It's the most significant item of clothing you'll ever wear. Get clued up before you hit the boutiques with Wed's guide to buying your wedding gown...
The dress. You’ve fantasised, agonised, and perhaps even argued over it. And that’s before you’ve even started looking. Arguably, one of the most important decisions of the wedding – and, as many brides will testify, of their lives – the dress can cause more joy and heartache for a bride-to-be than anything else.
Sweetheart, Vu's BridalBut there’s no need to panic over dress debacles, for Wed has compiled the ultimate guide to wedding gowns to help you along the way. By outlining each stage of the process, you can rest assured that you will not only find a fabulous frock, but it will fit perfectly, suit your bank balance and arrive on time, so that all you need to focus on is how amazing you feel in it.
White Rose, The Wedding CompanyStep 1 – Ideas and Consultation
You’re newly engaged and have decided the date, so it’s full steam ahead. As exciting as this time is, it is also fraught with emotions that can cloud your judgement and impair your rational decision-making self. In your haste and desire for perfection, don’t fall victim to either snap decisions or prolonged bouts of indecision and time wasting.
It is a good idea to do your research. Get as many ideas and sources of inspiration as you can; Wed, for example, offers plenty of musing material via online dress features and photo shoots, as well as back issues of the magazine. Keep a scrapbook and visual diary, which will assist to make material your imagination.
Schedule a visit to several bridal boutiques. Elaine from County Cream advises that you: “Try and pick just a couple of friends whose opinions you value and trust – too many opinions can be confusing.”
Cosmobella, Lavender Rose
Allow your ideas to alter along the process. Rigid interpretations of what you think you want are difficult to dismiss if you’ve tried on what you think should be your ideal dress when, in actuality, it does absolutely nothing for you. Ellen from Lavender Rose advises brides to: “Be open minded: sometimes that dream dress you have seen in a magazine isn’t going to suit you, and sometimes the dress that looks drab on the hanger looks amazing on. I like it when brides bring pictures of what they have been looking at in the magazines as we can then discuss the dresses and the looks.”
Elaine agrees: “We find a lot of brides come in with a very fixed idea of what they want, for example plain and simple with straps, and go out with a detailed strapless dress. If you ask our advice on styles to suit you and your shape we will be happy to guide you.”
Jenny Packham, County Cream
Bridal shop owners have dealt with hundreds of brides-to-be and know the industry inside out, so respect and value their opinion: “Listen to the suggestions of the bridal shop owner. They know their stock and will have suggestions for what might suit you,” Ellen adds.
She continues: “My biggest piece of advice for all brides is speak to us, we are there to help and love doing it. And have fun – this shouldn’t be stressful.”
During the ideas phase, keep an eye out for trends that take your fancy. Are you inclined toward Greek goddess, boho bride or fairytale princess? The latest wave of New Romance accommodates all these styles whilst maintaining a modern edge. Perhaps you will be customising an heirloom gown or creating one from scratch. Think about your venue and theme, as certain settings and styles lend themselves to specific looks; for example, the beach smacks of short skirts or floaty frocks whereas winter weddings may call for more dramatic silhouettes or darker colours.
Bonny Bridal, The Wedding Company
Step 2 – Deciding and Ordering
Once you’ve gathered some ideas and sampled some looks, it’s time to get specific. Realising that you’re not tall enough for the mermaid gown you’ve pinned all your hopes on is a much-needed reality check, allowing you to free up your mind for a more spontaneous process whereby you discover ‘the one’ unexpectedly.
Art Couture, County Cream
As tempting as it is to spend months and months looking, unless you’re opting for a very prolonged engagement or planning phase, bear in mind the pressing issue of time.
Bonny Bridal, The Wedding Company
Elaine explains: “Time-wise, dresses can vary in the lead time for delivery. Ours, for example, are four months, but this could vary from stockist to stockist. At least six months is a good lead time – plus you then need time for alterations, which we normally recommend you look to start six to eight weeks before the wedding day.”
Di from Vu’s Bridal offers similar advice: “Start looking for a dress eight-twelve months before the wedding and order it no later than six months before – this is because wedding gowns generally take four-five months to be made and delivered. Most people don't realise that the majority of bridal gowns are made abroad and that they take this long for us to get them.”
