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Avoid Wedding Dress Regrets: First Time Gown Shopping Do's and Don'ts


Hey guys! Kate here. Welcome back to more of the Wedding Planning Collective blog.

Today, we're going to talk about wedding gown shopping. We'll go over the timeline for when you should be shopping and purchasing your wedding gown, what to expect during the appointments, the dreaded wedding gown sizing conversation, and some important things you should know about alterations.

Let's start by talking about the timeline for purchasing a wedding gown. The most common rule you're going to see is that you should order your dress within 9 to 12 months before your wedding. This might seem extreme, but in some cases, a dress can take up to 6 to 8 months to arrive to the shop once it's been purchased. We need to add in some time for alterations and that's where that timeframe comes from.

If you don't have that kind of timeframe, just make sure to call stores before you go in to see what their off the rack selection is. This means that they have certain gowns that don't need to be ordered. You can purchase them right from the store. So rather than wasting your time going to an appointment and finding out that they only have gowns that need to be ordered from the designer, make sure that you go to a store that has some off the rack options.

And as we're talking about the timeline for purchasing your wedding gown, I do highly recommend that you've decided on your location before you buy your dress. I know it is very tempting for many brides to go right to the dress shopping experience. It is so much fun and it's something that everybody looks forward to when they're thinking of planning their wedding. However, there are some venues that might change the style of what you want your dress to be.

You may initially be thinking that you're going to have a big church wedding with a ballroom reception and have your eyes on a beautiful full ball gown dress. However, if you decide on a venue that ends up with a more simple garden type ceremony, your ball gown might feel a little bit out of place for that type of a venue. Many dresses are very versatile and could be appropriate for either of those locations, but just to make sure, I usually recommend that you find that venue first and then start making your appointment to try on dresses.

Speaking of appointments, let's talk about some of the things you can expect and what steps you can take prior to your appointments to ensure that you have a pleasant experience. Just like any other vendor category, I highly recommend that you reach out to some friends or family members and see if they have recommendations for wedding shops in your area.

Getting personal referrals for just about any service is going to be one of the best ways that you can make sure that they will be a good fit for you. Outside of that, definitely do some research online and look up online reviews. Bridal shops often get caught in the crossfires of issues between designers, how things fit, and pricing when it comes to bridal purchases.

It’s gonna be inevitable that a shop that's been open for quite some time is going to have a negative review here or there. What you want to look at is patterns on any negative comments. If you're seeing multiple people flagging that they're very inflexible with things, their sales staff is rude or whatever it might be, those patterns are the things that you're going to look at and take away from.

And of course, focus on the patterns of positive comments. If the majority of their reviews are positive and have good things to say about the shop, then it's pretty safe to say you'll have a similar experience. Before you make your appointment, find out what designers the shop carries and what their average gown price is. You'll want to have an idea of what your budget is for your wedding gown prior to going shopping.

It's very important to do so and have a solid idea of what your range is that you're willing to spend on not just the gown, but all of the accessories before you go shopping. Now, I'm not going to go into detail about how to come up with the budget for your wedding gown. If you haven't already make sure you listen to episode 2 of the Wedding Planning Collective podcast, Don't Plan Your Wedding Backwards, and there I'll give you some more tips on how to break down your budget.

The most important thing though prior to making your appointments is to find out how much their gowns' average cost is. If you have a budget of $1,500, you don't want to make appointments in a shop that doesn't have a dress under $5,000. I know many brides can be tempted to go to the higher end shops and try on some of the designer gowns, but it can be a dangerous game that you play.

If you put on a $10,000 dress and you absolutely fall in love with it, it's going to be really hard to find something that can compete with it within your budget. The same reason I don't recommend that you go to our venues that are way out of your budget, because you're going to fall in love with it and then anything you see after that is just going to feel like it doesn't compare to that original.

When you're asking shops about the average cost of their gowns, also ask what sizes they have for samples. I'll talk about bridal sizes in just a minute, but unless you happen to fit a perfect sample size, you're most likely not going to fit in perfectly with the dresses that you're trying on at the shop.

