Attire & Accessories Forum

Dress Shopping 101?

I am going to look at dresses for the first time in a few weeks with my mom and MOH. I am kind of clueless on what to do or expect.  All the "good" bridal boutiques are about 40-60 min from where I live so should I make appointments at multiple boutiques or would that be too much for one day? Also, how long would I expect to be at each place?  Is going to a chain like David's or Alfred Angelo first a better idea? Any advice is much appreciated :) 

Re: Dress Shopping 101?

  • If you've never tried on dresses before, I'd probably go with one boutique and take you time trying on different styles you had in mind. Do a lot of online/magazine browsing and print some pics of what you're thinking so your consultant can help you find things. Take your time trying things on and enjoy the process - picking a dress is really exciting!

    The boutique I went to literally had THOUSANDS of dresses and if I hadn't gone in with some kind of idea, I would have been there all day. 

  • I found my dress the very first time I went shopping and I had three appointments that day. I'd recommend trying to keep it to two. I only did three because I live far away and I was home visiting my family.

    As far as chain stores go, what's your budget? David's is great if you're on a tight budget, but I hated the experience (I felt like I was being herded like cattle). I ended up buying my dress from a small, upscale boutique, and the experience was much better.

    Some other advice:
    • When is your wedding? If it's too far out, consider yourself ready to look but not buy. I purchased my dress really early, and I've already had dress regret. I like my dress now, but it's hard not to like others that are coming out in the meantime.
    • Have you secured your venue? If not, the above advice applies here, too.
    • Bring pictures of what you're thinking, but keep an open mind. You may be thinking you want to look like a princess, but you may end up buying something totally different than what you thought you would.
    • Stick to your budget. Don't try on any dress that's over, unless you're willing to spend more. Of course you're going to love more expensive dresses. And make sure you've budgeted for alterations too, which can run as much as $400+.
    • In general, allow 90 minutes for each appointment. But check with each specific bridal salon, as they may vary.
    Hope this helps!
  • climbingsingleclimbingsingle NYC 'burbs member
    10000 Comments Seventh Anniversary 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    I personally would avoid David's. I prefer smaller boutiques/salons. 
    I wouldn't do more than 2 appointments in one day. I was at my first salon for close to two hours. 

    Get an idea of what kind of dresses you'd like to try on, but be open to other styles. I ended up choosing a dress totally different than what I originally thought I wanted. 

    If you plan on wearing heels, bring a pair with you to try on with dresses. 

  • If you have specific size (i.e. plus sizes) or budget requirements (i.e. $1000 or less), I would call the boutiques to ask about their selection before I bothered to make an appointment. No point in driving 60 minutes to only try on 2 dresses that may fit you and be in your budget.

    But that aside, I'd make one appointment, plan to do lunch about 2 hours later, and then do a second appointment after lunch. I'd pick a non-chain store that you think will have a good selection for you to try on for your first appointment. You can have the whole experience, and learn a lot about what you do and don't like on you. For your second appointment, I'd do a chain store so you can see the other side of the coin. David's Bridal is known for having some more sales pressure, so I would never recommend going their first. 

    As others have mentioned, be firm with your budget and do NOT try anything on that you're not willing to spend. 
  • All great advice.  The only thing I'd add to this, is to do some research about what brands you like, and which salons carry them.  I had my heart set on a certain designer (for me it was just because the price point and the quality matched up exactly where I needed them to be, and if anyone had had the complete collection, I saw about twenty that would have been great on their webpage) and had to drive all over the state to track down different samples, but it was so worth it.  And when I say, "all over" I mean North to South, which isn't a huge distance in MA.  I probably wouldn't have bothered buying anything if I'd known I'd have to drive three or four hours for each fitting.  

    If you're comfortable sharing your budget, the ladies here can all help recommend designers that are likely to make dresses that fall under it.  

    Also, when you say that the good boutiques are 40-60 minutes away, are they all in the same location, or on different sides of you?  If they're all together, I'd absolutely consider doing two each day.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to get from one to the other (ask the first salon how long their appointments are) and a bit of a coffee or lunch break in between.  
  • Don't be disappointed if you look awful in a dress that you saw online and loved, and don't be surprised if you look amazing in a dress you didn't like on the hanger. (My two favorite dresses did not look pretty on the hanger and I would never have picked them. I only tried them on because the sales lady pulled them for me and I didn't want to seem rude, but I fell in love!) 

    Try a couple different styles. I went in looking for A-line but realized I looked way better in fit-and-flare.

    If you're petite, be prepared for the huge sample sizes. You'll feel ridiculous with all the big clips in the back of the dress and it will be hard to visualize it in your size, but don't let that frustrate you. 

