All The Insider Secrets Of Wedding Dress Shopping

Everything you never knew about wedding dress shopping

A Practical Wedding | Grab Wedding Dress Shopping by the Horns

How To Shop For A Wedding Dress | A Practical Wedding

This month, we were lucky enough to be asked to support the Ford Fiesta Movement’s October Style month by going on a fact-finding style mission. We asked you to share all of your burning questions about wedding dress shopping, tallied them up (you had a cool 288 questions), and then packed our bags to go to The Wedding Party dress store in Berkeley. Why that particular dress store? Well, the ladies of The Wedding Party are not only longtime APW readers, but they’ve also run their store for twelve years. They are the best-ever blend of down-to-earth and knowledgeable.

What we learned in our hour-long interview was both simple and totally game changing for me. I’d sum it up this way:

  • Be your own advocate. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this idea that the world of wedding dresses is a confusing world where you are powerless, but of course that’s totally not true. If you want to know why one dress costs significantly more than another? Ask. If someone is body shaming you, point it out, and ask them to stop. If they don’t, politely decline to continue working with them. If you don’t want people to up-sell you on veils, and gloves, and other things you don’t want, tell them “no thanks” calmly but firmly. Anyone who doesn’t respect your wishes is not someone you should be working with.
  • We’ve all heard our fair share of horror stories about the wedding dress industry. This interview completely reframed things for me. We shouldn’t view the wedding industry as the problem. Instead, we should view it as an industry that happens to be plagued with customer service problems, stemming from old-school ideas of limited consumer information, rigid tradition, and particular ideals of femininity. Instead of being scared of the industry as a whole, we should be grateful that we live in a (brave new world) of the internet, where we can educate ourselves on our options. And then? We should watch out for customer service problems, and politely decline to put up with that noise.
  • Use your salesperson as your resource. One of the things you’re paying for is your salesperson’s time. If you’ve picked a wedding dress store wisely (more on that in a second), you should have a salesperson who is knowledgeable and respectful, and knows more about wedding dresses than you or I ever will. Use them. While it’s great to walk in with a clear idea of what you like and be firm about what feels like your style and what doesn’t, let the salespeople do their jobs. Let them suggest a few dresses for you to try on (the worst that happens is that you don’t like them and don’t buy them). Let them walk you through alterations that can be made (apparently long sleeves can be added to all sorts of short-sleeved wedding dresses). Ask them questions, and make them work for you.
  • But mostly? Have some fun.

After our interview Maddie and I trooped upstairs to try on wedding dresses, and we had a blast. Maddie’s talked a bit about what a body positive experience it was for her. But mostly, we both just had tons of fun and found dresses we probably would have worn to our own weddings.

How To Shop For A Wedding Dress | A Practical Wedding 5
Finding The Right Place To Shop

APW: How do you find the dress store that’s right for you? That’s a little tricky because you’re limited by where you are. So perhaps the better question is, what are red the flags?

Wedding Party: My best advice is to call the store. If you get someone on the phone, see what that person is like. If the person is nice, polite, educated, and can answer your questions, that’s a really good sign.

APW: Would you recommend bringing up budget and taste on the phone?

WP: Absolutely. Mention your budget and mention if you’re looking for something specific, be it simpler or more formal and more embellished. Things that are also important to mention beyond budget: size. Bring it up. Ask, “I’m a double-zero petite, I’m a size sixteen. Do you have sizes I can try on?”

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What To Expect At Various Price Points

APW: Let’s take some really common price points for our readers: $500, $1,000, and $2,000. What can you expect in those price points?

WP: The industry has evolved so far that today is a fabulous time to be shopping for a $500 wedding dress. Price points have actually come down. You can get a super cute dress, that totally looks like a wedding dress in that traditional sense, that has some embellishment for under $500. You will be buying poly. You may or may not be buying domestically produced. So you have to pay attention if it matters to you. The only thing you typically won’t get is an underskirt. It’s the weight of the dress that translates into a really stunning fit that you won’t get until you hit probably $800.

Once you hit $1,000, you’re typically going to get a train. You’re going to have more structure. The dress will have more layers of lining. You might get into lace. Very likely at $1,000 you’ll have a head to toe lace dress as an option. It’s just going to be a little more substantial. For some women it’s going to feel more like a “traditional” wedding dress.

Then when we hit $2,000 and up you’re going to see a more intricate sewing. You’re going to look at that dress and think, “Wow, that was hard to make.” You’re gonna have design work; maybe chevrons, seaming, finish work that’s really fine or hand done. Often simpler, lightweight.

That brings up a point that I think is nice to share. Why is a wedding dress more expensive than the exact same bridesmaids version? It sounds like you’re getting ripped off. It’s because the dress is white, so it needs to be lined.

How To Shop For A Wedding Dress | A Practical Wedding

Silk vs. Poly

APW: What is the deal with fabrics?

WP: Essentially wedding dresses are divided into two categories; the non-silk, i.e. polyester, and the silk. The cost of silk and cotton, natural fibers, have gone up so dramatically on the wholesale end. Designers of silk dresses have had to raise their prices significantly. There’s always been a disparity in pricing, but it’s more so today than in the past. Often times you’ll have the exact same dress, but one is poly at $850 and one is silk at $2,200. That is what typically should define the difference in price. If it’s the same dress and they’re both poly, and one’s $850 and one’s $2,000, then you really have to ask yourself if you’re paying for label.

