everything you need to know about wedding dress shopping

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Everything you need to know about buying your wedding dress for your big day!

The dress. It’s a big part of the vision for your big day. Many brides dream of their wedding dress for longer than they’ve even known who would be standing at the end of the aisle on their big day. It’s an important outfit choice to be sure, and there are so many factors to consider when you’re making the big decision.

This post covers:

  • How to choose your dress style
  • How to set your wedding dress budget
  • Where to find affordable wedding dresses
  • Alternative sources for cheap wedding dresses
  • Plus tips for wedding dress shopping!

Let's get into it!


How to Choose Your Wedding Dress Style

When it comes to choosing the dress you'll wear on your wedding day, it can be difficult to know where to start. We recommend beginning by gathering inspiration. Ask yourself these questions:

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What are your favorite outfits?

Think about the clothing you have in your closet. What are your favorite clothing items to wear? Which pieces make you feel your best? Do certain fabrics bother your skin? Does a particular sleeve length irritate you? Make notes for yourself about these preferences, because they could come in handy when dress shopping!

What styles flatter your body type the most?

Think about the outfits you own that look the best on you. Do they have anything in particular in common? Do you love tops that have ruching at the waist, or skirts that hug your curves? Keep these things in mind as you consider your ideal wedding dress style.

What types of wedding dresses flatter each body type?

Do you have any “problem areas” that you don’t love or want to consider in the design of your dress? If you don’t like showing your arms, you may want to find dresses with full sleeves. If you’re a little rounder in the middle, there are certain types of rushing that can really disguise and flatter your midsection.

wedding dresses

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What kind of venue are you using for your wedding? What is the level of formality for your event?

You want the gown you choose to work well with your chosen venue and match the level of formality of your event. If you’re hosting a casual backyard wedding, a full satin ballgown encrusted with crystals may not be the most appropriate choice. Generally speaking, your wedding dress should fit the vibe of the entire event so you don’t seem out of place. If you're getting married on a beach, steer clear of dresses with long, sweeping trains as they could make it difficult to walk.

During what season is the wedding taking place? What’s the average temperature?

The weather could play a big part in the type of dress you choose to wear for your wedding. Keep the temperature and season in mind when choosing your dress. Lighter-weight fabrics like chiffon are great for hotter temps, while heavy satins and silks and even some laces are better worn in cooler months.

What type of gown will be the most comfortable to wear?

You’ll likely be wearing your wedding dress for anywhere from 4-10 hours on the big day, so keep your comfort in mind. If you’re not feeling comfortable in your gown, it will likely show on your face, which won’t make for good photos.

Are there certain styles I am particularly drawn to?

Head over to Pinterest and search for wedding dress inspiration. Start pinning dresses that you like! If you already have ideas of what you’re drawn to, try searching specifically for similar styles. Such as “Lace wedding dress” or “sweetheart neckline” or “asymmetrical wedding dress.”

Setting Your Wedding Dress Budget

What is your wedding dress budget? What percentage of your wedding budget should you use on your wedding dress? Learn how to decide on your wedding dress budget below:

Most experts say that you will likely spend 5-10% of your budget on your wedding attire, but that’s not *just* the dress. That factors in your partner’s attire as well as any alternations or accessories like shoes, veils, ties, and the like. It also includes wedding day beauty like hair and makeup! So if you want to get a rough idea of what you could or should spend your wedding dress, we would recommend to shoot for the lower end of the spectrum (about 5%) on the dress itself.

Shopping for Your Wedding Dress

Should I shop in-person or online?

What does your schedule allow for? Do you have a few weekends to dedicate to visiting bridal shops to try on some dresses in-person? Or would you rather have the convenience of shopping online? There are many online options that make it possible for you to “try before you buy” at home, or at least have generous and flexible return policies.

What should I bring with me to my appointment?

Undergarments. If you're not 100% sure on the type of dress you're going to buy, it's best to bring a few different styles of bras to try on with your dresses. It's also important to bring a pair of shoes similar to the style/heel height you plan to wear on the big day.

What do I need to know before going to try on wedding dresses?

Know the types of styles  you are drawn to but be open to trying different things. Also, be open to potentially altering any of the dresses you find to make them absolutely perfect for you! You should definitely know your MAX budget for your dress, and be sure to leave room for potential alterations in the cost.

How do I find a dress within my budget?

Once you’ve set a general budget for yourself and gotten an idea of what you like, you can start seriously shopping! When you visit salons, let them know what your budget is. Ask them to not show you anything over your budget if you are really tight when it comes to your expenses.

