So, you’ve just got engaged. Congratulations -we’re sending you all of the party popping and mini bride emojis on this happy day! Now, let’s talk wedding dresses.

As one of life’s most indulgent rites of passage, anyone who’s already undergone the search for said-wedding dress will understand the complexities of this endeavour. The magic of this moment can be swiftly stripped away when you actually enter the wilderness of wedding dresses.

A total anomaly, they come with their own shops, timeline and language. But fear not for we’ve gathered together some of the bridal industry’s best experts to help guide you through this confusing time and to make sure it’s as easy and enjoyable as it should be.

‘Choosing your wedding dress is unlike choosing any other dress,’ agrees Caroline Burstein, Creative Director of the iconic Browns Bridal boutique in London. ‘It represents so many things; you will be centre of attention, and therefore it’s important that you feel your most happy, beautiful and confident self in your dress.’

Having guided many brides through the trepidities of dress shopping, Caroline and her team are aware of the many boxes this one garment must tick. ‘You may want to please your husband, your parents, future in laws, but above all you must please yourself. Try to remember that this is a most special and happy time in your life, so enjoy and have fun whilst hunting.’

With that in mind, let’s get started.

When should you actually buy a wedding dress?

In order to make life easy for yourself, plan ahead. Why not simply copy and paste this handy timeline to keep you on track and allow for any last minute alterations.
9 months before the wedding: Yep, it may sound soon but once you set that date, you may need a full year to actually search for and buy your dress. So put ‘Start Dress Hunt’ in your diary ASAP. You’ll want to have found your beloved dress with 9 months to go until the big day (we’ll get to why). If you’ve gone for a gown at the more lavish end of the price range, you’ll pay a deposit of 50 to 60% at this point. If you’ve gone for a custom design, the dress will be made to your measurements, and different parts may need to be crafted in different factories around the world depending on how bespoke we’re talking here.
3 months before: Six months later and ta-da! You dress should be finished and ready for your first fitting.
6 – 8 weeks before: During the first fitting you can decide on any minor tweaks – take in the waist, alter the neckline slightly, etc.
4 weeks before: Second fitting – now, you’ll choose the headpiece, veil, and any accessories.
2 weeks before: Third fitting. The gown should fit you like a glove and you can try it on as a full-look with shoes, veil and the right underwear.
2 days before: Your dress is ready, and you pay the balance, plus any alteration fees.

Custom wedding dresses vz off the rail

If this sounds tedious or you’re up against time, or you’d simply prefer to to go pret-a-porter, while it’s generally a speedier and more affordable option there are some considerations to bear in mind here too. ‘We get a lot of brides coming in from recommendations,’ says Angela Vickers, proprietor of her prestigious eponymous bridal boutique. ‘So speak to family and friends to find out the bridal boutiques they loved.’

Speaking to friends who wed quite recently is will help you narrow your search. Angela also recommends doing a recce on any boutiques before you officially begin your search so that you’re not wasting your time (and in some instances, money as most do require a fee) on appointments at boutiques you find you don’t like.

‘If you buy from a boutique make sure that, as well as loving your dress, you also like the people you are dealing with,’ advises professional wedding planner Bruce Russell. ‘Can you trust them throughout the buying and fitting process? Do they have your best interests at heart or are they simply after the sale? The majority of boutiques are brilliant, but there are always a few bad apples out there so do your homework. It’s easy to get swept away in the romance of the dress but make sure you take a moment to think about where it is made, which seamstress will be making those all-important alterations and vitally, what is and isn’t included in the final price of the dress.’

Which style wedding dress is for you?

You may have had one of these from the night you got home from your first date with your partner-to-be. If not, start a Pinterest board as they can be a great place to start figuring out what styles you actually like. ‘Start pinning your favourite looks and see if there’s a recurring theme,’ says Angela. ‘Do you like short and flirty, or lacey and long?’

Stocking up on Bridal magazines and compiling some tear sheets of styles you like will also help you narrow down the one for you, plus they’ll act as a visual aid when you’re explaining your dream dress to boutique owners or bridal designers.

‘When you are trying wedding dresses be open minded and let your instincts guide you,’ suggests Caroline. ‘So many times a bride comes into our shop with a fixed idea of what she wants only to be blown away by something completely opposite to that which she had in her mind.’