How To Shop For A Wedding Dress | A Practical Wedding

What Is UP With Wedding Dress Sizes?

APW: Explain wedding dress sizes. Are they street sizes? What’s up?

WP: It depends on the designer. Typically, the more high-end and the more couture, the smaller the wedding dress size and the less it correlates with your street size. They’re basically running off vintage sizes. Women who like vintage are familiar with the fact that back in the day, a size six was as big as your pinky. That’s the reason. The bottom line is the more contemporary designers who are better priced run much truer to twenty-first century women’s sizes.

APW: So is your best advice that you should ignore the size, don’t let it influence how you feel about the dress?

WP: Absolutely. Because you are going to have lots of preconceived notions, which might keep you from finding the perfect dress.

APW: For me, I’m sorting out what is bad business practice, and what is just “the wedding industry works in weird ways sometimes.” Why does it often happen that you order a dress, they tell you it’s going to be the right size, and it comes in, it’s four sizes too big, and they tell you they can solve it through expensive alterations? What’s going on with that?

WP: What most stores are doing is that they are protecting themselves. You might have been standing there in a size eight dress that fit you perfectly, but they look at the measurements, they look at the chart, and they say, “Oh, you’re a size twelve.”  Measurements are misleading, and most women will be told they need a larger size than what they’re standing there wearing.

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What Should Alterations Really Cost?

APW: With alterations, what is your best advice? What’s a reasonable price point? I feel like this is such a black box for people. They don’t know, if you just ordered me a dress that was too big, and are now saying, “Oh, we need to fix it.”

WP: In our arena of simpler, less embellished gowns, we’re looking at between $200 and $450. Very seldom do we have a bride spend more than $350. So the $700–$1000 alterations are perhaps understandable with a couture gown, but for the vast majority of dresses, you shouldn’t have to spend that kind of money.

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How Long Does It Take To Make A Wedding Dress?

APW: Okay, timeline. In maybe the most unfortunate conversation of my engaged life, I went into a salon and was told by a rep, “Honey, you better pick a dress today, or you won’t have it in time for the wedding.” And I was like, “Really? It’s twenty-four months from now? Are you hand sewing it? What is happening?”

WP: It depends on the designer. Domestically produced gowns like Nicole Miller, those dresses are made in size runs, just like regular clothing, and they’re purchased out of stock. When I order a Nicole Miller dress, if it’s in New York, it can be here in a week. If they’re waiting on the next cut, it might take six to eight weeks. The idea behind your wedding dress taking nine months is that someone is sewing it by hand and it’s a $20,000 dress. But most women are buying a dress between $700 and $2000, so what you’re basically doing is getting in line. The general turnaround is three to four months.

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Explain The Sample Sizes, Please

APW: Why do salons only have one sample size? I know it can be emotionally and logistically hard for people to go wedding dress shopping knowing they’re not going to fit into stuff.

WP: If you’re a small salon and have limited buying dollars, ultimately you’re really looking to hit the median mark. You don’t want to have a bunch of size four dresses. You want to have tens, twelves. As much as we know we can do justice to clipping, we’ll get a ten or twelve. It is mainly just a matter of dollars and cents. You have to be mindful of your inventory, how many women you can accommodate.

How To Shop For A Wedding Dress | A Practical Wedding

EFF Body Shaming

APW: How do you deal with a body shaming salesperson?

WP: The best way to deal with it is to just be your confident self. Be the woman that you are, and say, this is what I’d like to see, can you help me with that? If they ask if you’re going to lose weight for the wedding, just look them in the eye and say no, and it’s none of their business.

APW: If you’re at a bigger salon, if you’re getting someone who’s body shaming would it be appropriate to ask for someone else?

WP: Absolutely. This whole concept that the salesperson gets to control your shopping experience is crazy. It’s your shopping experience; it’s your show. We are here to assist you. You get to take control of your experience and by all means if someone’s nasty to you, put it right back at them.

How To Shop For A Wedding Dress | A Practical Wedding

Your Taste vs. Their Experience

APW: People ask about what sort of research you should do before you go shopping. We’re in this sort of new era of finding this stuff online. How helpful is it to do a lot of research, and when is it not helpful?

WP: I think it’s always good to start with a vision. Usually you start with a picture in a magazine, a picture online. “I like the overall look of this dress, more specifically, the silhouette.” You may love the way it looks on that size double-zero model, and then you go put it on yourself, and you’re like, “I don’t like the way it looks on me.” It can be really deflating and un-fun. So, better to really have a two-part program. “Here’s some things I really like the look and feel of, and also I’m going to try on some other stuff.”

APW: How do you balance letting a knowledgeable sales person put you in something they think you might look good in vs. what you know you look good in?

WP: The best way to do it is to assert your taste. At boutiques, merchandise is limited enough that there’s no time constraint. But it is good once you’ve made your picks, which will typically reflect your taste, to let the salesperson grab a couple.

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Buying A Dress Online

APW: What advice do you have for buying a dress that you haven’t been able to try on first?

