Now that it’s just under a month until my wedding day, it’s hard to believe that I said “yes to the dress” over a year ago. There’s quite a few decisions to be made when planning a wedding, most of them pretty important to the overall vibe and feel of your wedding day. Choosing the right food, the right DJ, and the right venue can impact how all of your guests enjoy the day. Thankfully, all of those decisions came to Jeff and I easily and quickly during our planning process. Throughout the whole process, Jeff and I always said that we wanted our wedding to feel like “us”. When all of my friends and family saw my engagement ring, they couldn’t help but mention how perfect it was for me. I wanted all of the details and decisions we made about our big day to feel that same way. As the bride, the wedding dress plays a major role in not only how I look on my wedding day, but how I feel. And though there’s tons of dresses out there, I really wanted my dress to look and feel like it was made for me.
Last summer, when I started my investigative process to find the right dress, I started looking at the different bridal shops in the area. There are a lot of great shops in Milwaukee, that carry a range of designers and styles of dresses. For me, there was one that stuck out from the rest: Strike Bridal Bar. Little did I know when I decided that Strike was my top choice when shopping for my dress that I would start working there as a Weekend Bridal Stylist six months later. It was clearly a fit for me. But every bride’s shopping experience is going to be different. Because I had done my research and found a designer that Strike carried that I really loved, I bought my dress during my first and only appointment. It wasn’t “first dress magic” for me, but looking back, it kind of was, because I ended up buying the dress I kept looking at on Strike’s page and on the designer’s website. And when I saw it on me in real life, even a few sizes too small, there were tears.
Like I said, every bride’s journey is going to be different. Based on my experience as a bride and working with brides now to find their dream dress, here’s a few tips I have for brides starting their journey to find the perfect dress for my wedding day.
Don’t worry, I’m not saying that you have to have a huge spreadsheet of designers and dresses and bridal shops in order for it to count as research. But browsing through Pinterest, Instagram, or local bridal shops websites to see some pictures of different designers and dresses is a great place to start. Pay attention to the styles and details that are speaking to you. Look at some photos of real brides in different styles of dresses to get an idea of how a certain style might look on your body and which might be most flattering and comfortable. For some brides, dress shopping or shopping in general is totally outside of their comfort zone and that’s ok. Looking at the different bridal shops you might want to visit, check out their social and their websites to see how they talk, what’s important to them, and how they interact with their brides. Don’t forget to look at Google reviews to see what real brides have to say about their experience at the shops you’re interested in to make sure it matches the experience you’re looking for.
Weddings are expensive. Budgeting is extremely important. Along with your research about dress styles, designers, and bridal shops in the first tip, you also want to get an idea of what you’re willing and able to spend on your wedding dress. Don’t ignore price ranges for certain designers or bridal shops. Your experience wedding dress shopping will be so much more enjoyable if your budget allows for you to look at half or most of all of the dresses in the shop, as opposed to just one rack. And when you’re working with your bridal stylist, be honest about your budget. Obviously, anywhere you can save money in the wedding planning process is a wonderful thing. But we’ve seen brides who come in saying their budget is $1500 and then part-way through the appointment when they realize they haven’t seen a dress they really wanted to try on, increase the budget by $500 or more. Being super clear about the top limit of your budget is so important. It’ll make your shopping experience that much more enjoyable & you’ll know you won’t end up over-spending or spreading yourself too thin.
With so many bridal shops to choose from in your city & in other cities, it can be really tempting to book a bunch of appointments, get a big group together, and make a day or weekend out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love every reason to get together with friends and family, and celebrating while wedding dress shopping was something I was super excited about. I wouldn’t change anything about my experience, as I got 7 of my favorite ladies together for blowouts at Drybar in the Third Ward followed by brunch at The Iron Horse Hotel prior to my appointment at Strike Bridal Bar. But that was it, we only had 1 appointment at Strike that day. Truthfully, because I had done my research, I was pretty confident I would find my dress that day. If I didn’t, I was open to booking another 1-2 appointments at a time after that. I recommend starting with maybe 1-2 appointments at your top shops and go from there. It can be fun to play dress up for a day and go try on a bunch of dresses, but when you’re shopping, you should be basically ready to buy if you find the one.
