The prevailing wisdom by bridal consultants is you should try on less than ten wedding dresses. More than ten and you are likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of choice. Since we’re all about questioning conventional wisdom and embracing authenticity here at Loud Bride, we wanted to ask real brides how many wedding gowns they tried on before they found the one.
We did a Facebook poll of over 100 brides and found that the average number of wedding dresses tried on is 10.13. In general, the majority of brides try on fewer than ten dresses before they find the one, only booking an appointment at one bridal store.
A number of brides reported that the first or second dress they tried on was the one but they tried on a few others after to be sure. Others noted that the dresses they thought they would like entering their appointment was not the style they ended up going with.
My own experience was that I tried on 3 dresses at a local bridal salon to my mom and sister. I made the appointment on a whim the weekend I got engaged because I wasn’t sure if I’d have another chance to try on dresses with my family who lived many states away from me. The third gown ended up being the one. The first two I tried on in a style I thought was a great fit for me with lots of lace. But I didn’t end up liking them as much on me.
The one I chose was a simple, elegant ball gown with a v-neck by Pronovias. I bought it off-the-rack and had it tailored right in the store and then shipped to me. Years later I do wonder if I should’ve tried on a few more dresses just to see how they looked on and if they changed my mind about THE dress.
Ready to say yes to your dress? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to make your dress shopping experience a success in less than ten tries.
How to research bridal gowns
The best way to research wedding dresses is to have a basic idea of the type of dress you want – from the way it’s made, to the designer / brands you like. You should also have a budget you’re willing to spend. Once you have these two things in mind you can Google bridal shops in near you.
Before you make an appointment, look on their website or call to see if they fit with your dress type and design preference. If you’re plus-sized or petite, it’s also a good idea to call ahead to make sure they have samples in your size to try on, not just “plus sizes” that may be a lot larger or smaller than your current size which may be hard to imagine how they fit.
It is important to know when dress shopping how many ways you can buy a gown. There are four main ways to purchase a wedding dress. Each way has a different cost, timeline, and pros and cons.
|Off-the-rack / Ready to wear||$100 – $12,000 (average cost $1,500)||Available Immediately||Common|
|Preowned / Sample Sale||$250 – $6,000||Available Immediately||Need to Shop Around|
|Made to order||$100 – $70,000 (average cost $2,000-4,000)||6-12 months||Common|
Based on the chart above you can see that there are some major differences between the types of gowns. How do you decide which is the right type for you?
Off-the-rack or ready to wear gowns are faster and less expensive
Off-the-rack gowns are already made in a variety of sizes (just like most apparel you’re used to buying). You can walk out of the store with it or have it shipped from an online retailer in a few days. You may still need alterations which can take a few weeks. But if you’re really in a time crunch you can find one that fits as closely as possible and skip the alterations.
You don’t need to skip out on style. A number of designers have ready to wear collections available for purchase at more affordable prices than their made to order or couture lines. And dress retailers like David’s Bridal and BHLDN also offer off-the-rack styles.
Most plus size brides can easily find ready to wear gowns in their size. A lot of national and online retailers have plus-size styles. Taller girls may have an issue since it’s hard to add length to a dress that is already cut.
We wrote a more detailed article about buying off the rack that you can read here for additional information and tips.
Preowned or sample sale dresses require a bit of luck but are also faster and less expensive
Another option is a preowned dress or sample sale dress. A sample sale dress is a gown that has been used by the bridal shop / designer for brides to try on. So it is lightly used but not by a single bride wearing it all day and into the night. Retailers have sample sales to get rid of old inventory to make room for new collections.
A preowned dress is a thrift store or online find from a bride who is selling her dress. The condition may vary from someone who bought the dress and never wore it, to a bride who wore it for 12-14 straight hours. Usually the dresses have been cleaned and sometimes preserved. But it is worth asking if the seller doesn’t specify.
For both options, you’ll need to search a little bit before you find the right dress. You’ll want to find it at a reasonable price near you. Or from a person willing to ship it to you affordably. There is risk involved if you can’t try on the dress or see it in person before you buy. But if you have your heart set on a designer dress from last season, you can score a major deal.
Give yourself some time to look and do minor alterations. Otherwise the dress is yours as soon as you find it.
Made to order gowns are the most traditional and give you the best fit
Made to order gowns are what most people think of when they envision going to a bridal salon. You try on a few dresses, and have one ordered based on your measurements. They take several months to be made. Then you’ll need at least one round of alterations to make sure it fits perfectly.