WP: I think online can work. For women who know their style, who know their general size and can be realistic about it, and who are willing to invest a bit in alterations, it can totally work. Go big not small. Check return policy. A lot of companies actually have an exchange policy. They’re not going to give you your money back, but they will let you rotate that money into a different dress. However, if you have special questions, thoughts, concerns, or want some help and service, buying online might not be for you.

APW: If you’re in a situation where you’ve done your research online and you find a dress you’re really interested in, and you call a place and they say they can order it for you, should you make an appointment and go in?

WP: Absolutely, because that’s what they’re ready to do. Your salesperson is free, use her. Go in, pick her brain. Ask to see it in person. Don’t do any unnecessary online purchasing. If you can actually see it, then see it.

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APW: What’s a way to find wedding dresses with sleeves?

WP: The fact of the matter is that it’s hard to find a wedding dress with a sleeve as it stands because most of that work is postproduction. Meaning you order a dress that’s sleeveless (not strapless) and then you add a sleeve.

APW: How do you feel authentic in something that you don’t normally wear?

WP: Just because it looks great on you, it doesn’t mean it’s you. You can try on three wedding dresses that look gorgeous to all the women in the room, but it’s not you. And if it’s not you, you don’t necessarily want to wear it because you really want to feel like your best, most beautiful self on your wedding day.

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APW: I’ve said this for years, better that you wear a cute cocktail dress that you feel like yourself in than you wear the world’s most beautiful wedding dress that makes you feel like you’re dressing up like someone else.

WP: Absolutely, you have to be yourself. This really speaks to my deepest, most personal feelings on the subject.

**A huge thank you to Ford, and The Ford Fiesta Movement, for partnering with us on this post, which allowed us to go on location for research.**

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  • Julie

    Thank you for this post! I am going dress shopping in Philly to appease my mother and this helps to rid me of some of the anxiety. Not sure I’ll actually have fun trying on dresses (I hate shopping, but not as much as I hate shopping with people), but I feel more prepared to get the job done.

    • scw

      philly here! where are you going? report back!

      • Kay

        Yes, tell us Philly people where you go! And if it goes awry, maybe we can all have a consolatory drink together…

      • Julie

        Not actually sure, my friend is setting up appointments – but if you have recommendations I would appreciate it!

        • scw

          you might check out lovely bride. I haven’t been there (I haven’t started looking) but I have heard good things.

          • Hannah B

            FWIW, Lovely Bride has locations in NYC, Philly, LA, and DC. :-)

    • AR

      Hi Julie-
      If you feel like venturing out of Philly by about an hour or so, I can highly recommend Jon’s Bridal by Suzanne in Allentown. I went there, and had a wonderful experience. The consultants were very helpful, very positive, very knowledgeable, and not at all pushy. The prices were very reasonable, especially compared to what I saw in shops closer to Philly. And I found 3 dresses that I loved! The hardest part was picking only one. Anyway, I wish you all the best with your shopping.

      • Julie

        Thanks for the tip! I’ll be sure to check it out.

        • One More Sara

          Also if you are willing to travel a little further south into Delaware, you could save some money in sales tax. I went to Claire’s boutique on Philadelphia Pike in Wilmington, DE for my first appt (my 2 sisters and I had also bought our prom dresses there with similarly awesome service) and had SUCH a great time. I went through a catalog and post-it-ed any/all styles I liked, and she ONLY brought out dresses within my budget, plus a few suggestions based on my picks (and my desire to try on a couple different styles that I might not have chosen on my own). Love them!!!

      • One More Sara

        that’s where I got mine! Worth noting, they don’t have in-house alterations (they have a recommended seamstress nearby), so 1) it gives you flexibility to get it altered closer to home but 2) I found a lot of seamstresses in my area worked out of a bridal salon, and in high season, did not take customers w/ elsewhere purchased dresses.

        Also worth noting, my sister had a great shopping experience there (I think she was helped by one of the owners), but mine was lackluster. My salesperson didn’t pull anything that I hadn’t chosen myself, and my group was seated in a back room for the first half of our appointment bc some girl was picking up her dress and wanted to stare at herself in the mirror and try on what seemed like every accessory in the store for 45 minutes. But again, this was polar opposite to what happened with my sister who had a wonderful, not-pushy, totally focused salesperson. I guess sometimes it still comes down to luck of the draw…

  • kh-tas

    Wonderful. I’m planning on making my dress, but this will come in handy if that goes sideways

  • Sarah McD

    Such a great post! I definitely agree that having a great salesperson who works with you is important. I just purchased out my dress last weekend (from Brickhouse Bridal in The Woodlands, TX which is a bit north of Houston) and was kind of dreading it. I’m not girly or into embellished / sparkly / poofy dresses so I thought I’d have a super hard time finding anything I liked. And I was SO overwhelmed when I walked in and was told to pick out some dresses I liked out of hundreds and had a moment of “omg they all look alike to me how do I pick?” Instead I handed the list of gowns I’d seen online that I liked to the sales associate and she not only grabbed those for me, but also grabbed a few she thought I’d like as well. The sales associate was so incredible – friendly, relaxed, not at all fazed when I warned her I’m not into frou-frou gowns, and SO knowledgeable (Yvette Trevino, for any Houston brides thinking about getting a gown at Brickhouse Bridal.) I started calling her my psychic when she suggested trying a veil with one of the dresses and picked the exact style of veil I’d been looking for online. Between her and a couple of my friends, we picked out a dress, got it ordered, and walked out of the store less than 90 minutes after going in.

