Your Go-To Guide For Wedding Dress Shopping

Jo Nunney,
14 October 2021

“OMG I get to buy a wedding dress!” We’re going to hazard a guess that as soon as that proposal was accepted your brain pinged a little message to you along the lines of ‘it’s time to shop!’ Wedding dress shopping shows up pretty early on the wedding planning timescale and it’s often when it all starts to feel a bit, well, real.

Visiting beautiful wedding boutiques is the cherry on top of the will-you-marry-me cake: it’s the creme de la crème of wedding preparations. It’s what you’ve been waiting for: trying on all those dreamy dresses and knowing you actually get to take one home! Yay to you!

Get tooled up with the answers to all of your dress-shopping questions. Once you’re in the know you can relax and thoroughly enjoy the experience. Why every clothes shop doesn’t have a chaise lounge and champers, we just don’t know. Go get that dress!

Bride admires boho wedding dress in the mirrorImage with thanks to Dress Me Pretty Bridal Room, Leicetsershire

When Should I Start Wedding Dress Shopping?


Start shopping at least a year in advance of your wedding date, if not sooner. It can feel like the old fear-factor sales tactic at work when wedding boutiques advise that you start dress shopping many months before your wedding, but it’s not, honest.

Why the rush? This is not just any old dress. Wedding dresses often have to be made to order and can be pretty elaborate designs that take time to make and they could be being shipped from abroad. When your dress arrives at your boutique you could need multiple fittings and alterations to perfect the fit. It does take time to choose and perfect your wedding dress, but oh my it’s worth it!

If you are short on time then don’t panic. Last-minute buys are absolutely possible and can be brilliant bargains. You’ll inevitably limit your choices the later you leave it to start shopping, so get going as soon as you can.


How Do I Start Searching For My Wedding Dress?


Gaining an idea of the styles you like and don’t like is a great starting point. There are such a huge number of beautiful dresses out there and you’ll need to narrow it down just a little. Start by familiarising yourself with options around silhouettes, necklines, fabrics, colours and styles. You’ll instinctively rule a few styles out, which is a great start.

Be conscious of the type of dress that you’ll be comfortable in. If you hate hoiking up strapless dresses then don’t choose one for your wedding day. If you tend to overheat then look at flowy designs and lighter-weight, breathable fabrics. If you’re getting married somewhere lovely and hot, then don’t go for a ballgown so huge that it won’t even fit on the plane. Thinking about comfort and practicalities will help narrow down a few design options.

If you already know the kind of dress you would like, that’s amazing! But, you should never say never. Don’t overdo the online hunt until you’ve tried on a couple of dresses in the style you think you like. You might not like them so much when they’re on and need to have a rethink.

beautiful white bridal dressesImage with thanks to Gatehouse Brides, Worcestershire

How Many Wedding Boutiques Should I Visit?


Visiting 5 -10 great bridal boutiques will give you a really strong idea of the styles you like, then it’s just a matter of whittling down your favourites. You might feel like you need to try on every dress in the country, just to be sure you don’t miss the perfect one, but too much dress shopping can really zap your enthusiasm and your focus. Chill your beans Bridey! Wedding dress shopping can be pretty tiring if you try to cram too much into one day. You deserve to enjoy the experience, so take your time and stick to two boutiques at most a day.

Trying on dress after dress in a hurry can feel like a model-for-the-day costume-change marathon. It’s better to spend longer in fewer boutiques than to try and whittle through them all. Treasure the moment.


Which Wedding Boutiques Should I Visit?


Be practical and look at wedding boutiques within a reasonable distance from home. When you find your perfect dress (eek!) you’ll be back there for fittings and alterations, and then again to collect your gorgeous gown. You can use our boutique finder to find great boutiques near you!

If you have a certain designer in mind make sure at least one of the boutiques you visit stocks them. They won’t have every dress from each designer, but it can give you a great feel for how a certain lace from their range looks, or how heavy that style of dress actually is. If you have a particular dress in mind then call ahead and see if your boutique can get it in for you to try on. There will likely be a charge to order in a certain dress to try, so only do this if you think it’s a real contender.

We’d seriously recommend putting in a quick phone call to each boutique you would like to visit. Whilst you can usually book online, you’ll get a feel for how you’ll be welcomed there by speaking to someone in person.


Are All Wedding Dresses White?


No, and not all whites are white either! Be prepared for a Dulux-style colour chart of ivory and white. How there can even be so many shades of ivory we do not know – yet there are. You’ll see underlays in blush, rose, peach, and vanilla…and you’ll soon agree that these do actually look very different on.

sassy bride modelling silk wedding gownImage with thanks to Bijou Bridal Boutique, West Yorkshire

How Many Wedding Dresses Should I Try On?


