12/22 The 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Trying On Wedding Dresses

There’s this rusty nugget of bridal wisdom that proclaims “You’ll know it’s ‘THE ONE’ when you start crying.” Well, I call B.S. If you are not an emotional type, do not subscribe to this idea. And if you ARE an emotional type, don’t feel bound forever to the first dress that makes you a little teary. Trying on wedding dresses is a very emotional experience in and of itself – and also, you could be crying because you need a snack. Or you’re laced so tightly into a gown that you can’t breathe. OR this isn’t the completely once-in-a-life-time experience that you need it to be, because you brought ALL the wrong people. Here are 5 things to know about this process well in advance.

Photo: Small Town Girl Photography

1.Do your research BEFOREHAND. Bridal salons are not straightforward about their prices. Usually, they won’t even tell you how much a gown is until after you’ve had that “WOW” moment in front of the mirror. HOWEVER, if you call them on the phone and ask about their price range, they will be happy to tell you what that is. Don’t waste everyone’s time by waltzing into a bridal salon with blinders on and trying on dresses that are beautiful, but not at all within your budget. I spoke to several different bridal salons while trying to set up appointments — one of which referred me to the place where I eventually bought my dress!

2.Bring a posse — but not a ridiculous posse. Right now, I feel safe saying we’ve all seen a few episodes of “Say Yes To The Dress.” PLEASE know that this does not have to be your bridal salon experience. You do not have to bring 3 generations of family and all 14 of your b-maids. In fact, that’s a horrible idea. Keep your posse reasonably sized, and be sure to fill it with people who won’t spare your feelings, or confuse your tastes with their own. And don’t bring ANYONE who might derail you from falling in love with the right dress. If that happens to be your mother, you have my pity.

3. A good bridal salon assistant knows what she’s doing. You are gonna go into a bridal salon with a “vision”, but it’s entirely possible that vision will not work for you and your body type in any way. For instance, I like the idea of wearing a 1950s style tea length gown to my wedding — with crinolines and all! But guess what? That style looks ridiculous on me. I only had to try on one of those to figure out that that style makes me look like a lumbering circus chimp in a sad little tutu. Don’t commit yourself to one style. I was totally 100% convinced that I was not going to end up with anything strapless. Guess what kind of dress I bought? Just guess.

4. Trying on wedding dresses is PHYSICALLY (and EMOTIONALLY) draining. I tried on 3 gowns at the first bridal salon. I had to be corseted and laced into each one of them. All three of those gowns had GI-normous, 80-lb skirts. By the time I was looking at myself in the mirror in the third dress, I realized that I didn’t really know what I thought about this one, because I couldn’t think. In fact, I was feeling quite faint.

5. HAVE NO SHAME. Bridal is not like regular retail. You don’t just slip into a fitting room, wiggle into a dress, and step out to see how you look under crappy florescent lights. Bridal assistants work for that commission: They are gonna be in the dressing room, corseting you, buttoning you, zipping you, stuffing in those weird plastic boob cups — whatever it takes to make you look stunning in a dress. The good news is: It usually works. The bad news is: You’ll be in various stages of BUTT NAKED around a stranger for an extended period of time. If this horrifies you — you should definitely buy a dress online.

Of course, these are just 5 of the things I learned during my multi-hour stint at 2 different bridal salons — which I’ll write more about next week! I’m curious to hear from you though, fellow brides-to-be: what wedding dress shopping advice would you dole out to a gal BEFORE she embarks on this epic dress quest?

  • bellydancenajla

    6. Bridal salons are like doctors' offices–they will and do run behind!! Book the earliest appointment possible if you dont want to wait around forever, especially on a weekend
    7. Bridal accessories = major markup. That satin sash with the incredible pearl and rhinestone embellishment may "make" the dress, but it will also add $500 to your bridal salon bill because of the word "bridal." Take the time to research trimmings stores online, and/ or visit the garment district of your nearest major city; you'll quickly find out that that incredible confection is made out of a $5 satin ribbon, a $30-50 pre-made embellishment and some glue. This is one of those times when a little research and easy DIY can save you major money.

  • Kirsten

    Try on something ridiculous first. I had never envisioned myself in a wedding dress, so it was WEIRD! But after that first poofy 50-pound monstrosity, the rest of the dresses looked relatively normal, and I could really start to enjoy it!

  • prettymindy

    Going with a posse can be good or bad. I went to 6 different salons with various arrangements of people. Nothing felt right. I went to the 7th place alone and found my dress. I found I needed to be alone to make my decision and there's nothing wrong with that.

  • Meg

    My tip is to keep your venue in mind. I actually bought my dress before we had decided on a venue, and I'm so thankful that I didn't go with my #2 choice dress because a ballgown would've looked ridiculous as I walked down the aisle in a garden…

  • alissachristine

    Don't listen to your mom. She will want you to buy the very first dress you try on. Lol.

  • Amie

    Relax. You will find something.

    I felt pressure to like the dresses I tried on. The consultant would ask me, how do you like this on a scale of one to ten? I hated it. Based on my number she would bring me something else that she felt I would like more. Forget trying to please anyone but yourself. If you don't like it, it won't hurt thier feelings. On to the next one.