    Considering how much time I spent with Yvette alone trying on dresses and clad in only my underwear, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would have been working with someone who was body-shaming me. She felt like a friend and totally set the tone for my shopping experience as relaxed and fun. I can’t imagine how much I would have hated it if she and I hadn’t clicked.

    • Heather

      This is really great to hear actually- I’m a Houstonian and will need to think about looking for dresses in a couple months, and it would probably be worth going up to the Woodlands for a psychic sales associate (especially since I’m pretty nervous about the dress shopping experience- I had a very silly nightmare about it last night, so this post is pretty timely!)

  • Megan

    This is my first comment ever on APW, because I had to share that I had the best dress shopping experience at Blue Sky Bridal in Seattle. They sell consignment dresses, organize them by what the equivalent street size would be, and were kind, welcoming, and genuinely nice people. I had told them I’d be making my own dress but they enthusiastically helped me anyways, and I ended up buying the first dress I tried on (and was able to take it with me that day, since it was consignment!). I was flying back to the east coast with my dress and they gave me tips on how to best transport it. Overall a great positive experience!

    • alpelican

      Seattle is a gold mine of bridal shopping. I went to The Dress Theory on Saturday and had a phenomenal experience. I didn’t end up buying anything (yet?), but they were great to work with and I recommend them to all PNW brides.

  • Emmy

    Oooh, you tried on the bridal version (Wtoo Oriana) of my wedding dress, which was the Wtoo 226 bridesmaid’s dress. Such a pretty style! I love the additional embellishment the bridal version has. Such a princessy silhouette!

    • Maggie

      Ooh! I’ve been coveting the 226 dress online. What color did you wear?

      I was so excited to see the Oriana dress on someone with breasts! All of the models it (and the #226 dress) are shown on are so thin, and I just don’t look like that. It’s really hard to picture on my more voluptuous frame.

      You both look so lovely and happy! Thanks APW!

      • Hope

        I bought my dress from and one of the features I liked best on the site was seeing photos of real women wearing the dress I wanted. Even if you don’t want to buy from them you could use that feature as many sellers upload their wedding pictures.

      • Emmy

        I wore it in Azalea, which is a truly blinding hot pink. And yeah, I was super nervous about the breasts issue. I’m a B/C cup, size 8 dress, and it was a bit more revealing than I was totally comfortable with. But whatevs, it’s one day of your life when you get to look totally fab and everyone else can STFU thankyouverymuch. :) The nice thing is that thanks to the cut of the bodice, if you get cups sewn in, you can free-boob it.

        Here’s some pictures from our wedding so you can get an idea of what it looks like on someone with larger chesticles than a model:

  • For any Toronto area brides, the Brides Project is pretty awesome – I haven’t had my appointment there yet because they suggest having a good idea of what you’re looking for before you go but I know of many happy brides who have shopped there!

    The best part is that what you pay for the dress goes towards cancer charities – fabulous!

    • Erin

      The Brides Project also has a location in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I got my dress there and it was an absolutely amazing experience. Not only were the dresses affordable, but the women who volunteer there were beyond amazing. I went to several “traditional” bridal stores, but The Brides Project in Michigan was by far my best dress shopping experience. And a bonus for any bride who isn’t the sample size – they have dresses in all different sizes, so you can actually try on dresses that fit you! And all the proceeds go charity! I seriously can’t say enough good things about The Brides Project.

    • teafortwo

      Fergu – I’m a Toronto bride, too! I went to the Brides Project when I was first shopping for dresses, and although I didn’t wind up buying there, I enjoyed the experience.

      The thing to keep in mind is that, like with any thrift/vintage/secondhand shopping, you might not have great luck if you walk in with a specific idea of what you are looking for. I found it was great for trying on a pretty wide range of styles from vintage tea-length to poufy-with-a-train and getting an idea of what silhouettes I liked. So I would suggest that there’s no need to wait! Good luck!

      • Awesome advice, thanks!!

        One question – where DID you get your dress?? Which were your favourite Toronto Bridal Salons? I have no idea where to start, really!

        • TeaforTwo

          I was working on a tight-ish timeline (just under 5 months) so I wound up going with a custom dress, made by Catherine Langlois. I cannot recommend her enough, but she’s pricier than the Brides’ Project (mine is about $2K, I think her starting point is around $1200.) On the other hand, my custom dress won’t require any alterations, which a secondhand dress would have.

          I had a lot of fun shopping at Sash & Bustle, in Leslieville, but they didn’t have anything that was quite right for me. Their dresses were similarly mostly $1-3K. And I thought about a dress from Cabaret, which is on Queen West and pretty much all <$1K. Really nice vintage-style stuff.

  • Margi

    You forget the most important question: How do I find such a store in MY area?!

    • One More Sara

      I think they touched on this slightly when they said call around stores near you to get a feel for that store’s approach to customer service. Personally, I also checked out reviews online for shops I wanted to check out and asked facebook-poll-style where people had gone shopping and had positive experiences. Which was especially helpful if they remember the name of the salesperson.

