Choosing a wedding dress can often turn into an overwhelming experience for many budding brides-to-be.
There’s a budget to work out, fittings to schedule, wedding heels to try on and purchase, and more (not to mention a whole new vocabulary you need to familiarize yourself with).
If you don’t know your mermaid from your trumpet, your dupioni from your shantung or you’re just looking for a better understanding of what style is best for your body type…
…this guide has got your covered.
After reading this article, you’ll know exactly how to budget for your dress, how to find a style that’s a perfect fit for your body, and everything in-between.
Step 1: The Importance of Preparation
If you’re like most newly-engaged brides, you’ve started researching your dream wedding dress early.
And for good reason.
Finding “the one” takes time and timing is one very important element you may not have thought of. From scheduling your first appointment to collecting your dress and deciding whether you require alterations: the process is exciting and detailed.
So when should you book an appointment?
The simple answer is, not before you get engaged and after you decide on where your wedding is to take place.
Securing a venue before you book your first bridal appointment is important because popular venues are sometimes unavailable up to one year before your big day and should you need to find another location or change your dates, you may want a completely different dress or need a dress that lends itself to the season.
Though they seem like creations of pure magic, wedding dresses do not just appear out of thin air. They are the manifestation of passionate industry professionals who painstakingly sew and stitch, bead and button. Custom-made gowns can take a matter of years from concept to creation, but ready-to-wear gowns can be yours in a matter of months.
You need to set a budget (explained below), research styles (we got you covered), schedule multiple fittings, shop for undergarments and more (not to mention everything else you’re required to do for your wedding).
With so much going on, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of your depth. That’s why we recommend you give yourself a 12-month head start when shopping for your perfect dress.
That way, you’ll have ample lead time for your dress to arrive and you can get back to focusing on what matters most—planning your big special day.
Step 2: Wedding Dress Budgets
Creating a budget is one of the hardest, most important requirements when planning your wedding.
Arriving at a realistic figure influences all of your other decisions including how many guests to invite, which meal option is best—and how much to allocate to your wedding dress.
While all play a crucial role in your big day, setting a budget for your wedding dress (and sticking to it) is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
But how much exactly should you reserve for your wedding dress?
As of 2015, most Australian brides spend an average of $3000 on their wedding dress. However, a beautiful, brand new gown can be purchased for under $2000.
One factor that will affect what dress you choose (and therefore you need to account for it) is where you hold your wedding.
If you’re having a cathedral wedding, for instance, you might decide to invest in a train to accompany your dress, which, in turn, will influence the cost of your dress. We’ll discuss this at length later in the article.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning your wedding, it’s important you really think about your budget and stick to it. Walking into a boutique and trying on dresses you can’t afford could mean overlooking the gown you were fated to find. Expensive dresses are often breath-taking and always seductive but they may not be the best shape or style to flatter your unique figure. Odds are your bridal consultant doesn’t work on commission and isn’t interested in selling you the most expensive dress, but the dress that’s best for the bride – you!
Hidden Costs: What Every Bride Needs to Know
When it comes to choosing that dress, there’s one trap our customers fall into more than any other:
Focusing entirely on the dress, itself, and forgetting about alterations and accessories.
Let’s discuss each briefly.
While it’s tempting to believe buying a wedding dress is as quick and easy as finding one you like and making a purchase, it’s a lot more complicated that that.
Getting your dress altered or adjusted is often a hidden cost many brides overlook.
And for that reason, it’s important you give yourself enough financial leeway to afford any necessary changes that need to be made.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a dress that fits exactly, so rest easy: getting your perfect choice tailored with the help of an in-house tailor (often found in many bridal boutiques) will take off the pressure you might be feeling.
A good practice to get into is to always ask for a general quote for an alteration and then shop around for the best price. Many places will be happy to help and it will give you a good price anchor to work with.
Other expenses that often slip through the cracks are accessories (namely veils), shoes and jewelry.
It’s good, then, to put 5-15% of your budget toward what Martha Stewart Weddings calls a “cushion” fund: money for those extra expenses.
Though it is not unheard of that some brides ‘know’ as soon as they step into the dress, saying ‘yes’ is an emotional decision and different for everyone.
If you’re a decisive person who has a clear sense of self and style, don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. It may be hard to believe but it actually can be that easy and don’t fret if there aren’t any tears: there’ll be plenty of time for that on the day.
