Back to Basics: How to Buy a Wedding Dress

From setting a budget to choosing a style and what to do when you're done with it.
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White by Vera Wang Pleated V-Neck Wedding Dress. Photo: David's Bridal

White by Vera Wang Pleated V-Neck Wedding Dress. Photo: David's Bridal

"Basic" may have adapted a negative connotation in recent years, but there's no shame in seeking advice on theoretically simple sartorial conundrums. In our latest column, "Back to Basics," we're here to guide you through life's most common (and important) fashion and beauty concerns.

With Bridal Week approaching — or perhaps you recently got engaged (congrats!) — finding the dress for your big day is a top priority and an overwhelming one at that. So we decided to make the process a bit easier by asking a few bridal experts on their best tips and practices when it comes to shopping for a wedding dress. Read on to learn about setting a budget, who to go shopping with, how to pick the right style for you and more.

Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City. Photo: Kleinfeld Bridal

Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City. Photo: Kleinfeld Bridal

Figure Out Your Budget

It's certainly not the most glamorous, but crunching the numbers to figure out what you can afford for a wedding dress is a crucial part of the process. Keep alterations, undergarments and accessories in mind, too. (Those nips and tucks and extra items and services add up!) According to Lori Conley, a divisional merchandise manager at David's Bridal, the average budget nationwide is $1,000. And if you plan on getting financial help as well — from your parents or soon-to-be-in-laws, for example — make sure you go over any additional terms. Chances are those involved will want to provide some input towards what they're paying for. 

The Valentina dress. Photo: Stone Fox Bride

The Valentina dress. Photo: Stone Fox Bride

Do Your Research

Here's where the fun begins! Go through magazines and red-carpet photos for dress styles that spark your interest. (But also what doesn't, adds Kleinfeld's Jennette Kruszka, who manages the famous shop's VIP clients.) Scour Pinterest, blogs and social media for real photos of dresses from real weddings. Molly Guy, the creative director of Stone Fox Bride, offers some advice from her friend and stylist Kate Young: "Find red carpet pictures of a celebrity who resembles your look and body type, and look at the silhouettes that they usually wear," says Guy. "Think about dresses that you've worn in the past that are flattering on you, too, and start to research with that silhouette in mind."

Another thing to note, Conley often tells brides to find the venue first, since it'll likely go hand-in-hand with the dress type. Lauren Bonenberger, a bridal buyer at Bhldn, agrees. "We encourage that to be the first step of the bride because it totally sets the tone of the wedding," she says. "If you really like a traditional ball gown but you've already planned your beachy, boho wedding, the dress doesn't fit."

Choose Your Shopping Squad Wisely

If you plan to shop for wedding dresses with a group, select each member carefully. "It's a pretty vulnerable moment," says Conley. "You want people who will be honest with you but not overwhelm you or push their thoughts or tastes on you." Adds Bonenberger, "The bigger the party that you bring to the try-on session, the more difficult it can be." If you need to narrow down your choices, keep Guy's (real talk) tips in mind. "Don't go with a friend who's recently gone through a bad breakup or divorce. Don't go with a friend who's struggling with body or weight issues. Don't go with a friend who's having any hard time in their life — chances are she won't be the most excited wingwoman."

White by Vera Wang Hand-Draped Tulle Wedding Dress. Photo: David's Bridal

White by Vera Wang Hand-Draped Tulle Wedding Dress. Photo: David's Bridal

Try Everything On — No Matter What

After plenty of research, you probably know what you want and don't want when it comes to a wedding dress. But that doesn't mean you can't have an open mind while shopping. "I want to encourage brides to try everything," says Bonenberger, such as a different silhouette or a veil — even if you're set on not wearing one. "Stylists are trained not to force anything but to encourage brides to try options to make an informed decision." If a dress is most definitely out of your budget, then Bonenberger suggests to keep it on the hanger. "Nothing is more heartbreaking than a bride falling in love with a dress that she knows is not within her price range," she says.

When it comes to sizing, both Conley and Kruszka point out that bridal designers use an older size chart versus ready-to-wear sizing. For example, typically a size 10 sample is usually a size six. "Don't be turned off if you have to size up," advises Conley.

At Kleinfeld, Kruszka says future brides try on an average of 12 dresses. And the main thing to always keep in mind is comfort. After all, you'll likely be wearing your wedding dress for almost an entire day. The same principle applies for footwear and undergarments, which you should probably purchase at the same time as your dress. Having those on hand will be a huge help when you have fittings and alteration appointments.

Fantasia Gown. Photo: Bhldn

Fantasia Gown. Photo: Bhldn

Once You've Said 'I Do,' Do Whatever You Want (With The Dress)

There are plenty of traditions and ideas when it comes to a wedding dress's afterlife: heirlooming the dress; donating or reselling; using the veil as a canopy for a baby's nursery; repurposing the dress into a child's baptismal outfit or transforming it into something that you can wear in the future.

Or you can even trash the dress. Some brides decide to stage post-wedding photo shoots where they literally ruin the one thing that has probably consumed them for the past year or so. It's a very daring choice, indeed, but if you choose to go with that, can you send some pictures our way?

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