    Also, after I found my dress, which I love and is exactly what I wanted, forget what everyone else thinks. When I showed my MIL a picture of the dress, she responded with, "oh" and that was about it. I started to doubt if the dress was pretty, or if I would look good on my wedding day. My awesome FH told me that he knew I had simple tastes, and it probably wasn't what his mother would have picked, but he knew that on our wedding day, I would come down the aisle and look amazing and he would be thankful that I had made the trip.

  • Kate

    Keep in mind that stores–especially in Europe, where I currently live–don't always have multiple samples, so if you don't fit into a size 36 (I believe a 6 in North America?), you may not be able to get it on. Sometimes you can squeeze it, other times, no way. Which means that even that amazing dress you find is still a mystery because it's just too small to try on. Unfortunate but true!

  • Elise

    This is one particular thing I noticed… I wear make-up maybe three times a week, and actually style my hair once or twice a month. It might be worth it to put on a little more makeup and play with your hair before trying on the Big White Dresses. I kept noticing how flat my features looked against that big expanse of white fabric, and I think I'd get a better sense of it all if I had a little more color in my face!

  • Allison

    I also would recommend not turning down a style either. You may hate it on the hanger or think that it won't work for your body type and it may actually look better than anything you would have picked for yourself.

    Also, try to be specific about the things you don't like about a particular dress. The more specific you are, the easier it is for your consultant to pull other things. Even if it's a little thing, don't be afraid to tell your consultant. Most of them are willing to work their butts off to find you the perfect gown.

  • http://www.allbridalstore.com Cris

    I think the most important is definitely not trying on wedding dresses you can't afford, so that you don't fall in love and end up broke or really disappointed.

  • Liz

    Have one of your friends keep track of the dresses. If you only try on 3 dresses before finding "the one" it won't be a problem but if you go to 5 different salons and try on 6 dresses at each they will seriously start to blend in your memory. Have that friend not only take down the make, style, and your opinion of the dress in the moment but, if possible, also have her take a picture of you in the dress. That way you can not only jog your memory by finding a picture of it on a model online but see with fresh eyes what it actually looked like on you.

  • Emma

    THANK YOU for the start of this post. I am so not into the whole "you're going to know it's The One when you cry" thing. Some of us are not built that way…if it didn't happen that dramatically with the groom, I'm certainly not going to expect it out of a piece of clothing. Geez people.

    The advice I would give sort of contradicts some of other people's. If you know what you want, it's ok to try on a couple of dresses to please consultants or your mom who want you to try different things, but if you're an adult who's spent YEARS figuring out what looks good on you, just go for it and don't waste too much time on other styles that do not suit your taste and figure. I walked in after browsing dresses online and was like, "I want a strapless, A-line dress with a sweetheart neckline, natural waist, and lace on the bodice and skirt. No embellishments or rouching on the waist, expanses of plain satin, straps, or pickups." I tried on a couple of recommended dresses that deviated just to make sure, but that was all it took to realize that I knew exactly what I wanted and it did, indeed, look good on me. That made it really easy to find a dress. It doesn't have to be hard!

    • http://photographybydarci.com apsmomma

      You just described the exact dress I'm trying to find! "I want a strapless, A-line dress with a sweetheart neckline, natural waist, and lace on the bodice and skirt. No embellishments or rouching on the waist, expanses of plain satin, straps, or pickups."

      Where did you end up getting yours from and do you have a picture!?

  • Jess

    My advice would be to bring a digital camera (if your salon allows it) and a trusted friend to take pictures of possible "ones". When I got it down to two dress choices, being able to take off the dress for a minute and sit in a robe and look at the two choices side by side helped me make my final choice – the distance made a huge difference!

    It was also nice to be able to revisit the dress during the four months of waiting – when I went to pick it up, I instantly recognized it and was still thrilled with my choice!

  • ashleymarie914

    Don't be afraid to ask questions, especially about the price! I took my sister dress shopping. We visited a popular chain bridal salon. She found the dress she wanted, it fit perfectly in all the right places and wouldn't need too much altering and the "assistant" gave her one price. For whatever reason, we didn't buy that day and the following week they were booked solid. We went to another location, showed my sister's posse. Everyone loved it. Went to order the dress and it was at least twice as much as it was quoted as. Turned out that the dress they were going to sell my sister at the other location was an order that never got picked up. They slashed the prices to get it out the door without telling people the reason it was marked down.

  • Jessica

    Bring a camera-cell; phone pics are okay at best…

    If you are plus-sized or even above average size be ready to SQUEEZE yourself into dresses 2-3 sizes smaller. I was shocked to be standing (and barely breathing) in a size 14 dress when I wear a size 22!!!

    Do some research ahead of time but respect the assistant (they do this for a loving after all)! I wanted an A-line with a halter strap BUT I let the assistant also pull dresses that she thought would work well for me.

    Wear nice panties- that are not DARK colored. This might seem obvious but when I stepped out in a VERY thin dress with no petticoat on underneath, well, lets just say my mom and sisters knew that I had very cute red undies on!!! lol- and anyone else in my general vicinity!

