Buying a wedding dress is unlike any other purchase you’ve ever made, so arm yourself with our ten-step guide before you embark on The Ultimate Shopping Mission!
In the beginning, God created wedding magazines. We’re kidding, of course, but there really is no better place to start The Ultimate Shopping Mission than with a good read through these very pages. Sheila Cunningham at Musselburgh boutique Isabella Bridal agrees, but reminds brides-to-be to keep an open mind.“Have a look at bridal magazines to see if there is a particular style you like, but don’t close yourself off to trying on other styles – what you like initially is probably not what you will end up buying,” she notes.
Chrysalis floaty gown by Eleganza Iconica, £2525, Eleganza Sposa
Chrisie layered tulle gown with 3D silk beaded flower detail, around £1995, Joyce Young Design Studios
If you’re visiting a wedding show, it’s always worth checking out the catwalk for style inspiration, and – of course – the internet is awash with endless dress-spiration. A word of caution: while Pinterest is a wonderful resource for ideas, it’s all too easy to clock up a ridiculous amount of hours in the name of ‘research’ when what you really need to do is get out to boutiques and start trying the actual things on!
2. Planning appointments
Trying on wedding dresses is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so relish the moment – and don’t try to cram too much into one day. “When it comes to scheduling appointments, I recommend that brides-to-be only schedule two, or a maximum of three, appointments in a day,” says Karyn McLeod at Perth’s Ivory Whites. “It is very easy to get confused trying on loads of dresses – and doing so is actually a very tiring business. You need time between appointments to reflect, have lunch, a coffee or a glass of wine, leaving you relaxed for your next appointment,” she adds.
When you’re calling to make an appointment, the boutique should let you know if there’s anything you need to do in advance of your visit. Eleganza Sposa, for example, asks its brides to create a ‘Love List’ on its website prior to their first appointment. “Our Love List is an interactive luxury shopping platform, which allows you to select your gowns before your first personal consultation,” explains Anna Cirignaco at the Glasgow boutique. “It gives you, and our expert stylist, a chance to uncover your individual ‘Eleganza’ style. At your first consultation, your handpicked selection of Love List gowns will be ready for you to try.”
3. On the day
On the day of an appointment, swap the black undies for neutrals, says Anna: “We would recommend that brides wear nude underwear, preferably with a nude strapless bra. We also prefer if fake tan is minimal and non-transferable to protect our sample gowns.”
So, take it easy on the bottled bronze – as Sheila rightly points out, tan streaks all over a beautiful ivory gown “doesn’t look nice for the next bride who tries the dress on”.
Sheila adds that while shoes are helpful (if you happen to have chosen them before the dress), they are not essential: “Most bridal boutiques will have shoes for you to use.”
You may well fall for the first dress you pick out – or you might still be unsure even when you’ve tried on loads. “There is no specific number of dresses that should be tried in an appointment. Our bridal stylists understand the sheer number of options can be overwhelming and are there to help you narrow down your selection of favourite gowns,” explains Anna.
“A bride should expect to have a one-to-one consultation when trying on dresses; someone who will listen to what she does and doesn’t like to guide her towards finding the right dress,” says Sheila.
It’s a similar scenario at Ivory Whites, as Karyn explains: “I talk to brides for a couple of minutes when they arrive about what they think they might want and will point out any dresses they have liked from the website. The main work starts when we start trying on dresses, as you get a much better idea of what you suit once you see it on. We then listen to what you like or dislike about the gown, and recommend more dresses to try from there.”
4. Making your mind up
While it’s tempting to make an event of your dress shopping, it’s not really appropriate to invite all six of your bridesmaids along. You should give some thought to who will be involved in helping you make your decision. “We’d recommend a close family member or friend whose opinion you value. Too many opinions can confuse matters, and for this reason we advise that you bring no more than two or three people with you to your first appointment. It’s all about you, after all!” Anna points out.
Sheila agrees: “While we don’t have a limit on the number of people who can come along with the bride, we don’t advise bringing more than one or two. Too many opinions are not helpful in your decision-making.”
How do you know when you’ve found ‘the one’? “Each client is different, and so is the feeling they have when they discover their dream dress,” says Anna. “We always say, if you are in love with the dress and can imagine yourself walking down the aisle in it, it’s a definite sign that you have found ‘the one.”
“You’ll know you have found the right dress when you don’t want to take it off!” laughs Sheila.
