We may be slowly moving away from the traditional bridesmaid dress search as it becomes more and more common for brides to choose mismatched dresses or leave the choice of dress up to their bridesmaids. That said, while plenty of brides may encourage you to wear something you own or pick up something cute in a particular color palette, many, many brides are still going to opt for the traditional matching gowns. In that case, here’s what you need to know about shopping for bridesmaid dresses from a bridal retailer.
Before you go
1. You need an appointment. Shopping for bridal attire isn’t as easy as stopping by your local department store. Call ahead and let them know how many girls will be coming in. If there is a particular designer or dress you are hoping to try on, make sure to confirm that they carry it. Nothing is worse than showing up to your appointment only to find that they don’t carry the dresses you wanted to try on…even though their website said they did.
2. Be prepared to work with a “bridal consultant.” Most bridal stores work using consultants, which are salespeople who pull styles for you and basically chaperone you around the store. This can be disconcerting, especially your first time. No one really likes someone hovering over them while they try to make a decision. A good bridal consultant can be helpful, so start out friendly. But if your consultant is making you nervous or putting pressure on you to buy, don’t be afraid to ask for some space. Once the consultant has brought you the dresses, say “Can you give me a few minutes? I’d like to have some time to really think everything over.” They should take the hint and take a step back.
3. Do your research and come prepared. Some bridal stores may have racks that you can peruse, but others will keep only a few samples on the floor and consultants will collect dresses you want to try on. The more prepared you are, the more productive your trip will be. If you have specific dresses in mind, come with printouts and style numbers. If you don’t know quite what you’re looking for yet, try to make a few decisions before you arrive. What color are you looking for? What length? What type of fabric? Consult our guide to bridesmaid dress fabrics and finishes here to get an idea.
At your appointment
4. Wear a strapless bra and bring high heels. You’ll want to see how the dress falls with heels and have the proper undergarments so you can get the full effect. If you plan to wear your hair up, have a hair tie to pull it back as well.
5. They’ll only have dresses in one or two sizes. This is one of the most frustrating parts of the process. Though some retailers are exceptions (David’s Bridal carries a full range of sizes), most traditional bridal boutiques only carry gowns in a sample size. This varies from store to store, and some will carry two sizes, a smaller and larger. In my experience, the sizes I most often see are a 6 and a 12, with an occasional sighting of an 8 or 10. If you’re tiny, the bridal consultant will have clips to help cinch in the dress so you can get an idea of the silhouette. If you typically wear over a size 12 or want to try on a maternity style, a traditional bridal appointment may let you down.
I know what you’re thinking. Wait, if I can’t try on the dresses in my size, how am I supposed to know if it will look good? Excellent question. Seriously. I wish I had a better solution for you, but what I will say is that there’s a reason bridesmaid retailers make such a big deal about taking measurements. Take a look at the dresses in your closet and try to pick out the aspects that look good on you. Are your dresses fitted or A-line? Do you have lots of halter or strapless tops? If you’ve never worn a one-shoulder style, don’t use a wedding as an excuse to try it out. Stick with the silhouettes that have worked for you in the past and you’ll be much happier with the results.
6. They also may not have each dress in the color you wanted. As another way to reduce stock, bridal retailers will only have one color of each dress, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to try on the dress you wanted in the color you wanted. Ask to look at another dress from that designer in the color and material you wanted. If none are available, the boutique may have a swatch book or you should request a swatch from the manufacturer. The color you see on the computer could be very, very different from the real thing.
Time to Order
7. Be prepared to order 4-6 months in advance of the wedding. This is how long it takes most stores to fulfill orders. Insane, right, especially when we’re all used to Amazon overnight shipping. But this is an industry standard. When planning your delivery date, try to arrange for the dresses to come at least two weeks before the wedding. Before you give the store your wedding date, ask how close to the wedding they deliver dresses. If the answer is “one to two weeks,” you may want to give your bridesmaids a buffer and give a bogus wedding date a few weeks prior. This will give you more time to deal with alterations or any troubles that may arise with shipping.
8. Boutiques will ask all the bridesmaid to place their orders together. They say this is because of dye lots, but if you ask me it’s because orders equal money. The dye lot refers to the batch of dye that is used on that bolt of fabric. So in essence, what these boutiques are saying is that by placing your order together you are ensuring that all the dresses will have exactly the same color. In my humble opinion, I really do not think that a dye lot can make that much of a difference. If your bridesmaid live all over the country, ordering from one boutique may be a huge hassle. They may end up paying a ton for shipping, especially if they need to rush the dress so they’ll have time for alterations. That said, some boutiques will offer discounts if all your bridesmaids order together or if you bought your gown from the same store. Know your plan going into the store though. If only local bridesmaids want to order from that boutique and you want the others to order from stores in their area, you must lie about the number of bridesmaids you have.
9. Pick a reasonable size. I have always ordered bridesmaid dresses in the dress size I normally wear and have never had a problem with this. Bridal boutiques are going to want to measure you and then match your measurements up to their size chart and you are welcome to do this. I recommend it primarily for fitted gowns. If the style is A-line or loose, ordering your usual size should suffice. Here’s what you should not do. Do not order a smaller size because you plan on losing ten pounds before the wedding. Trust me, this is a bad idea. I’m not saying you won’t lose those ten pounds. Hell, I believe in you! But bear this in mind: Taking a dress in is pretty easy. Expanding it? Not so much. Choose a dress that will fit your body the way it is right now and then tailor it to accent your new physique.
10. Don’t be afraid to tailor. Bridesmaid dresses have all kinds of quirks. They never fit us the way we hope they will. I’ve been lucky to have some really well-made, gorgeous bridesmaid dresses, but that is just not always the case. I’ve also had dresses with shoulders that were too big or shoddy zippers. Heed my warnings: Do not be afraid to take drastic tailoring measures. For floor-length gowns, hemming is a must! It will keep you from tripping over your dress or catching your heel. Talk to your tailor about absolutely anything that bothers you about the dress and see what can be done. I personally recommend not using the tailors at the bridal boutiques as they tend to be very expensive and have slow turnarounds. An independent tailor shop will usually charge quite a reasonable rate and will probably turn the dress around faster as well.
Want to review your bridesmaid dress (you can even do it anonymously so your bride won’t know how much you hated it)? Email us at ultimatebridesmaid[at]gmail[dot]com.