Eating is as important as underwear: 6 ways to improve your dress shopping experience

Guest post by HennyPenny
By: Daniel OinesCC BY 2.0

On my first wedding dress shopping outing, I went to two places: a fancy, brand-new urban boutique and a David's Bridal in the mall. The experiences were extremely different, but not necessarily in the ways I expected. Here's a recap of the lessons I've learned while dress shopping:

1. Make an appointment. When there's one dress consultant and two trainees on the floor, having an appointment gets you prime service, especially at more crowded places like David's Bridal. I had a dress consultant's full attention for three hours as I tried on dress after dress after dress.


2. Eat a good breakfast. I can't stress this enough. You might not want to eat so that you can squeeze your empty, growling tummy into that ity bity Vera Wang or whatever, but seriously. That's stupid. It's much more important to have a well-balanced breakfast, preferably with some protein to keep you sated, and plenty of water. We only went to two places, but I tried on fourteen dresses (some more than once) and I was completely spent by the end. If I hadn't had something to eat, I would have been a grouchy mess and probably would have ended the day early instead of sticking around and finding a lot of nice stuff.

3. Be open to possibilities. I came into both shops with an idea of what I was looking for: Little pouf, lots of lace, and no glitter. But because I was open to possibilities, I got to try on a lot of really pretty gowns, and discovered that the A-line silhouette flatters my body. I'm also coming to term with sequins, though I'm not sure rhinestones and I will ever see eye-to-eye.

4. Bring trusted companions. Not only so you don't go crazy trying to please a zillion different opinions, but also because their opinions frame your search. I brought my entire family (mom, dad, and two sisters) and the looks in their eyes when I stepped out of the dressing room really made a difference in how I saw each dress. They pushed me toward a dress that was a little more over the top than I wanted. But when you're in the store, on that obnoxious little pedestal, and everyone's staring at you, it's easy to lose sight of what it is you wanted in the first place. Bringing along people you trust to push *your* agenda, as well as people whose style you admire, will make your search most productive.

Extra tip: take photos, if you can, so you can think about the options later. Obviously.

5. Breathe in, then breathe out. That's the way my sister and I managed to zip up those ludicrously tight dresses: She would say “Go,” I'd take a deep breath in, then let it all out and hold it. Worked like a charm. (Credit goes to another Offbeat Bride reader who posted this gem a while back!)

6. Wear nice underwear! You don't need to go all silk teddy on this, but wear underwear that makes you feel pretty and gives good support. You're going to need help getting in and out of those dresses. That helper will probably be a stranger posing as a bridal consultant. Trust me, when you're standing in your skivvies in front of some impeccably dressed shop lady, you're going to second-guess your choice to go with the saggy Hanes and the dirty socks. (Of course this piece of advice is tongue-in-cheek. But I really did wish I'd worn nicer underthings. And the shop lady really was a pro about the whole thing.)

So there you have it, folks. My six ways to improve your dress shopping experience. Remember that you get to put on whatever you want on your wedding day, so enjoy the process of finding it!

Comments on Eating is as important as underwear: 6 ways to improve your dress shopping experience

  1. Agree! Good post. Another advise: Do not bring too many people with you. I’d stick to three of four. It might be fun, but the more people there are, the more opinions you’ll get and things might just become (more) confusing.

    • I totally agree. I took my fiance because I needed someone there who I knew was conpletely and totally on my side. He ended up not wanting to know the end result, but without his support I’d have been lost!

    • And as much as the prevalent advice is to “bring someone”, you may find it easier to go by yourself. Of course this depends on how you deal with shopping in general, but I put something on and can make decisions for myself if I like it. My sisters and friends (and myself) all have our own style, and we have a hard time “getting” someone else’s style, so critiques from a friend were not helpful for me. I picked out my dress, then brought in third parties to confirm (mostly because it was a lot of money).

      • I agree with this. I bought my final dress and had much more fun shopping by myself. i didn’t feel as rushed, or didn’t feel like I needed to try on dresses I wasn’t going to like no matter what just to please whoever was with me.

      • If you do decide to go by yourself, make sure there will be someone to help you in and out of dresses if you will be trying on dresses that you will need help with (i.e. most gowns). I went to one place in NYC that did not offer any help and it was a good thing my mom was with me or else I would not have been able to try on any dresses.

        All of the advice in this post is very good. I’d also add that you shouldn’t schedule more than one appointment a day if you can avoid it.

    • While I agree and highly recommend bringing 1-4 people with you, don’t bring more than 5. I don’t want to be a snarky snark (as I find the Offbeat sites a happy, happy sunshine place), but having A LOT of people with you makes it difficult for other brides to enjoy the experience especially if the store is tight/small.

