Shop this way: Dress shopping advice

Drowning in dress stress? We’ll have you heading in the right direction in no time with our essential guide to getting a gown, writes Sarah Gillespie

Style 9117 by Allure Bridals, stockists include Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, Kavelle Couture and Simply Exquisite Bridal & Prom Boutique. See page 380 of BSW 37 for stockist details.

You might love shopping, and you might even be pretty good at it. But shopping in the real world is no preparation for bridal shopping. At all. Strolling down the high street on a Saturday and treating yourself to a cute pineapple-print dress from Primark has few similarities with ordering a wedding gown. True, you might only wear each dress once, but the craftsmanship, and cost, will be planets apart. Messy, sweaty and busy, high-street changing rooms are a stressful place to be half-naked. Good bridal boutiques are serene, immaculate and should contain only a handful of people. We’re going with the old ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ on this one – read on and we’ll look at all the essential steps to finding your dream dress.

Left: Noa dress by Jenny Packham, POA, stockists include Pan Pan Bridal Right: Imogen dress, POA, Joyce Young By Storm


You’re engaged. Hurray! But now it’s time to get to work. Most dresses take 16 to 20 weeks to arrive once ordered and alterations normally take place around six weeks before, so it’s generally accepted that you should start looking for your dress 12 months before you get hitched (even more if you’re indecisive). Start researching online and in magazines. Get a feel for what type of dress you like, and suss out your designers. You don’t have to know the exact style number of a beautifully embellished Jenny Packham dress or dramatic Ian Stuart ballgown, but knowing the shapes and styles you like certainly helps speed things up once you start trying dresses on. (That said, I’m amazed at how my own taste in dresses for my as-yet-fictional wedding has changed since working for a bridal magazine.) You can’t compare looking at a picture or seeing the dress on a hanger to seeing it in (and on) the flesh. “Keep an open mind,” advises Melanie Rodger of Highland boutique Wedding Belles ( “A dress you think looks awful on the hanger might just look amazing on you.”


Once you start making appointments, you’ll have to decide who to take with you. You don’t want people-pleasers, but you don’t want the fashion police either. Elaine Donegan from Wedding Wise ( agrees: “Take someone you trust to give their opinion but also respect yours. Mother doesn’t always know best, but she is usually a bride-to-be’s first choice.” True, you can trust your mum to be honest but still think you look beautiful regardless – just make sure she doesn’t take over. “In my experience most of the pressure comes from the mother of the bride,” says Jolene Taylor of Perth’s Apple Blossom Time (appleblossom Consider taking your maid of honour for a recce trip while you take it all in, and then going with your entourage once you’ve narrowed your search down a bit. Don’t forget to call ahead: “Make sure you check if a boutique is appointment-only,” suggests Melanie. If it’s a small place, it might close completely during appointments, so you won’t even be able to have a quick browse while you make a booking.”

1 Glisy dress by Cabotine, stockists include Kudos Couture 2 Viola dress, POA, Hazaar of London 3 Style F161061 by Jasmine Bridal, stockists include Special Days Brides and Sarah Louise Bridal 4 Style 12201 by Ellis Bridals, stockists include Alison Kirk Bridal and Sarah Louise Bridal 5 Style 2622 by Mori Lee, stockists include Pamela Jayne’s Bridal and Sarah Louise Bridal. See page 380 of Issue 37 for stockists.


Some people say you should buy a bikini a size too small so you can slim into it for your holiday. For me, that’s about as effective as putting on fake tan with a paintball gun, so don’t fall into the trap of buying your dress in the size you’d like to be. “It’s always better to have a dress that’s too big rather than too small,” says Jolene. “You can always have it altered to fit if you lose weight.” Melanie agrees: “We had a size 16 dress taken down to an 8 recently and it fitted the bride like a glove.” Pressurising yourself to diet, on top of the stress of planning a wedding, will take the joy out of what is supposed to be a happy time. “You should feel excited about coming back to try your dress on, not dreading it,” says Elaine. “You should also remember that every designer’s sizing is different and that, often, bridal sizes are one or two sizes smaller than in high-street stores,” adds Jolene.

Left: Elle dress, POA, Brides by Harvee Right: Zendaya dress by Maggie Sottero, stockists include Sarah Louise Bridal


When a boutique goes bust, it is devastating for brides who’ve placed an order and paid up. There’s no way of predicting who’ll go under – it happens to large city-centre stores as well as smaller local boutiques – but you can take steps to protect yourself from being out of pocket. Buying your dress on a credit card gives you the chance to pay it off gradually, and gives you crucial payment protection. Wedding insurance too is worth considering, as it covers not just your dress but all of your suppliers.


One thing brides often tell us is that they hate being given the hard sell during an appointment. If you keep being shown dresses that are sneakily just above your stated budget, ask to see a range of designs at different price points. Another way to get more out of the experience is to build up a good rapport with your consultant. It will help if you show respect too, so be careful with the dresses, and don’t wear fake tan or heavy make-up that could transfer onto them. Happy shopping, ladies!