    • meg

      That’s the first question!

  • catherine

    That dress by WTOO that Meg is wearing!! Ahhh!!

    This post came at the perfect time. Last night I was trying so hard to find cool wedding shops in LA. I am surprised at how many there AREN’T. I was telling my fiance about this place and how I am really thinking of roadtripping it up to Berkley…

    • meg

      Which one? I’m wearing a few, but you might be commenting on the one that I would buy if I were getting tomorrow. It’s basically the dress I was looking for in the first place, but actually in my original price range (not five grand). Though ironically, because I didn’t find it, I spent $250. Though, lets be for REALZ, the $250 dresses in this post are some of the hottest. I may go back and buy that black one still.

      • scw

        buy the black one. you look fab!

      • Sarah McD

        Do it! You look smoking hot. I might try to find an excuse to buy the black one for myself just based on how awesome it looks on you.

      • catherine

        The Oriana! :) <3

        • meg

          Ha. It’s the Isis that I’d buy in a red hot second. Ideally with a veil all 60s mod style like this.

      • Class of 1980

        I only came into the comments to say …

        Meg, BUY THE BLACK ONE!!! What a perfect dress.

    • Stephanie

      I highly recommend Ferndales in Orange! So many of my friends have gotten dresses there, and they have a lot of dresses that are NOT strapless.

  • THANK YOU for this!!

    I went on my first dress-shopping adventure this past Saturday, and wow, what a process. The shop I went to and the gal that helped me out were both really great, but it wasn’t until after I left that I realized “huh. I didn’t even try on any dresses in the style that I asked for.” (Cap sleeves, keyhole back if anyone is curious.) When my helper asked if I was willing to consider strapless dresses, I said yes, figuring that maybe half of them would be sleeveless. Of the, I don’t know, 15? dresses that I tried on, one had straps and one had “optional” cap sleeves.

    I mean, I ended up falling for a dress, and it might be The One (after we see about ordering lace to match the dress to make sleeves!), but, man, I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to try on the style that I specifically asked for. I wish I hadn’t gotten so swept up in the whole process — not to say that my shop assistant didn’t do a fabulous job of judging my taste and selecting dresses for me — that I didn’t realize my needs/ wants weren’t actually met.

    I have an appointment to be measured and to order the dress I fell for in a couple of weeks – is it too much to go there and ask to try on the style that I want, just to be sure? In the meantime I’m going to try and make a couple more appointments at other shops, if only because I want to try on a dress with a keyhole back, dammit.

    • Liz

      Not at all!! You should totally go back and try other styles. Or try another shop. I had one big shopping weekend when my mom and sister and FMIL came in to town to shop with me. I had a couple of favorites at each store. At the first place, I narrowed in on fit and flare, but the next day, I decided I really liked ball gowns. I went back to the first place over the weekend to try on the fit and flare ones to see if I still liked them, and to try on ball gown styles that I may have passed over, and now I think I found The One! Trying on more styles may help you find The One, or it may solidify that the other one you love is The One!

  • OMGOMGOMG! I got body shamed when I went to the deathpit of bridal stores. The salesperson snickered at how big I was after having my son. I told her straight up that she was rude and she could continue helping me and to also know I’d be buying for someone else. She brought me dress after dress and tried to smooth things over. I thoroughly enjoyed my appointment and bought my dress elsewhere.

    • Sarah McD

      It ALWAYS baffles me that people do this – do you really think you’re going to make a sale by trying to make the person feel bad about their appearance?! Ugh. So sorry you had to deal with that.

    • meg

      You’re my personal hero. Funny story: that’s what the pros told me we ALL should do.

  • Lauren

    Perfect timing! Thank you. I’m heading out on Saturday on my first shopping adventure and am nervous about getting overwhelmed.

    That Nicole Miller–the Kimberly–is so HOT. You look great in it! It is making me desperate for a higher budget. I keep coming back to this post all morning just to ogle it.

    Any chance for a roundup or open thread on great stores in different cities?

    • Annie

      That’s my dress! I am obsessed with it, and hadn’t seen it at all before I tried it on. I got it at the White Gown in NYC.

  • YOU ARE BOTH SO DAMN HOT!! I’ve secretly been eyeing the WTOO Isis dress (not engaged, just like pretty things), but Maddie is absolutely killing it in the Olivia that I think I need to go browse some ball gowns.

  • Rachel

    There is so much good advice in this post!

    Also, Maddie is singlehandedly making the case for why you do NOT need to grow out your hair for your wedding. Hot damn, woman.

  • Maddie

    Oh, and guys! The biggest thing I learned from this experience: if you have big boobs, some dresses are magic and don’t require a bra. I am a 38F, and I’m only wearing a bra in one of these dresses (the lacy one, which, also, if you are curvy, that dress was hands-down the hottest thing I’ve ever worn. The photo only shows the top part, but I looked like a bridal Jessica Rabbit in that one). As for the rest of the dresses? Free-boobin’ all the way.

    • Vee

      I love free-boobin’!

    • You look great. And I agree, the lacy dresses have a way of hugging the body that they look great on curvy girls. It’s like they asked to be filled out. I tried on a full lace dress, similar to this one, and since my boobs are, well, not that big, it just did not look like I imagined, more like I had taken grandma’s curtains and wrapped them around me, it looked formless in me.
      I did end up finding a dress with lace, but it was more like a lace overlay that went around the dress by the middle and the top part had also a bit more of structure with a lace cover which is what I think I needed.

