Before I got married, I did all the wedding dress shopping options available to me: fancy salon with champagne, chaotic sample sales, browsing pre-owned designer dresses on the Internet, before I finally found my dress at a consignment shop I somewhat affectionately dubbed the “Marshalls of wedding dresses.” See, I wanted wedding dress shopping to be fun and glamorous (because on my good days, I like shopping!), but it… wasn’t. I was too anxious about the price tag at the fancy salons, too frozen with FOMO at the sample sales, too just plain terrified to purchase something online, and while I am grateful for the shop where I ultimately snagged my dress, it wasn’t exactly the “say yes to the dress” moment I guess I was secretly hoping for.
By all appearances, I’m the kind of skinny femme the wedding dress industry is supposedly catering to, so I know if wedding dress shopping was stressful AF for me, it can be even more unpleasant for plus size humans, gender non-conforming folx, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the very narrow mold of the industry.
But a few months back, I saw Jacquelyn Ward and Ana Maes, the founders of Our Story Bridal, NYC’s luxury bridal consignment boutique (aka the store of my dreams that didn’t exist when I was getting married) speak at a wedding planning workshop, and they shared some advice on making dress shopping less fraught. And you guys, these were tips I had never heard of before, and as someone who’s worked in weddings for going on six years now: 🤯.
So we asked co-founder Jacquelyn Ward if she would share them with you! But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s do a quick PSA: no matter what, you have the right to feel awesome and confident while shopping for your wedding outfit. If you don’t feel respected and celebrated for who you are, then you have the right to ask for a new sales associate, or to peace the hell out as soon as the mood strikes (yes, even if you have a glass of champagne in your hand a rack of dresses waiting on standby). And if you have any doubts about a store’s ability to cater to your body type, gender expression, price point, or anything else, then call ahead to double check to ease any stress and to avoid an unpleasant experience.
And with that, I give you Jacquelyn’s pro tips to navigate the often murky waters of wedding dress shopping and to help you eliminate the stress from the dress. Have fun!
1.Think about what makes you feel confident and fierce
There are so many types of wedding dresses (literally, thousands!) that vary across silhouettes and textures. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many options, I recommend doing a bit of homework before heading to your first appointment. Start in your own closet with your favorite tops or dresses. What is it about them that you love? Is it how they accentuate your curves or show off your arms? Whatever it may be, keep these elements in mind as you start wedding dress shopping. Knowing what you might like to highlight is a great starting point for your stylist to work with. By thinking about body features versus specific dress styles, you are able to narrow down the options while still being able to keep an open mind about the specific fit, details, and fabric.
For example, a shopper who wants to accentuate their waist could feel confident and beautiful in both a romantic, soft lace fitted dress and a sparkle-filled, beaded A-line dress. Also, a wedding dress is unlike anything else that you have shopped for, so keep an open mind during the beginning of your shopping journey. You might think you want something fitted, but you end up with a ballgown with layers and layers of tulle. That is why it is important to try on a variety of styles in your first couple of appointments. [ed note from Keriann: Big YES to this: the dress I ultimately bought was not the style I asked for, it was one my consultant insisted I trust her and try on.]
2. Not all shops are the same
I was personally a victim of this mistake while wedding dress shopping. Who knew that there were so many different types of bridal stores and sales?! Not all bridal stores are created equal, and it is helpful to understand the pros and cons of each type as you begin to book appointments. This can help you save precious time and prevent the onset of dress shopping fatigue. Here is a little cheat sheet that lays out the differences across the five major types of wedding dress stores:
- Designer Ateliers: For shoppers who love certain designers. These stores only carry dresses from one designer. If you do not have a preference on a designer, then these stores can be a bit limiting in style.
- Bridal Boutiques: For shoppers who want to see variety. These boutiques carry different designers and styles, and they will only have a small offering from each designer they carry. If you have your eye on a specific dress, call ahead to make sure they have it.
- Bridal Retail Chains: For shoppers who want offline to online convenience and value. These stores carry a good variety of dresses across a broad size range at very reasonable prices. They also have great online capabilities so you can easily purchase your dress online after you make the decision. Just be sure to check the return policy!
- Sample Stores/Sales: For shoppers on a hunt for a great deal. Sample sales are a good place to look for a dress for less. Keep in mind that these sales are often limited to sample sizing (about a street size 6 to 8) and have dresses in varying conditions, which may require more alteration work and a full cleaning.
- Bridal Consignment Stores: For shoppers who want a great deal and experience. This new segment of stores have been popping up to give shoppers a curated selection of designer dresses in impeccable condition at a great discount. Most stores should have a broad range of sizes, from petite to plus size. Many also offer alteration and accessory services. However, it is hard to predict which specific dresses (and in which sizes) they will have in store.
3. Some preparation can help you feel more confident
Look, you’ve probably never shopped for a wedding dress before, and there is a LOT of information out there—much of it well-meaning but not always accurate. Here are some real insider tips to help you feel even more prepared and confident for your appointment:
- Go easy on the make-up so you don’t have to worry it will rub off on the white dresses you’re trying on.
- Wearing nude underwear and a strapless bra will make it easier to try on a variety of styles.
- Be prepared for your stylist to be in the dressing room with you to help you into dresses and yes, they will see you in your underwear. (I fell victim to this unexpected surprise at my first appointment!)
- If you are considering wearing your hair up or to the side, bring hair clips or ties so that you can visualize how your dress, especially the neckline and back, will look on your wedding day.
- If you are planning to wear heels, stores should have some for you to try on in a variety of sizes, so it’s not necessary to bring them with you.
- Eat! Shopping for a wedding dress means long, emotionally-charged hours on your feet that are definitely not going to be fun if you’re hangry. Try to schedule lunch before or between appointments with your shopping crew, and bring a few easy snacks in your bag.
4. Ask about alterations BEFORE buying the dress
We have had many customers come to us in a mad dash to find a new dress after receiving their made-to-order dress and not liking the fit or alterations. This happens because, when you are shopping, you are trying on dresses in sample sizes. This means that when you receive the dress in your ordered size, the seams might be in different places, the neckline might be higher, or the color of the dress might be different than a sample that has been tried on over a hundred times. To avoid this mistake, be diligent in asking your stylist (or if you can, the in-store seamstress), how your dress will differ from the sample. Also, ask what alterations can or can not be done and the estimated price of doing them so you are not disappointed with the limitations or stuck with a high alterations bill.
5. Don’t keep shopping after you buy your dress
Buyer’s remorse is real, and it mostly happens when you just can’t help going to one more store and looking at the newest collections. I totally get it! Wedding dresses are beautiful. However, this mistake can lead you down a dark path with a lot of stress and disappointment. I advise that you stop shopping after you have found your dress and move on to the other (many) parts of wedding planning. Otherwise, you may lose confidence in your beautiful dress and in your decision. However, if you truly feel that you have made a wrong decision, there are always ways to find a new dress within a limited time window. For example, a consignment store can help you find an off-the-rack designer dress and help you sell your first dress. Other options for buying an off-the-rack dress are visiting a retail chain or calling the traditional boutiques to see if they have a samples selection.
I hope that this crash course can help you avoid some of the common mistakes that I have seen and to relieve some shopping stress. Even if you can’t avoid all the pitfalls, as long as you are having fun along the way, they will just become another part of your wedding story.
If you’ve been wedding dress shopping what tips do you have? If you had a nightmare experience, feel free to dish. What information do you want to know?