You do not need to try on 500 wedding dresses. Make your first boutique choice one with a lot of choice and try on a couple of designs in a range of styles. This will really help you fine-tune your dress vision. Be open minded and try a couple of wildcard dresses that your bestie or your stylist suggest – you might just surprise yourself and find you the dress of your dreams.

Different silhouettes and necklines do suit different body shapes, and different colours suit different skin tones, so it is worth trying something a little different to what you were thinking if your stylist recommends it. Be open-minded, but also be honest. You deserve to feel a million dollars.

Once you’ve tried on a decent range of cuts and fabrics you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re looking for and won’t need to try on every dress in the room when you visit your next boutique.


Will I Be Able To Try A Wedding Dress In My Size On?


Dresses held in wedding boutiques are usually displayed in just one or two sizes, and chances are they won’t be your exact fit. When you’re used to trying on a new dress in your own size and deciding how it fits, wedding dress shopping can feel a bit strange. Be prepared for this and channel your bridal vision. The team at your boutique will pin your favourite dresses cleverly to help you envisage what can be achieved.

You might have ambitions about tweaking your body shape a little on the run-up to your wedding day. You seriously don’t need to, but you might be thinking of losing a few celebratory pounds that you gained after your engagement or just tone up a tad. Tell your seamstress if you have any plans to lose or gain weight, and trust her expert knowledge to order you the right size dress.

Bridal boutique owner showing off lace spaghetti-strap dressImage with thanks to Dress Me Pretty Bridal Room, Leicetsershire

Will I Have To Get Naked At The Wedding Dress Boutique?


You won’t be getting full-on nakey, but you will be stripping down to your underwear, yes. It’s totally understandable to have a hang-up about squeezing into a fitting room with someone you’ve only just met and being asked to strip off. It’s not the norm for you – or anyone – so the thought of it can be a bit uncomfortable. Boutique workers are incredibly good at putting you at ease and preserving your dignity. You’ll be fine.


What Should I Wear To Go Wedding Dress Shopping?


Comfy stuff. That’s the answer. You’ll be in and out of dozens of dresses and dressing gowns so you needn’t dress up for the occasion. Wear something that’s loose-fitting, easy to slip on and off, and doesn’t leave unsightly seam marks on your skin.

Underwear can really change how a dress fits and looks. Leave your neon bra at home today. Wear well-fitting and classic-cut underwear. Ideally, choose something seamless and nude or pale coloured. You don’t need to go shopping for this especially though. Once you’ve chosen your wedding dress you can plan the perfect wedding lingerie to complement it. Wear a strapless bra if you can, or take along some stick-on cups if you know you’ll be after a backless or sheer-backed dress.

dress shop owner shows off gownsImage with thanks to Dress Me Pretty Bridal Room, Leicetsershire

Can I Wear Makeup When I Try Wedding Dresses On?


If you can brave au naturel then please do! Expensive dresses being pulled on and off over three layers of foundation is not the best plan. If you must wear makeup then keep it minimal and be extra careful! Fake tan is definitely not going to work in your favour – best to give that one a miss!


What Do I Need To Take Wedding Dress Shopping?


You certainly don’t need to have your wedding shoes selected before your dress, but you do need to have an idea of which heel height you plan to wear on your wedding day. If you practically sleep in your stilettos and chances are that you’ll be donning them on the day, take a pair along to help you judge the length of your dress.

If a kitten heel or a two-inch court is what you’re comfy in, then don’t go higher on your wedding day. Let’s not have any bridal bloopers. There’s just no need for that nonsense. There are some fabulous flats out there and your feet will certainly thank you.

If family heirlooms like jewellery or a veil will be part of your bridal outfit bring those along to fittings so colouring and style can be considered. Let family and friends know that you’re commencing mission-dress-shop so if they have something borrowed or blue you need to know about, they have the chance to ‘fess up.

Pround mum photographing daughter as she chooses her wedding dressImage with thanks to Dress Me Pretty Bridal Room, Leicetsershire

Who Should I Take Wedding Dress Shopping With Me?


It can be tempting to invite the world and their next-door neighbour to join you wedding dress shopping, but think carefully about whose opinions, and how many opinions, you feel comfortable shouldering. It can feel quite personal when you step out from behind the curtain in what you think might be ‘the’ dress and your entourage stifle a frown. Keep your tribe size at two or three if you can. Make sure you ask each boutique how many people you are able to bring along as space may be limited.

If someone’s opinion is likely to offend you rather than be of interest to you, then just don’t have them there. Don’t sacrifice your experience to please someone with an invite.


Is It Okay To Go Wedding Dress Shopping Alone?


It’s absolutely fine and a lot more common than you might think to go wedding dress shopping alone. You can always invite your nearest and dearest along for a second opinion once you’ve narrowed it down to two or three options. Or, just invite them to be the first to see your chosen dress at your fitting.

Amy, at Dress Me Pretty Bridal Room in Leicestershire is with us on this. Less is more when it comes to dress-shopping guests…


How Much Should I Spend On My Wedding Dress?


