When to buy your wedding dress - A timeline
The time has come! Finding the perfect wedding dress is an exciting quest. You may be already picturing yourself in your dream dress and saving images of styles you love, or perhaps you haven't given it much thought yet and now feeling quite overwhelmed by where to start. Wherever you're at, we're here to help!
For starters, it's important to give yourself plenty of time so you don't feel pressured to make a quick decision or rushing to get alterations done. "It's never too early to start looking," says bridal gown designer, Justin Alexander. "Enjoy this part of your wedding journey and keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun and stress-free."
So how much time should you allow for finding 'the one' - plus alterations, accessories and all the extras to complete your bridal look? Read on for our wedding dress shopping timeline, with expert tips from top bridal fashion designers to guide you along the way.
Secure your date and venue first
It can be tempting to book an appointment at your local bridal boutique pronto, but try to hold off until you have booked your venue and secured the date. "Once you've made this decision you can choose a dress that really fits the season and aligns with your vision for the wedding," explains Ruth Millia from luxury bridal fashion house, Millia London.
12 months before - Start wedding dress shopping
Now you know the season you're getting married in and style of your venue, it's time to hit the shops. Bridal designer Sareh Nouri shares her advice: "Start your search by visiting designer's websites and creating a list of gowns you would love to try on. This helps to create a theme and focus on the styles that appeal to you."
"Be realistic and remain open minded," advises Ruth. "The dress you think is going to be the one may not be it. It's best to try on even those styles, colours and materials that you never thought you would consider - you may surprise yourself with what you end up falling in love with!"
Sareh agrees: "There are so many complimentary styles for each and every body shape and type. Be open-minded and trust your bridal stylists as they are are very familiar with what styles flatter and compliment different bodies."
9 months before - buy your wedding dress
Aim to order your wedding gown around nine months before your wedding date to allow ample time for any customisation and alterations. This is particularly important if your dress is made to order, which most designer dresses are. Before you part with any money, take a final opportunity to ask questions and make sure all the information is correct.
Find out when the boutique expects your gown to arrive (it's typically 16 to 20 weeks from the date you order), and confirm that they'll call you when it comes in or if any issues arise. Now is also the time to seek clarification on the boutiques alteration policy and costs, such as whether there is a flat fee or charge per service.
6-8 months before - buy bridesmaids dresses
If you haven't already, now is the time to buy your bridesmaids dresses. It's one of those wedding tasks that can take longer than you might expect, particularly if you have lots of bridesmaids with differing opinions. Whether you're planning to make a day of it with a joint shopping trip or simply ordering dresses online to be delivered for your best girls to try on at home, our guide to finding bridesmaids dresses for different shapes and sizes is a great place to start.
6 months before - Find a seamstress and book fittings
The vast majority of brides will require wedding dress alterations to ensure the perfect fit. Many high-end bridal boutiques and designer studios offer an alternation service with in-house seamstresses carrying out two to three fittings. However if you buy an off-the-rack wedding dress, shop online or pick up a pre-loved gown that requires adjustment, you'll need to book an appointment with an independent seamstress. Ask around for local recommendations who specialise in bridal dresses.
Although you won't need alterations to take place until closer to the date, bear in mind that boutiques and tailors get busier as wedding season draws near (typically May to September) so aim to book the fitting appointments as soon as you can. Your first fitting should be no later than eight weeks before your wedding day.
Five months before - shop for wedding accessories
Now's a good time to start shopping for all the lovely extras to complete your dream bridal look, including shoes, veil, hair accessories, perfume and jewelry - plus a purse and cover-up if you want these too. Shop for underwear as well, perhaps some skimming and supportive shapewear for under your gown and a sexier option for your wedding night. Also look for something to wear while getting ready on the wedding morning, such as some silky pyjamas or a pretty robe.
Four months before - Book hair and make-up trials
Now you know what you'll be wearing on the big day it's time to turn your attention to hair and make up. If you haven't already, save images of hair styles and beauty looks that you like on Pinterest and Instagram, and take them along to your trial appointment with photos of you in your dress. A great hair stylist will discuss looks that compliment your dress, such as an elegant up-do to show off a gown with dramatic back detail, or a natural loose waves to set off an effortlessly slinky slip dress. The climate and time of year will play a part in the decision too, as you'll need to take into account the potential for wind, rain and humidity.
3-4 months before - Your dress arrives
After months of waiting, your dress is finally here. Yay! You'll usually be required to pay the remaining balance when collecting your dress and if you haven't already, book your first fitting. It's important to get the timing of each appointment right: too early and your dress may not fit if you lose or gain weight in the run up to the wedding, too late and you may face stress to get the alterations done in time. We suggest the following timings as a guide...
2-3 months before - First fitting
The first appointment is where the heavy work happens, such as adding sleeves, changing the neckline, adjusting the hem or requesting customizations, like beading, a belt or modesty panel.
6-8 weeks before - Second fitting
The second fitting is when smaller tweaks take place, such as taking in the bodice and perfecting the hem length. We can't overstate the importance of feeling comfortable in your wedding gown so take time to move around, dance and sit down to ensure the fit is perfect. If something's not quite right, now is the time to speak up.
2–3 weeks before - Final dress fitting
This is an exciting day! You'll get to see exactly how your gown will look on your wedding day, so take along everything you plan to wear, including shoes, underwear and veil. It can be quite an emotional moment so invite someone special along to share it with you, and they can practise helping you into the dress ahead of the big day.
1-2 weeks before - Pick up your wedding dress.
Collecting your dress makes it all feel real! When your gown is ready, keep it in a breathable opaque garment bag and find a place to store it where your partner can't sneak a peek. If you don't have space to store it at home without it getting squished, ask your parents or maid of honor if they can hold onto it for you. But before you do, inspect it carefully to ensure everything looks perfect. If your veil is in the same bag, store it in a protective pouch so it doesn't snag on any of the gown's embellishments.