Without a doubt, shopping for your bridal gown is one of the highlights of being engaged. It is usually a new and unfamiliar experience, so visiting the first shop can be a bit daunting. When you know what to expect, the process becomes much more fun and productive.
The first thing to know is that most bridal salons recommend appointments. If you walk in without an appointment on a Saturday afternoon, you may be disappointed and even unable to try on any gowns that day. In most salons, your bridal consultant will go into the fitting room to help you in and out of dresses while your family and friends wait near a pedestal and three way mirrors. You will need to step into the gowns with the consultant in the room, so wear underwear you would be comfortable in in this situation. You should also be sure that the bra you are wearing is something that will not distract from the appearance of a gown, and allows you to get a truer picture of fit and flattery.
If you have pictures of gowns you like, by all means bring them along so that the consultant can get a better picture of the theme and level of formality you are most comfortable with, as well as your ideas for bridesmaid attire and formalwear. Also bring along any family jewelry or a family veil you would like to wear - or to be safe bring something similar, but less precious to get an idea of the look without risking a family heirloom. If there is a particular gown you are hoping to see, be sure to mention it, (including the style number and manufacturer if you know it) when you make your appointment. Although the salon may carry the designer, it does not necessarily mean that they stock that sample. Sometimes it is possible for salons to borrow a sample from a designer with enough advance notice. There may be a fee for this service to cover the shipping and insurance costs, although the salon may apply the fee to your deposit if you decide to order that gown. Another very important piece of information to share with the bridal gown consultant (in case they forget to ask) is the date of your wedding. Do not “take a chance” that your gown will arrive on time from a vendor that almost always takes longer to ship.
As you try on bridal gowns, don't expect a perfect fit. Brides who are fortunate enough to be the same size as manufacturer samples may find wedding dress shopping a bit easier, but don't worry if you are not, the salon consultants are experienced in such things and will hold or clip the back in place to give you a sense of how the style will look when it fits properly. Once you determine if it is a style you would consider, it is out to the pedestal to show your family and friends. We recommend having a friend take a photo of each, to help you remember the fine points when you are debating your favorites later. Once you find a gown that might be "the one", the consultant may help you try it with a veil and some bridal jewelry.
Be aware that you will have an allotted time for your appointment, which may vary by salon (typically 1 -1.5 hours). There is a good reason for this: after about an hour or two, all the dresses may begin to look alike. If you haven't found your dream dress by then, it is best to take a break and start fresh at another appointment. Don’t be disappointed. Many brides don't find their dress on the first try. Due to the time limit, you may not be able to try on every dress that interests you at that first appointment. Part of it depends on how decisive you can be. If you know a dress is not flattering or what you had in mind, take it off and move on to the next option. That way you can see more bridal gowns within the time slot allotted to you.
Should you be fortunate enough to find your dream wedding gown, the next thing to expect is to be measured. Measuring for a bridal gown is an art, and the consultant or seamstress will take into account not only the standard bust, waist, and hip measurements, but may look at things like the length of the gown's skirt and torso, whether you need a cup size adjustment for the bust line, if the neckline needs to be raised, and more. The beauty of ordering a made to order designer gown is that (for a fee), many pattern changes can be made to ensure the best possible fit. Any gown will still need alterations upon arrival, but in some cases pattern changes allow for a fit that would otherwise never be possible.
When you order your gown, you will be asked to make a deposit, and often to schedule an appointment for your first fitting sometime after the gown is expected to arrive. Do not be tempted to order the gown in a smaller size as an incentive to lose weight! It is always better to have a bit larger gown and tailor it down for a perfect fit. Insure a perfect fit by attending your fittings prepared with the proper undergarments and foundations.
You consultant will inform you of the expected and actual arrival of your gown. Be sure to have all of these dates in writing, as well as contingencies and adjustments, should any of the deadlines not be met. Also, be sure to attend all fittings as requested, so as to not slow the progress of your alterations and final preparations. Be sure to take down your consultant's name and contact information, as well as those of a "back up" consultant, so that you can check progress and verify your appointments. You should keep your gown contract and receipts in a safe place to avoid any later miscommunications.