What you need to know when choosing a wedding dress

Choosing a wedding dress - what you don't know until you start looking
Photograph courtesy of Naomi Neoh. Dress featured is Margot, from the new 2017 Eden Collection

Whilst catching up with my newly married cousin we got to talking about the whole choosing a wedding dress process, and how there was so much we didn't know before we started. Some of it was surprising, and in some cases how it all works made a big difference to the choices we made. So here are all the things nobody tells you until you start looking!

Here's how it works

Generally brides a good lead time from their engagement to wedding day to look around at different styles, visit bridal stores (or even a show) and order the dress of their dreams. One thing we didn't know until we started looking was that dresses are usually ordered in standard dress sizes, then altered. So even if you are measured at 5ft, the dress that arrives will still be too long. Eventually it arrives in store and is then altered to your measurements, with a final fitting soon before the wedding itself. If, like me, you have less than 12 weeks, it is unlikely a dress will arrive in time as manufacture and delivery timescales are much longer in the bridal business. This possibly means a slightly different route, but not always the case (tips below).

Choosing a wedding dress  - what you need to know
Photograph courtesy of Britten Weddings, credited to Gooch and Gawler

Finding a style

It is definitely worth looking at real weddings on wedding blogs, and having a look at a bridal magazine. The real weddings show you what these dresses look like on people who aren’t models, and how the dress fit into larger themes. The magazines are useful because they are full of adverts, meaning you can see lots of very different styles in one go. I found looking at designers’ websites was a little frustrating at first because they do not always load very quickly. I think once you have begun to narrow down designers and styles the websites become more useful as you are looking at more detail, but until then it’s hard to get an overview of everything that is out there.

Start a Pinterest board

Pin anything you come across that you like, and look on other boards. Just because a style isn't this season doesn't mean that it can't provide valuable inspiration!

Familiarise yourself with the terms 

There are a lot of specific words used to describe features of wedding dresses. This board has some super helpful pins if you want an illustrated guide!

Go and try some on. 

Lots of high street chains stock bridal ranges. You don’t often need an appointment in these stores, and they stock a variety of cuts and finishes. The best advice I was given (from my dress designer) was to try on lots of different styles, even the ones I thought I didn’t want. It’s not until you see dresses on your own body that you will really have a good idea of how they look. I was surprised at some, and was glad I did do this because I changed my initial ideas after a mega try on session.

You will need to book at the majority of bridal boutiques however, especially if you are looking on a Saturday. The benefit of this is that you will get a personalised one to one service.

I also thought that getting married abroad would mean that it would be wiser to go for a dress that would work well in heat (and spent a long time looking at short wedding dresses). I have to say having had the day, I don’t think it makes that much difference. Go for whichever style you like.
need to know tips for choosing a wedding dress
Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Balbier. Dress featured is 'Peggy' from the Untamed Love Collection 

Decide on your non-negotiables

Budget is an obvious one. However the uniqueness of your wedding means that there are a whole host of features that are definitely in or definitely out.

Do consider if your choice of venue means that you are going to need something that you can cover your shoulders with (such as some religious ceremonies). A dress like this beautiful Amanda Wyatt 'Winter' (pictured below) would be the solution.

Does the climate play a role? My cousin and I both got married in Italy so were concerned about the heat and steered away from lots of layers or sleeves.

What is going to make your day comfortable? What you don't want is also just as important. I didn't want low cut or to look like an extra from 'Pride and Prejudice'. My cousin stipulated her dress had to be easy to get in and out of...and to go to the loo in! This meant no fiddly lace ups or buttons as a non-negotiable.

Tips for choosing a wedding dress
Photograph courtesy of Amanda Wyatt. Dress featured is 'Winter' from the She Walks With Beauty Collection 

Finding a supplier

If you have a 4 month lead time or more then you have more options and can really shop around, or wait for the design you like to be included in a sample sale (though obviously it may never get there in your size). If not you will have to consider:

  • Buying a ready to wear high street dress 
  • Having a dress made from scratch for you 
  • Buying a sample and having this altered to fit you
You might find a range in a bridal store that can operate on a shorter lead time (some Mori Lee dresses for example). It’s worth looking and asking but might not always be possible, so be prepared to be flexible.

I gave myself one (really long) day to investigate all these. I spent time looking around and narrowed down some preferred styles and designers (including high street). I really loved the tea length dresses in the range from House of Mooshki and had also seen online that they might be able to make my dress within my lead time. I contacted them for an appointment and arranged the rest of my day around this; booking another appointment later in the day in a bridal store and finding an area (Oxford Street) which had lots of high street brands with bridal sections.

In the end I was torn between a sample and a bespoke dress from House of Mooshki. The cost difference was not that great, and the quality was vastly superior, so I went with the bespoke option. We discussed all the things I did and didn't like, tried different styles on and eventually head designer Olivia sent me on a sketch and a mood board of my ideal dress.

Tips for choosing your perfect wedding dress

My cousin also happened upon a last minute appointment at Jenny Packham on the day she had set aside for looking at wedding dresses and this was where she got hers from in the end.

Alternatively you can take advantage of the discounts that wedding fairs and sample sales offer. If you already have a good idea of what you want you can be quite efficient in finding this at a reduced rate. Samples are often in a size 12 but every now and then ones that have been made for other purposes are available and you can find them in different sizes.

wedding dress for Italy

Things to think about when trying on wedding dresses

  • Get someone to take photographs of you from behind...people will be looking at you from this angle!
  • Don’t wear fake tan – it’s not ‘the done thing’ as it can rub off. 
  • Do you need a bra or is one built in? 
  • Have a pair of shoes with you similar (in height) to what you will want to wear on the day. 
  • Industry standard is to order dresses in standard sizes and then tailor these to your measurements once it arrives in store. You will need to return for at least two fittings once the dress arrives at the store. 
  • Samples are usually a size 12. 
  • Samples will normally be cleaned and fixed up for you (so bits of beading that need reattaching will be factored in). This is usually within the alteration cost. 
  • Does it come with a dress bag or carrier? If travelling abroad will they pack it for you? 
  • How does it need to be cleaned after the wedding? It is worth thinking ahead to how you want to store your dress after the big day. There may be some discounts you can negotiate at this stage. 
  • Keep a note of costs, the dress on its own plus costs for alterations. It will get confusing after a while. 
  • Try on dresses with accessories – veils and belts especially. It can alter the whole look (and eventual cost). For example these two photographs are both the same Naomi Neoh dress, just with different jackets and belts.
Need to know tips for choosing a wedding dress
Naomi Neoh Ayla dress with Ginko belt, from the 2017 Eden collection
Choosing a wedding dress - top tips
Naomi Neoh Ayla dress with Primrose jacket and silk sash, from the 2017 Eden collection

Talk to your dress supplier!

If you've Pinteresting already then you will have lots of examples of dresses that contain different features. Your supplier may be able to incorporate different features you like into a dress which is *almost* perfect if the one you want is becoming hard to find. You can also talk about exactly what you need (something for a beach, something for a church) and they will be able to suggest designs and materials for you.

What you need to know when choosing a wedding dress


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