Plan ahead before shopping for a wedding dress

Kristyn Schiavone
Tribune Content Agency

You’d think every fashion writer would dream of the moment when she finally gets to go wedding gown shopping.

A wedding gown is the ultimate fashion moment -- one of the only times in a regular gal’s life that the attention is completely on her. So for this future bride, having the perfect dress is a super exciting prospect and an absolute must. But finding said dress sounded quite daunting.

I pictured wedding dress shopping like shopping for other major pieces or things that you will probably only buy one of, like a swimsuit or a couch. And I’m pretty sure I’ve cried in the middle of the store while shopping for both of those things. Then, if you even find any finalists, you have to choose one. People who watch a lot of “Say Yes to the Dress” are always talking about The Feeling, but what if you don’t have that moment where you think, this is absolutely, 100 percent the dress that I will wear on the best day of my life?

I have yet to do the choosing, but the shopping part of this process is a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I really haven’t tried on a dress that looks horrible, because here’s a secret about making such a big purchase: The salespeople make painstaking efforts to keep you happy. The lighting is great, you’re clipped into the dress so you can see how it will actually fit, you may or may not be drinking champagne at 10 a.m., and the attendants pull all the dresses and even dress you in them. It is easily the most delightful shopping experience I’ve had, and I shop a lot.

Since beginning my quest, I’ve picked up some tips on how to make the actual decision easier. Hopefully I’m that much closer to The Feeling.


Determine your budget before you go, and have in mind an ideal amount you’d like to spend and an amount that you absolutely cannot go over. Don’t forget to factor in alterations and any headpieces or shoes. Often, “dress” is a line item on the budget but alterations alone can run you several hundred dollars.

Give the ideal amount when making your appointment, because you will definitely be asked that question. Since these places don’t want to hold an hour-long appointment for you to come in, see that everything’s out of your price range and then leave, they’ll tell you their starting price up front. A good tip that I picked up from my friends is not to let the store even bring you anything that is over budget.


I went in with a picture of what I wanted and promptly realized that my idea of the dress was totally different from what actually looks good on me. Each time you go shopping, you develop a little more clarity about what you want. In that sense it’s important to be flexible.

However, it’s also helpful to establish a few non-negotiables so you can narrow down your options. For example, true white (as opposed to ivory, cream, etc.) looks best on me, so I’m looking for something that comes in that color.

It can also be helpful to consider your venue and the style of your wedding. If you’re having a small event in a barn, a sparkly ball gown might not be in keeping with the nature of the event. On the other hand, if it’s a big, dramatic venue, then a big, dramatic gown is totally suitable. Take your colors into consideration too. I’m planning on doing some gold, and I am staying away from silver sparkles.

Trying on

The hardest thing to remember when you’re trying on dresses is that the one you’re trying on is not your size. Not only that, but you are basically going to be sewn into the thing on your wedding day.

Maybe you’re looking for ivory, and it’s bright white, or maybe you love everything about it except that annoying applique on the front. These are all things that are really easy to fix.

If there are major things you want to change about the dress (e.g., “Can you do this with sleeves and a low back, and lace instead of the satin?”) you’re really in the market for something different and tailoring is not going to fix it. Evaluate the dress for what it is, but remember that you can make simple edits.