Thursday, November 09, 2006

The 411 On Buying A Wedding Gown


Chances are that if you are reading this then you just got engaged. Congratulations! For a lot of brides finding the right wedding gown is one of the most important parts of wedding planning. It can also be the most confusing and difficult tasks you face. How much fun you have is all a matter of how you approach it. So before you embark on this journey arm yourself with some of the hows and whys as well as a few simple rules of the road.

Before You Begin

There are some things you need to decide before you even start to think about your gown. The number one reason women end up as ‘two gown brides’ is because they skip these important steps. First you have to determine the style of your wedding. Look at the season, the time of day, location and level of formality you envision. An over the top beaded gown with a cathedral train may look ridiculous at a garden wedding brunch in July.

Now is also the time to find out if the location of your ceremony has any restrictions. Some churches frown on or forbid low cleavage or backless gowns. Check with your officiant on these things before you fall in love with a gown you can’t wear.

You should also set your budget. There are beautiful gowns in every price range so be realistic in setting this figure. You need something that is appropriate to both your wedding and your wallet. Make sure you include funds for your accessories and alterations.

Imaging Your Perfect Gown

Go through those magazines you bought and check the Internet for ideas and inspiration. Consider this the brainstorm phase, pull everything you might remotely like and also pull things you hate, hate, hate. Go back through them and try and find some common threads and narrow your stack of pictures down to three or four. Focus more on the details than the silhouette. Just because you love a certain silhouette in theory, once you try it on it may not be the most flattering cut for you. The smart bride will be open to a variety of styles at this stage of the game.

A Note on the Fashion Layouts in Magazines

Those are often the original samples made under the personal supervision of the designer. The models are at least 5’11’’ and in perfect shape. Even at that, sometimes the gowns are pinned and taped in place, and then the image is airbrushed to perfection. So take those pictures with a grain of salt.

Finding the Salon

Where you buy your gown can be as important as the gown you choose. This is not the purchase of a trendy skirt that if you get it home and don’t like you can just return it. This is one time in your life when you can use all the professional assistance you can get. Bridal salons are the only place you will find this kind of service. Start with the local bridal magazines, websites and bridal shows. That will give you an idea of what is out there. Follow up by asking recent brides for referrals. Call the Better Business Bureau and check their rating. Contrary to popular myth, a salons reputation is its stock in trade so they work very hard to please their customers. If you are looking for a particular designer, check their website to find an authorized dealer in your area. That is a good way to avoid ending up with a knock-off you thought was the real thing.

Make a list of the salons in your area and head out for a look; not to try on. Most salons prefer you make an appointment to try on gowns. It is a smart idea to stop by in person to make your appointments. This gives you a chance to check out the salon and the professionalism of the staff. Also find out what price range they carry. If you like the salon, make an appointment to come back and try on gowns. Weekdays and evenings will be less hectic than Saturdays and worth your extra effort. On a personal note, try not to schedule an appointment for a time when you will be bloated and cranky, if you know what I mean. Don’t schedule more than two salons for one day or you will end up exhausted with a bad case of “White Blindness.”

What To Expect At The Salon

You have done some planning, made some decisions and scoped out some salons; now comes the real fun-trying them on! I have heard from some brides that they find the salon experience intimidating and scary. Not for you because you are well prepared and have already checked out the shops.

Sample Sizes

Unlike ready-to-wear where you buy off the rack, bridal gowns are usually custom ordered. That is why the majority of salons will have each style in only one size. When shops buy samples they try to order in a fairly average size for their market. So unless you are average size the sample probably won’t fit. Your consultant will know how to deal with this well enough to give you an idea of how the gown will look on you. That will include using clips if it’s too big or elastic straps if it’s too small. Don’t worry about it just go with the flow. Another thing not to worry about is the dress size. Sizing on bridal is all over the board; there is no consistency or correlation to your ready-to-wear size. Each designer has his or her own size chart.


Some salons let you comb through the rack to find things you like, some don’t. The consultant will have a pretty good idea of what to pull based on what you have told her you are looking for and your body type. This is often the easiest way to go. Be open to suggestions. If the consultant or your mom suggests a gown, try it on. Sometimes an objective eye is just the ticket and you might be pleasantly surprised. At the very worst, it could be worth a laugh.

What To Take

Be prepared to describe the style of your wedding, the date and time of day and the style of gown you want. Bring your three or four pictures. It is tempting to bring everyone with you for advice and to be a part of the moment, but don’t do it. Take one or at the most two very trusted friends or family members. Leave the posse and the kids at home. You don’t need the distraction.

