Wedding dress shopping: 10 tips to help you find the right dress

Your special day is a few months away and you're looking for the perfect dress for the occasion. We've outlined 10 tips to help you find the right wedding dress.

By Emma Nicholson

Wedding dress shopping: 10 tips to help you find the right dress
©iStockphoto.com/Bearstudio
You've got the ring, set the date and booked the venue. Now comes the fun part – choosing your wedding dress.

As a former bridal consultant, I've acted as a confidante, a family therapist and a heavyweight dress-lifting champion in the search for a bride's dream gown. I've also seen the initial enthusiasm surrounding the dress hunt morph into exhaustion over a necessary chore.

Your wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, so don't let the time leading up to it become the most stressful one. To ease the search for your perfect dress, "be open to the bridal consultants' suggestions," says Danielle Andrews Sunkel, cofounder of The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada.

Here are 10 insider tips to help you say yes to your perfect wedding dress.

Dress dilemma 1: You breathe a sigh of relief as things fall into place: both your venue and photographer are free for the date you've chosen. You think you can set a more leisurely pace for the rest of the arrangements.

Insider tip: "Typically, dresses take four to six months to be made, and extra time for alterations," says Angel Chok, a bridal consultant and the owner of Novelle Bridal Shop in Edmonton.

When it comes to your dress, start the search early. To be safe, purchase your dress at least eight months in advance of your wedding date.

Dress dilemma 2: You always envisioned walking down an elegant staircase with a sweeping train as the wedding march played. In reality you've chosen a destination wedding and your entrance will be on sand and shells.

Insider tip: "Consider every element of the wedding," says Andrews Sunkel, including the style, theme and formality.

The islands may be sunny, but they're almost always windy. To avoid inflating like a parasail, choose a dress with a lightly weighted fabric and ditch the veil. If your ceremony will be in a banquet hall, bring out the Cinderella-style ball gowns. If an intimate, outdoor ceremony is more your style, a tea-length dress or simple gown looks best, says Andrews Sunkel.

Dress dilemma 3: You want to share your dress shopping excitement by inviting everyone you know to your appointment to look for wedding dresses, including your fiancé's extended family, your neighbour down the block and even your local barista.

Insider tip: Most wedding dress shops are small and crowded enough without your fiancé's aunt joining the party. On that note, shopping alone for the first appointment has its perks. You won't have to listen to criticism from jealous bridesmaids or your mother insisting on a pouffy dress that makes you look more like a pannier-bearing Marie Antoinette than the hot bride you envisioned.

If you do bring along an entourage, "make sure they're there to support you and not go against you," says Chok.

Dress dilemma 4: At your first appointment you peek behind the mirrors and separate a few racks of dresses; you even resort to lifting the edge of the carpet in search of a trap door. Where are the change rooms hiding?

Insider tip: Choose your undergarments wisely. Wedding dress shopping is not for the modest. You are often changing in front of friends, family members and bridal consultants. Similarly, when you're under the spotlight, colourful underwear may show through a white or ivory dress, which can be distracting, says Chok.

Save your itty-bitty lacy numbers the trip and opt for fuller neutral panties and a matching strapless bra.

Dress dilemma 5: You loved the dress you tried on last week with the keyhole back and the sweetheart neckline. Or was it a square neckline? Or a V-neck?

Insider tip: It can be helpful to get a snapshot of yourself in the dresses you're seriously considering to use as reminders in the decision-making process. It's also useful to have an idea of how the dress photographs, because "ultimately it's the pictures that count after the wedding," says Chok.

Take a full-length photo and a couple of close-ups of the detailing. If the dress shop doesn't permit photographs of their dresses, then jot down descriptions in a notebook to refresh your memory.

Dress dilemma 6: You stepped into a dress that makes you feel like a goddess, but then you check the garment tag and see that – gasp! – it isn't 100 per cent silk!

Insider tip: Focus on what you love and what is flattering on your body, rather than what type of lace or fabric the dress is made of. Besides, if you can't tell the difference between Spanish and French lace, then it's doubtful that anyone at your wedding will be able to either.

Chok recommends looking for polyester blends with organza, taffeta or satin. These fabrics imitate silk blends without imitating their price tags.

Dress dilemma 7: You shun halter-top bathing suits for the beach, yet are eager to try on some halter-style wedding dresses that you spotted in a bridal magazine.

Insider tip: Be familiar with the shapes that best suit your body type. As a general rule, make sure that the dress is not wider than you are tall. You want to avoid comparisons to your wedding cake at all costs.

"A-line is universally flattering," says Chok, who also recommends a drop waist silhouette, which accentuates a small waist and hides everything underneath. For a petite bride, Chok suggests a V-neck to open up the neck and visually add height.

Dress dilemma 8: You're having a wedding and weddings mean white, right?

Insider tip: What suits another bride won't necessarily suit you.

"A natural blonde should never have a white dress. A true white washes her out," says Andrews Sunkel. The same goes for a bride with light red hair. "Brunettes are stunning in white, while light-haired brides look beautiful in creams," she says.

Dress dilemma 9: You're going to start a strict diet and join a boot camp from now until your wedding, so why not order your dress three sizes smaller than your current measurements?

Insider tip: Be realistic about your expected weight loss. Ordering a dress that is too small will not serve as weight-loss motivation, it will result in pulling-your-hair-out, tear-shedding stress – the last thing you need before your big day.

Plus, having to let out your dress is not only costly, but it can also damage the fabric. Order your dress to fit your current size and have it altered if your measurements shrink.

Dress dilemma 10: You've found your dress. Sign that contract and go celebrate!

Insider tip: Before popping the bubbly, take a breather and read your contract carefully. Yes, it's unfortunate when you find skeletons in your fiancé's closet and you end up fleeing in shock instead of tying the knot – but, it's doubtful that your contract will sympathize.

Review the policy on returns, the price and the style number, size and colour before you sign the contract. Check whether alterations are included in the cost and ensure that any custom requests have been stated in the contract.


Plan the most beautiful wedding you can imagine with expert tips and helpful advice from our special wedding planning guide.


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