Having your wedding dress custom-made, purchasing it off-the-rack or, even, buying a pre-loved gown are all very different shopping experiences, however, there are a number of overlapping issues and questions that anyone about to pay for a wedding gown – new, old or custom-sewn – should definitely ask.
When should I start shopping for my wedding gown?
Most brides are engaged for between 18 and 21 months, so, in theory, you’ve got plenty of time to go looking for the perfect wedding dress, however, you need to take so many things into consideration including how long it is going to take you to find The One; when you do find it, will it be immediately available?; do you plan to gain or lose weight for your big day? etc.
The trick is to not start shopping for your wedding gown too early or too late but, let’s face it, most of us can’t resist starting to look the minute we’re engaged and, sometimes, even before!
If you start shopping too early, you may find a dress you love in the moment, but then find something you love even more a few months later. Or you could get wedding dress shopping fatigue, which means you’re so fed up with traipsing around town searching for dresses that you finally just choose something that works rather than waiting for The One to come along!
Similarly, start searching too late and you may not be able to find a gown you love in time and, if you do, it may not be available or it may require alterations, all of which take time, which you may no longer have.
So, start looking at least nine to 12 months before your wedding day. That gives you at least six to 10 months to look casually, without getting (too) stressed and leaves time enough still for alterations – or for your dream wedding dress to be created from scratch.
Do I need to make an appointment?
Yes. Though plenty of brides, usually, with their bridesmaids in tow, do (and can) turn up unannounced at bridal boutiques, if you want to try on gowns, you’ll generally need to book in a time with one of the boutique’s consultants. So, find a wedding dress designer or 10 that you like and call ahead to book an appointment.
While it is entirely possible to find a wedding dress boutique whose daily appointment book isn’t full, many are booked days, if not weeks or, in some cases, even months in advance! So, don’t chance it, call ahead.
What style of gown will suit my figure?
You may have a picture of your dream wedding dress in your head but does it match your body shape? Even if you know exactly the sort of dress you would like to float down the aisle in, be sure to, at the very least, take into consideration your wedding dress designer or consultant’s opinion as they dress hundreds of brides every year and have plenty of experience when it comes to ensuring a bride looks her absolute best.
They will know the exact style of gown that will flatter your height, body shape and colouring – and it may be something you have never considered!
Obviously, the final choice is absolutely yours and you don’t have to go with their suggestion, but they’re generally spot-on with their advice, so at least give it a go. You may be pleasantly surprised that that gown that had absolutely no ‘hanger appeal,’ looks stunning on your frame.
Are alterations included in the cost of my gown?
Buying your wedding dress isn’t like buying a pretty frock at a local clothing store, where you try it on, purchase it and walk away.
Unless you’re at a sample sale, most wedding dress designers and wedding dress boutiques don’t actually hold a lot of stock, if any, that can be immediately sold. So, if you try on a dress in-store and then fall head over heels in love with it, know that you won’t be taking it home!
The boutique will order it in for you, then alter it according to your very unique measurements so that it fits like a glove and looks like it was made for your and your exact body shape.
As such, alterations, generally, aren’t included in the price tag hanging off that gorgeous wedding gown and, depending on what level of alternations you need done, expect to pay up to several hundred additional dollars for alternations.
That said, obviously, if you’re having your wedding dress custom-made, there aren’t any ‘alterations’ per se and, therefore, everything should be included in the final price.
Can I use my own seamstress?
Yes, of course you can, but be careful with that option. Not only will the wedding dress boutique’s own seamstresses have a better idea of how to work with their own designs, should anything go wrong with the gown once it has left the shop, the lines between who has the responsibility of fixing any problems that may arise – and who does not – can become very blurred.
Oh, and the boutique’s own seamstresses will have experience with their style and shaping of gowns, as well as the fabrics and embellishments.
How many fittings will I need?
Depending on when you purchase the gown, what level of alterations you require and, of course, whether or not you’re having the gown custom-made, it’s likely you will need to have at least two fittings, but probably between three and four.
Each time, your wedding gown will be ‘tweaked’ a little more so that by the time you walk down that aisle, it will look like it was sculpted to fit YOUR body.
The final fitting is, usually, a week or so before your wedding day.
Are there any additional costs we may encounter?
There aren’t really any ‘surprise’ costs associated with buying a wedding dress, though many people are surprised by the cost of alterations, which most brides will require. These can run into several hundred dollars, depending on what you require done.
Of course, modifications, which may include changes to the gown’s material or the dress’s overall design will cost more than alterations.
Remember that altering a wedding dress takes enormous skill and labour and it’s nothing like altering a straightforward dress that can, typically, be done quite easily, hence the extra cost for altering a wedding dress.
What is your cancellation and/or refund policy?
None of us likes to think about the worst, but it is prudent to plan for it, so ask about the consequences should you need to cancel your purchase with your wedding dress designer or seller of choice. How much notice must you give? Will you lose your deposit if you cancel? Will you lose it if you re-schedule?
The thing with wedding gowns is that unless you’re purchasing from a sample sale where gowns are purchased as is and rarely with the possibility of a refund, most wedding gowns are tailored to each bride and, therefore, can’t be returned.
Obviously, the policy varies from store to store – and will be subject to consumer trading laws in your region – but, for the most part, it’s unlikely you’ll get any money back.
If you cancel before anything is done to the dress, you may get your deposit back, but that’s not guaranteed, so don’t be afraid to ask these questions up front because, in the event you need to cancel (or re-schedule) your wedding, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re buying a pre-loved wedding dress, you’ll most likely have to pay the full amount up front.
If, however, you’re purchasing a ready-to-wear gown, you’ll need to pay a deposit and then the full amount before alternations start. Alternations will be paid for separately, but only after the full price of the wedding dress has been received.
If you’re having your gown custom-made, there is usually a deposit, then part payments along the way, but every wedding dress boutique and designer has their own policy, so be sure to find out what it is during your first conversation.
Will you store the dress for me?
Once the dress is ready, you’ll need to take it home.
Most wedding dress boutique and designers won’t store it on their premises for you, but they will send your beautiful gown home in a dress bag that will protect it until your big day. The best bit? You can try it on LOTS before you need to wear it that final time!
What sort of underwear should I wear for my dress fitting?
If you’re just window shopping and trying on gowns, you don’t need any special underwear or shoes, but if you are going for a dress fitting, be sure to take along the shoes and bra you’ll be wearing on the day, if you have them.
If you haven’t yet chosen them, wear something as close to what you will be wearing on the day, especially when it comes to shoes as your seamstress will need to accurately measure your height from the ground in order to get the hem exactly right.
What if I lose weight/put on weight before the wedding?
Whether it’s a weight loss or a weight gain, this can be tricky, especially if the dress has already been altered or you’re very close to your wedding date. If it’s a lace-up gown, you’ll have an easier time, but if your wedding gown has a zip, that can be fiddly. That said, anything’s possible, just expect to have to pay for the additional alterations and, if you do gain or lose weight, be sure to speak with your seamstress as soon as possible as alterations, especially complicated ones, can take time.
It’s also the reason why, no matter how early you purchase your wedding gown, your alterations will most likely be left until closer to your wedding day.
Can you help dry clean or preserve my dress?
Most wedding dress boutiques will, at the very least, be able to offer advice on how you can preserve your dress after the wedding, while others will be able to sell you dress boxes in which you can preserve your dress for the long term.
If not, they’ll certainly point you in the right direction as far as preservation and dry cleaning is concerned via a list of preferred suppliers.