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My Alternative Guide to Wedding Dress Shopping

Updated: Nov 15, 2018

Buying your wedding dress can be a pretty big deal, and to many, it can be the most exciting part of organising your big day. For me, it was quite a nerve wracking event- I had some confusing questions going around my head, like- “what if I never find the one”? ...“Can I pull off my dream look?”... “What if I find my dress but my bridal party hate it?” etc etc. I would spend hours on end scrolling through Pinterest boards, boutique websites, Instagram hashtags (#bohobride being a favourite) ..but really they were just hours wasted. I found myself often saying – “nope- too princess-y”; “too boring” ;“that sleeve looks long on her so I've got no chance” and “the dress doesn’t have the price on it must be out my budget... next!” Actually, the most useful part of my time was going out there and getting stuck in, so after 9 months of putting it off, I dived into unknown territory and booked my first appointment. It took me 6 months to find my dress, and I tried on (what I reckon) about 30 dresses from various boutiques and stockists. Tight fitted, loose hanging, a bit of sequin, A LOT of sequin, embroided, printed, sheath, a-line, mermaid, trumpet- Yeah I tried them all. Safe to say I learnt a few things about picking the all important dress. To hopefully save you some time and to settle those nerves, check out my advice below, I really hope it helps!

Credit: English Wedding Blog; Rachel Rose Photography

1) Rule number 1- don’t panic.

There is SO much pressure about buying your dress. If it isn’t nosey colleagues saying ‘have you got your dress yet?’ To store owners asking your wedding date and saying your running out of time- frankly it is all BS. Take your time, ignore the questions and bang to the beat of your own drum. Don’t get your dress years in advance (your taste, size and style are likely to change), and consider buying dresses off the rack- I had a friend who bought her wedding dress the week before her wedding, and she looked insane! Typical boutiques will say 9 months is an ideal time to secure your dress, but don’t stress if you have passed this time already.

2) Think hard about your entourage-if any

Most stores will only allow a few VIPs to your appointments so choose wisely- I recommend 1 or 2 VIPs, max 3. It will turn into a case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ trust me. Pick people who you believe understand your style and what you want to achieve from your dress and theme. It is great to have mums, aunties or nans to come witness you try on a dress (and in many cases they have been waiting a long time to get invited) and you may highly regard their opinions, but it is likely they will have a different vision for your dress. “Oh that’s too low dear”, “could do with more sparkle”, “why don’t you try on that ballgown in the window, that would look nice on you” will be said, no doubt. Come on, this is your day, your style, your choice. Invite the people who know you the best. If you manage to get a last minute cancellation appointment and your bridal party already have plans- GO ON YOUR OWN. In fact, I bought my dress in my own company. I bought a dress that I loved and it proved me how much I liked it, as I didn’t even need others second opinions to make my decision! Give it a go, and hey- there is always Facetime or Skype if you do get stuck.

Wedding Dress Shopping - Say Yes To The Dress

3) Be prepared

Light coloured underwear, spanks, strapless bra are little delights can stop you getting distracted when you try on a dress, and you can complete the look with preferred height shoes, any hair accessories and a light, non transferable tan (if that’s your thing) which will help envisage how you will look on the day. When I went, I took a cheap flowercrown, my favourite platforms and I switched my glasses for contacts, it really helped.

4) Get Creative and think outside the box

It’s pretty much a given that 9/10 women will require alterations to their dress. The biggest problem that I had, was trying to envisage my dress whilst I had 5 clips pinning me in at the back, or turning a sleeved dress sleeveless by hiding it under my arms and having shop assistants and friends holding fabric up to my chest in the mirror. Majority of dresses can be tweaked in addition to the standard size alterations, so when going through the rack, pick out dresses, not by how they hang, but on their potential! Extra sparkle, adding sleeves, straps, extra lace, less lace can all be amended. Don’t knock a dress because it isn’t what you want right away.

5) Explore other routes of acquiring a dress

It can be so easy to get sucked into those luxury designer boutiques sipping on champagne. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing few hours trying on these incredible dresses that you’ve seen on Pinterest, but for me, my heart always sank when I was told the price tag. I had a budget of £1500, including dress and accessories, which shortlisted many dresses as soon as I stepped through the door. From this point, I started looking elsewhere… I started the hunt for a designer-esque dress without the price tag.

i) Go second hand- websites such as StillWhite can allow brides to sell on their dresses, and more often that not you could be looking at 50% reductions. From my interactions with brides selling their gowns, they are very honest about any defects (if there are any that is) and advise if any alterations had been made. Don’t knock this idea- a lot dresses are in immaculate condition, and some gowns have never been worn- for example I found Brides were selling because they found their dress didn’t suit their theme anymore, or if the wedding had been called off. Also many dresses are actually samples- they may be out of season, but they have never been worn and again, in great condition.

ii) Customise a vintage dress- This is such a beautiful idea… if any women in your family have kept their dress, why not have a discussion with a seamstress on what can be changed to bring it to the modern day. Use all, or parts of the original dress- if you like the train but not the puffy 80s sleeves, Cut off the skirt and wear bridal separates. Honestly, your family would love that a dress is being put to good use, and you can tick the ‘something borrowed’ box!

iii) Go to a Bridal outlet- ABSOLUTELY advised! An outlet store will sell samples used in other bridal stores, runway shows, or will buy old season stock straight from the designer. This is where I found my dream dress. I visited an outlet in North East London, with admittedly a low expectation and was pleasantly surprised. It had a relaxed, friendly, boutique service when I was expecting Primark like hysteria fighting over dresses in some empty warehouse. I got £500 off my dream dress, it was a sample that came straight from the designer so had never been used and was in great condition. The downside, I would like to highlight, is that with samples, it is a real mix of what might be there, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. So be prepared to make some quick decisions if you think you have found ‘the one’!

iv) High Street retailers- Check ASOS, Monsoon, White Label, French Connection- all offer some beautiful gowns for a fraction of the price of boutique stores.

This is what I was expecting from an outlet... I was pleasantly surprised!

6) Live in London? Head out of town

Being a Midlander myself, I found that going back up North for dresses would be worth the petrol and the time. Shopping in London has its advantages- endless shops and varieties, but often stores charge for appointments and I found their gowns generally more expensive, understandably as their rent is more expensive. If you can head out of town- do it!

7) Technology can be your best friend and worst enemy

Trying on dress after dress will turn you blind. You will fall into a tangled white web of mesh, lace, satin, and you will find it harder to differentiate between dresses and remember the first ones you tried on. I found that taking photos were such a good help to decide between dresses- even better if they were live photos or videos! I would spend time after the appointment analysing dresses in different angles and also checking my reaction. I bought a dress where I am grinning like a Cheshire cat on the picture as that’s what I want to look like on my big day! What I have also learnt though, try resist the temptation to share these pictures with people who weren’t at the appointment- the dress is unlikely to fit you properly and there will likely be questions or comments around why you like a certain dress when it is bulging in certain areas.

So that sums up my top thoughts on wedding dress shopping. It goes without saying, decide on your budget and stick to it, and it sounds like lame excuse, but honestly, you will know when you have found your dress!

Please let me know how you get on, and if this blog helps at all. I'd love to hear from you! Good luck and enjoy the journey!!

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