    • KC

      Bridal Jessica Rabbit!!!

      That is all.

    • Liz

      I am busty too and was so happy to find this out. I never wear anything strapless ever because strapless bras don’t do much for me and are just uncomfortable. But pretty much all the strapless dresses I tried were totally fine without one. Those things are made to keep everything buckled in!!

    • Meghan

      YES!! I also planned to (and did) go braless for my June wedding! Most of those dresses (had cap sleeves added to mine) are built to lock ’em in. I just felt like I didn’t need to (a.) add any bulk, (b.) wear some hideously uncomfortable and probably expensive contraption, or (c.) add another layer of fabric – wedding dresses are HOT. I think the woman doing my alterations was surprised/confused, but whatever! The girls didn’t go anywhere on the big day.

    • Anne

      Also, for larger-chested ladies: if you’re uncomfortable without a bra and want to wear strapless, there is another way! I wore a corset under my (non-strapless) dress, and it was amazing. Plus, has the bonus of doubling as lingerie.

    • Wait, that’s possible???????

      /brain explodes with delirious happiness

  • Victwa

    I am SOOOOOOOOO happy you went to The Wedding Party. I looked at the 1st picture and thought, “Hey– that looks like the little room at the Wedding Party where you try on dresses” and lo and behold!

    I LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED my experience at the Wedding Party. I cannot recommend them enough. I spent exactly 2 hours dress shopping for my dress because I made a 1-hour appointment last October and went in with my (then 3 month old) daughter. I tried on dresses for an hour, found 3 under $300 that I liked and then was told to come back after they got in another couple of dresses from the same line in December. I made another appointment with 2 friends in February, went back for an hour, and found my dress. I am not going to lie that the whole wedding dress shopping experience had filled me with dread and the fact that the whole experience was 2 hours and really quite enjoyable, I hand off completely to The Wedding Party.

    Love Them.

  • Really lovely post! Makes me wish I hadn’t already bought my dress so I can go into a more typical boutique and experience it. I ended up at a consignment boutique, which changes the shopping experience a bit. But I definitely second having a good salesperson. Mine was fantastic! There was another appointment at the same time and all I kept hearing was: “It’s sooooo art deco!” And this poor girl came out in five completely different dresses… So definitely important to get someone who knows his/her stuff!

    • meg

      I think these guidelines apply for consignment and big box and.. fuck, just life. I shopped ALL the places. I wish I’d had this in my back pocket then.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Some thoughts on sizes: When I was looking at used dresses, my family asked a seamstress just how much a dress could be taken in. She said about 2″. Then I looked at the David’s Bridal size chart, just to get an idea, and my hip measurement put me at least 2 sizes bigger than my bust measurement. In other words, if I ordered a dress based on my largest measurement, the bust would have to be taken in 4″, which I’m sure is fairly normal, as I don’t have very unusual proportions.

    The fact of the matter is fitting each one of a woman’s curves is hard. It’s like finding the perfect pair of jeans and the perfect bra in one garment. (For math geeks, I sometimes explain the difference between men’s tailoring and women’s as the difference between Euclidean geometry and Apollonian/conic sections.)

    What I don’t understand is why brides need a “size” at all. I tell my doctors not to tell me how much I weigh because I don’t want to get stuck on a number. Why not just say, “We’re ordering a dress in the pattern that corresponds to your hip measurement, which the manufacturer says is the most important measurement for this style”? Like men’s jeans.

    • meg

      We cut some long exposition from this section, but basically what she was saying is that most boutiques have rules that you have to order based on the size chart, so they have zero risk, even when that’s not logical. So maybe the dress is loose on the hips, it releases after the waist. And your waist is an 8, but your hips are a 10. Logically, that means you need an 8, the hips don’t factor into the measurement. But to cover their asses (HA PUNS), the shop will order you a 10, which you then have to take in from here till Christmas. So that’s what’s going on. Knowing that can mean you ask smart questions, and can decide to have them order you an 8, even if their rules say order a 10.

  • Class of 1980

    Watters and Watters/WTOO are from Dallas, TX and were on a street I was very familiar with when I lived there. They’ve been making beautiful stuff for a long time.

    All their dresses look smashing on you both!

    • Maddie

      They are also the brand with the most legit selection of plus size dresses I’ve found. Like they’re the only ones who have figured out that being bigger than size 12 doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t care about good design (because, c’mon.)

  • Ella

    I feel VERY lucky that The Wedding Party is right down the street from me. I have an appointment to go try on dresses during the Nicole Miller trunk show in November. This post is perfect timing; it’s so great to see the inside of the store and you both look so fabulous.

    I met someone from the Wedding Party at a bridal expo (I can’t remember who it was, unfortunately!) and she was so relaxed and lovely and I got the feeling that when it was time for me to try on dresses, that was definitely where I wanted to go. When I called to make my appointment a couple of weeks ago, I got exactly the same feeling. The woman I spoke to on the phone was so friendly and really stressed that they like to be low-key and low-pressure, which I love.