Wedding dresses can be anywhere from free to thousands of pounds. Your dress might be pre-loved or a high-street find. A new dress chosen from a wedding boutique will most likely cost you between £1000 and £2500.


Who Should Pay For My Wedding Dress?


There are no set rules anymore about who pays for what at a wedding. Traditionally the bride’s parents would buy her dress, but you should never expect to be gifted your dress so make sure you have a budget for your wedding outfit before you hit the shops!


Should I Tell The Boutique What My Budget Is?


If you’re feeling the urge to be a bit cagey about what your budget is when it comes to your dress hunt, try to get past it and be open with your wedding boutique. Being honest about your financial limits will save you the heartache of falling for a dress that’s out of your price range, as well as saving you time and making the whole experience much rosier. You’ll be so much more at ease knowing that any dress you slip into can be the dress if you want it to be.

If you’re struggling to fall for a dress, and there might be room elsewhere in the budget to steal a little from, then let your boutique know there may be a little bit of wiggle room if they have anything in mind – but look them dead in the eye when you say ‘a little’.


Is It Possible To Find Bargain Wedding Dresses?


If you’re on a smaller budget the high-street can be surprisingly good at throwing up wedding dress options! Larger clothing brands have bridal ranges and there are some beautiful occasion dresses about that scream bridal.

If you are open to the idea of a pre-loved gown then try wedding-specific pre-loved sites, local selling sites, and more generalist selling sites like eBay and Vinted. It’s worth a stroll to the charity shop too, if you’ve an open mind to styles you might just hit the jackpot there! There are some amazing bridal outlets where you can grab mega bargains right off the shelf. Also keep an eye open for end of season sales at your local boutiques.

Savvy brides looking for bargain wedding dress buysImage with thanks to A Family Affair Bridalwear, Cumbria

Can I Have A Wedding Dress Made For Me?


Having a dress made for you is a great idea if you have the vision and the time. Lots of brides decide to have a wedding dress made especially for them. You might just hate dress shopping or have a really clear vision of what you want that’s been sketched out in your diary since you were sixteen. Maybe it’s key to you to have something as unique as you are, or you are looking to breathe some new life and love into a much loved (but more than a bit dated) family heirloom.


Are There Any Hidden Costs To Wedding Dresses?


There aren’t usually any hidden costs, but there may be extra expenses that you hadn’t thought to budget for. Some boutiques, though not many, will charge for your appointment and refund it if you purchase your dress from them. You’ll need to consider the cost of any alterations, and potentially a storage box for transporting your dress or if you plan to keep it after your wedding day.


Can I Have Two Wedding Dresses?


If you can’t decide between two dresses and have a budget to make it happen, then hell yeah you can have two! If you’re planning to change for the evening or to make it easier to move for a first dance set to silence the room, then a less structured reception dress is a great plan!


Can We Both Wear Wedding Dresses?


If you and your bride to be are both off dress shopping then you’ll need to rope in a trusted friend to coordinate efforts – and no quizzing them – that’s cruel! Chances are you’re not going to pick the exact same dress, but have a chat in advance about styles and colouring so your chosen dresses flatter each other.

two beautiful brides holding hands on their wedding dayZoe Harris Photography, Leicetsershire

What Style Of Wedding Dress Will Work For My Wedding Day?


Even if you haven’t made a final decision on your wedding venue you probably have a fairly good idea about the theme and location of your big day. If you’re hopping off to somewhere sunny then a huge princess gown is probably just a recipe for a sweaty bride worth avoiding. If you’re planning a winter wedding you might need to think about a dress with sleeves or a bolero.

Talk to your stylist about all of your wedding plans as they are absolute Jedis at thinking of all the things you haven’t: like will it fit in carry-on luggage or be creased to high heaven by the time you unbox it?


Should My Partner Have A Say In My Choice Of Wedding Dress?


You two softies have probably agreed to surprise each other with your stunning outfits on your wedding day, but you might still want to coordinate just a smidge. If your groom will be rocking red tartan, then a pink satin dress might not be the best choice to compliment it. Discuss themes and styles in advance to avoid a cringy clash.

Also, think about how your outfit choice might impact your favourite person: if they have a height complex when you stride out in heels on a Friday night, then don’t do it to them on their big day.

You don’t have to surprise each other with your outfits. If you want to be involved in finding each other’s attire that’s totally cool! They do know you pretty well by now.

mother of bride sobs whilst daughter tries on stunning wedding dressImage with thanks to Dress Me Pretty Bridal Room, Leicetsershire

Ooooh it’s just so exciting! Of course, you want to wow on your wedding day. Who doesn’t! You should 100% look your absolute best and knock the socks off your future spouse, but just remember to be ‘you’. That’s who they’ll be waiting to see glide around the corner. Send us a picture of the dress!