The 5 golden rules to remember now that you’re ready to wedding dress shop:

1.Bruce: ‘Comfort is key. When trying on a dress, make sure you can move around – try the stairs, take a seat, can you make it to the loo? On the day, you’ll be spending up to 12 hours in your dress so you certainly want to feel comfortable.’
2. Caroline: ‘Sometimes a bride will want to wear her mother’s or grandmother’s veil, or some other heirloom. If this is the case, always bring it with you so that you don’t fall in love with a dress and then realise that it doesn’t work with the veil. ‘
3. Caroline: ‘Whilst it is tempting to do so most bridal stores won’t allow you to take pictures when you are trying on dresses. This is not only for the most obvious reasons but also, and mainly, because it’s extremely difficult to get an accurate and photogenic image of yourself when you are trying a sample. Take notes instead.’
4. Angela: ‘We understand it’s one of the most exciting times and you want everyone to be involved, but we always advise not to bring Mum, Nana, the bridesmaids and the postman. Too many voices can cloud your thoughts and feelings about the dress. Opt for a couple of people who you trust to give you an honest opinion instead. But not your boyfriend, naturally.’
5. Caroline: ‘Last but not least you’ll need to consider shoes, veil (yes or no to heirloom?) and any hair accessories that will compliment the dress. Take all of the accessories you’ll wear on the day along when you’re dress shopping.’

The different wedding dress styles to know

If you’re indecisive, or looking to really push the boat out and go for two or three different dresses on the day, it’s worth remembering that most designers can now adapt styles to your exact requirements: beautiful long trains can be detachable for the evening’s celebrations, arms can be detached post-ceremony, etc.

The ‘traditional’ silhouettes to know are:

Ballgown wedding dresses

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Column/Sheath wedding dresses

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Fishtail wedding dresses

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Long-Sleeved wedding dresses

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Short wedding dresses

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The wedding dress designers to know

There are the obvious names and the dream designers, from Vera Wang, Jenny Packham and Oscar de la Renta, to Monique Lhuillier and Marchesa. However, there are many designers out there who may not be household names, but are the top names in the bridal industry. We advise you to familiarise yourself with:

– Kaviar Gauche – our pick for directional designs at reasonable price points
– Delpozo – a fashion girl favourite
– Heidi Elnora – whimsical and romantic gowns
– Mia Mia – a new label from bridal designer Alan Hannah
– Elizabeth Dye – stunning vintage silhouettes
– Katharine Polk – for a wedding dress you can actually wear again
– Delphine Manivet – fashion forward designs

The high street brands with dedicated bridal collections

Yes, the high street has answered the prayers of brides on a budget and a range of our favourite stores now offer affordable bridal collections. Here’s where we’ve found to stock the best selection of high street wedding dresses:

– ASOS
– Needle and Thread
– Bicester Village – you made need to trawl through discounted white designer dresses, but the right combination of – determination, optimism and the right seamstress will see you through. Look out for shoes too
– Self-Portrait
– The Outnet – not exactly ‘high-street’ but worth keeping an eye on
– Self-Portrait
– Ghost
– Monsoon
– Coast
– Phase 8
– Reforation
– Free People
– Ted Baker Tie the Knot

How much should you really spend on your wedding dress?

At most high end bridal boutiques,prices start from £4,000 and go up to £25,000 with an average price of £8-9,000. ‘Keep a close eye on the purse strings,’ advises Bruce. ‘If you have set a budget, then stick to it. If it’s lower than you’d like then sample sales are a great way of snapping up last season’s collections for a fraction of the price. These usually take place in spring and autumn, just before the new collections appear. It’s worth remembering that bridal boutiques often also sell their own samples, which are great value but do factor in the cost of alterations.’

The Details

The back detail on your dress is where you can get a little more creative if you’re having it custom-made.

If you’re going pret-a-porter but would love something special on the reverse, take along a photo of your dream details and ask the sales assistant about alterations.

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Where to buy vintage and second hand wedding dresses

We highly reccommend La Double J and 1st Dibs if it’s a vintage wedding dress you’re after. These vintage experts curate the most stunning designer gowns, spanning centuries. There are also some amazing dedicated websites where brides sell on their beloved dresses as reasonable prices; check out Still White and Sell My Wedding DressOxfam has a dedicated bridal site, and Vestiaire Collective has truly some amazing pre-loved dresses too.

Necklines to know

Strapless

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Sweetheart

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Halter Neckline

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Off-the-shoulder

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V-Neck/Plunge

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Emebllished

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High-Neck

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