    Your mom will love dresses you hate, and your MOH probably will too. Trust your gut and don't get talked into something you're not in love with. 

    Don't worry about finding THE dress right off the bat. Even if you think you found it, do a little more looking first and give yourself time to process all of it. 

    Most of all, enjoy it!   
  • When considering a budget, consider that budget also should include alterations and dry cleaning.

    Try not to bring someone who is very opinionated/try not to bring a huge crowd

    try on a lot of different styles, I ended up with a simple dress without beading.

    between buying the dress and when it comes in/alterations you may second guess your decision, this is normal. Just try not to over think your decision, chances are once it comes in and try it on you'll love it all over again.
  • Novella makes a good point.  When the sample is several sizes out, it's really impossible for most people to visualize what the dress will actually look like on them.  I ended up choosing mine based on its similarity to another dress I own and love.  They're not so similar that people will be thinking, "oh, she just bought that same dress in ivory," but it was the only way I could do it.  In most stores the samples ranged from 18-24; I'm a bridal 8.  It was very confusing.  You'll have the same problem if you're on the other end of the spectrum, and the sizes are too small (two of the salons I went to had dresses that came close to fitting me and not a lot else).  Keep in mind that some designers do rental programs, so the salon can request a specific sample in a certain size if they don't carry it.  You'll usually be asked to cover the shipping and insurance, although this is generally refundable if you purchase something by that designer.
  • mrsbananymrsbanany member
    100 Comments 100 Love Its First Anniversary Name Dropper
    edited September 2014
    Thanks everyone! This is really good advice! You have all made some really good points that I haven't even thought of.  I made one appointment at a small boutique for the morning and another appointment for David's.  Our budget is $1500 for everything this includes dress, shoes, accessories, alterations etc.  I am not sure if that is realistic or not.  If you were given that budget how would you distribute it between each thing? And which designers should I be looking at with that budget? Also, with David's it is super easy to tell which dresses they have in store versus the boutique has just a list of the designers.  If I look on the designer's website would that be an easy way to tell which dresses that boutique carries or would I just pick styles that I liked and the boutique would find me something similar?  

    Also, what do I wear? I am planning on bringing some heels but what about a bra? I have a larger chest and strapless bras just do not work for me, would I just go braless for the strapless ones or should I go out and buy a strapless bra? I am also a street size 8-10 depending on the dress, I have no idea what that translates to in dress sizes but I am kind of terrified about not being able to fit in the samples... 

    Sorry for all the questions but I literally have no idea what I am doing!

    ETA: More questions!! 
  • missdelilahmissdelilah member
    1000 Comments 250 Love Its First Anniversary First Answer
    edited September 2014
    As for the budget. I'd allot the main portion to the dress, but make sure you get an estimate on alterations before you commit to anything. That said, you're not forced to get alterations done on site, and many seamstresses who aren't attached to boutiques do them very inexpensively.

    As to designers, it depends on the type of dress you're after. I think Dolly Couture ( is very cute, and I've been to their showroom, and thought that the quality was quite fine for the price point. They do have a very specific style though.

    Otherwise, this link range=$ should give you an idea of what's in your price-range.

    Make sure to save photos of more expensive styles you like to your phone so that you can ask the attendants to pull you similar dresses in your price range.

    Shoes you can get anywhere at a huge range of price points, and remember, if you have a full length dress, no one is likely to notice your shoes.

    Accessories: well, I'm a big fan of wearing real jewelry that I already own, rather than buying costume jewelry for an occasion. Of course, it helps that I only own a few really understated, classic pieces, and nothing too flashy, so it doesn't matter if I turn up to every event in the same pair of earrings. For costume jewelry, I love the antiques market. There are always really great bargains to be had there. Seeing what you can borrow from friends usually works well too. My sister borrowed a friend's veil, and it

    As for bridal sizes, you should be anywhere from an 12-16, depending on designer (of course, they always order for the largest body part, and in the areas where they measure, I was three different sizes in the dress I went with) and don't feel discouraged; bridal sizing is just weird. Basically, you're pretty average, so I really doubt you'll have a problem with samples. There will be a ton that swim on you, hence where the clips and the imagination (or lack thereof in my case) come in.

    The other option is to call boutiques and ask if they have any samples around you're size that they're willing to part with. These, in my experience, have often been in better shape than the samples at the same only stores, but I've also found some really lovely dresses in those shops too. It's a great way to save a ton of money.

    Good luck with the shopping! Keep us updated.

    ETA: Paragraphs. Sigh...
  • I would not really recommend going onto the designers' websites and looking at specific dresses. This was a huge let-down for me and made it really stressful to figure out if I had really found "the right" dress or not. This is because I also went to a small boutique, and they had 4 or 5 different designers listed that they carry, so I went on each site. 

