Style School

We’ve put together a need-to-know guide on finding your dream dress, with shopping advice from the experts

By Emma Langman

When every little girl dreams of her wedding day, she dreams of her wedding dress. From long and slinky to a princess-style gown, there are a multitude of dresses out there to fit every style, look and personality. When you finally get that proposal, it goes without saying that one of the first things that’ll spring to mind is what you’re going to wear on the day. Many of you will have a clear idea of what you want, while some might not have a clue where to start. Whichever camp you fall into, there’s a lot to consider. From where to begin your search, to getting the dress fitted and how long that whole process will take, choosing your big day dress takes time, thought and quite a lot of effort – but it sure is worth it in the end. Most brides want to wear a stand-out dress that will make them look (and feel) better than they’ve ever felt before. Practicality and comfort are also key considerations, after all, you want to make sure there’s room to enjoy your wedding breakfast and have a dress that will work for both day and evening settings (unless you opt for an alternative evening gown, an increasingly popular trend). We’ve spoken to experts in the bridal business to give you the best advice when it comes to finding ‘the one’. If you’re feeling a bit traumatised by tulle, our guide on where to start shopping and how to enjoy your experience will have you looking fabulous in no time.


With hundreds of bridal designers out there and thousands of dresses to choose from, where and when do you start? Most bridal retailers recommend starting your search at least 12 months before the big day, giving you plenty of time so you can be sure you’ve chosen the right gown. “Your wedding gown is integral to your whole wedding. Once you have this [and the venue] chosen, everything else follows,” says Anne Priscilla Bridal’s Karen Kelly ( It’s a sentiment that Anna Cirignaco from bridal boutique Eleganza Sposa ( agrees with: “Once you have chosen your gown, you will feel more relaxed and more confident on making other choices concerning the look and feel of your big day.”
Good sources of inspiration are websites and magazines, where you can browse differing styles of dress and get an idea of what you think you would most like to try on.
Wherever you find your inspiration, a great tip is to collate all the images that you look at together in a scrapbook. “Put together a look book or mood board. It’s so much easier to help someone get on your wave length when they can see what your tastes are. Don’t worry if you are attracted to more than one style at this point. Once you start trying on everything becomes clearer. Remember this is just the start,” Anna Cirignaco advises.


Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking for, it’s time to hit the shops. If you’re looking in boutiques, call them before visiting to check if you need to make an appointment. Take your mum and your bridesmaids along with you for support and feedback, but don’t forget to trust your own instincts too. You might have decided against some looks but you can change your mind when you actually try on the dress. Fiona Stewart from Olivia Cameron Bridal ( says, “If you like a gown, don’t let the people who go with you put you off. Take advice from the person in store and keep an open mind.” Karen Kelly agrees, “Don’t visit too many stores as this only creates confusion and don’t bring too many people – remember ultimately the only opinion that matters is yours!”
It’s also important to arrive at your appointments well-prepared. Take shoes with roughly the sort of heel size you’d like for your big day (or the shoes you’re going to wear if you already have them), as well as suitable lingerie.
When ordering a gown, you can expect to pay a 50% deposit on the day, with the remainder being paid when the gown arrives in store, or when your final fittings have been completed.


After spending so long searching for your dream dress and investing a few bob in it, it’d be churlish to mistreat it after the day is done and dusted. Whatever your plans for your dress are – whether it’s heading for the attic or you hope to sell it on – it’s important to get your gown dry cleaned as after the wedding, returning it to tip-top condition (despite the fizz, food or foundation that might have made its way onto the dress). Time is of the essence when it comes to this as Frank ella of Dundee-based Care Clean explains, “There is a better chance of successful removal of stains the quicker they are attended to. Some stains that are left untreated can eventually cause damage to the fabric.” For example, some liquids, such as white wine or lemonade, might not even show up, making you think that your dress is unstained. But these liquids can cause long-term problems with the fabric. Frank elaborates, “We examine the dress under a UV light to detect staining that has dried invisible to the naked eye. If not flushed out before being dry cleaned, these marks can turn yellow or brown. e always check dresses first as these sorts of stains have caused many an argument about whether or not it was present when the dress was received for cleaning!”
After the dress has been dry cleaned – on a more delicate cycle and often in a special fine net bag to stop any damage to beading or any other embellishments – the dress should be stored properly. The best storage for wedding dresses can be recommended by your dry cleaner, who will often provide this service too. “The dress is folded with acid-free tissue paper in between layers to prevent discolouration and ageing. This is the preferred storage method as it eliminates the risk of stressing the shoulders and seams that comes with leaving a gown hanging,” concludes Frank.


Not many brides are a perfect sample size 10 so it’s more likely than not that you’ll want to make some changes in length and fit to ensure that the dress is as comfortable as possible and looks as fabulous as it should. Don’t forget that alterations can take time and you may need to go back to the store more than once. Fiona Stewart explains how fittings usually work: “The first fitting comprises any bodice work. The second will be to pin and decide the hem length, and the third will ensure that everything is perfect.” This can vary between retailers depending on how intricate the work is, and for a bespoke gown you can expect the process to take a little longer. From first ordering your gown to final fitting takes on average from four to six months, with the first fittings taking place two or three months before the wedding date.


Your wedding dress is very special – “the most important item of clothing you will ever buy!” says Fiona Stewart – but don’t forget to enjoy yourself too. Karen Kelly says, “My best advice to brides is to buy a dress that suits their personality and style. It is important to still be you on your wedding day – after all that is who the groom fell in love with.” Anna Cirignaco agrees, “Above all remember this should be a wonderful experience to be shared with the people who care, so enjoy this special time and treasure the memories forever.”

Top: Dakar gown by La Sposa, around £1300, stockists include Anne and Bobbie’s at The Marriage Room, Olivia Cameron Bridal, Pan Pan Bridal and The
Wedding Planner Above: Susurro gown by Alma Novia, POA, stockists include Apple Blossom Time

1 Style 2251 by Benjamin Roberts, around £1275, stockists include Anne Priscilla Bridal, Border Brides, Kinnies Bridal Classics and Scottish Bridal Studios 2 Milly by Stephanie Allin, £2575, stockists include Anne riscilla Bridal and Charlotte Grace 3 Daria by Ronald Joyce, POA, stockists include Anne and Bobbie’s at The Marriage Room, Bijoux Bridal Boutique, Olivia Cameron Bridal, Sarah Louise Bridal, Brides by Lady G and The Wedding Planner

1 Heidi by Sassi Holford, from £2270, stockists include Anne Priscilla Bridal and Charlotte Grace
2 Piero by Aire Barcelona, POA, stockists include Apple Blossom Time 3 Ceres by Jenny Packham, around £7500, stockists include Anne Priscilla Bridal and Pan Pan Bridal 4 Paris by Alan Hannah, around £3900, stockists include Charlotte Grace 5 Style 1227 by Angelina Faccenda, POA, stockists include Mes Souliers

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