Wedding dress shopping can be an exciting and bewildering experience, particularly for the first-time bride. To make it less overwhelming, our friends at Andrea Hawkes put together an essential guide to wedding dress shopping, so you know where to start and what to consider.

Where do you start?

Before you start creating a mood board of all the dress designs you love, it’s important to put a plan in action. First things first, when should you start shopping for a wedding dress and how much should you budget for? Money and time frame are the two factors which will affect the rest of your wedding dress shopping experience, so figuring out the answer to these questions is a crucial first step.  

Setting a price

Wedding dresses can vary a lot in price, depending on what is important to you. If you want to buy a simple white dress from a high-street retailer, then it can cost you as little as £70, but these types of dresses are not created with the same level of quality and attention to detail as professionally designed bridal dresses. For bespoke, specially-created gowns that are made just for you, you’re looking closer to £10,000. For expertly designed, ready-to-wear and made-to-measure dresses from bridal boutiques and designers, it’s more likely to be in the range of £1,500 to £4,000.

As there are a lot of other costs when it comes to planning a wedding aside from your dress, it’s a good idea to agree on a dress budget with your fiancé. This will help you decide whether you are going to go for a standard size dress, a made-to-measure gown or a completely bespoke design. Don’t forget to allow some wiggle room for dress alterations, your shoes, bridal lingerie and any wedding dress accessories that you might want to include in your bridal outfit. However, it is normal for brides to spend more than they had originally planned, so don’t worry if you slightly exceed your dress budget!


When should you start shopping for a wedding dress? You might be surprised to learn that finding your perfect dress can take almost as long as planning for the rest of your wedding! To complete an order, it normally takes bridal boutiques between six to eight months to make a dress, even if you are choosing a ready-to-wear gown. So once you know what time of year you are planning to have your special day, work the time backwards to create your wedding dress shopping timeline. However, a shorter turn around is possible, as many dresses are created for weddings less than six months away, so don’t worry if your big day is closer round the corner.

Keep in mind that a lot of boutiques and studios are appointments only, so it’s important to do your research into which stores you want to visit and make appointments within plenty of time. Normally, brides-to-be will have between two to five fittings, depending on whether you are going for a standard size dress, made-to-measure or a bespoke dress, and if you need any alterations made along the way.

For made-to-measure dresses, you should aim to have your first wedding dress fitting (when you first try on your dress) around five to six months before the wedding date. Whereas for standard size dresses, you can get away with scheduling your first fitting roughly two months before your big day. For dresses that are designed from scratch (a.k.a bespoke design), you’re looking at closer to the six to eight months mark.

Bring out the mood boards

Once you have your timeline and budget, it’s time to get creative. Before you head off to your first wedding dress appointment, it’s a good idea to do your homework on what types of gowns you like the look of beforehand. This is when Pinterest will be your new right-hand app, and your newlywed friends will become a priceless resource for advice. Here are a few of the factors to consider when researching wedding dress styles:

  • Season: You may love backless wedding dresses, but this style may not be practical for winter weddings. Likewise, if you are planning on getting hitched abroad, it’s a good idea to look for dress styles that will keep you cool on your special day. By considering the climate you’re likely to get married in when looking at bridal gowns, you’ll ensure that you’ll be comfortable (read: not freezing) throughout the whole day!


  • Venue: Traditionally, all marriages would happen in a place of worship, but today, the world is your oyster in terms of wedding locations. The venue of your wedding can play an important part in which wedding dress you decide to go with. A place of worship like a church may require you to cover your shoulders and arms during the ceremony. While a forest wedding may make a long train slightly impractical. By thinking practically about how your venue may affect your wedding dress choice, you can refine what styles you want to try out, leading you one step closer to finding the perfect dress.


  • Theme: A lot of betrothed couples choose to set a theme for their wedding. Whether you’re thinking Hollywood glamour, boho festival or a rustic barn wedding. When you choose to set a theme for tying the knot, it’s worth considering how your dress will fit into the overall look of your special day. It might be as simple as choosing a bouquet that matches the colour scheme or choosing a dress style that suits the overall 80s disco aesthetic you’re going for. Aligning your bridal dress style with your theme will also help to create picture perfect wedding photos!


  • Style: Romantic or minimalistic. Retro or modern. There is a whole host of bridal dress styles to choose from. It’s a good idea to work out if you have a particular preference for a certain style before you start going to appointments. Selecting one style doesn’t mean you are limiting yourself in terms of design, as dresses of a similar style can include different necklines, train lengths and detailing. Often, bridal boutiques will specialise in a certain type of wedding dress style, so working out your preferences can help you whittle down the list of bridal shops to visit. For instance, at Andrea Hawkes Bridal, we design minimalistic, simple dresses for brides who prefer a more modern look.


  • Comfort: Trying on bridal gowns is an exciting experience, so it’s easy for brides to be swept up in all the commotion and novelty of the appointments. One of the most important facts of wedding dresses that brides-to-be often forget is that you’re going to be wearing your dress all day. That means walking, talking, dancing and sitting in your dress. For this reason, it’s vital that you are comfortable in your gown, whether you’re moving around or sitting still. This is why many brides will have their dress altered before the big day. Small changes can make a world of difference to ensure that your dress fits like a glove! Silk is one of the best fabrics to work with for wedding dresses because it’s a natural fabric, meaning that it’s breathable and gentle on the skin. This is why many bridal designers such as Andrea Hawkes choose to work specifically with silk, as it ensures that each dress is comfortable to wear.


  • Accessories: A great way to personalise any dress is through incorporating some tasteful bridal accessories into your look. Whether that’s your grandmother’s pearl earrings for a dash of something old, bridal capes or jackets for a modest coverup during your ceremony, or a showstopper bridal overskirt or topper to create two looks from one dress. Accessorising your gown opens up lots of ways to create a unique bridal look. So deciding if and what type of wedding dress accessories you may want is definitely something worth considering before you go to your first appointment.

By the time you go to your first wedding dress appointment, it’s normal for you to have a fairly clear idea of the styles and types of bridal dresses that you like. However, although you may have some initial ideas, it’s important to be open to suggestions from friends, family and the designers during this initial stage. You might surprise yourself by finding the perfect dress in a style that you never thought you’d like. This is why trying on different gown styles during your initial appointment can be really beneficial. As this will help you know for sure what type of dress you like in person, instead of basing your judgement purely on pictures.


Over at Andrea Hawkes, we pride ourselves in taking a personalised approach to wedding dress shopping. We know that the secret to finding the perfect wedding dress is understanding the personality and needs of each individual bride. Designed and made in London, our bespoke wedding dresses are crafted using the finest silk fabrics and simplistic designs to create contemporary bridal gowns. From the modern sophistication embodied in our new ‘Identity’ collection, to our elegant ‘Reflection’ collection and glamourous ‘Winter Capsule’ Collection. Our range of minimalistic, expertly designed wedding dresses suits every bride looking to create a modern bridal look. To book an appointment or to get in touch with the Andrea Hawkes team visit our contact page, or browse our blog and Instagram account to find plenty of bridal inspiration.

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