    Thank you so much for this guide! Between this and the “Bi Out Loud” article yesterday, I feel like APW is reading my mind. It’s almost spooky, but it’s fantastic.

  • Mallory

    I would also add to the “don’t get hung up on the size” discussion that, often, the sample gowns have been stretched out to some degree (at least mine was). I squeezed my hips into and zipped up a sample that was a 2 and ended up ordering a 6 or 8, I think.

    I would also say to cut your losses if you’re having a bad experience and leave. I went to three boutiques in the Pittsburgh area: two I found online, one was recommended by a family friend. One store had nothing that I liked (and kept trying to put me into strapless dresses, which I loathe with the burning passion of a thousand suns, even with straps, it’s still all that boning – ick), so we left after an hour. Another store just had the associate point us to the racks and say “well, with your price range you should look at these racks and ignore the rest,” before leaving us to our own devices. We had driven over an hour to get there and waited around for 30 minutes before we were seen, so we left after just a few dresses.

    Our third stop, though, was perfect. We had a sales associate that was recommended by a friend. She was polite, attentive, and immediately picked out what ended up being my perfect dress in the perfect price point. Huzzah!

    • ms_meowza

      Hi! I am also located in the Pittsburgh area and am about to embark on the dress hunt…would you mind sharing the name of the boutique you had success with? Thanks!

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Now I want to go try on dresses. You ladies look BEAUTIFUL.

    • meg


  • LL

    Any Portland OR recommendations? Particularly places that might be friendly to a queer lady on a small budget who might not want a traditional white dress?

    • LAM

      maybe check out The English Department? they are super lovely and sweet and have great dresses– not sure how many non-white, but could at least provide you with a positive experience and directions of where to go next…

  • Arden

    This is some seriously great information. Knowing what to expect at each price point, and how long it REALLY takes to get the dress you’ve ordered, is EXACTLY what I wanted to know about the whole wedding dress shopping process.

    And I called this afternoon to make an appointment at The Wedding Party on Friday! I am so excited– and I will definitely be trying on that WTOO Isis dress because good Lord it is fabulous.

  • K

    Just want to say: I found my wedding dress today! And it has sleeves! Lacy, beautiful sleeves! And the sample dress fit so yes I will have something to wear to our February ’14 wedding, thank you very much. Thanks for all the encouraging tips, APW!

  • April

    I seriously wish I could go try on wedding dresses and just have FUN doing it. As a married lady now, that ain’t gonna ever happen. But it’s fun to think about and I loved seeing this post. Also – Meg: that Nicole miller strapless, ruched dress? HOT. And you’re rocking it!

  • Literally! these dresses are fabulous i often think that dresses really build up the beauties of men and women by the dress they get changed and look different and new to us. Wedding dress is the wish of women to wear it and men wish to look her bridle in wedding dress i just want to say that these dresses are designed for the a very precious purpose to so dress must be fantastic.
    Thank You for the information which i don’t have about dresses.

  • Ingrid

    I just wanted to add my 2 cents about wedding dress shopping that didn’t come up in this post or the comments: I highly recommend checking out one bridal store, maybe two at the most. I was convinced that The One Dress was out there, so I thought it would be awesome to see all the options I had in my area. I was convinced it would come to me like my fiance did: “THIS is the dress!” I am a comparison shopper by nature, so I scheduled two days of appointments at 5 different stores with my entire family in tow, and in retrospect I was so grateful to have my rad family there with me, because the five stores turned out to be way too many and far too overwhelming.

    Turns out there’s not The One Dress, as I ended up torn between THREE different dresses at three different stores, and eventually I ended up in tears on the phone to my fiance over the stress of trying to pick. First world problems, I know. In hindsight, I’m so glad we did it because I had this awesome bonding time with my family, and I ended up picking a J.Crew dress that I felt great about, but it wasn’t the magical “wow” moment I thought it would be.

    I actually ended up eschewing the J.Crew dress when the opportunity to get a custom dress from a famous Hong Kong dressmaker-slash-family friend kind of fell into my lap, and it turned out to be better than I could ever hope for. I’m now trying to sell the J.Crew dress, which is sitting unworn and unaltered in its fancy box in my closet (Sascha style, size 4, any takers?).

    Anyway, I like the idea of going to one bridal boutique that has a good variety of the style and price range you’re looking for. I learned there’s really not “THE ONE” dress, at least not for me.

  • mackenzie

    I know I’m late responding to this, but I just wanted to add my two cents.
    I really hated dress shopping. I live in NYC, so it’s not like I didn’t have options. I had plenty of options and I went to 5 or 6 appointments over 2 days. No dice.

    1) I started dress shopping shortly after we got engaged. I figured it would be something I could knock off the list quickly, but I don’t think my vision of the day (or budget) was clear enough at this point to really find the dress I wanted.

    2) That being said, I just didn’t want to wear a strapless dress (or mermaid or anything too poofy), and, surprisingly, that was harder to find than I had thought.

    3) I don’t like sample dresses. I’m petite–street size 0/2 and 5’3″. No matter how much you clip that dress, it’s really not ever going to look like the real thing when you put it on me. I’m really visual, and trying to imagine the dress being a foot shorter and a foot narrower (and quite a bit cleaner) was really difficult for me. Also, there are a lot of dresses that are perfectly passable on me. They don’t wow me, but it’s not like I’m looking for the one and only dress that works with my bod.

