Happy Sunday lovely readers! I hope you’re having a fabulous few days and really starting to look forward to Christmas. As I’m writing this feature, I can see our family Christmas tree out of the corner of my eye and as the festive period is now right around the corner, this will be our last Little Book for Brides advice article for a few weeks. But, before you start to feel down, let me assure you that we’ve saved a great post for this weekend because we’re concentrating on that most exciting task, wedding dress shopping.
So today, with fabulous insight from the brilliant suppliers you’ll find in our Little Book for Brides, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the world of wedding gowns and bridal boutiques. Oh, and grab yourself a cuppa and a comfy spot somewhere – it’s a long one this, and quite frankly packed with some of the most brilliant advice.
Let’s start right at the beginning because before you can find ‘the one’, you have to find the right boutique. Now, we’ve listed our favourites over on Little Book for Brides but there’s still a boutique, atelier or studio to suit every style so here’s what you need to consider before you even starting thinking of gowns and dresses:
“Firstly, I would try to find out which designers you feel inspired by,” suggests Jo-Anne from The Bridal Rooms of Wellswood. “Check out all forms of social media, blogs and wedding magazines to help you.”
“Do your research,” says Lindsay from Dress In Love. “Have a look at their websites – do they stock the kind of dresses you like? Are their dresses within your budget? What sizes are their samples? Ask lots of questions and, if you’re working to a tight time frame, ask if they can get a dress for you in time. Remember to check a boutique’s additional services and ask about alterations too.”
As well as boutiques that stock brand new designer gowns and bespoke collections, there is always the vintage option:
“If you’re going for a real vintage gown, always go to a trusted seller,” says Erica Arnold from Real Green Dress. “Then you’ll find gowns and veils that have been professionally cleaned. Buying a bargain elsewhere that ‘smells musty from storage’ or ‘only has a few stains that will probably come out with cleaning’ is taking a big gamble.”
And of course, as with all areas of wedding planning, don’t forget there’s technology to help you find the right boutique:
“Stalk a potential boutique on social media!” says Emma from Miss Bush. “Does the company come across as empathetic on Facebook? Check their taste in Instagram. If posh city centre shops terrify you, look for designer stockists out of town as they tend to be more relaxed.”
Dress In Love’s Rebecca. “You also need to feel comfortable with the staff and your bridal consultant as you’ll be working with your chosen boutique for quite a while from that first appointment through fittings and finally collection. It’s important that you have confidence and trust in the boutique.”
Our experts also have plenty of words of wisdom concerning the tricky subject of costs…
“Before you visit a boutique, set yourself a budget for your gown and stick to it,” says Laura from Brides of Winchester. “Also, you should have chosen your venue and wedding day style before you start looking for your dress as different dress designs fit with different styles of occasion.”
“As a bride, you should find a balance between what you’re comfortable to spend and what prices are available in the market,” says Sanyukta Shrestha. “In the UK market, you can find wedding dresses ranging from £1000, designer gowns from £1500 and couture, bespoke gowns can start from upwards of £2000.”
“Having your wedding gown made for you by an experienced and creative dress designer is not a cheap alternative to having a designer dress,” cautions Jennifer Bone from My Little Wedding Shop. “It’s about having a one-off designer gown that is unique to you and fits your budget. Also, very few women are a standardized size and the importance of having a perfect it in your wedding dress cannot be overstated.”
“Can I just say that dresses cost what they do for a reason,” says Sam Walsh from Sass & Grace. “Whether the money has gone into the material, the structure, the production or the design, you’ll see the value when you put them on.”
Lisa and Victoria of Cicily Bridal
So, know you’ve found the boutique for you, when’s the right time to start wedding dress shopping?
“The best time to start trying on dresses is when you’re ready to buy one,” says Madelaine Furnivall from The Bridal Boutique. “If your wedding isn’t for two years and you’re not ready to find your dress, just don’t look until closer to the time and try and avoid trying on lots of dresses over a long period as that can be very confusing.”
“In the vast majority of cases, we’d advise you to take your time,” advises Laura from Perfect Day Bride. “Use the anticipation to do your research: find out what style of dresses you like, the designers you’re drawn to and the bridal boutiques who stock them in your near vicinity. Don’t rush into your dress appointments, but do have a good think about budget and expectation before you arrive. The process of finding your wedding dress should be one that you can savour, so don’t be in a rush to get it over with too soon. As with all the best things in life, half the thrill is in the anticipation of what’s to come!”