5. Ordering and payment
Okay, so you’ve been bowled over by one particular dress. Now it’s time to seal the deal. “Once you have decided on your dress, measurements are taken and recommended sizes are discussed. The bride can then choose what size to go for,” explains Eilidh Campbell at Aberdeen’s Brides Delight. “We ask for a 50% deposit (which is non-refundable) to place an order. The balance is then due once the dress arrives and has been tried on and checked over.”
Ivory Whites also requires a 50% deposit to purchase a gown. “The remaining 50% isn’t payable until your first fitting, which is normally six to eight weeks before your wedding,” says Karyn. “We don’t need to take your measurements when you order if the wedding is still quite a long time away – in other words, you can order your dress at any point, and we’ll measure you at a minimum of six months to go. So if you place an order before this point, it will sit with ‘size to be confirmed’ on it until then, and we’ll arrange a date for you to come back and be measured.”
6. What next?
Brides Delight will place an order with the manufacturer/designer the same day you confirm. “No changes can be made once the order has been placed,” says Eilidh. “You should expect an update within a month with an estimated delivery date – roughly four to five months after the order date.”
“Most dresses take around three to four months to be made and we like them to arrive two months before your wedding to allow for fittings,” adds Karyn. “We know which designers and labels have longer lead times and can advise brides accordingly.”
Lottie crepe back satin corseted sweetheart gown with Blossom tulle shrug, POA, Stephanie Allin Couture, stockists include Charlotte Grace
Chanel gown by Eleganza Iconica, £2100, Eleganza Sposa
7. Choosing accessories
Eilidh suggests waiting until your dress arrives before splurging on too many finishing touches. “Accessories usually only take two weeks maximum to arrive,” she notes. “Look at the beadwork (if any) on your dress and match headpieces to this. And, importantly, ensure you have your shoes before any alterations are done.”
8. The fittings
The fittings process varies from boutique to boutique, so ask your contact how it works and be sure to reserve a slot ahead of time. “Our seamstress comes in one night a week, so the earlier you book, the earlier the appointment you can get. Most girls wait until their dress has arrived to book a slot, but some plan ahead, especially if they want to come straight from work,” explains Karyn.
At Eleganza Sposa, fittings are always on a #weddingwednesday, as Anna points out: “Our fittings day is strictly every Wednesday, when we will have our full team of seams-tresses in our store. On average, two or three fittings per client are necessary, although in some circumstances more may be required.”
“Once our seamstress sees you in the gown, she will show you what alterations she suggests to make the dress fit you 100%,” Karyn points out. “Sometimes this is just altering the length. It really depends on your shape – some brides will need a few more alterations.
“Most people have two fittings – one to decide what you would like done, and the second is just agreeing that you are happy with the work that has been done. You can have more if you need it, though – we work with each bride individually.”
9. The alterations
“The two most common alterations are a ‘nip’ round the bust to make sure the dress is flush against you, and a hem. And if your dress has straps, these often need to be ‘lifted’ to ensure they are tight enough,” reveals Eilidh.
Karyn agrees that most B2Bs “need the length altered, a bustle added (to take the train up for dancing at night), and then some alterations to the side seams or straps to make the dress fit 100%.”
Some boutiques, such as Eleganza Sposa, have in-house seamstresses who alter the dresses. “We ask that all brides book their fittings on consecutive Wednesdays, meaning the gown will be altered and ready for collection within two or three weeks,” explains Anna. “Our alterations package is priced at £320, secured with a £50 deposit.”
Other boutiques, including Brides Delight and Ivory Whites, work with independent seamstresses and dressmakers who have plenty of experience under their belt in handling wedding dresses. “We recommend dressmakers who specialise in altering wedding dresses,” says Eilidh. “Alterations are done outwith the shop and paid direct to the dressmaker. We suggest allowing six to eight weeks for alterations.”
Ivory Whites works with an independent seamstress too. “She charges each bride individually. She will tell you at your first appointment how much the alterations will be, although you don’t have to pay her until you come for your second fitting,” notes Karyn. “Normally a couple of weeks is required for alterations, but it can be shorter if need be – we have altered a dress in a couple of days before! We discuss with each bride what is best for them.”
10. Pick up and wear
Eek! The wedding is almost upon you and you’ve had the call that your dress is ready to collect. Eilidh recommends storing your dress in a protection bag in the run-up to the day itself, but check with your boutique, as “these can sometimes come at an extra charge”.
She suggests a trial session or two of getting the dress on. “Make sure you have several practice runs, and time how long it takes. This will stop you being rushed and panicked on the day. Also, make sure your dress is sitting high enough over your bust before you start doing it up – otherwise you will feel as if you need to pull it up all day.”
Now, with everything sorted, all you need to do is relax in the knowledge that you’re looking amazing and get ready to PARTY!