    You will be asked to buy stuff, lots of stuff actually, and get discounts if you do. I came in with very little money in my pocket and missed getting a discount on my accessories.

    Not everyone has a 'bawl my eyes out' experience but look at yourself in the mirror and watch your expression. I bought the dress that made me 'twirl'. Which sounds odd but as a tomboy who probably hasnt twirled in 20+ years that was my 'sign'.

  • Katy

    Wow. This is the very article I have been wondering why I wasn't able to find before I went shopping for my dress! Especially #s 1, 3, and 5. I really think more brides would have a fun, memorable shopping experience if they went by these rules. In my experience, there wasn't just one "The Dress". I had a few styles in mind, and quickly found which silhouettes worked for me and which didn't. There were a lot of beautiful gowns, and the consultant (WHY doesn't anybody mention how naked you will get in front of her in all these blogs?!) was dead-on when I told her what kind of details I liked within the silhouette I liked. She brought back the dress that fit my price range, and had EVERYTHING I wanted.

  • Stephanie

    I've been working part time a a bridal shop for about a year now, mostly helping brides try dresses on before they buy. I absolutely love it! The shop I work for doesn't pay by commission (mostly because its really rare that brides buy on their first trip). Some tips that I can offer from the other side of the dressing room curtain are:

    We really don't care modesty wise but you are feeling uncomfortable in just your skivies wear tight fitting lycra (slippery) leggings like under armor and look for a long line strapless bra or ask if the shop has one for you to use.

    Trust that unless the consultant is new she has seen almost every dress in the store on a body and not just the hanger. some dresses look totally different on. Your feedback is also really important give her an idea of the details you like and dislike on each dress you try on.

    The shop I work at we cut the size labels out of the dresses but we have a decent selection of "plus size" (16-24) gowns the regular gowns are sized 8-14. Most of the time I can almost anyone in dress so they can at least get an idea of what it will look like on them. 9 out of 10 times the bride will buy the dress that fit them the closest mostly because they can quite be secure that when it comes in their size they will love it.

    Most shops will sell gowns "off the rack" if you love something thats out of your price range ask to buy the store sample at a discount (if it alterable and in ok condition) they'd rather sell the dress to make room for new inventory than see it go into a clearance section in a few months.

    Ask for group discounts esp if they offer multiple services We offer a package if you outfit the whole wedding party (bride, bridesmaids, and groomsmen) you get 10% off bridal, 10% off BM's, 10% off Mom, Flower girls, Veils, Accessories, Headpieces, and a free tux for the groom)

    Don't try to do it all in one appointment. Come back for the veil, bridesmaids, moms, etc. and Always make an appointment When I work in the evenings its usually just me in the shop I feel really bad if i have an appointment and a walk in because i really can't give the walk in my attention she may need or want.

  • Jill B

    Something that never occurred to me until I was in the midst of trying on modest wedding dresses: long gowns are totally likely to tangle you up, get caught on stuff, etc. I ended up with a cocktail length dress that I was much more comfortable in, and was just as "bridal".

  • Kathryn

    Addendum to #3. Please please PLEASE: If you know a style you want, don’t try anything on until you see what it looks like on you. If the consultant tries to skate around it saying she knows better, PUSH to see the dress style you want. Otherwise you may (like I did) commit to a dress that you really don’t want. I went back and the next consultant was hesitant as well. But I knew that I would never be able to be open minded about other dresses until I saw what I wanted. ALSO: if you know you absolutely 100% do not want something, give it a try once. But if it still not making your socks go up and down, don’t allow them to keep bringing it to you. For example, I told my consultant that I did NOT want satin. All the dresses she brought me were satin. I repeatedly asked her for chiffon (which is what I really wanted) and she said there weren’t any in the store. At that point, I just gave up. Got a dress I didn’t want. I did end up going back and talking to the manager of the salon. She helped me try on dresses that I wanted, including the ones I said I wanted to see even if I couldn’t try them on. It turns out that I didn’t end up liking those dresses, but once I knew that for sure, I was able to finally got the dress I wanted because I was more open and receptive to other dress styles. PLUS the manager was even nice enough to exhange it. So stick to your guns and make sure you see what you want, otherwise, you will always have the “one that got away” feeling in your gut.

  • Sarah Milling

    I’ve learned that if I go to try on dresses feeling disgusting.. I’m talking no makeup, hair has been in a bun on top of my head all day and haven’t shaved in three.. then when I go to try on the dress, I also feel disgusting. You have to dress up to feel the full effect of the dress! Throw on a little makeup, at least brush out your hair and throw on a smile! It does SO much! Plus, be sure it’s in your color! I tried on the dress I’ve had my eyes on for MONTHS in an ivory.. very yellow tone.. and it just wasn’t working. Really let it get me down and crush my hopes. Then I tried it on in pure white, pinned up so I could see how it’d fit on me and fell in love with it. All the little things matter!

    • http://www.thebrokeassbride.com/ The Broke-Ass Bride

      Yes, Sarah! Great tips!