill brides can find the decision-making process daunting.” All the experts say bring a maximum of three with you—essentially three people whose opinions mean the most to you and also who will be the most truly supportive. “Don’t bring 5 or 10 girlfriends with paddles that say yes or no and make a game out of it,” says Ingram. “Because it’s not even fair to the bridal salon.”
But he does suggest having your bridesmaids come with you to the fittings once you decided on your dream wedding gown. “So they can be shown how to bustle the dress and how to help you go to the bathroom,” he says. “That’s more important really: how to get you on the toilet in your wedding gown.” Words to live by.