Now you’ve got your diary to hand to find the right moment, it’s the moment to get in touch with the boutique you want to visit to make an appointment. Yes indeed, wedding dress shopping always requires appointments for a number of reasons, as Emma from Miss Bush explains:
“There are many alien concepts to grasp when wedding dress shopping, the first being making an appointment to go shopping. Worry not, this is not about putting you in a high pressure sales situation, it simply allows a boutique to be prepared for you. Most boutiques are owner operated so it allows us to turn off the phone, put an out of office message on our email and focus a peaceful hour on dressing up and giving the best advice.”
“Not all boutiques charge for appointments and if you simply want to go and try on dresses, there are plenty of wedding dress shops that do not charge,” continues Miss Bush’s Emma. “Those that do are usually the most sought after and levy a small refundable charge for peak times. The system of charging was initially controversial but increasingly brides do expect a full luxurious experience, senior staff and utter privacy. It allows us to be fully focused, knowing that you are a serious shopper, it partially funds the prosecco and tea and it guarantees privacy and calmness.”
If you’d like to read more on the subject of appointment charges, you can do so here. Anyway, let’s get back to the planning of the ultimate shopping trip and let’s focus on who should come with you…
“Wedding dress shopping should be a really fun part of planning your wedding so think about who you want to take with you,” advises Sam Walsh from Sass & Grace. “Take one or two at the most close family members or friends with you and make sure you value their opinions and they know you really well. I wouldn’t recommend taking your gaggle of girlfriends to your first appointment as everyone will have an opinions and you’ll be in the midst of it all.”
“Personally, I think more than one or two friends of family members is too many IF you actually want to get somewhere,” says Emma from Miss Bush. “Effectively, you’ll be crowd-pleasing if you bring five, six or more and this limits the chance of trying on what you want. Wedding dress shopping is not democratic, it’s a dictatorship. You just have to decide who the dictator is!”
The wonderful team behind Agapé bridal boutique
“The way to treasure the experience of buying your wedding dress is to only have your own heart ruling your decisions,” says Laura of Perfect Day Bride. “The way to enjoy bridalwear is to have the time and space to come to terms with your own body and personality to find a dress that fits both. The way to keep everyone else happy is to give them jobs to do on your wedding day that make them feel involved. The bridal dressing room is not the place for an entourage of 12 people.”
As well as battalions of friends and family, there are some other people you might like to leave at home to make the most of your boutique experience:
“I’d always advise brides to keep their appointment a child-free zone,” says Sophie from Coco & Kate Atelier. “Whether it’s your own little ones or babies belonging to friends and family, bridal boutiques aren’t fun places for toddlers and children. Yes, it might seem like a great dressing up shop when they walk in but asking them to give you a peaceful hour or more stops it being fun pretty quickly! This is also a time that should be just for you, it’s all about you and you should be able to relax and enjoy every moment without keeping an eye on where those little people are wandering off to!”
Finally, as well as taking the right advisors with you, there’s also something else most boutiques would rather you didn’t bring with you:
“We know that you might like having a year-round tan but unfortunately, wedding dresses aren’t so keen,” explains Sam Newby-Ricci from Heritage Brides. “Fake tan can absolutely ruin a gown so we respectfully ask that you keep your bronzing to a minimum.”
Another question that pops up regularly is what to wear and by that we don’t mean which top in your wardrobe best goes with those black skinny jeans. No, we’re talking about underwear.
“When shopping for your wedding dress, you should always try and wear the most appropriate underwear,” says Kate Halfpenny of Halfpenny London. “Ideally, a strapless bra if you’re thinking of illusion neckline or sheer camisoles and lace lined t-shirts. However, if you’re after a backless dress or low plunging style, you need to consider what will give you best support or bust shape.”
“For vintage gowns and dresses, getting the foundation right, especially your bra, is essential,” says Erica from Real Green Dress. “The 1920s bride kept it all flattened down but they the 30s, the bust was on the way back up along with the waistline. For anything from the late 40s to the early 60s, pointy and perky is the way to go. The late 60s and 1970s brides tended to have a more natural look but underwired push-up bras were around and can work very well with empire line dresses. So, take a couple of different bras with you when you try on vintage dresses and you might save yourself some pennies on alterations.”
What should you expect from your appointment? What happens when you step inside a bridal boutique? Don’t worry; our experts are here to tell you everything you need to know:
“When a bride comes to me for her initial appointment, I like to get to know her to find out a bit more about her wedding plans so that I can conjure up an image of what the day might look like,” says Jessica Charleston. “We’ll have a chat over a cup of tea (or something bubblier!) and I’ll ask her about any ideas she’s had for her wedding dress and how she would like to look and feel on her wedding day.”
