Timing is everything when it comes to love and your wedding day, from the magical moment you meet to getting your first-pick venue on the ideal weekend to getting the ideal sunlight for your wedding photos.
The timing of when to buy your wedding dress is everything too, especially if you wisely look at multiple dresses, do your fittings to your actual wedding-day size, and make sure your dress gets to you on time.
But how to fit all this in? It’s so much! And not all of us are the Duchess of Cambridge or Duchess of York with a built-in team to help sift through dresses and designers and sort out the schedule.
We also don’t have people placing bets on which dress designer we’ll choose as Meghan Markle did. But the multiple designer/style consideration is ideal.
It’s also all doable, with or without a wedding planner or royal team. All you need is a handy schedule, a commitment to stick to it, and a dose of dress inspiration to help you choose.
Keep reading for our tried-and-true schedule, then work it into yours and feel confident you’ll look gorgeous in the perfect dress on your wedding day!
Let’s take a look at how you can plan your wedding dress shopping with some deadlines to get on your calendar and some time windows that will give you the breathing room to make all the right choices and get all the details taken care of.
Then we can take a look at some dress options for you to start thinking about. That’s the fun part!
Note that this timeline assumes you got engaged over a year before your wedding date. If not, don’t wait any longer to start and do your best with the time you have.
And lean into those gorgeous already designed dresses that can be custom fitted and altered, rather than dresses that are custom designed and made from scratch. That will save you a lot of time while still getting the perfect dress!
Congratulations on the big news! You’re engaged! And as soon as the question is popped, you can start thinking about your dream wedding dress.
Well, you probably already have been for a while and enjoying every minute of it. And now, it’s time to dive deep and find the styles you’d like on your short list.
Your goal is to have a short list and make your choice by one year out.
This is where you do your research in earnest. If you don’t have a Pinterest board yet, you might start one. Or post ideas on your Insta page or grab screenshots in a file. Or make a collage of looks that catch your eye.
Take photos of dresses you see in shops. Check out collections of designers you love. Visit and/or connect with designers and get suggestions.
There are so many styles and fun designs trending right now. We’ll our fave trends after we get you going on your timeline as inspiration.
Your goal in this step is to find fabulous dresses and styles that you might love to have for your wedding.
Be sure to note the dress costs and availability.
Also in this research step, ask shops and designers about fittings and their schedules. Look for tailors or seamstresses that can do alterations/fittings. Ask about schedules and costs.
You can pick a designer and/or shop after you set your budget, which is the next step, and after you start trying dresses on for styles that look best on you (sometimes what looks great in photos or on a mannequin isn’t the dress that makes you shine!).
If you know your venue, take it into consideration when choosing the style of your dress. Your dress should fit the ambiance of the venue as well as any theme you may be going for overall for the ceremony and reception.
For example, you may want to look at ballgowns (trending now with fun embellishments!) for a more formal venue, like a posh hotel in a metropolitan city, rather than short wedding dresses. But these flirty numbers may be more fitting for a fun destination wedding in a Caribbean or Mediterranean locale.
Also, you might consider having two dresses (if you can’t decide and it fits your budget and timeline!), one for the ceremony and one for the reception. This is something our beloved Duchess of York did. She wore a more classic and formal custom dress by Givenchy for her nuptials at Windsor Castle and then stepped out in a sleeveless gown by Stella McCartney for the reception.
Decide how much you can spend on your wedding dress. You’ll probably have to do your overall wedding budget first.
Be sure to include all those extra little (or bigger than you thought) costs that come in addition to the dress price tag. Additional costs to consider include:
Be sure to include tax and shipping if needed for shoes, veil, jewelry, purse, and other accessories. All these extras to complement your dress and look usually end up costing about 10 to 20 percent of the price tag of your dress.
To find your ultimate dress, you must try it on, look in the mirror, and go “Wow!” It’s the only way. Because what you have on your short list of favorites because they look amazing in photos or in the shop, may not look the same on you.
On the flip side, you may step into a shop, have a friend or shop stylist suggest a dress or style that you’d never have thought about twice, and try it on only to be absolutely amazed to see yourself standing there in the perfect dress.
If a dress pops out at you but isn’t the right first for your body type, look for other cuts in the same style family. Or perhaps it’s the color or fabric that aren’t working for you. Then look for the same cut in different colors or fabrics that work just right.
For example, you might have your eye on a more full ballgown skirt with a hint of color and embellishments, and the one you try on has a high collar. But that collar just doesn’t flatter you and your body type. But then, you try the same style ballgown skirt but with a plunging neckline on top and it elongates your torso and is the perfect fit for your body type.
Or maybe you’re set on a voluminous romantic skirt but when you try it on, it makes you look short. But then you try on the fitted dress with the slit skirt, and you look captivating and tall.
Your goal here is to try on all the styles and options on your shortlist and then some and any recommended by the shop stylist or your shopping friends. Try everything and let yourself be surprised.
Before you head to the shop, you might want to do a quick body type primer to find out which dress styles look best with your body shape. Body shapes to look at include hourglass, apple, pear, inverted triangle, and banana/rectangle.
