The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress: Part 1

Part 1: How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress will be presented in 3 parts, and in Part 1 of this series, I write about how to start your wedding dress search and some of the things you should do before that.

I’ve been to a lot of weddings in the past few years. I’ve travelled to Hong Kong, Singapore and even Australia, just to attend the weddings of some of my closest friends. I’ve been to intimate weddings with less than 30 guests to ones with ballrooms filled to the brim.

Whether it’s a big wedding or a small wedding, one thing that’s always present in all the weddings I’ve attended, is this feeling of anticipation, no matter how long I’ve known the bride or how good a friend she is, of how beautiful the bride will look like in her wedding dress.

All eyes are on the bride from the moment she walks through the doors.

So it’s easy to understand just why so many brides-to-be place so much importance on this one dress that only gets worn once, and is quite possibly the most expensive dress anyone will ever buy in their lifetime.

So, where do I start?

Before you start your search for your wedding dress, there are two things that you need to decide first: what’s your wedding dress budget and when you should start looking for your wedding dress.

What’s Your Wedding Dress Budget?

Decide from earlier on in the planning process:

  • how much are you prepared to spend to on your wedding dress including alterations, and

  • how you’re going to pay for the wedding dress.

Regardless of the size of your wedding dress budget, there is a variety of choices out there. Here’s a rough guide of how much you could expect to pay for a wedding dress from these designers if you order the dress brand new:

  • £100 – £500: Monsoon, Phase Eight, Pearce II Fonda, Ben de Lisi, Debut at Debenhams

  • £500 – £1,000: Alfred Angelo

  • £1,000 – £2,000: Benjamin Roberts, Ronald Joyce, Maggie Sottero, Pronovias, Jenny Packham

  • £2,000 and above: Suzanne Neville, Pronovias, Jenny Packham, Caroline Castigliano, Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier

Be prepared to pay more if you want a dress with lace and/or embellishments.

As stockists and designers rarely advertise the price of their wedding dresses on their websites, one of the ways to get a rough estimate on how much a designer’s dress would cost would be to check out websites selling pre-owned wedding dresses. Often, sellers will list out the original price paid for their wedding dresses on their listings.

While most of the online resources I’ve read would advise against trying on dresses that are above your budget, I didn’t quite follow it. I tried on dresses that were in my price range, as well as those that were well above it. I reasoned that when else in my life would I ever have the excuse to try on a £10,000 dress (true story). I had a lot of fun trying on those dresses, but I did it knowing that I would not choose a dress that was beyond my budget.

As for knowing how you’re going to pay for it, I think this is important so that you don’t end up getting disappointed when you’ve found your dress, only to realise that you don’t have enough funds to pay for the 50% deposit that they ask for when you order your dress. It’s not worth buying a wedding dress that’s beyond what you can afford if it lands you in debt.

When Should I Start Looking For My Wedding Dress?

While most people will start looking for a wedding dress about 6 – 12 months prior to their wedding, I started my wedding dress search as soon as I knew I was getting married.

I even bought my wedding dress before the wedding date was decided (and as it turns out, I had more than 18 months between dress purchase and wedding date).

So I would encourage anyone looking for a wedding dress to start early, especially if you have a specific designer in mind. Allow at least 6-9 months for the wedding dress to be made, if you are ordering it brand new. This should also give you enough time to get it altered and fitted to your size.

However, if you have less than 6 months to your wedding day, don’t despair. You will still find your dream wedding dress and your best bet would be to look for wedding dresses that can be bought off the rack.

Try scouring the racks at high street shops with a dedicated bridal section or at sample sales for wedding dresses that you can buy on the spot.

If you find a dress you love at a wedding boutique and and don’t have the time to get it made brand new for you, ask the boutique if they will sell the sample to you. However, bear in mind that sample wedding dresses are usually made in UK size 12 – 14, and they can be altered upto 2 size up or down. Make sure that you factor in the alteration costs into your budget.

Wedding Dress Research

Once you’ve decided on your budget and you’ve established the length of time you have to look look for your wedding dress, you can now start your dress research! Wedding websites and wedding blogs are good places to start your wedding dress research as they don’t cost anything and will give you ample inspirations to help you visualise your dream wedding dress.

Wedding websites like and will have galleries filled with stock photos of wedding dresses (i.e. modeled shots of wedding dresses provided by the respective designers). That being said, sometimes I find that stock photos do not provide very good representations of the wedding dresses, as they are worn by thin and slender, 6-foot tall amazonians.

Instead, when I find a wedding dress I like, I will look for pictures of it worn by real brides on wedding blogs or forums. This way, I’ll know how the wedding dress will look like on a real person and how well it will photograph too (because some dresses while beautiful in person, do not translate as nicely in photographs).

However, be careful not to look at wedding blogs/websites that are too US-centric or you’ll end up falling for wedding dresses that’s not available in the UK. I definitely fell into this trap and as most of the wedding blogs I read were American based, I quickly fell in love with Monique Lhuiller’s creations. They were and still are some of the most amazing wedding dresses I’ve seen. Alas, I discovered that they were only available in the UK at Browns Bride and each dress costs an arm and a leg. The alternative would be to purchase the Monique Lhuillier wedding dresses pre-owned, but then I would have to factor in additional costs like import tax, VAT, shipping and insurance costs for purchasing it from a US seller and that didn’t sound too appealing to me (too much extra costs!)

Narrowing Down Your Wedding Dress Selection

When you find a wedding dress you like, take note of the designer and the style name/number, and save the image in your computer as reference. Over time, you’ll start to notice the designer, style, shape, material and make that you tend to gravitate towards.

Once you’ve done that, trying locating the wedding dresses by going on the designer’s website, which will give you information on their stockists. Choose bridal boutiques that are located close to you as you will need to revisit their shops several times for fittings once you decide on a wedding dress.

Call the bridal boutiques and ask if they have the wedding dresses that you are looking for, and whether you can set up an appointment to try them. Even if they don’t have the wedding dress that you are looking for, ask if they would order a sample of the wedding dress especially for you to try, if you pay them a small fee.

In Part 2 of the Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress, I’ll write about what to expect at bridal boutique appointments, and how you’ll know when you’ve found The One!

If you would like to read Parts 1 and 2, follow the links below:

Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Dream Wedding Dress

Part 2: Bridal Boutique Appointments and How Do You Know If You’ve Found Your Wedding Dress

Part 3: Altering Your Wedding Dress