“I recommend leaving and hour and a half or two hours to get the full benefit from your appointment,” says Jo-Anne from The Bridal Rooms of Wellswood. “There’s usually enough time within your appointment to revisit your favourite dress and see if it feels special the second time around.”
“Please try to leave your embarrassment at the door,” says Sam Newby-Ricci from Heritage Brides. “To get the very best fit, we will need to measure you. We think all our brides are beautiful and there’s no such thing as a perfect shape or size. We’ll work with you to make sure that the gown you choose is the most flattering for you.”
“From the moment you enter our boutique, you are in our skilled hands,” says Caroline Castigliano. “We’re experts at bringing the vision of each or our brides to life and our experienced wedding stylists will guide you through your appointment. We understand how important it is for your bridal gown to reflect your style and character as well as fitting impeccably to flatter and enhance your shape.”
“Arrive in plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed and really make the most of the experience,” says Heidi from Lace & Co Bridal. “Let them know what style you’re looking for but be open to suggestions, have fun trying on gowns, play with accessories and above all, don’t get stressed or worried about finding ‘the one’.”
Once you’ve shared your ideas, browsed those beautiful rails and probably sipped a glass of something bubbly, it’s time to start trying on gowns.
“I think the best advice I can give is don’t try on more than ten dresses,” says Madelaine Furnivall of The Bridal Boutique. “It can just become overwhelming and confusing and the biggest mistake girls make is not purchasing the dress when they’ve found it. They forget how much they loved it and then doubt themselves and start to lose faith in the whole dress shopping process.”
“Don’t be put off if you fall in love with the first dress you try,” advises Kate Halfpenny. “It can happen but equally, it might take a bit more effort. Try not to have a preconceived idea of what you want as it can be disappointing when that style doesn’t suit your body shape.”
Becky from Lace & Grace agrees:
“Do bring along images, ideas and pins of the dresses that you like but when dress shopping, come with an open mind. Very often, the ‘wild card’ dress that you never imagined yourself wearing can surprise you and end up becoming ‘the one’.”
Sophie from Coco & Kate Atelier also has some wise words on the subject of bridal trends:
“I wouldn’t worry too much about ‘trends’ as they come and go and in years to come, you want your pictures to look classic, not dated! It’s far more important to choose a wedding dress that suits you, and we can look at adding little details (like a belt for example) to bring a personal touch to your wedding day look. You also need to feel comfortable and confident on your wedding day and that comes from wearing the right dress for you, not one that you think you should like.”
As you start trying on dresses, it’s really important to recognise how each gown makes you feel and pass on honest feedback to the experts helping you:
“Dresses don’t have feelings!” says Lindsay from Dress In Love. “Be honest with your bridal consultant and if you don’t like a dress, say so but try to be constructive and explain what you don’t like. This way your consultant can take on board what you’re telling her and select some dresses that may be better suited to you.”
“If you start admiring yourself and falling in love with your own image in the mirror when you’re in the dress, it’s the biggest hint that you’ve found THE DRESS,” says designer Sanyukta Shrestha. “If you feel stunning, you’ll look stunning.”
In this age of sharing images on social media of all the important moments in our lives, it’s natural to want to take some photos when you’re finally trying on these stunning gowns. However, don’t be too quick to pull out the camera phone as most boutiques simply don’t allow it. There is also, as Kate Halfpenny explains, another reason why snapping away isn’t a good idea:
“Try to avoid taking pictures. You’re often not allowed anyway but the reason why we say ‘no pictures’ is for the pure fact that we have seen so many brides discount dresses that they had tried on early in the day based on a terrible snap taken on a phone. We advise you to remember how the dresses made you feel and go and revisit your favourites, not to make choices from pictures.”
“The dress IS really important but it is only a dress to be worn on one day,” says Rebecca from Dress In Love. “Ultimately, the wedding isn’t about the dress, it’s about your and your intended declaring your commitment to each other. A dress cannot encompass every facet of your personality and as long as the dress makes you feel happy and confident and your feel fabulous in it, then it’s the dress for you.”
Once you’ve found the gown that you want to wear on your wedding day, the next step is to order it because in the world of wedding dresses, you don’t simply pick ‘the one’ off the rail and walk out with it. Oh no, it needs to be made for you. Wedding dress order times vary (and you can read more about them here) but whatever gown you choose and whenever you need to order it, make sure you read before you sign-up:
“When you’re ready to order your gown, make sure the boutique’s terms and conditions are explained to you and you understand them,” cautions Laura from Brides of Winchester. “As well as the cost of the gown, expect there to be alteration costs and these aren’t included in the gown price so ask for estimates and details in advance.”