For others it won’t be so straightforward and taking a night to sleep on the decision is advisable. In these cases, seeking second opinions from family and friends might be worthwhile, but be careful how many people you ask and be prepared for feedback you weren’t expecting.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get into the fundamentals of wedding dresses, starting with:
Step 3: Wedding Dress Silhouettes
When choosing a silhouette for your wedding dress, the only thing you need to take into consideration is your body shape (and your style preferences, of course).
According to Shape Your Shape, there are 8 body types for women.
- Straight. The bust and hips are basically the same size. The waist is slightly smaller than the bust and hips.
- Pear. The hips are larger than the bust, and the waist gradually slopes out to the hips.
- Spoon. The hips are larger than the bust and the hips have a “shelf” appearance. The waist is slightly smaller than the bust.
- Hourglass. The bust and hips are basically the same size and your waist is well defined.
- Top Hourglass. The bust is larger than the hips and the waist is well defined.
- Inverted Triangle. The bust is large, the hips are narrow and the waist is not very well defined.
- Oval. The waist is larger than the bust and hips. The hips are narrow compared to the shoulders. Breasts are ample in size.
- Diamond. The waist is larger than the bust and hips. The shoulders are narrow compared to the hips. Breasts are small to medium in size.
When you know your body type, it will give you a better indication of what silhouette you need for your dress.
Here are eight of the most common silhouettes with a brief description of what it is and who it’s for:
The A-line resembles the outline of uppercase A and is fitted at the bodice (the part of the dress which is above the waist), emphasizing the waistline.
This classic silhouette is either structure or flowy and is known for its unbroken line from the bust to the hem. With a flared skirt which flows naturally to the ground, the A-line is one of the easier gowns to wear.
Due to its ability to accentuate a bride’s most feminine features, the A-Line is ideal for a plus sized bride looking to wow her guests on her big day.
Without compromising elegance or style, the A-Line is perfect for any bride looking for confidence and comfort, without being “too much”.
2. Ball Gown
Described as the “fairy tale” dress or the “princess gown,” this voluminous silhouette is an ideal fit for a bride planning a fairy-style wedding.
Marked by a full-skirt and bell shaped feature, the ball gown is closely fitted at the bodice and flares at the waist into a full skirt (which is perfect for brides wanting to hide problem areas like hips and thighs).
This elegant choice works for most body types (particularly pear-shaped brides looking to highlight their curves) though petite brides may find the skirt overwhelms their frame and makes them look smaller.
Similar to the sheath, the empire silhouette is predominantly known for its high waistline, which emphasizes the bust without being too sexy or revealing.
What many of our brides love about the empire is its versatility. This airy and flowing gown can accommodate straps or sleeves and can look modern, Grecian, formal, semi-formal, or informal.
Stylish and traditional, the empire is very figure-flattering, making it ideal for pregnant brides trying to draw attention away from a growing belly.
4. Fit and Flare
Many of our customers confuse the fit and flare style with the mermaid or trumpet due to their similarity. So, let’s clear up some of the confusion.
According to Wedding Shoppe Inc.,
The most accurate use of the term “fit and flare,” is to describe a dress that closely hugs the body through the bodice and right past the hip, where the skirt then flares away from the body.
Known for adding womanly curves to an otherwise straight figure, this fashion-forward style closely hugs the body through the bodice and at the hip, gracefully flares out.
The fit and flare style is perfect for women with large hips because it’s tight on top and flares out right below the waistline—perfect for walking down the aisle and enjoying your first dance without restriction.
With its emphasis on womanly curves, this neat and playful gown tightly fits the entire body until it suddenly jets out at or below the knee, giving the illusion of a mermaid’s tail.
Unique and stunning, the mermaid can feature a high neck and/or long sleeves, and still exude an alluring appeal without compromising one’s beauty.
The mermaid is perfect for brides who are either plus sized or pregnant as it brings out a curvy effect, making the bride look prettier and sexier on her big day.
This long, slinky wedding gown (otherwise known as the column), is known for its narrow, body-hugging shape which flows straight down from the neckline to the hemline.
This lightweight, form-fitting gown is appropriate for all types of weddings, indoors or outdoors, but in particular, casual occasions on the beach, or intimate evening events at a banquet hall.
Much like the empire, the mermaid is ideal for curvier figures and expecting brides who want to achieve a stunning look without highlighting their bump.
A distant relative of the mermaid, the trumpet fits snugly on the body until approximately mid-thigh, where it begins to gradually come away from the body in an open skirt, much like the shape of a trumpet.
Featuring a close-fitting bodice, the flare of the skirt is much more gradual than the mermaid, skimming the lines of the body, through the hips.
