Wedding Dress Shopping Tips I Wish I’d Known Before I Went

Preparing to go wedding dress shopping is like having sex for the first time: you can read a million articles online and listen to all your friends talk about it, but there’s a good chance the real thing is still going to be nothing at all like what you expected. 

I thought I had done truly everything to ensure a successful shopping trip when I went searching before my wedding. But despite researching styles, saving screenshots, coming with the proper entourage, and reading all the tips I could find, there is no set of materials out there that can adequately explain the reality of wearing pasties and heels while a stranger helps you step into a ball gown that fills the entire dressing room. (Fun fact: it’s actually just as hard to step into dresses with a more streamlined silhouette. A mermaid style, for example, has such a small opening for your feet that the process of drawing it up over your body once you step in is a fun guessing game you play with satin.) I digress. 

The point here is that I did all my wedding dress homework, and I was still not at all prepared for the reality of searching through acres of tulle and chiffon to find the dress that embodied, well, me. Everyone’s big day (or days) of dress shopping can be different, but here’s hoping that the following tips will make your path to finding that dream dress just a little simpler.

Be Open To New Styles, But Don’t Feel Like You Have To Try On Something You Hate

You don’t have to put on everything the bridal stylist brings you. Staying open-minded is important, but if the dresses you’re seeing in your dressing room are not you at all, speak up. It can be harder than you think, especially if you’re the kind of person who can’t even tell her hairstylist you hate the bangs she gave you. 

And on the flip side, don’t be afraid to change your mind. If the lace sleeves you thought you’d love just aren’t working, take a breath and try something different. Feel like a giant cotton ball in that voluminous organza gown you were sure would scream “you”? Same advice as a relationship that’s gone past its expiration date: move on, and don’t look back.

Choosing *Just One* Can Be Borderline Painful


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There’s a reason we all love charcuterie boards so much: they’re all about options. A wedding dress, multi-faceted as it may be, is still just one dress. It can be really hard to choose between different styles, especially if you love parts of each of them, or are a Gemini. So, if your parents refuse to pay for two and you can’t swing the added cost yourself, what’s the solution? Try asking about options for accessories and for customization. A modern, sparkly fit-and-flare can be made dreamy and romantic with the addition of some simple detachable tulle sleeves. (Tulle is inexpensive, and any seamstress can design them for you.) Dying for a mermaid or sheath silhouette, but also love the drama of a more va-va-voom style gown? The same thing can be done for an overskirt. You can have your Cinderella look, and just detach the tulle for a sleeker look that’s easier to move around in when it’s time to get down at the reception. Genius.

Consider Not Just Your Wedding Day, But The Time Leading Up To It

How do you envision the way you’ll be spending your time in the days leading up to your big day? Are you okay with going in for bi-weekly custom alterations and spending whatever time you have left shopping for heels of the exact height you need? Or are you more interested in relaxing as much as possible, going in for one fitting, and leaving it at that? Choose your dress accordingly. You can have what you want in terms of alterations if you’re willing to put in the time, but it’s another layer of decision-making to put on yourself. If the thought of adding more to your wedding-planning plate gives you stress hives, choosing a more low-key dress you love as-is is a better idea.

When In Doubt, Sleep On It

The idea of going home empty-handed after a day of trying on an endless array of dresses can feel disheartening. But you don’t have to look at it as a defeat. As long as you start your search early enough, taking your time is not going to hurt anything, and in fact can prevent you from making a bad decision on low blood sugar after trying on your 45th dress of the day. If you’re feeling pressured, overwhelmed, or just hangry while at your third salon, consider calling it a day and going home to consider your options. You’ll either wake up the next morning totally sure you really do want that long-sleeved lace gown, or thankful that you didn’t commit to buying anything yet. 

So, after all this, you may be left wondering, Carrie Bradshaw-style, if the end result is really worth this whole process of finding, altering, and perfecting your wedding dress for one single day of your life?

The consensus? It absolutely is.

And here’s why: It’s not just about looking good. That’s a big part of it, of course. Your dress should make you feel beautiful, confident, and excited. But it shouldn’t do only that. It should also help you to execute the overall vision of your wedding that you see for yourself.

In your wildest dreams, are you in a castle tower with a rose-covered trellis like in a Taylor Swift music video, looking out a window as your fiancé rides to you on a white horse (despite the fact that he’s from Los Angeles and, to your knowledge, has never ridden a horse)? Or do you picture a long church aisle, candles everywhere, and a veil that trails your gown by 30 feet? Maybe you’re in comfortable lace, barefoot with your hair down on a beach at sunset, ready to dance the night away. It’s important to think about the big picture, because it’s easy to see something in the mirror that’s glamorous and exciting, and that’s great—as long as it completes the vision you have for the big day itself. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a gown that’s beautiful, but ultimately interferes with the experience you want, and no dress is worth that. Keep that in mind, and you’ll end up with a gown that’s perfect for you, the day you envision, and all the photographs you’ll be hanging in your living room for the next 50 years. A marriage is fantastic and all, but the wedding dress? That’s forever.

Images: Tom The Photographer / Unsplash; betchesbrides / Twitter (3), betchesbrides / Instagram (2)

Shannon Layne
Shannon Layne
Shannon Layne is an old, mostly-gay married lady doing her best to live her life like it’s senior year except for funner. Her hobbies include red wine, reading vampire erotica novels, and existing horizontally for long periods of time. She believes in living each happy hour like it’s her last.