A Survival Guide for Wedding Dress Shopping

I’m writing this post to try to help others in their quest to find their perfect wedding dress and to make this process as painless as possible!  I had no idea where to begin when I started considering dresses and quickly learned it’s not the same as it looks in the movies.   I’ve never been one of those girls that have fantasized about their wedding day – I really didn’t give wedding dresses any thought until many months after our engagement. I decided it would be best to start my hunt online – test the waters and get a feel for what is out there.  This gave me great insight into the key wedding dress designers in the market and the different styles available.  Nevertheless, I found it really difficult to imagine myself in the variety of styles that I liked – the pictures are too small, you can’t see the true colour, you can’t tell what the sizing is like and more often than not, the pictures don’t show the real level of detail and work that goes into a wedding dress.  Price information is also rarely provided – unless you buy ready-to-wear, a sample dress, second-hand, or direct from a dodgy website which claims to make your wedding dress in the style of the hottest designers’ bestsellers’.

In my experience of wedding dress shopping, I found that dress sizes were generally smaller than high-street sizes. I’m normally a UK size 8-10 but my wedding dress is a size 12. I must admit I felt a twang of pain when Anne said she was ordering my dress in a 12 – until she reassured me that it’s the same for everyone. Bridal sizing is based on traditional sizing specifications which are considered by many to be outdated and inconsistent with current body-shapes. Some would argue that bridal-wear reflects true sizing – high street clothes are now sized smaller thus feeding into the vanity and ego of today’s consumers. I accept people have generally become bigger over the years but I do think that shapes have changed so much, that these specs are most probably incompatible with the shape of women today. I tried on dresses which ranged from a UK size 6 to a 12 by different designers and quickly realised it doesn’t matter what size the label says – what matters is how it fits. Bear in mind that whatever size you buy your dress in, it will then be altered to fit your body shape perfectly and will rarely be a standard size.

I’m lucky that I’m fairly small in size – all of the samples I tried were a close fit if not too big.  It must be really disheartening for girls who are not my size to go and try wedding dresses that simply don’t fit.  It’s hard to visualise how you look in a dress if it’s too big or too small.  The staff in shops always do their best to pin the dress according to your shape to give you an idea, but it’s not the same as trying on a dress that actually fits.  It would be great if bridal boutiques stocked a range of sizes, so people who are not a size 10 can try on dresses and not feel bad in the process.

The pricing of dresses is rarely featured on the actual designers or retailing stockists websites.  This really frustrated me – I’m on a budget and appreciate many of you will be too.  For that reason, I did some research to establish what designers I could afford and what boutiques would accommodate my budget before making appointments to try on dresses. Nevertheless, I wanted to experience one of the more ‘upmarket’ boutiques and so I made my first appointment for Eleganza Sposa – stockists of Suzanne Neville amongst a range of other collections.  I have to say I was no more impressed by Eleganza Sposa’s range of gowns or their customer service in comparison to any of the smaller boutiques I visited.

I read a number of wedding blogs and wedding forums which were helpful in identifying what I could reasonably afford with my £1000 budget.  I then called some boutiques to check which designers they stocked and directly enquired about their dress price range.  It’s absolutely fine to do this – don’t feel embarrassed.  It’s best to check you can actually afford the dresses you are going to try on, or else you will leave feeling bitterly disappointed. You don’t have to spend thousands on a dress for it to be beautiful. There are a number of designers out there with reasonable price tags that won’t break the bank – check out Justin Alexander, Maggie Sottero, Perfection Bridal, Mori Lee, Jesus Piero, Ronald Joyce and Alfred Angelo.

You should also ask the boutiques what sample dresses they have on sale. You never know, you could snap up an amazing bargain on a beautiful dress.  The only drawbacks here are fit and potential damage to the dress.  Some sample dresses I tried on were in a real mess with beading missing, tears and all sorts.  But all of these things can be fixed – just make sure you get a fair deal as the dress is likely to require alterations, dry-cleaning and corrective work.

You can also look out for trunk shows… although I hear this is a bit like a cattle market.  It would drive me nuts so I decided to stay clear.

I ordered my dress a couple of weeks back.  Its beautiful and it is priced within my budget.  I am having it customised to include a few extra bits here and there.  I love how I’ve been able to do this – it reflects my style well and is individual.  I ordered my dress from Elegance Bridal (previously known as Perfection Bridal) in Glasgow’s Merchant City.  They stock an amazing rage of beautiful dresses including; the Perfection Collection, Intuzuri (some beautiful lace gowns in this range), Nicola Anne of England and Donna Lee to accommodate a range of budgets and tastes.  The staff were so friendly and helpful.  They immediately made me feel at ease and I didn’t feel embarrassed telling them what my budget was either.  I picked my dress and ordered it on my first visit to the store – I would highly recommend it to others.  They stock a great range of bridal accessories and bridesmaids dresses too.

I also really liked Anais Bridal Couture in Milngavie which had some beautiful gowns available and the boutique itself is very pretty. The owner Karen was so polite and helpful.  I found a gorgeous dress by Jesus Piero in here but sadly it was just a bit too expensive for me. Anais Bridal is also a stockist of Dessy Bridesmaids Dresses – I fell in love with this gown (style LR182) from the Lela Rose collection but it’s sadly too expensive for my budget. If your bridesmaids budget is not as restricted as mine, this dress is so beautiful and looks amazing on.

I’d also recommend Juliette’s Bridalwear and Kilt Hire in Paisley.  The ower was great – clearly knew what she was doing and was very competitive in terms of pricing.  By no means is this a fancy boutique but she stocks a good range of designers and styles to suit a variety of budgets.

Sites such as Preloved and Oxfam can be great for finding a second-hand dress on a budget. Preloved is especially good for grabbing a second-hand designer dress that you have set your heart on but can’t pay full price. There are regularly gowns featured by the likes of Jenny Packham for example.

I’d recommend you give yourself at least 10 months to find your dress and make sure you do some research before you visit the boutiques. You should get an idea of which designers are within your price range and you should refer to specific designers and styles you like when you visit the boutiques, so that the staff can help you find something suitable for you. I didn’t really know what I wanted and so I enjoyed trying on lots of different styles to figure out what I did and didn’t like. Although it turned out I loved loads of different styles, I chose one which reflected my original ideas. You should bear in mind that it can take at least five or six months for your dress to be made and delivered. You then have to factor in any alterations which need to be made to ensure it fits perfectly.

There is also the option of having your dress made. This way you get exactly what you want and ensures originality. I was really tempted to have my dress made but I think I left it a bit late – I’m too much of a worrier and I was concerned it would be too rushed. But if you have time and are set on what you want, having your dress made can be a cheaper alternative to buying a designer dress. I’ve heard great reports about Flossy and Dossy in Glasgow as well as Mee Mee Couture. You should check them out if you are thinking of having your dress made.

I hope my wedding dress shopping survival guide helps to make your experience that bit easier. Happy shopping brides 😉