“If you’re ready to purchase your wedding dress, most boutiques will require a 50% deposit to place your order and to put it in the designer’s ordering system or they may offer flexible payment terms so you can spread the cost,” says Jo-Anne from The Bridal Rooms of Wellswood. “Your dress will take between three and six months to arrive from the designer to the boutique and this is when your balance is due.”
Whilst your wedding gown will be altered in a standard size, once it’s arrived at the boutique, it will be fitted to you to make it absolutely perfect. Dressing fitting and alterations are an integral part of buying a wedding dress and this is the moment that your gown truly becomes yours.
“Two months prior to your wedding day is when most boutiques schedule fittings for your wedding dress,” explains Jo-Anne from The Bridal Rooms of Wellswood. “This is the point where you MUST have chosen your underwear and shoes to make sure the gown is fitted to perfection.”
“You can expect to have two or three fittings on an off-the-peg dress and don’t forget that in most places, alterations cost from around £40 per hour,” says Kate Halfpenny.
Once this part of the process is complete, your wedding date will likely be drawing near and it’s time to finally collect your dress:
“Your dress will be beautifully, carefully and methodically steamed or pressed ready for your collection date,” says Jo-Anne from The Bridal Rooms of Wellswood. “You won’t be trying on the dress when you collect it I’m afraid as it’s now perfectly smooth, fluffed and positioned ready to say ‘I do’.”
Of course, your boutique won’t just be full of exquisite gowns, it will also stock a choice selection of accessories, those finishing touches that add an extra stamp of individuality to your wedding day look but beware of shopping too soon or not fully appreciating the difference well -chosen accessories can make to your ensemble…
“As tempting as it is to dive straight in to exciting, once in a lifetime shoe and accessory shopping, it’s always wise to choose your dress first,” advises Emmy Scarterfield from Emmy London. “The dress will dictate the mood, colour, embellishment and heel height of your wedding shoes. So, once you’ve chosen the ‘the one’, it’s time to get going with your shoes and accessories shopping – the really fun part as we like to call it!”
“A statement dress with a lot of detail could be finished off beautifully with a simple, elegant court shoe in either tone-on-tone or a soft tone to match flowers or bridesmaids to create a chic, blended statement,” continues Emmy. “Alternatively, just go for it and go for all out shoes with your statement dress – you only do this once!”
“Shoes do something to you,” says Laura at Perfect Day Bride. “They affect your posture, your gait, the way you carry yourself and how you wear the all-important dress. The shoes you choose will define whether you carry yourself with poise, elegance and grace. Your shoes have a greater impact on how you look than you might realise. For some, heels simply will not be an option; for others, the idea of walking down the aisle in flats is unfathomable. Our job is not to advocate a specific style or type of shoe but, as with all the best things in life, encourage quality over cost.”And whilst we’re on the subject of cost, don’t forget that boutiques regularly hold sample sales where designer stock is sold at greatly reduced prices. You can read more about sample sales here but our experts have a few words to share on the pros and cons of these events:
“Sample sales are a great place to start looking if your budget is small but you need to be in a position to pay upfront on the day,” explains Kate Halfpenny. “Don’t buy dresses that are more than a size bigger as the bust seams and shape can be a nightmare to correct and you’ll be responsible for getting all alterations done.”
“Sample sales can be a great place to pick up a genuine bargain,” says Laura from Brides of Winchester. “But make sure you have a clear idea of what you want and be prepared to make a quick decision. A sale day is not for the faint hearted!”
So, wherever you decide to shop, whatever gown you choose and whenever you venture out into the world of wedding dress shopping, there’s no doubting the fact that this is an incredibly special moment that should be savoured. We so want you to have an experience that you love so we’ll leave you with these wise words from Emma at Miss Bush who sums everything up perfectly:
“Don’t hype up wedding dress shopping too much. Yes, it’s weird, yes it can be terrifying, yes it’s great fun, yes your taste and figure will be discussed but at the end of the day, it’s only shopping. It can be an emotionally shredding or fantastic bonding experience. It can be frustrating. It can be the most illuminating analysis of what suits you and why. You will also have that moment when you put on a dress (and it’s usually with the addition of a veil) that you think ‘this is odd, pinch me, I’m actually getting married!’”
Thank you so much to all of the experts who contributed to this feature. You can find them all, and many more brilliant and hard-working wedding suppliers in our carefully curated bridal resource, Little Book for Brides.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this feature and that you have a fantastic day.
Love Tamryn x