Undergarments: Yes, you will have to strip to your skivvies and you will need help getting in and out of the gowns. Dress accordingly. It is a good idea to at least bring a strapless bra with you. Some salons have bras, corsets and bustiers for you to use in the try-on process; others do not. Even if you would never think of wearing pantyhose on your wedding day, they will make getting in and out of multiple gowns easier. Limit your makeup and perfume. Lay off the self-tanners the day of your appointments. Would you really want to try on a sample with someone else’s makeup all over it?

Bring bottled water and a sense of humor. Fun as it may be, it is still a lot of work.

Other Things To Consider

Be honest about your budget. You run the risk of making yourself miserable if you start trying on gowns that you know are way out of your price range. There are fabulous gowns at every price point so don’t torture yourself. Even if you brought in a picture of a very expensive couture gown, those style points might very well exist in lower price point lines. Do leave a buffer for accessories and alterations.

Don’t instantly write off a gown because of a bump here or a bulge there. Ask your consultant if some of the amazing undergarments on the market today would solve the problem. On the other hand don’t expect a full-blown miracle.

Your consultant should be well versed in any changes available on the gowns they carry. Most designers offer a range of options for changing a gown. So if you love the gown but hate the train ask if it can be changed. The worst they can say is no. The same goes for necklines, sleeves, beading and embroidery. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they don’t know the answer they should offer to contact the manufacturer and find out, which may take a few days. Be sure to find out about the additional charges for custom changes.

If you are down to choosing between two or three gowns consider the alteration challenges for each one. Different gowns will have different degrees of difficulty in any alteration. So once again, ask the question. Talk to the seamstress if at all possible.

Try to schedule a break between salons. Grab a bite, make some notes and just regroup in general.

A Note About Gowns Being Discontinued

Yes it is a possibility. Designers discontinue some gowns every season. If you love a gown ordering it within a few weeks of finding it should be all right, but don’t wait six months or you may be out of luck.

Ordering Your Gown

The salon will take your measurements to see what size gown to order; not to have it made to those specific measurements. Match your current measurements to the manufactures size chart. Order the size that corresponds to your largest current measurements. Ask to see the size chart and sign off on the size ordered. Even if you plan to lose weight before your wedding, order based on your current measurements; it takes off the pressure and the gown can always be taken in.

Expect to put down a non-refundable 50% deposit before the salon will order your gown. The balance is usually due when the dress arrives.

Get any changes you requested in writing and make sure both you and the salon have signed off on it.

If you need your gown sooner then the standard ship time for your particular designer there will be a rush charge. A lot of gowns are manufactured overseas. A rush charge may involve airfreight at a hefty fee.

The Salon Called, Your Gown Is Here. Now What?

Make an appointment and go try it on! Now is the time to bring the posse if you want to. Have fun trying on all the different accessories to complete the outfit and get the full picture. It is much easier to select your jewelry and headpiece or veil when you are wearing the gown.

Ask the salon what they recommend for undergarments. If they don’t sell lingerie they know who does and what will work best for your gown.

Just about any gown will require some alterations. For that you will need a seamstress that is very experienced in bridal fashion. Every gown is different and so is the degree of difficulty of everything from adding cups to hemming. Get referrals on this too. You are not bound to have your alteration done at the salon where you got your gown. Once you find your seamstress find out the estimated cost and how long the alterations will take then make an appointment.

What To Bring

You will need your shoes or ones of the same height and the undergarments you plan to wear. The same rules apply for makeup and self-tanner. You don’t want to have to clean your gown before you even get to wear it.

Move around in your gown; sit, dance and toss an imaginary bouquet. See if there are any unsightly gaps, falling straps or boobs on the loose. Also take note of any seams that rub. Have these addressed by your seamstress now instead of on your wedding day.

If your gown has a train bring pictures of the bustle you want. These don’t come standard and must be done by your seamstress.

The Final Fitting

Woohoo, it’s almost done. Bring everything with you that you brought to the first appointment. And bring your maid of honor or your wedding planner. They will need to know how to get you into the dress and how to adjust the corset back or sash. Someone besides you also needs to know how to arrange and fasten the bustle.

Now is a good time to ask what to use to spot clean the gown in the event of a smudge or spill the day of the wedding. A good seamstress should be familiar enough with fabric to help you out here.

If you are having a portrait done before the wedding, make arrangements to have the gown re-steamed and spot cleaned before your wedding.

Finding the gown of your dreams is a once in a lifetime experience. You should enjoy the process as much as the gown.

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Anonymous Hilllary said...

What a great blog with tons of useful tips for brides! I especially liked the reminder about taking care of a spot clean when your bridal sessions are done before the big day. Fab content, Christine, as always!

Thu Apr 03, 09:02:00 AM 2008  
Blogger your WEDDING DIVA said...

Thanks Hillary. I do what I can :-)

Thu Apr 03, 09:09:00 AM 2008  

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