If you'll be shopping for plus size gowns, make sure that you're asking what their sample sizes are. So you can have the most enjoyable experience at your appointment. Just like any retail store, some bridal shops are better at this than others, and you don't want to set yourself up for disappointment in them not having any options in your size. And one final tip.

As you're looking at bridal shops to make appointments, don't do too many appointments at once. In fact, I usually recommend you make one appointment at a time, see how that goes. If you don't find your dress, you can always book another appointment. Trying on wedding gowns can be a very exhausting experience. Both emotionally and physically. Some brides will want to make a day out of it with a bunch of their family and friends.

But if you set up a full day of appointments and find a gown that you love at the first shop, you might feel conflicted or disappointed that you're missing out on going to your other appointments. It can also be a lot to take on in one day and trying on too many gowns can actually dilute the experience and make it feel less special once you actually have to decide what dress you want.

Now, going into the actual appointments, you should anticipate about an hour of time at each bridal shop. Many shops will have a limit for how many people you can bring in so make sure you ask that question when you're calling to make an appointment as well. If they don't have a limit, I still recommend you keep the number low.

Two to three people is ideal to have with you when you are shopping for your wedding gown. The more people you bring, the higher the chance you'll have conflicting opinions and it can get kind of messy. So as you're thinking about who you're going to invite to come along with you give some real thought to who will be supportive and who might be critical. Trying on wedding gowns can leave you in a very vulnerable position.

And you want to make sure that the people that are there with you are supportive and not going to be sharing opinions that might be hurtful. We've all seen an episode of Say Yes to the Dress where the bride ends up crying in the dressing room, and you do not want that to happen. And if you're not sure who you want to bring along with you, or if you want it to be a quote unquote show, it's okay to go on your own.

You can include others in the fitting appointments, or just keep the gown a surprise for everyone on the wedding day. Let's talk about bridal gown sizing for just a minute. I'm not going to dwell on this too much because it really sucks. Bridal gowns are generally at least one to two full sizes larger than what you would purchase for your everyday clothes.

This can really mess with people's heads. So I really recommend you just ignore the numbers on the label. That's all it is after all. Don't try to set some crazy goals of losing a hundred pounds in two months because you need to get down to a certain dress size. Make sure to find the dress that will fit you best regardless of what that size tag says.

And finally, let's talk a little bit about alterations. Before purchasing your gown, ask the store if they do alterations onsite. It's not uncommon for shops to outsource this or not offer it as a service at all, but they can probably provide you with some recommendations if they don't. You can book your seamstress ahead of time and get in their books for the month that you'll need to begin with the fittings.

Again, that is typically about three months before the wedding, depending on the needs of your alterations. If you have any kind of train on your gown, your bustle will be done during the alterations appointments. Make sure that in that last fitting appointment, that you have someone with you, that's going to be there on the wedding day to learn how to bustle your dress.

Some are more complicated than others, and it can be very time consuming to figure out on the day of the wedding if the person hasn't seen it done before. And finally, I want to address one myth that often comes up when we talk about alterations for wedding gowns. Trust your stylist with the sizing that they recommend. Unfortunately, sometimes people think that their stylists are recommending a different size, just so the shop can make more money on alterations.

And I can tell you most shops barely break even when it comes to alterations pricing. It's not a huge source of income for them and they're really just trying to get the proper size for you in that dress. They are not doing it intentionally hoping that they're going to make more money on the alterations.

Again, the size is just a number on the tag. Don't pay attention to it. You can even tell them not to let you know what size they're ordering. Just go based off of your measurements and what dress will fit you the best. Will you be shopping for your wedding gowns soon? If so, make sure to check out the full lesson on wedding gown shopping in the Wedding Planning Blueprint course.

In that lesson, we go in deeper talking about more tips and shopping for your wedding gowns, treating stains and day of issues on your wedding dress, and so many more details that you'll want to know about the process from finding your shop to post wedding care for your dress. Head on over to to get immediate access to this lesson and so many more resources to help you plan your wedding day.

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