“My main tip for brides-to-be, will be that it is essential to know your body type and shape, and what silhouette suits you best. That’s really the key to looking and feeling fabulous on your wedding day.” – Rachel
Keep an open mind
When making an appointment with your salon, always go with an open mind. What you envision as your dream dress may end up not looking as great on you (we’re not models, after all). Trust your designer to know what suits you best!
Save lots of photos of how you envision your dream gown to be like. These will help the designer understand what you’re looking for, and it will really narrow down the time spent on hunting for the perfect dress.
It might get expensive, depending on what you want
You have to be realistic about the cost. For instance, if you want a full-lace gown, be prepared to pay. Material costs are high, and it’s important to let your designer know what your budget is early on.
Couture: Yes or no?
This is something my designer told me: Many modern brides now want to go overseas to buy beautiful, couture gowns (from off-season sales etc.), but they have to consider tailoring for it to really fit them well. But not every designer is willing to tailor a couture gown, as it is hard to work with something they did not make from scratch.
Putting it on
When shopping for your dress, think about how you have to put it on during the day of. Mine was an over-the-head dress, and this meant that I had to change into my gown before being able to do hair and makeup. This is a big, big factor on your wedding day, especially if you want multiple outfit changes for the tea ceremony and other events. Dresses that you can pull up, or zip into are the most convenient.
Comfort is key
Get a dress you’re comfortable in. You have to be able to wear the dress, and not let it wear you.
Consider your groom
If he has a smaller frame, a princess silhouette or ballgown may drown him out. If he’s much taller than you, wearing a sleek column or mermaid dress with no train will make you look quite tiny next to him. These “visual factors” play a big part in photos too.
Photo: Estelle Low’s wedding, reproduced with kind permission.
Window shop until you find the right one
I’ve had friends walk in and out of bridal studios until they find a dress they are happy with. That’s when they start considering renting or buying from that studio. If you don’t fancy the dresses you see on the racks, it’s unlikely that the designer of that studio will come up with anything you’ll like. Every studio has a different style and specialty. So don’t settle for the first few just because the studio is offering you an irresistible rate/deal. Keep browsing. It’s a lot of legwork, but it will be worth it in the end.
Suss out your potential designer
It’s important to have an open, honest relationship with your designer, where you’re comfortable sharing your body issues (e.g. I want to hide my tummy / accentuate my bust) with. That way, you’ll be more likely to receive designs you like. And also, comment freely about the designs. Ultimately, you want a good working relationship with your designer. If you’re the passive, indecisive sort, it’s probably a good idea to go with someone strong-headed, who can make the judgment call. If you already know what you like or dislike, engage a designer who listens and is good at customising.
Don’t be afraid to ask for contacts
Sometimes, you don’t have to start from scratch. Look around you and your social circle for photos of recently married couples to see if any style piques your interest. If so, ask to link up with the person and studio. The bride will be happy to share her contact (if she’s happy with the result). Word-of-mouth recommendations usually won’t go wrong.
Look for wedding looks you like
It doesn’t have to be the dress of your dreams, but if you come across photos of brides you really like – it could be the hairstyle or makeup or accessories – save those photos and show them to your potential designer.
If he/she expresses excitement, interest, or agreement that the look could work for you, you can be pretty confident of getting a wedding dress you’ll like. By showing these images to your potential designer, you’ll also get a sense of what works or doesn’t work for you.
If you don’t believe in spending thousands on a dress, or if you want to be spared from the hassle of physical shopping, buy your dress online. The fit may not be perfect, but most of the time, you can get the dress altered at a decent rate. Overall, you’ll save a lot of money shopping online compared to signing a studio package. My friend even bought a backup wedding dress and her total dress expenditure was less than $2,000.
If you’re planning to keep your dress, make it work harder for you. Go for styles that are customisable or interchangeable, such as a crop top and a skirt, so you have the option of wearing each piece separately (see chic bridal separates here). My best friend bought a dress that came with detachable off-shoulder sleeves (see also: these gowns with detachable pieces) so she could put on that outer layer to turn her bustier dress into an off-shoulder one. That’s two looks from one dress. In my case, my evening gown was made such that I could cut off the train and wear it to other functions, without looking strange.
The one takeaway I had from my custom-made wedding dress at the end of the day was: Do you really need a custom-made wedding dress which you will not wear again the next 50 years?
That said, I still fell into the beautiful trap. If you are going to have a custom-made wedding dress, it is a time-consuming and priceless experience.
Start early (so so so important)
Begin at least 10 months before your wedding. Custom-made dresses require minimally a good four months of tailoring excluding fittings and alterations. I didn’t realise this until I needed alternations done (to change from cap sleeves to longer flowy sleeves), and my dressmaker almost could not complete it in time for my engagement shoot.
Research and homework
The decision-making efforts that goes into the type of dress silhouette often times overpowers the equal importance of colour and type of fabrics.
White has a few shades too: stark white, off-white, ivory and some considered champagne as an option too. You’ll be amazed how the right white will enhance and illuminate your face.