For example, if you have an hourglass body shape, you’re likely to look stunning in a form-fitting silhouette. And if you have a banana/rectangular shape, you’re likely to be flattered by ruffles and those fabulous poofy sleeves or feathered frocks that are on-trend right now.
Ideally, you should pick a friend or two that you trust to join you on your wedding dress shopping adventure. The fewer, the better. Think two or three.
These trusted friends should be comfortable giving you their honest opinion. And they should be people you know that will respect your choice and support you in it. After all, this is all about you and your dress. And it’s all about you being in the dress that makes you feel fabulous, not them.
These trusted friends should see you and your beloved dress through from initial shopping spree to your last fitting. If they can’t be there for each moment, just make sure they’ll be available to video call or to look at a pic you snap as needed.
You’ve done your footwork. You researched wedding dress styles, shops, and designers. You made a budget.
You tried on the dress styles on your shortlist and you tried on other dresses in the shops that you never would have considered before. All the dresses you tried on fit in your budget.
You found the dress that made you go “Wow!” You found the spot to buy that dress in a way that fits your budget.
Now, it’s time to commit to the dress you love and buy it.
Why so far in advance, you ask? Because if your dress is custom designed, the creator will need this much time. If your dress is already designed, it still may need to be ordered or made for your size, or, custom sewed for your size. And definitely fitted/altered.
Plus, you may want it altered to better fit your body shape. You probably need it hemmed. And you also will just feel so much better to know you have breathing room and that your dress will be ready on time. Because you’re sticking to your schedule.
Be sure to be very clear with the shop, salon, or designer of your timetable. Your dress should be ready for your first fitting three months out from your wedding day — or photo or travel day if it’s a destination wedding.
That means you should be able to pick it up three months before or it should arrive on your doorstep at that time. Be sure you make a plan for this. Ideally, they should call you when it’s ready.
We’ve been known to double-check along the way to make sure it’s all going according to plan! And we advise you to do the same.
Depending on the shop, salon, or designer, you may have to pay a down-payment of about 60 percent even before your dress is produced. That is unless it’s ready to wear already, as in, it’s ready to be fitted and customized to you.
This is when you wait. And this is when you get to pick and purchase all the other fabulous items that will make your dress and your whole long sing and be absolutely gorgeous.
You can use your basic pre-purchase shopping steps here. Do your research and gather all your favorite styles for shoes, jewelry, veil, purse, and other accessories. Don’t forget your hair and undergarments.
Look at your budget. And go shopping.
You should have our wedding shoes and veil by your first fitting at three months out. The height of your shoes will determine hemlines, and you may need to alter your veil to fit style or function.
You have more flexibility with the other items, but the earlier you have them, the more time you have if you want to make other choices.
You also want to find the person that is going to do your fitting and alterations, if it’s not the salon, shop, or designer. Make sure they fit your budget. Alterations can vary from $200 for hemlines to $1000.
And you want to schedule your alteration appointments now to be sure you get in. Schedule three — at three months, six weeks, and two weeks before. You may not need them all but it’s worth getting them on the books.
This is when you do your first fitting and alteration. Be sure to bring your shoes and veil. And also try to have your wedding dress friends with you if possible.
Also, aim to be at your ideal weight. Try to keep this weight from now until your wedding day so that your dress fits just right.
Clearly schedule to have your alterations done by six weeks out.
Have your second fitting. Hopefully, your dress fits just right. Aim to have all accessories with you at this fitting to be sure everything is just the way you want it.
If needed, send your dress back for one more round of alterations. Hopefully, this isn’t needed, but if it is, clearly schedule to have your alterations done by two weeks out.
If you want, go shopping to swap out any accessories that aren’t working.
Have your final fitting just to double-check that everything is okay. If it was okay already at the last fitting, be sure you have all your accessories and shoes ready to go.
Walk in your shoes every day a little bit to break them in. And pack a dress go-to bag with all the little things you’ll need, including safety pins and fashion tape. Also, bring a handheld steamer unless there’s already one at your venue.
Jump for joy because you’re ready!
Just to get you excited, let’s take a very quick gander at some trending looks at wedding dresses because they really are all that. They give you everything you want in your treasured classic bridal look and put a fun, playful, glamorous twist on that’s sure to make a “wow!” statement.
Here’s a look at some of what’s trending:
Yes, we said bathing suits, as in embellished and for those that really want something fun, outrageous, and memorable. Just leave enough room in your schedule to really think this one through if you’re considering it!
Now that you know our tried-and-true schedule for when to buy your wedding dress, it’s time to put the wedding dress action items on your pre-wedding calendar/schedule and start looking for your dress! Or at least thinking about it and looking at what’s out there.
To start, you can check out our collection and find a store near you to try some of your favorites on. That will give you an idea of styles and colors that look gorgeous on you. And give you time to think about which dress makes you feel the most fabulous!
And then you can proceed per your plan. Step by step until your wedding day. You can do it!