Let me guess, you thought you had found ‘the one’ (your fiancé) right? But what you probably didn’t realise when starting out wedding planning was that you had to search for another ‘one’ (the venue), and another ‘one’ (the dress / suit / jumpsuit)! Searching for the perfect wedding outfit can understandably be quite overwhelming, there are SO many beautiful designs to choose from. From classic glamour, to romantic boho, to modern city chic. Seriously, where do you start?!
Well, with this in mind we’re delighted to welcome Russell Blackburn, owner of Blackburn Bridal to the Blog today and what he doesn’t know about bridal fashion frankly isn’t worth knowing!
Firstly huge congratulations on your engagement! You are in safe hands searching for your wedding venue via Coco! If you have found your venue now is a great time to start thinking about your dress so I wanted to share my top tips to get you started.
I have been running our award-winning bridal boutique Blackburn Bridal in Blackheath, South-East London for seventeen years now. Prior to that I worked in publishing as Fashion Director at You and Your Wedding Magazine so I can safely say that I live and breathe all things bridal. I have dressed thousands of brides during this time and have experienced every kind of scenario you could imagine. I would love to share my knowledge to ensure as smooth a shopping process as possible!
First of all ENJOY THE PROCESS! Dress shopping is a hugely special milestone in your life and it’s important you try and enjoy the experience. I promise you will look back and wonder where the time went! This is where a bit of pre-planning comes in handy to avoid any stressful situations!
TIMELINES – WHEN SHOULD YOU START SHOPPING?
In an ideal world we recommend you start your shopping quite early on, 12 months (or more) before the big day is perfect. Bridal designers tend to have a 6-9 months lead time, this then allows you 8-12 weeks for your fittings to ensure everything is carried out in a timely manner with no stressful rush at the end!
If you have a shorter time frame it is always worth speaking to boutiques as designers can often work to a shorter timescale but rush fees may be incurred. Many stores (including ours) may also have the option of buying some samples ‘off the peg’ which would just need alterations – we always try to find solutions to accommodate our brides so it’s worth asking the question!
So now that you have an idea of timescales it’s time to start your research. Before you jump head first into dress shopping spend some time looking for inspiration. Instagram, Pinterest, wedding blogs and bridal magazines are all great places to start – packed full of beautiful real life weddings and inspiration. Start by collating images and dress styles that you like the look of. Do you think you want relaxed and informal, or do you want to go all-out glamorous? You may change your mind further down the line, but everyone needs to start somewhere. You might also find that certain styles and designers jump out at you time and time again.
NARROW DOWN YOUR SEARCH
The next thing to do is find out which shops stock the types of dresses and designers you are drawn to and make appointments to visit them. Although there might be a beautiful boutique local to you they may not have the style of dresses you are looking for. Spend time looking through boutiques’ websites and social media channels to ensure their aesthetic is in keeping with your vision. Once you have whittled down your search we suggest booking in no more than 3-4 appointments as you don’t want to get completely overwhelmed. Most boutiques will charge for appointments so make sure you are aware of any fees and plan for this within your budget.
LET’S GET SERIOUS – BUDGETING
Before you start shopping, set your budget. Think about what you have available to spend and don’t forget to factor in alteration costs (more on this later). Once you have set your budget make sure these costs are inline with the dresses and boutiques you are planning to visit. It’s important you share this information with your bridal boutique stylists (even just a guideline) as the last thing we would want is for you to fall in love with a dress that is way out of budget.
If you are struggling to find anything that fits into your budget it is worth exploring the option of buying a sample dress or pre-loved. Find out about upcoming sales or ask your favourite boutiques if they have samples to purchase ‘off the peg’. Second hand websites like Still White are also a great place to search.
GUESTS OF HONOUR
Think carefully about who you would like to bring with you before asking ALL your girlfriends. Also check ahead as different boutiques have different guest policies (especially post-Covid). I always recommend bringing no more than 2-3 guests maximum. Bring friends and family whose opinions you trust and you know will make the experience a fun and enjoyable one. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to go it alone, many of our brides actually come on their own and are often far more decisive that way.
PACK YOUR BAG
Consider what to wear on the day of your bridal appointments, nude laser cut underwear is best along with a strapless bra. Bringing heels in the rough height you are planning to wear on the day is a great idea to give you an idea of your height. Try to avoid wearing too much makeup or fake tan so as not to mark the dresses – your stylist will thank you for it!
TRUST YOUR GUT
The dress hunt can often be surprising. You may think you want one look before falling in love with something entirely different, but this is ok! Remember, you are not dressing for anyone else but yourself (and your fiancé of course…). Ultimately you are looking for the dress that makes you feel happy, confident and super special. If you are down to two favourites and can’t decide – go with your heart over your head. The former is always much more exciting!
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
After all that research, budgeting and shopping hopefully you have whittled down your search and found ‘the one’. Congratulations! So, what comes next? Most boutiques have a similar system and request 50% deposit up front – your dress will then be ordered from your designer. You will be given an approximate lead time and now all you have to do is wait (leaving you to get on with other fun shopping decisions such as shoes, accessories and jewellery!). Once your dress has arrived in store you will be called and asked to make the final balance payment. You can then start the alterations process.
Unless you have had a ‘made to measure’ dress, then all dresses will need alterations to some degree. Wedding dresses are made to a designer’s standard sizing, it will therefore need some tweaks and adjustments to fit you perfectly. For example, adjusting hemlines and taking in seams to fit like a glove. This will usually be carried out over 2-3 appointments. Each shop will work differently so it’s best to discuss this during your initial appointment. Some shops carry out alterations in-house whilst others may recommend a selection of skilled seamstresses you can visit privately in their workshops. Your boutique should be able to give you a rough estimate of costs when you order, this will then be finalised with your seamstress at your first fitting once they know all the work to be carried out.
Don’t forget to take your chosen bridal underwear to your first fitting along with your wedding shoes. If you plan to bring guests it’s a good idea to bring them to the final fitting instead of the first…wait until it fits you perfectly to suitably wow your guests!
So that’s it, all that’s left to do is to have the time of your life wearing your dress on your big day!
I hope this (not so little) list has given you an insight into what to expect when dress shopping. Enjoy it, trust the process and have fun!
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