    I completely fell in love with one particular designer, and there were several dresses by him that I was absolutely dying to try on. I was prepared for the boutique not to have every single one of them, but I would've been happy just getting to try a few. Come to find out, they only had ONE of his dresses, and it wasn't one that I liked at all. I tried it on anyway, and it looked terrible on me. 

    I couldn't pick a dress after that because I kept thinking that I needed to try on more of THAT specific designer's dresses after making myself obsessed with his site. I finally drove several hours to a high-end boutique I couldn't afford that carried more of his designs, and I ended up not even liking any of them. It was super stressful. 

    I suggest not focusing on any specific brands. Just look at all dresses and find general styles you like (such as the silhouette, heavy beading vs no beading, tons of lace, sparkle, necklines, train length or no train, etc). 

    Based on your size, I bet you'll look amazing in a lot of different styles. 

    Also, I would recommend a sticky bra instead of a strapless bra. They sell a really awesome one at Target that's not expensive and it has fabric cups with a nice shape. This may be better than going braless only because a lot of times the sales lady comes into the dressing room with you to get you in and out of dresses, and also when the dresses fit poorly (cuz of sample sizes) sometimes things slip out of the top. Several times I was standing on the pedestal thing in front of a bunch of strangers who of course were all staring at me and I looked down to see that the top of the dress had slipped or shifted and an entire bra cup was hanging out for all the world to see. Better a bra cup than your bare boob, though!  
  • If you don't own a strapless bra, I'd just wear a regular one and tuck the straps down. If you find a dress you think is "the one" you can always take the bra off and see how it looks then. 

    If you really have NO IDEA what kind of styles you're interested in, think about adjectives. How do you want to look on your wedding day? Romantic and ethereal? Glamorous and sexy? Modern and fashion-forward? Classic and elegant? This can really help figure out what styles of dresses to go for. Also, think about what will work with your venue and overall themes. If you have an afternoon wedding in a barn, maybe you don't want a fully beaded dress with a cathedral length train, for example. 

    I'd aim to get the dress for $1000, assume $300 for alterations (even it's just a hem, it can easily cost this much), and then you have $50 for accessories, $50 for shoes, and $100 for undergarments. If you're planning on a veil, you may want to go less on the dress so you have money for the veil as well. 
  • I'd like to add if you can go shopping on a weekday instead of weekend, or at least Sunday vs Saturday that would be best - especially at a place like David's Bridal.  I've bee in DB on Saturdays for BM shopping and it makes my head spin.  I had a Friday off for a girls day with my mom and grandma and we went dress shopping at DB - such a different experience.  I ended up trying on 10 dresses, awesome consultant who could give me attention, pull styles she thought would work etc. Didn't end up buying any from there (it was my first place) but the weekday experience made it FUN and not stressful with the Saturday mob.
  • When you book your appointment, budget for 2 hours of your time.  It flies by, especially the first time you set out to try dresses for the first time ever.  
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  • If your budget is $1500 for ALL your attire, you need to think about what's important to you. Ask yourself a few questions:

    - are designer shoes really important or are you ok with heels from DSW?
    - are you for sure wearing a veil? If so, how long?
    - are you planning to buy Spanx or other special undergarments?
    - does your attire budget include jewelry? Do you need real or designer jewelry or are you ok with fake stuff?

    If I had that budget, and this is me personally based on what's important to me, I'd break it out like this:

    - $900 for dress
    - $300 for alterations, cleaning & preserving
    - $100 for shoes
    - $100 for accessories
    - $100 for undergarments

    Notice there's no veil. I didn't wear one so this cost me exactly $0. :)

  • Ah this is so helpful! Thank you so much! I am getting married on a beach in the morning so I want something simple but definitely not plain, if that makes sense. My mom is a jewelry designer and is making all of my jewelry and I don't care about designer shoes, DSW is totally fine. My mom is also making me a hairpiece so no veil. I am really saving tons on accessories so I can probably up the dress budget a bit. Thank you so much! I had to make an appointment for about 2 weeks from now just based on mine, my mom's and my MOH's schedules but I will definitely keep people updated and I am sure I will have more questions before then!! :)
  • Dignity100Dignity100 Northeastern Ohio member
    2500 Comments 500 Love Its First Anniversary First Answer
    As far as a bra goes - most of the stores I went to had long line bras that I could use.  I had a convertible bra with me (clear straps).

    For your Dress, I probably say budget around $1000 and go from there.  If you need a long line bra, that can be any where from $35-80+, if you need spanx or an off brand figure $18-$50 (off brand would be around $18); shoes figure $100 and alterations figure $300.    From there you can decide how strict your budget actually is.

    I went to David's before any other shop just to try on shapes, it helped but it really didn't rule out any shapes.

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