Made to order wedding dresses can be more expensive than ready to wear gowns but they don’t have to be. Many major bridal shops have dresses starting at $2,000.
Couture gowns are the most expensive and time-consuming but will ensure you have a one-of-a-kind outfit
If you’re looking to make a statement and have a totally unique, one-of-a-kind gown, couture is calling your name. Designers take on a limited number of couture clients per year. They will design a custom dress just for you. Then the dress is made to your measurements. It takes about as long as a made to order gown depending on the designers availability. However it costs a LOT more. This is for big budget brides only.
How to set a wedding dress budget
To set a budget for your dress, you can allocate a percentage of your total budget (usually 9-10%). Or you can use the guide above to decide what kind of dress you want and what it’s going to cost.
For example, if your wedding budget is $35,000, you can safely expect to spend 10% or $3,500 on a dress. Or you can decide that you’d rather splurge elsewhere and find a dress online for less than $1,000. Or hey, maybe someone is willing to gift you (or you gift it to yourself…) that couture wedding gown you’ve always dreamed of.
Need more help with budgeting?
You can check out my free budget guide if you sign up for my newsletter. It automatically calculates what you should spend where based on your budget and guest count and helps you stay on track. It’s like the fairy godmother of numbers.
How to book a bridal appointment
Now that you have a sense of what kind of dress you’re looking for you can make an appointment to see them in person and try them on. Most bridal salons allow you to book an appointment online on their website or over the phone. Each shop has its own rules about booking, who you can bring, and what information they need from you before the appointment.
Alternatively, you can buy your dress online, set up a virtual appointment, or even rent your dress. Keep reading for more information on alternatives to the traditional bridal salon appointment.
If you’re looking for plus-sized dresses, there are a few things you’ll want to ask when setting up an appointment. I have an article here where I interviewed several recent brides looking for plus-sized dresses and they gave me all the best tips.
Is it free to try on bridal dresses?
Generally it is free to try on wedding dresses. But some salons may charge a fee for the consultation.
For example, Lovely Bride, a body-positive indie bridal shop with locations throughout the U.S., charges a fee at some locations. This is due to the tailored service you get from a dedicated stylist and the delicate nature of their gowns from independent designers.
Do you have to be engaged to try on wedding dresses?
No, you don’t have to be engaged before trying on a wedding dress. But you should be considerate of your consultant’s time and effort. Don’t set up an appointment when you aren’t sure if there’s a wedding happening in your future.
If you’d like to get a jump start on planning or just like to dream about what style dress you’ll wear someday, begin with a vision board. Create a board on Pinterest, buy a few bridal magazines, or browse a few designer collections online to see which style gowns you gravitate towards. You’ll have a better idea of the styles you like when it’s time to shop and can find a salon that carries your dream dress.
Can you try on dresses at home?
Yes, a number of online retailers allow you to try on their wedding dresses at home. You won’t find many designer options for at-home try on though.
BHDLN, for example, encourages at-home try ons and you can even book a virtual appointment with a stylist. You can also take advantage of online retailers return policies. Just make sure you read the fine print. Certain collections, sizes, or final sale items may not be eligible for return. Or they may charge a restocking fee.
Ordering a selection of dresses to try on from home is a great idea if you’re not comfortable entering a bridal salon. Or if the salon doesn’t allow you to bring as many people as you’d like to. Instead, host a party at home with your friends and family to try on a few gowns or pantsuits. Complete the look with jewelry, high heels, shape wear, make-up, and accessories to feel like a bride even at home.
Can you set up a virtual dress appointment?
Another by product of the COVID era, a number of salons have set up virtual dress appointments. At these appointments you can meet with a consultant over the phone or web. The consultant can help you pick out dresses to try on at a later date in a virtual styling appointment. They can also help with your at home try on and advise you how to complete the look.
The famous Kleinfeld’s for example has virtual appointments you can book on their website. That way you can get the “say yes to the dress” experience from anywhere in the world. David’s Bridal, BHLDN and some local salons also have virtual appointments available. Most of the appointments that we found are free but they may charge for a fee if they include shipping dresses for you to try on at home.
Ultimately, finding the perfect dress, suit, or outfit for your big day is simple. When you put it on, you’ll know it’s the one. (Even if you try on a few others to make sure.) Just in case you need a few extra opinions, join our free, private Facebook group Bold on a Budget Weddings. You’ll find likeminded brides to take a sneak peak at your choice and hear your story of how you found the one.