A common question we’re asked at Luv Bridal is, “What’s the difference between trumpet and mermaid?”
Here’s what you need to know:
- The trumpet starts to flare gradually, at about mid-thigh
- The mermaid flares dramatically, at or below the knee
- The fit and flare flares right below the hip
The Trumpet is ideal for frames with small waists, such as the hourglass and petite body types, though it’s less recommended for pears, as it accentuates the stomach and hip area.
8. Tea length
Falling between the ankle and the knee, and ending at about the middle of the calf, this distinctive style gives you a classic look of a formal gown without the burden of floor length.
The tea length is flattering for most brides and is ideal for all body types (particularly those looking to show off their shoes and pedicures on the big day!)
If you’re looking to add a touch of ‘retro’ to your wedding day or want a classic look of a formal gown without the fuss of floor length—this style is for you.
Once you’ve decided on what silhouette you want, you’re ready to consider fabric.
Step 4: Wedding Dress Fabrics
While choosing a wedding dress is often thought of as the most challenging part of buying a wedding dress, it’s finding the best fabric that often leaves brides feeling flustered.
With dozens of materials to choose from, finding the right fabric for your gown can often mean the difference between making and breaking your desired look.
As The Knot write,
The same style dress can look and feel quite different in a variety of fabrics since each material is designed to produce a distinct effect.
Some fabrics cling to the body, while others stand away. Some are cherished for their crispness, others for being light-as-air.
There are dozens of wedding gown materials to choose from, and unless you majored in textiles in college, it’s unlikely you’re going to be familiar with many of them.
Below are twelve of the most popular wedding fabrics in alphabetical order. Familiarize yourself with them and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable when choosing that dress.
1. Charmeuse. This lightweight fabric is soft, smooth and satin-like to the touch. Known for its lovely, glossy sheen, charmeuse is considered best for column silhouettes and ideal for brides looking to show off their curves.
2. Chiffon. Often referred to as the lightest wedding dress material, chiffon is a light woven fabric made from silk or rayon with a soft finish. Chiffon is often layered because of its transparency, making it ideal for warm weather weddings.
3. Crepe: Made from twisting yarn and treating it with chemicals, crepe is a lightweight fabric with a crinkled surface that’s perfect for brides with little to hide on their big day. If you want an attractive silhouette, crepe might be the fabric for you.
4. Duchesse satin: Known for its pearly sheen and structural stability, Duchesse satin is the most common fabric used for bridal gowns. Lighter and stiffer than its satin cousin, Duchesse satin is perfect for the bride wanting to dance without worrying about wrinkling their dress.
5. Dupioni: With a familiar sheen to shantung, dupioni is the most popular of silk blends found in wedding garments. Dupioni features a slightly thicker, coarser look and is suitable for weddings in all seasons and gowns in all silhouettes.
6. Georgette: Often made of polyester or silk, georgette is similar to chiffon in drape and feel (though it’s slightly heavier and less sheer). Georgette is ideal for outdoor or daytime weddings due to its lightness and guaranteed to keep a bride cool on her big day.
7. Mikado: A brand of blended silk, mikado is a stiff, heavy fabric making it an ideal choice for cool weather weddings. Mikado has gained popularity for winter weddings in recent years, due in part, to its slight sheen and subtle texture.
8. Organza: Organza is almost an in-between fabric for chiffon and tulle. It’s sheer and crisp like the former, but flowing like the latter, making it perfect for warmer weather weddings. Organza is popular for skirts, sleeves, backs, and overlays.
9. Satin: This shiny fabric is very common in bridal gowns. Smooth and soft to the touch, satin is a heavy fabric with a high sheen on one side. Satin is one of the most durable bridal fabrics and is perfect for brides looking for a structured gown.
10. Shantung: Know for its textured feel, shantung resembles raw silk (though it’s slightly smoother than a fabric like dupioni). Shantung is ideal for warm, summer weddings due to its high sheen and casual feel on the body.
11. Taffeta: Similar to shantung in weight and structure, taffeta is a crisp and smooth fabric with a slight rib. In dim or natural lighting, taffeta can appear almost matte, but in bright or studio lighting (like your photographer may use) the fabric can come off quite shiny.
12. Tulle: This delicate fabric is sheer with an open weave that looks like netting (think: ballerina tutus). If you’re thinking about a full skirt, this fabric will create a gorgeous look,but, be careful: it’s an incredibly delicate fabric.
Step 5: Wedding Dress Necklines
After choosing a wedding dress style and shape, choosing a neckline is the second most important element you need to focus on when choosing a dress.
