There is A LOT about the wedding planning process that no one tells you about. Even one of the most hyped events—dress shopping—can leave a bride-to-be feeling bummed, uninspired, and frustrated.

For most of us, purchasing a wedding dress is a major expense (maybe the most we’ve shelled out on anything, except for perhaps a car, condo, or house) and we expect the people, places, and product involved in the process to reflect both our financial investment and the importance of the occasion. Unfortunately, for most brides, this is not the makeover scene in The Devil Wears Prada or the trip to Paris in Bridesmaids. It’s not even Say Yes to the Dress. The experience can be a let down.

We’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly–and the chic, the innovative, and the inspiring. So, some advice on what to expect, avoid, and know when you’re bridal shopping:

IT’S NOT A COUTURE ATELIER.

There. We said it.

Bridal brands and salons use the term all the time, but these brands (unless they are members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, like Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Elie Saab, and others) are not Couture. You may think that the experience of going to a bridal shop would feel like being in a Parisian atelier. It’s not; you’ll feel like you’re in a wedding dress factory with a dozen or so other brides all feeling rushed into finding “the one.” Brace yourself.

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Chiara Ferragni during her fitting at the Christian Dior atelier in Paris.

Courtesy of Dior

Given that they are operating year-round and don’t have the heavy duty teams of your favorite department stores, bridal boutiques (even the ones inside your favorite department stores) end up looking dated, dreary, and drab in comparison to the refined, high touch shopping experience you’ve envisioned. Natural light is scarce—keep that in mind as you consider yourself and criticize your reflection.

Even more important to remember, is that the gowns you’re about to try on are samples. This means there is only one of them in the company; they’re often a different size than you normally wear; and at times they are “loved,” meaning covered in makeup, hair product, in addition to the dust and dirt from seasons of shuffling on and off of other brides and in and out of dressing rooms.

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Pandora Sykes at her custom bridal appointment with Alice Temperley in London.

Jamie Stoker

So how do you overcome the less-than-stellar surroundings and a must-see gown not looking its best? Make sure YOU look fabulous. Book a pre-appointment blowout, put on makeup, or better yet–schedule one of your beauty trials pre-appointment. Don your prettiest underthings and bring your favorite pair (or pairs) of heels with you.

WHAT’S ON THE RACKS ISN’T FROM THE RUNWAY.

Inspired by the pretty dresses you see on the pages of bridal magazines or at your favorite celebrity weddings? A lot of those styles will not be available through your local salon.

While some are one-off custom creations, many never make it from the runway into a brand’s showroom for shops to consider purchasing. Bridal salons are in the business of selling dresses and they’ll often stick with styles that proves a best-seller, skipping over those that feel like risks brides might have to be convinced are worth taking. Bridal salons are looking to give the bride what she wants, however, so the best way to influence what may be available to you, is to ask for it.

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LOHO Bride in Los Angeles, CA.

Jon Cu

Overcome the less than exciting selections (prepare for miles of strapless A-line dresses, mermaids galore, and all things ultra-classic) and do your homework before your appointment. Know what designers are carried by the salon and study the looks in their last several runway shows. Send the salon images of looks you love and ask if they can have those, or others similar, available for your appointment.

Even better? Make your appointment during a designer trunk show. Not only will you get a nice discount on your dress (typically 10%) but the designer or a member of their team will be there with a “trunk” of their creations—not all available at your local boutique— thus widening your selection. What’s more, the designer can also give you ideas on how to slightly customize one of their styles to make it more unique to you and your preferences.

APPOINTMENTS ARE 60 MINUTES OR LESS.

Do your wedding dress daydreams include a champagne-swilling afternoon trying on the finest in bridal couture? It’s possible, but rare in a world where salons are eager to see as many brides as possible each day. This is not the leisurely shopping day with your girlfriends you’re likely imagining.

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BAZAAR.com Editor Olivia Fleming on her search for the perfect wedding gown.

Olivia Fleming

In most cases, you’ve got no more than an hour. In addition to being super prepared about what you want to actually try on (or perhaps more importantly, styles you definitely are not interested in), designate one friend or family member with a good eye and a camera to photograph you in each look at every angle. While you may have an “a-ha” moment and know when you’ve found your dress, more often the decision is made upon reflection. Looking back at pictures will give you a good idea of how each dress looks on you from all angles, and will help you edit down selections for future visits—or cement your intuition about a favorite.

ALTERATIONS CAN BE PANIC-INDUCING.

When your dress comes in, it will not look like the sample you tried on. Stay calm.

The color will be whiter, the fabric may look or feel a little different, and it will not fit you perfectly. The color and fabric discrepancies between a dingy sample and a pristine new dress are a good thing. As for the less than perfect “couture” fit? If you purchased from a reputable salon, put your faith in the alterations team. Remember, your gown is made-to-order, not made-to-measure. After taking your measurements to a pre-existing pattern, gowns are sized to the largest measurement in the mix; i.e. pear shapes should expect bodices to be too big, while busty silhouettes will likely have lots to take in at the waist and hips.

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Nicole Trunfio in a private bridal fitting with her stylist, Anita Patrickson.

Riker Brothers

Pair made-to-order sizing with the pre-wedding jitters that have most brides-to-be losing a few pounds, and your “custom” dress will likely look like it was customized for another girl. Be sure to articulate exactly where you would like changes made, and the dress should be pinned while you are in it so that you can visualize those changes. Don’t be alarmed by needing a few rounds alterations. It’s better to be slow and methodical in changes to something with beading, lace, and complicated construction, than to make an adjustment that cannot be reversed.


While it may feel more “luxe” when you’re shopping in the ready-to-wear section of a high-end designer department store, the multi-brand options, expert alterations, plethora of accessories, and expertise on hand at a bridal salon still cannot be beat. Manage your expectations and arm yourself with the above knowledge. Knowing what to expect, rather than being dismayed when the process isn’t as you’d dreamed of, will set you on the path to selecting your dream gown–without too much added stress.



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