Few aspects of the wedding planning process are as exciting or meaningful as dress shopping. Browsing and trying on gowns can be a blast, but it also takes time — even before fittings, shipping, and alterations are taken into account.
Depending on the dress, the entire process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year. This variability can make it tricky to plan. To help, we've outlined a few considerations to give you a better idea of when you should start browsing — and when it's time to get serious about choosing your dress.
When to Start Looking for a Wedding Dress & When to Buy?
Because there are so many steps along the way to getting the perfect wedding dress, it's important to start early. How early, however, remains up for debate. In general, most brides should plan to get started at least one year before the big day.
A period of a few months should be built in for browsing, scheduling appointments and trying on dresses so there's no need to make a snap decision. After that, you'll want to actually purchase the dress around nine months before the wedding. This will make it easier to handle potential supply chain issues, as well as multiple rounds of alterations. If you’ve reached the point where you have less than nine months, there’s still options. Start browsing, calling around and finding options that are guaranteed to arrive when before needed.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Wedding Dress?
Dress timelines differ dramatically, but most brides can safely expect their gowns to arrive within four to six months of ordering. Custom dresses may take longer, however.
Many designers follow a basic pattern for ordering and shipping, so loose estimates are possible. As soon as you determine which designer you prefer, it's worth your while to do a little research and determine how long this particular designer's process typically takes. Then, add a month to this estimate to give yourself extra wiggle room.
There’s also the option of ordering a dress that’s readily available if you’re short on time, or if you find one that you fall in love with!
How This Fits Into Other Aspects of Wedding Planning
Different brides have different preferences as to when they want to get started with wedding dress shopping. This often occurs after one of two main milestones:
Many brides start hunting for dresses right after they get engaged. The appeal of this approach is clear: the wedding planning process is still fresh, so brides feel excited — not weighed down by the stress that often creeps in later on.
With a long engagement, however, this approach can be risky: it's possible that physical changes or evolving preferences could lead to a whole lot of second-guessing after the dress actually arrives.
After Choosing a Venue
Venue selection often plays heavily into dress choices, in part, because certain dresses just don't work as well in certain locations. For example: brides who opt for destination weddings on the beach may order shorter, simpler dresses that don't require as many customizations or a ton of altering. This can streamline the process, so only a few months may be needed. For an extra formal wedding, however, a fancier ball gown or a long train might require extra time and attention.
Example Wedding Dress Shopping Timeline
Still feeling unsure about when you should browse and when you should order your gown? While no two dress shopping experiences will look exactly alike, this example of a 'typical' timeline should give you a basic idea of when you might want to complete certain tasks to keep the process moving — and to keep your stress to a minimum.
12 Months Before the Wedding
Depending on your venue and the scope of your reception and ceremony, you might be well into the planning process one year out from your wedding day — or you might just be getting started. Either way, it's time to start wedding dress shopping so you can take a close look at realistic options and plan this piece of your budget.
Inspiration can be found online, in magazines, and at wedding dress trunk shows. Key considerations include:
9 Months Before
By now, you should have a clear idea of what you want in a wedding dress — and you should be prepared to commit. Don't forget to determine whether any customizations are available, and, if so, whether you want to make any changes to the standard design.
At this time, you'll likely need to either pay for the entire dress upfront or put down a deposit. Many brides prefer to pay earlier on so that they have a better sense of their budget once the time for alterations arrives.
6 Months Before
You've ordered a wedding gown that you adore. Now, it's time to accessorize! This can be as fun as choosing the actual dress. Keep the following key elements in mind as you complete your bridal look:
Shoes. These need to be both comfortable and stylish. Yes, they might be hidden at times beneath a long dress, but you'll still want something that allows for a cohesive look.
Jewelry. Your engagement ring counts as an accessory, but you might also choose to level up your look with earrings or necklaces. When selecting these pieces, consider the amount of detail on the dress. If your gown is already decked out in ornate beads or lace, call attention to these details by keeping jewelry simple.
Hair. Your hairdo might involve accessories — or if it's intricate enough, it might feel like an accessory on its own. Many brides prefer updos, but there's something to be said for beachy waves when planning a destination wedding.
Veil. As one of the most important bridal accessories, your veil provides the perfect finishing touch. For this reason, it's important to select something that works with both your dress and your preferred hairdo.
Another consideration that brides often neglect until far too late: undergarments. These have a huge impact on the look and feel of your dress, as well as your personal comfort on your wedding date. Do your research to determine which garments will work best with your specific gown.
2-3 Months Before
It's crunch time! Hopefully, your wedding look will have come together at this point. Now, it's time for the first fitting. Bring all accessories and undergarments you've previously selected to this session. Be sure to schedule this fitting early enough that adjustments can be made to your dress if it doesn't fit quite right.
A second fitting may be required based on whether you need alterations. The type of dress you select may also influence the number of fittings you need to schedule. Most brides can expect to have at least one more fitting after the initial session.
2 Weeks Before
Ideally, your final fitting will occur several weeks before the big day, so you can take those last few weeks to relax as much as possible. During the final fitting, you will confirm that your dress works perfectly — or in the worst-case scenario, make emergency plans.
Next, it's time to take your dress home. How you proceed will depend on the specifics of your gown's design, as well as the instructions you were provided for its care. Follow these directions as closely as possible. In most cases, you'll want to keep your dress in a dry, dark location, where hanger straps and a breathable garment storage solution should be used.
If you're planning a destination wedding, you'll want to determine how, exactly, your bridal gown will make it to your final destination. Any transportation solutions you select should minimize wrinkling or anything else that might compromise the appearance of your gown.
Flights often have special closets where important items such as wedding dresses can be safely kept. Otherwise, many dresses can be stowed in overhead compartments. Either way, a high-quality garment bag is essential.
If you only remember one takeaway after reading this guide, it should be the need for extra time when selecting and ordering your wedding dress. There are simply too many variables that can cause you stress when you leave this essential process to the last minute. You'll never regret taking the time to find the perfect gown.
Are you excited to discover your dream wedding dress? Authorized Moonlight retailers can help you find a look that lives up to your vision of a picture-perfect bride. Contact us today to get started.