And there is such a thing as “over-shopping”. As you visit more shops and try on more dresses, they all start to blend together. If you truly have no idea what you’re looking for or have a difficult time making decisions, that is one thing. I feel for you. But the process should be fun and not overwhelming. Even though committing at your first appointment of one of your first few appointments means the end of the dress shopping experience, I guarantee you’ll be much happier. Your dress will be ordered, you’ve made one more decision, and you’re free to move on to more of the wedding plans.
Similar to my advice on limiting the number of appointments you book right away, I recommend limiting the number of people you bring with you. It is a fun experience that you want to share with the people that you love. But the more people you bring to the appointment, the more opinions you’re inviting as well. And not all opinions are created equal. This recommendation is not at all about limiting the number of your lady loves to bring with you, but the focus here is on whose energy and opinion matters most. If that’s your mom, your bestie, and your cousin twice removed – there’s your group! Don’t feel like you NEED to bring a big group with you. Your entourage should be full of people you trust, people you love, and people whose opinions actually matter to you. Focus on the people who will contribute to the day positively. Don’t need your future MIL’s critical eye? Leave her at home. Have a friend who’s too outspoken for their own good? Not today, ok. Have a cousin with a knack for complimenting you but tearing you down at the same time? Nobody has time for that, especially when you are wedding dress shopping. You want your team to be supportive, helpful, and on the same page with your vision, which brings me to my next tip.
This is YOUR wedding dress. No one else has to wear it except for you. So it should look, feel, and be exactly how you want it to look, feel, and be. If you have a good idea of what you want before you go shopping, that’s wonderful! Communicate your vision to your bridal stylist and have a great time trying on dresses that align with the look you want. If you’re working with an awesome bridal stylist, she will be your biggest supporter, even if you just met. Your stylist is there to find you the dress of YOUR dreams. Not your mom’s dreams, not your sister’s dreams, not your outspoken friend’s dreams. Your dreams. If you love a dress during your appointment, say it out loud. Immediately. Don’t ask what people think before you share your opinion. It’s your time to speak up, be the center of attention, and ultimately, it’s your opinion that matters most. You want to be excited about the dress you pick. So excited that, besides getting married, putting it on will be one of the best parts of your big day.
If you have a vision for your wedding and your dress that your friends and family don’t quite understand or align with, stick to your guns. Although, depending on whose footing the bill, other opinions are relevant to take into consideration, it should come down to you and your fiancé when making the final call.
This might seem a little contradictory to my previous tip, but hear me out. Unless you find the absolutely perfect dress of your dreams prior to your appointment, it’s good to have a “loose” vision and be open to recommendations from your stylist. Looking back on it, I had my dress picked out before my appointment even started. My hesitation on truly knowing it was perfect for me was just questioning how it would look on my body. My bridal stylist listened to what I had envisioned, and did a great job picking out a number of dresses that were all beautiful and true contenders. I was even surprised by how much I liked how different silhouettes looked on my body once I tried them on. I was open to being surprised by her picks and recommendations based on her experience with the dresses. And I love a bride who comes in with an idea of what they want, but is open to a recommendation if I pull a dress or a style that I think might be the perfect choice that they may not have even considered on the rack.
But trusting your bridal stylist is key. It’s literally the stylist’s job to help you find your perfect dress. It was important to me to not work with a stylist who was too pushy or who didn’t listen to what I wanted. I’ve had friends experience both on their journey to find their wedding dress. I knew I wouldn’t get that at Strike, because of what their customers shared in their reviews. That’s where your research comes in again.
First dress magic is an absolutely beautiful thing. I didn’t know it existed before I started working at Strike, and I’ve witnessed it a few times since then. The bride had a vision for her dress or how she wanted to look and feel on the big day, communicated that to the bridal stylist, a dress was pulled, and BOOM…first dress magic! It feels like the stars align in that moment. Tears are shed. Signature cocktails are drank, and at Strike, confetti is popped. It happens! More often than you might think. My one recommendation here is to be open to it. Don’t be afraid of it. Welcome it. You’ve done the research, you’ve made the Pinterest board, you’ve narrowed down the designers and bridal shops who match your vibe. And now you’ve found your dress!