To create the best visual balance for your wedding dress, a good rule of thumb to follow is the smaller the bust, the higher the neckline, and the bigger the bust, the lower the neckline.
The following are twelve of the most common necklines you need to familiarize yourself with before choosing your dress:
1. Bateau. Otherwise known as boat neck (due to its curved shape of a boat’s keel), the bateau features a wide, high neckline which runs almost perfectly across the collarbone, from shoulder to shoulder. Popularized by Audrey Hepburn, this neckline is perfect for thin, straight figures.
2. Halter. The halter neckline features a single strap which connects behind the neck and holds the bodice of the dress in place. By definition, a halter is almost always sleeveless and has a high back at the top which reveals the bride’s back.
3. High neck. Taking inspiration from a traditional Asian wedding dress, the high neck neckline reaches the hollow of the collarbones and extends up the neck without meeting the front center. Depending on the length of your neck, this turtleneck design finishes either halfway or right up your face.
4. Off the shoulder. Featuring a straight-across neckline, the off-the-shoulder style sits below the shoulder line with sleeve-like straps that cover part of the upper arm. This neckline is ideal for women wanting to showcase the whole upper curve of their shoulders and collarbone.
5. One shoulder. Otherwise known as asymmetrical, the one shoulder features a strap across one shoulder only, and a strapless, diagonal neckline on the other. The one shoulder creates a strong visual interest and might not be the best choice for brides that blush easily.
6. Queen Ann. Featuring a high collar at the back of the neckline that scoops low across the chest, this regal neckline can accompany short belled sleeves to give it a stylish, historic appeal. A perform fit for formal weddings.
7. Scoop. Otherwise known as a “ballerina neckline”, this U-shaped neckline is often cut low, and occasionally the scoop will continue on the back of the dress. The scoop neckline is ideal for just about any body type.
8. Sheer (otherwise known as illusion). The popularity of this classic neckline has grown in recent years. A subtle blend of modern and conservative-styles, the sheer is defined by its panel of lace or mesh that rises from a lower neckline to a high one. A perfect alternative to its strapless counterpart.
9. Square. Formed by straight lines crossing the body horizontally below the neck and vertically along the inside edge of the sleeves or straps, the square neckline cuts straight across the top in between the straps, creating a square-like shape to the top of the dress.
10. Strapless. The strapless neckline is defined by its absence of straps (neither over the shoulder or around the neck). Available in multiple styles including straight across, slight curve, or sweetheart, this figure-hugging style is a popular neckline for modern bridal gowns.
11. Sweetheart. Featuring two graceful curves which plunge at the center, this low cut neckline resembles the top of a heart. Known for highlighting the décolletéage and bust, the sweetheart is about as romantic and feminine as necklines come.
12. V-neck. With depth ranging from a very low cut to a moderate cut, this neckline dips into a V-shape in the front. Known for its sensual and daring style, the V-neck is wonderfully flattering and slims a woman’s figure, giving the illusion of a small bust and elongated neck.
Before wrapping up, let’s discuss one final consideration when choosing a wedding dress:
Step 6: Wedding Dress Trains
In the Victorian era, a long train was a symbol of status and the longer the train, the higher the stature.
Today, the wedding dress train is enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to brides like Kate Middleton (and to a lesser extent, Kim Kardashian).
Before deciding, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with each type of train to cement your decision.
Here are the most common trains in order of length.
1. Sweep. Otherwise known as the brush, sweep is the shortest of the trains. Barely sweeping the floor and extending usually 1 ½ feet or less from where the wedding dress touches the floor, the sweep is a good choice for minimalist brides who want the benefits of a train without all the fuss of managing one.
2. Court. Extending one foot beyond the sweep train is the court, which, unlike the sweep, extends from the waistlines rather than the hemline of the dress.
3. Chapel. The most popular and most traditional choice for brides, the chapel extends three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half feet from the waist—slightly longer than the sweep. Chapel length trains have the dramatic appearance of a train without becoming overwhelming and can be either detached or made into a bustle for the reception afterward.
4. Cathedral. Extending 2 1/2 yards or 7 1/2 feet from the waistline, the cathedral is best matched with a cathedral length veil. Due to its length, it often requires assistance. The ultimate in formality, you’ll the cathedral train can make any bride feel like a queen.
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life.
And while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, it’s important to enjoy yourself.
Carve out plenty of time, stay organized and when the big days comes, it will be all that you hoped it to be.
To learn more about how Luv Bridal can help you find your perfect wedding dress, book an appointment with one of your local stores.