12 Things No One Tells You About Wedding Dress Shopping

There's much more to it t​han​​​​ what you see on 'Say Yes to the Dress.'
by Lauren Kay

We'll get right to the point: There are some things about wedding dress shopping you just don't find out until you're in the dressing room of a bridal salon. But not to worry—we're here to make sure you're as prepared as possible. Below, find 12 truths you should know before you head to your first appointment.

1. You need to cross some things off your list before you can start.

We know you're probably super excited to find your wedding dress, but you can't get ahead of yourself. Alterations take several months, and your dress style should be at least somewhat reflective of the season you're getting married in (for example, you probably won't want a heavy, long-sleeve dress if you're having an outdoor beach wedding in the middle of July). You'll likely want your wedding season—if not your exact date—completely nailed down before you buy your dream dress. 

2. Breakfast actually is the most important meal of the day.

Starting out "hangry" isn't the best way to begin, so make sure you have something substantial to eat before getting started. Trying on gowns is emotionally and physically draining (some dresses might weigh as much as you—seriously). You'll be on your feet for a while, so definitely fuel up.

3. You should choose your companions wisely.

Most bridal salons are happy to welcome you and a few guests, but not your entire entourage. This is actually a good thing—there's only room for a couple extra bodies along with all that tulle anyway. Plus, you'll have fewer people weighing in on your decision. (It's great to have some trusted opinions, but if you have too many voices chiming in, you risk not choosing a gown you actually like, as well meaning as your mom is.)

4. Wear a touch more makeup than usual.

Buying a fancy gown isn't an everyday occurrence—it's going to be a tricky decision no matter what—not to mention the potentially unflattering lighting typical of most fitting rooms. Do yourself a favor and wear a touch more makeup than your usual bare face and bun combo you typically sport to run errands. (Hint: Your bridal salon appointment isn't a regular errand!) You'll look more like you will on your wedding day, which will definitely make it easier to decide on a gown.


5. Be prepared to strip down.

Full disclosure: A veritable stranger will probably catch glimpses of you naked. Most consultants will give you some privacy, but since gowns can be unwieldy or delicate, they'll need to help you in and out of at least a few of them. Wear undergarments you don't mind seeing the light of day (we recommend nude boy shorts and a strapless bra). If you're a more modest person, speak up from the start.

6. Trust your consultant.

They may be older than your mom or young and single, but that doesn't mean they're not qualified—they wouldn't be doing this if they weren't. Your consultant knows the dresses and sees hundreds of brides with varying body shapes try them on every day. Make sure you share your wants (lace, A-line, off-the-shoulder sleeves) but also be open to their suggestions—you may end up choosing something completely different than your original vision they convinced you to try on.

7. A bridal size 8 is not a retail size 8.

Wedding gown sizes are not the same as street clothing sizes, and that's just a fact of life. If you wear a size 8 in your favorite work dress, there's a good chance you'll be wearing a size 12 or 14 down the aisle. Focus on how great you feel in the dress, not the number on the tag.

8. Feel free to experiment with styles that aren't "you."

Even if you have your heart set on a sexy mermaid-style gown, or think you can't wear anything "bohemian," try on a variety. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you may surprise yourself by choosing something totally different than the pins on your inspiration board. And try the dress that your mother (or grandmother or mother-in-law-to-be) keeps saying is "the one"—she's been looking forward to this day too. She'll either see that you were right about the skirt swallowing you whole, or you may shock yourself by actually liking the dress.

9. Another bride might be wearing "your" dress.

Let's get real: You're not the only bride planning a wedding at the moment (duh), so it's entirely possible someone else will be trying on your dream dress. Or you may see someone wearing an illusion-back gown you hadn't considered and want to try it on immediately. We know you know how to play nice—share the mirrors, the gowns and try to be patient if you need to be. 

10. Make sure to move around.

Sure, there will be moments when you're standing still at your wedding (like when you say your vows). But you'll also be sitting, mingling and getting down on the dance floor. If you think the dress is a serious contender, take a walk around the salon, sit down and practice your dance floor moves. You may feel a little silly in the moment, but you'll be glad you gave the gown a test-drive when you're comfortable all day and night.

11. You may not cry—and it's okay.

Maybe emotion will overcome you. Maybe your mom will get choked up too. But it's totally fine if no one cries. It doesn't mean you picked the wrong gown. Every bride is different, so don't put pressure on yourself to react a certain way. Also, your consultant may not pop a bottle of champagne (some can't due to liquor laws) like you see on TV. Take your shopping companions out for a celebratory drink instead—you all deserve it. 

12. Prepare for the not-so-fun stuff (like contracts, deposits and alteration costs). 

When you've found the dress, most salons require you to sign a contract and put down a deposit on the spot (read more about that here). You may have to commit to things like a size and any customizations (adding sleeves, dropping the waist) you and your consultant discussed. Ask about alteration costs—they can add up. And check if any discounts are available. You're not going to get half off, but there may be an upcoming trunk show or a special rate for purchasing your bridesmaid dresses at the same salon. Or sometimes you'll get lucky and they'll throw in a veil—it never hurts to ask.

Ready to find your dress? Search bridal salons in your area.

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