Whether it’s the first dress or the fifth, the moment when YOU, your group, and your stylist recognize that the dress is the one, admit it. Accept it. Soak it in. Love it. And say yes! If the price, the style, and the detail is right – why not just say yes? If the tears are flowing from the bride, 99% of the time it’s the dress. I don’t fault a bride for wanting to sleep on a decision, ever. But not saying yes because you have another appointment that afternoon and you don’t want to experience dress FOMO, it’s not worth it. Now, I’m not saying that I said yes right away the first time that I had THE dress on. I literally cried. But then there was me second guessing the feeling I got. Was it really right for me? Did I want to be done with the shopping experience? Would I hate the dress a year from now? I tried on a few more dresses, leaving the favorite dress hanging up in my suite, and eventually put it back on. There were more tears. A few more hesitations, I even said I was going to sleep on it. And then a few seconds later, it clicked. I let myself fully experience the moment of recognition. This was my dress. It made me feel beautiful. It made me feel bridal. And it made me feel like me. The top three things I wanted to feel on my wedding day.
But at the same time, don’t feel pressured to say yes to the dress. Not everyone buys a dress at their first appointment, or experiences first dress magic. Don’t say yes if it’s not truly what you want. Choosing a wedding dress is a big decision. At the same time though, you’ve already committed to spending the rest of your life with another human being. That’s a HUGE decision, and you made it. Go you! Now you just need to decide what dress you want to wear on that one day when you make it official. A big decision, but you’ve literally already made a bigger one. You can do this.
This tip is coming to you from both personal and professional experience. From a professional standpoint, I love a bride who comes in with 12+ months until the wedding day. That gives us full reign of the designers and dresses. Every designer’s manufacturing and shipping timelines are different. And you want to give yourself about 2-3 months for alterations. Give yourself plenty of time to find, order, and alter your wedding dress. The last thing you want is to wait too long to start the shopping process and realize you can’t get a certain dress in time. I’ve seen it happen, and it makes me very sad to not be able to show a bride dresses from one designer because it won’t come in time. This is more poignant now after a pandemic and a war in Europe that have slowed or disrupted supply chains and shipping. Be prepared for the manufacturing and shipping process for wedding dresses to be 2-3 months longer than what is “typical”.
This issue is especially personal and pertinent for me. You never know when a global pandemic is going to hit. Or when a supply chain is going to crumble. You also never know when one country is going to declare war on another country. So to get to the personal side of this tip. If my dress would have been ready to ship from the designer a mere 7 days later than it did, it would not have made it. My dress was manufactured in Ukraine. And it literally shipped out to the US a week before Russia invaded their country. Believe me, the WAR is much WORSE than my wedding dress almost not making it to me. But it was an unforeseen circumstance, and if I waited any longer to start shopping, I may not have gotten my dress. A special shoutout to the team at Alena Leena for being so strong in the face of such adversity.
To give you the timeline, I ordered my dress in August of 2021. My dress arrived to Strike in February of 2022, a little less than 7 months later. I got engaged in February of 2021. I originally put off dress shopping until the summer because I thought it was too early. NO SUCH THING. If I would have not said yes at my appointment, kept shopping, and eventually came back to buy it later, I would be in a much different situation than I am now.
For me, I focused on the feeling. As I mentioned, I kind of knew it was my dress prior to the appointment when I kept looking at it online and was really excited when I saw it in the store. I had my moments where I second guessed the decision. But I also knew I had done my research, I knew that it was what I wanted, and I trusted my gut. I also knew that I was pretty positive I wouldn’t find anything better. Or anything that would make me feel more like myself.
And that was the most important part. I wanted to love the dress, yes. But I wanted it to feel like me. On my wedding day, I know my fiancé is going to take one look at it and agree that it is the perfect dress for me. I can’t wait for that moment.