    4) Saleswomen are brutal. Maybe it’s because a lot of the women who dress shop in NYC aren’t actually from around here, but I was not impressed by the customer service here (“You don’t want strapless? Here’s the one dress we have that isn’t strapless. Don’t like it? Sorry!”). I’d prefer to be told the price before I even step into the gown and I’d prefer to know how much alterations are going to cost for that particular gown before I put it on. Side note: I wish the salespeople would ask about alterations budget when they ask about your dress budget. If your dress budget is $1000 does that, or doesn’t that, include alterations? It’d be great for brides and salespeople alike to be on the same page about this.

    I’m a wedding graduate, so how did I find my dress?
    My mom and I finished our final day of dress shopping with beers near my apartment. Having pretty much struck out for two days, I drew my dream dress on a napkin (a little bit of lace, a little bit of a train, natural waist, not strapless, A-line). It had to be out there somewhere! I then went home and ordered multiple dresses (that more or less fit the bill) in multiple sizes from multiple places (J.Crew, BHLDN) on Cyber Monday (40% off!). They all had very generous return policies, and I was able to try the dresses on in the comfort of my own home (with my maid of honor and her baby watching via skype). The dresses were in perfect condition (no ratty samples for me!), and fit like a glove (yay! no clips!) and I didn’t have to deal with any pushy, judgy salesladies. It was great. My dress is still one of my favorite parts of our wedding. And if if it didn’t scream of crazy Miss Havisham, I’d probably put the dress on a least a couple times a day.

  • LR

    That’s my dress in the title pic! Neat!

  • ann

    i love these dresses

  • Crystal Wallis

    Not sure if anyone is still responding to posts, but here goes. My parents, who live 1,000 miles away, were recently in town. We went dress shopping, just to look. I got caught up in the moment and we bought a dress, completely different than what I had envisioned. I had envisioned: knee-length, fit and flare, 3/4 sleeves, lace. What we bought: full-length, sweetheart strapless, slim lace bodice down to hips that flares out with yards and yards of tulle. It is a great dress. . . I feel like a fairy in it, lol. Like I should have little wings and flutter around (in a good way . . ) But I’m worried that now that my dress is “fancy” everything else has to be fancy. I want my wedding to be like a church picnic with booze- with lawn games and dancing. I want wildflowers, vintage-y, all that stuff that is almost cliche now, I want all that. But I’m so worried that my dress doesn’t fit it. I’ve been going back and forth between being excited about it and being anxious that now my wedding won’t be like I wanted it to be. Help?

    • Rin

      I really don’t think that it is going to be an issue. If you feel good in your dress it will go with the day. All you have to do is deicide that you will own your dress, and you will look good. My guess is that no one will even notice that the dress is fancier that what is expected. Also, fairies go with everything.

      • Crystal Wallis

        thank you for your reply! I ended up sticking with it after much angst :-)

    • Lia

      In a way, wedding dresses look kind of out of place in most settings I think. That is part of the joy and the fun and what makes it so special! Enjoy!

  • Libby

    I really enjoyed reading this article, especially as I used to work as a bridal consultant and absolutely loved it! I thought the article did a GREAT job of preparing brides for such a great experience. Sadly, dress shopping has gotten such a bad rap from some of the shows floating around, where brides act like bridezillas, staff operate like “they know whats best”, and budgets are sky high. Coming from a girl that grew up in a single parent home (gotta work for things if you want them!) I didn’t have a crazy budget nor did I want a “white” dress. I was so glad to have had past experience as a bridal consultant so I knew what to expect and yet I still had a rough time. This article has tons of awesome tips that will save tears/frustration for sure! Just a few things I would add from my own experience: 1.)Be wary of buying online!!! If it sounds too good to be true-it is! Make sure that online retailers are qualified to carry a line (little fun fact Maggie Sottero’s are not allowed to be sold online) and the best way to check that is to call them up and ask, otherwise you could end up with a poorly made knockoff with lace hanging on by threads and 6 inches too short (true horror story!). 2.) A really great bridal consultant is worth their weight in gold:) If the big “in-style” dress is strapless and that is not what you are looking for, they should be able to share options with you about customizations you can make to the dress. It is amazing what a good seamstress is capable of! A good consultant can make or break your experience so if you call ahead and they are rude (yes their busy, but seriously?!) DONT WASTE YOUR TIME!! And my fave tip of the article-Don’t pay attention to the size! Bridal sizes run so weird across each designer and most samples are not true to their tag size since they have been tried on several times. A consultant will take your measurements and should review your measurements AND the size chart with you. You get final say in what you order since you are paying for the gown, but keep in mind a seamstress can work wonders and almost no one fits into one size perfectly with their measurements.

    Sorry to get long winded! I just know that I loved being a consultant and really enjoyed working with brides. It’s heartbreaking to hear about poor customer service because it really stands to ruin what could be an awesome experience. Good luck to everyone on the bridal hunt and remember it’s your time, enjoy it:)

  • Mel Dawn

    There’s a lot of great tips in this blog! It’s especially important to hire the right toronto limo rental. You want to have a perfect wedding day!

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