When young girls envision their dream day, their minds typically don't turn to wedding favors and centerpieces—they think about the dress. Even for brides who haven't given wedding planning a thought until they have a ring slipped on their finger, heading out to find the perfect gown is one of the first things on their to-do list. However, before you encounter that sea of white—or blush or blue—gowns, there are a few pieces of advice. Our Southern experts weighed in on 12 things to consider when choosing a wedding dress.
Have a budget in mind.
As with any aspect of your wedding, set a budget before heading out. Equally important is being upfront with the bridal consultant about what you are willing to spend. "Sometimes we get caught up in the moment, and you have found THE perfect dress, and then they tell you the price," states Keith Willard, event planner at Keith Willard Events in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. "Be upfront and honest about your budget and ask that the store not show you anything that is over that budget."
Bring a few guests, but skip the entourage.
Of course, you want to have a second, third, and possibly a fourth opinion when selecting your gown. It's appropriate to bring your mom, sister, best friend, or even your brother if he has fabulous style. However, cut off the list at some point so that your own opinion doesn't get overpowered.
"We think it's a great idea for brides to bring some of their most trusted friends and family to the appointment," says Leecy Fink, owner of Celebration Bridal and Tuxedo in Lynchburg, Virginia. She suggests bringing two to three guests to help narrow down your favorites. Conversely, a plethora of onlookers can be a distraction. "Too many opinions may drown out your own, and it's important to remember that it's your wedding dress."
Reflect on your style.
A quick peek into your closet will help determine your prior to heading to the bridal salon. "Search your closet before you go dress shopping and wear one of your favorite outfits. This will help your bridal stylist learn your personal style as well," advises Tali Gallo, owner of The Bridal Finery in Winter Park, Florida. "If your closet is filled with solid clothing, you should consider a clean, minimalistic style dress. If you love a loud print, consider a wedding dress with a nude underlay and off-white lace."
Shop with an open mind.
What looks fabulous on a model in a photo may not be a good fit for you. Everyone has a different body size and shape, so what you expect to look fabulous may not be flattering on you. "One thing brides need to consider when shopping for a wedding dress is to always keep an open mind," suggests Amanda Jones, co-owner of Carolina Bridal World in Smithfield and Burlington, North Carolina. "What you think you might not like may be what you end up falling in love with."
Fink reiterates this point. "While you should absolutely come in with a few ideas, stay open-minded to other silhouettes or dresses your consultant may suggest," she advises. "You may come in searching for a fit and flare wedding dress and find yourself in love with a ball gown, or vice versa!" Your least favorite dress on the hanger may accentuate your figure in the best possible way.
Take the venue into account.
Whether you're getting married indoors or outside is a consideration. However, beyond that, check about any guidelines a venue has, especially if you're having a church wedding. "Most churches in the South are very flexible today," states Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates in Atlanta, Georgia. "However, some of your more observant Baptist or Catholic churches will still require your shoulders to be covered. If this doesn't fit with your dream dress, consider a bodysuit or bolero that can be removed after the ceremony."
Get into a "yes" mindset.
Many brides go into their appointment with the mindset that they're just browsing or that they won't find the perfect gown. However, go into your try-on realizing that the next dress you try on may be the one. "When booking your appointment, be mentally prepared to find your gown," offers Jordan Winfield, owner of Studio I Do Bridals in Roanoke, Virginia.
"The experience you have when you try on the one gown you can envision yourself walking down the aisle in—that 'say yes to the dress' moment—is one you will never get back." Instead, she suggests allowing yourself to be in the moment. Calling the store to confirm your selection isn't quite as magical as capitalizing on those feelings in the store.
Be sure you can breathe.
It's the job of the love of your life—not your dress—to take your breath away. So while trying on your gown, consider whether or not you can breathe. "I have seen a bride faint from not being able to take a full breath," reflects Willard. "Add the fact that the only way she could use the facilities was by taking the dress completely off. So make sure that you can still live like a normal human being. There is such a thing as beauty and comfort."
Factor in the weather.
"Consider the typical conditions at the time of year you are planning," advises Maddox. Southern temperatures soar in the summertime, and weather fluctuations during spring and fall can impact your day. "The South has a very different climate than the rest of the country, and it can affect your day in a big way!"
"You may want to consider the high humidity rates and temps when selecting your gown. Go for something with less layers and perhaps a bit looser in fit," Maddox advises for summer weddings. However, winter is a different season altogether. "Consider that the majority of the winter months are colored with a great deal of rain." Of course, no one can predict the actual conditions on your big day, but research what type of weather is typical in that season.
Consider how you look in photos.
"I remind my brides to take pictures while trying on their gowns," states Amber Anderson, lead planner at Heavenly Day Events in Austin, Texas. "Walk around, sit down, twirl, and sway. Have someone take photos the whole time—video too. A photo never lies and is a great way to determine if a dress is the one or not!" Moving around in the gown is also a way to ensure that it's comfortable and conducive for movement.
Think about how the fabric will wear.
"It's the dress of a lifetime, but there are so many things to think about before saying yes to the dress, like—will it show sweat stains," offers Willard. "I know it's not very romantic, but if you have an outdoor wedding and the temperature spikes, the last thing you want to see is sweat stains in your forever photos."
Another consideration with the construction of the dress is whether or not it will wrinkle easily. "Wrinkles are another big thing to think about," states Willard. "As an event planner that deals with many destination brides, [I've had to do] last-minute steaming after the wedding dress had to make it down here in an overhead bin." Whether wrinkles occur during travel or from wedding day wear, you want your gown to look its best for the duration of your wedding and reception.
Choose the right dress for you.
As simple as it sounds, some brides end up getting pushed into someone else's choice. "My best advice is never settle for a less than perfect dress for you," offers Lily Rivera, owner of Lily Rivera Bridal in Punta Gorda, Florida. "All brides know how they envision themselves in their special day. Sometimes they get caught up in the moment or the pressure of the entourage, sales consultant, or time and say yes—to the wrong dress."
Design a custom gown.
Yes, there is the possibility that it will be challenging to find the gown that checks off all of the boxes. For example, you may like the attributes of one dress but wish it had the sleeves of another. If that's the case, consider having a custom piece designed. "If you have shopped around and still have not felt your heart skip a beat, consider having it custom made," suggests Rivera.
"If you already purchased [your dress], consult an expert on how to customize or add on those important features to you." Commissioning a gown or having an existing one reworked may not be as cost-prohibitive as you might expect. Search for a talented professional close to your area to take your thoughts and turn them into a gorgeous wedding dress.
No matter which gown you choose, remember that it's your day. So figure out your style, determine a budget, and take a few guests to your appointment. Whether you find the perfect fit at your first try-on or have a custom gown designed, saying "yes" to the dress is a significant step towards the perfect wedding day.