The type of fabrics produce different photo effects e.g. tulle is great for maximum poof and it allows light to shine through for a dreamy photo effect; and georgette is an absolutely beautiful fabric that is a blend of chiffon and silk giving you the best of both worlds (the softness of the chiffon and the smooth, luxurious feeling of silk).
Spend a couple of months compiling a mood board of what you like and envisage yourself wearing. This will expose you to just how many different styles there are out there right now.
I’d recommend a systematic approach to this: First, google for the top 5 wedding dress designers. You’ll find names like Vera Wang, Carolina Herrera, Hayley Paige, Jenny Packham and Pronovias, and so on. My dress was inspired by Jenny Packham’s Odessa.
It’ll also help if you look up these designers’ dresses online to find your desired looks. Next, put the images into a dedicated folder and once you’re through with the compilation, narrow your favourites to just five to eight different styles, where you will discuss at length with your wedding dress designer/maker.
It is also helpful to try out actual dresses off the racks at sample sales and bridal studios to have a good sense of what really works for your body.
While you’re at it, do try on those that don’t seem to be your style/s. You’ll be surprised what you liked most may not suit you, and what you least expect to wear may be the perfect cut for you. I’d wanted to go with a fitting, lace long sleeves but the cruel reality is my arms are not slender enough to look my best in it. I had to readjust my expectations and research all over.
Do pay attention to details as well! Lace. Buttons. How far the buttons are from each other. It all makes a difference.
Finding a designer/dressmaker
Look to Google or Instagram for wedding hashtags and local wedding portals to gather information on who’s available out there. Shortlist your list of potential vendors. Determine your budget. Call or visit them to find out their expertise and price range.
A good dress designer/maker must be able to share with you extensively on the types of laces, cuttings and fabrics available, and their respective pros and cons.
First meeting with your selected dress designer/maker
Remember to bring ALL your research materials to facilitate the design brief. Pictures help explain a lot better as designers/tailors hold a very different understanding of the same word, and you never know.
Keep an open mind too. Some visual fantasies we have in our mind may not be realistic in real-life tailoring context.
When you’ve chosen your dress, stop looking.
Stop looking around after tailoring has commenced. Because somehow or rather, some unimaginably beautiful dress will suddenly pop on your browser and throw you into a miserable state of doubt why you hadn’t seen that earlier! See also: Randy Fenoli’s dress shopping tips here.
When at a fitting, try all styles and cuts, even if you don’t like how it looks on the rack. It may not look good on the hanger, but when you try it on, you will find that some silhouettes may complement your body type more than others.
Don’t be shy!
Also, don’t be afraid to give your input. I understand that some designers may be very overbearing when it comes to their design and what the dress should look like. However, if you’re customising your own dress, or you’re getting a made-to-measure gown, make sure you speak up about what you like and dislike, and what you feel needs to be changed. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, as your wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event. There is no time or room for regrets!
Look to your regular outfits
Identify a dress in your existing wardrobe that you like or feel comfortable in. You can then take references from that, for the silhouette that might look good on you – such as an A-line dress, empire-cut, column gown, and so on.
Do your research
Do them especially before you head to appointments, so you know the designs you’re keen on. I looked around on Pinterest, Instagram, as well as bridal magazines and got a brief idea as to what I’d like.
Show tear sheets to your designer and communicate your requirements clearly (i.e. your venue, preferences, height, the type of shoes or accessories you’ll be wearing…) so he or she will be able to provide more advice. It will also be good to share your day’s activities, so your designer can also factor that into your dress design. For mine, I knew it would not be feasible to have a long train, as I intended to walk around to mingle with my guests during the lunch reception after the church ceremony. So that was brought up at the very first appointment.
Bring on your actual day accessories at the fittings if possible
This is so you can bring them along for fittings. It will also help the designer to gauge the length of your dress (like how much fabric to cut and so on). During fittings, it’s better if you can bring or wear a stick-on or strapless bra and nude underwear so you can better envision your big-day look. It also helps your designer to know if it’s necessary to make any adjustments to the dress.
Too many cooks…
Don’t bring more than three people with you during your fittings, as you don’t want to be caught in a situation where they all have differing views, and you end up being uncertain about which dress to pick.
Also, if you’re picking dresses with your husband-to-be, consider excluding him for your final fitting (or fittings), so he gets a small surprise on the actual day.
Be firm with your budget
It’s easy to get seduced by prettier, and also more expensive looking dresses. You may also get caught up with additions here and there, but these can add up!
Just be you
Your wedding gown style should very much represent your own style. Follow designers and boutiques on social media who represent your personality as much as possible, and pin their styles onto your own boards. Are you looking for a big, extravagant ballgown, or a minimalist sheath?
Once you’re armed with a clear idea, find boards or tearsheets to best illustrate your dream dress, and you can then start visiting designers/boutiques to shop for it.
Always keep an open mind
Having said that, always keep an open mind on gown styles. For example, I did not expect myself to wear a ballgown, but eventually fell in love with a tulle number that I wore during my Chinese banquet.
For free-spirited brides or brides with simple ceremonies, think out of the box. Your perfect gown might not be found in bridal boutiques, but in brands that stock occassion-worthy white gowns. Given another chance at this, I would browse online at sites like www.anthropologie.com instead!