Cosmobella, Lavender Rose
So that leaves a year to comfortably choose, receive and fit a gown. But what about fast trackers intent on a whirlwind wedding?
Di solves the quandary: “We also sell all of our gowns off-peg. This works well if someone has a tight budget or little time. They are usually sold at a discount and generally these dresses are then sold as a one off” – bespoke and a bargain.
Ellen suggests that you check specifics with the bridal shop owners: “Dresses can take anywhere from three–six months to arrive plus alteration time, but don’t panic if you do leave it too late. Some designers have an express delivery or have some of their dresses in stock. If all else fails, there are the sample dresses which can be bought.”
“For brides on a budget you will be able to find sample gowns for sale at a reduced price. You will also receive the same support and advice from a bridal shop owner that you won’t find online.”
Trudy Lee, Lavender Rose
Which leads onto one of the major modern pitfalls of wedding dress buying: the Internet.
Di has a word of warning: “There have been horror stories of girls buying dresses online – in fact we have had to pick up the pieces of a few. A lot of the popular designer gowns are copied and sold online so you can never be sure the dress you are buying is genuine. In most cases, cheaper fabrics, beading and so on are used, and the structure and fit is nowhere near the same.”
True Bride, Lavender Rose
“We always have a large collection of dresses we will happily sell off-peg at a greatly reduced price. They are sent away for cleaning then checked over by the dressmaker – all our dresses are current season so they are not just old ex-samples that have been kicking around a store room for months.”
Once you’ve picked out a dress, stop shopping. “Don't be tempted to keep looking after this point. If you try on too many dresses you will make the decision harder. Once the decision is made don't feel compelled to keep looking – move on and focus on other parts of the big day,” says Elaine. Then bask in the glory that your work is done.
White Rose, The Wedding CompanyShapes
Always consider your body basics before ordering your gown. Certain designs favour particular body shapes and flatter physical attributes accordingly. Ball gowns and A-line dresses tend to suit all frames, whereas slim-fitting sheaths, fitted body con styles and minis are better for tall and slim types. The trick is to experiment with all styles to get an idea of what looks and feels right for you.Step 3 – Delivery and Alterations
Since bridal store owners are all agreed that you should allow up to three months for alterations, especially during the peak months of March to October, this is an important period to consider.
Any dramatic weight gain or loss must be either avoided or factored in. Many brides lose excess weight beyond their targets due to stress and over-dieting; then of course there’s the baby bump issue for expectant brides.
D'Zage, Little Anne Maids
Consider your sizing. “Customers can find they need one to two sizes larger than high street clothing. This is nothing to be alarmed about, as wedding dresses are a lot more structured and fitted than ordinary clothing,” explains Di. Therefore it’s important to be mindful about the differences between your usual dress size and wedding dress size, as well as any changes in the final stages toward the day.
Remember that “alterations are an extra cost that needs to be considered, and brides should ask bridal shop owners about how this works,” says Ellen. They are also a vital aspect for ensuring the dress fits and looks like a dream to avoid unnecessary spillages of flesh or gaping peephole gaps that granny would rather not be exposed to.
Martina Liana, Vu's Bridal
Once successfully arrived and altered, think about extra additions and storage. Do you want to add a few more sequins, a corsage or underskirt to embellish and further personalise your gown? This takes additional time, materials and money.
Sincerity, Vu's Bridal
When it’s all ready, make sure that it’s stowed away safely where no damage can occur – and checked regularly just in case. Minor mishaps – spillages, tears, creasing – can be corrected last minute to ensure that nothing stops you from being a bridal beauty.
Trudy Lee, Lavender RoseFinishing Touches
Now that everything is being finalised, think about the event as a whole with regards to your dress. Consider the colour scheme: can it be emphasised or coolly contrasted by a splash of colour such as dying your underskirt, bright shoes, jewellery or other accessories? The season may require you to cover up outside with a shrug, sleeves or a pashmina. Headwear is all the rage; whether you opt for a mini or full-length veil, a tiara, fascinator or Alice band, complete your unique look with some well chosen accessories.
White Rose, The Wedding Company
words Hannah May
Copyright WED Magazine 2011