Affordable Wedding Dress Designers

If you want to save money on your wedding dress, look specifically at Bridal Designers with Affordable Collections! We’ve rounded up a huge list below of some of the most affordable wedding dress collections for budget savvy brides:

Browse Wedding Dresses By Price

We've rounded up our favorite wedding dresses at different price points to help you find the perfect dress for your big day!

wedding dresses under $200
wedding dresses under $500
wedding dresses under $1,000
wedding dresses under $1500

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How to save money on a wedding dress

Consider these non-traditional ways to buy a wedding dress in order to save money!

Shop Wedding Dress Sample Sales

One great way to save money on a wedding dress is to shop sample sales at local bridal boutiques. Search for local boutiques in your area and sign up for their mailing lists. If you have a particular designer you’re interested in, seek out specific boutiques that carry their collections. You just might be able to score a sample gown of your dream dress, saving you up to 50% off the purchase price!

Buy a Pre-Owned Wedding Dress

Another surefire way to save money on your wedding gown is to purchase a used or pre-owned wedding dress. Former brides will often sell their wedding dresses after the big day in order to recoup some of their costs, offering a hefty discount off the original purchase price. You can easily save 50% or more on the cost of a designer wedding gown by purchasing used. Check out these resources for buying or selling used wedding dresses.

Buy a Non-“Wedding” Dress

Consider non-bridal retailers when shopping for your wedding dress. You can check anything from department stores, thrift shops, or your favorite online retailer! We've got a whole list of great options further down in this post, so keep scrolling! consider non-bridal retailers in your wedding dress search. From local boutiques to your favorite department store, you’ll be surprised at what treasures you might find that are beautifully bridal without the “wedding markup.” You can even check out TJMaxx Wedding Dresses!

Rent your Wedding Dress

Can't stomach the idea of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a dress you'll likely only wear once? Us, either! Luckily, there are options for renting your wedding dress! Many of these services include free shipping both ways, and handle the cleaning of the garment for you. This is a great option for any bride with a more laid-back style, or someone who doesn't want to spend money on an elaborate dress they will never wear again.

Buying a wedding dress online

If you’re looking for a wedding dress under a certain budget, try shopping online! Many sites make it possible to sort their dresses by price, so you can focus on the dresses that fit your budget. Check out Lyst or ShopStyle to browse wedding dresses by price. Browse department store websites like Macy’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, or Lord & Taylor for wedding dresses. Sites like ASOS or Modcloth also have great options for brides on a budget.

wedding dresses

Wedding Dress Shopping Tips

How to have the best shopping experience

Start Early

Give yourself a head start on shopping so you can ensure you have ample time to find the best dress at the best price! Waiting too long to shop for your dress could lead to having to pay rush production fees if you're going through a traditional salon.

Shop on a Weekday

Bridal shops are typically busiest on the weekends, so if you're able to shop mid-week you won't have to fight the crowds. Having more time with the consultants and the inventory will allow for a more relaxing experience.

Bring a trusted audience

If possible, bring an entourage to your appointments. Whether it's your mother, your bridesmaids, or a whole crew, having others there to weigh in and assist in trying things on will help! Just be sure to stay true to yourself, and don't let anyone sway you into choosing something you don't truly love. One or two guests is best so you don't get overwhelmed by too many opinions.

Dress Tips and Logistics

Buy the size that fits you now

It's much easier to take a dress in than it is to let it out. Even if you have a goal to lose weight before your wedding, it's risky to order a dress in a size that doesn't currently fit you.

Try moving around in the dress

When you try on dresses, don't just  wear them standing up! Be sure to see how your dress fits as you move. Be sure to practice sitting, walking and even dancing in your dress to make sure it is comfortable and not restrictive.

Ignore the sizing

Bridal dress sizing is whack. You may normally wear a size 4, but the wedding dress size that fits you may be an 8 or 10. Don't look at the sizes or let those numbers get you down.

Go to  your appointment looking and feeling your best

It's important to feel good about yourself while you're trying on dresses. Do your hair and makeup as if you were going out for a nice date night! Just be sure not to go overboard with the makeup — you don't want it rubbing off on the dresses you're trying on!

Beyond the Dress

Don't forget about accessories

Besides the dress itself, you'll need to consider your accessories! The right veil or statement necklace will dramatically alter your overall look. Be sure to ask your bridal consultant for accessories that complement the dresses you're trying on.

Save room in your budget for alterations

Depending on the complexity of your wedding gown design and/or your desired alterations, you can expect to add $200+ for adjustments to your wedding gown. Want to avoid hefty alteration costs? Consider a wedding dress with a corset back. These styles are great if you're short on time or money for sometimes costly alterations.

Make note of any return or exchange policies

When purchasing a wedding gown from any shop, salon, or site, be sure to make note of their return or exchange policies so you know what is possible in the case of cold feet or change of heart (in regards to the dress!)

More Wedding Dress Resources

Want to read more about Wedding Dresses here on The Budget Savvy Bride? Check out these posts.