  2. Hey! I have to say that being a plus size bride, dressing shopping was my most anxious issue. I also went to two places: a boutiquey sort and David’s Bridal (here in Toronto). Both were completely different and in total i tried on nearly 21 dresses. David’s Bridal made the experience amazing- I am convinced that if I had gone to the boutique first I’d have quit trying. The best part about David’s Bridal is that they have all different sizes to try on, so you aren’t a size 16 trying to squeeze into an 8. Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, David’s Bridal had strapless corsets to try on with your dress. This makes a HUGE difference. I didn’t have a strapless bra so this helped me feel like an actual bride in the dresses and not as if I was playing dress up.
    The only thing I’d add to your list of tips? Eliminate the dislikes right away, don’t fret over it or keep them in your sight, just veto what you personally don’t like right away. That being said, try everything on! The dress I ultimately picked was a random dress I had pulled off the website and a compromise and it was absolutely perfect! 🙂

    • I had a COMPLETELY different experience when I went to David’s Bridal.
      DB was my second appointment of the day, and the attendant acted as if she had better things to do than assist me. I’m a plus size bride, and nothing happened positive there. I told her I only wanted to try on gowns that came in pink, and she tried to convince me not to wear pink on my wedding day. I told her I was open to trying on bridesmaids gowns that were available in pink; she told me that I’m the bride so I need to be more special than a briedesmaid dress. When I left from there frazzled, I went to a local boutique. I told her my color, and she pulled out 15 different options. I told her my concerns about fit; she directed to a line that specializes in “fuller”/ “curvier” bodyshapes. She then located several gowns by that designer available in pink. I cried in the very 1st dress she showed me, as it fit as if it were made for my body and I actually felt like a bride. When she actually measured me, my bust was 2in smaller than manufacturer, but my waist and hips were spot on….
      I will say this… The DB attendant wasn’t very sensitive to my nervousness; afterall, I was shopping alone (my mother, sisters, and bridal party all live out of town, and I may have been admittedly moody as my mother was in an accident days prior) So we were choosing via texted photos, but she did, at least notice I wasn’t glowing and suggested the bridal salon I ultimatly purchased from.

      • I’ve seen such mixed reviews about Davids! I guess it makes sense that at such a large chain there would be a lot of variability in the service. I didn’t end up getting my dress there, but the service I got was great, even though it was incredibly busy when I went. When she found out I was interested in color, she instantly ran out to find me some different colored shoes to try on with the dresses and made the whole thing so much more fun.

        • I’ve also seen really mixed reviews about David’s. I think it all depends on your consultant. While I didn’t have a terrible consultant, I also never really felt put at ease. Though polite, she wasn’t particularly helpful. I was handed a catalog and told to pick out the dresses I wanted to try on. When I asked her if they had anything more casual or shorter, I was essentially told to check the catalog. Like Jineane, I was also discouraged from trying on bridesmaid’s dresses when I had trouble finding a shorter, less sparklepoofy bridal gown.

          I think in my case, this is one instance where it’s nice living in a smaller city (about 300,000) in the Midwest. There are some boutique-style shops in my area that still offered gowns in my rather limited price range. I eventually ended up buying my dress from a small, family-owned local shop. After visiting several bridal stores before and having generally blah experiences, I am happy I held out. I love the gown I chose (though it’s not really at all what I was originally looking for), and the attendant was incredible. She put me at ease right away with a more casual, friendly demeanor, and was the first attendant to really pay attention to my style and suggest alternate gowns that I might like, even if they weren’t something I’d originally planned on.

      • The worst experience I had was at a small, privately owned boutique. I had an appt and was totally made to feel like I was an inconvenience. David’s bridal, my consultant was fantastic and followed up with me after the fact. I hadn’t made an appt and she made the time for me, and properly laced me into each dress to be sure of it. While I bought my dress at neither, it really underlines that this isn’t a location issue as much as a consultant issue. I see people often attributing the service to locations, but I think you can get universally great or terrible service anywhere. I think it is really important to let managers/owners know if you don’t get good service at any given location.

    • I found the strapless corset very uncomfortable (even painful) and it didn’t fit me. However, the consultant and her supervisor that I worked with were really helpful, and let me try on dress after dress for 2.5 hours when I was only scheduled for one hour. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with David’s Bridal, though I didn’t end up buying anything there.

    • As a larger bride to be I have been so nervous about going dress shopping. I have a fiancée that loves my curves so I want to wear something that flatters me but doesn’t look awkward. Unfortunately, in the middle TN area David’s Bridal is the about the only place that has plus size dresses. I love their website but, I have heard about great, good, okay, and horrible experiences with them. Crossing my fingers!!

      • I tried two different DBs when I was shopping: One in Mississippi, and one in Ohio (I was on travel for work in Mississippi, and figured what the heck). They were two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT experiences. The gals in MS were amazing. The gals in Ohio… not so much.

        My point is: if you have multiples in your area, and don’t have a good experience at one, try the other. Don’t get discouraged. The MS gals created me a profile and listed all of the gowns I tried on and liked so that the OH gals could find them for me when I went with my mom. The OH gals didn’t even look for it, despite my saying it was there. You may even try going on a different day with a different consultant.

        I’d also try going on a busy, but not crazy day (like a Saturday). A busy day will have the consultants on their toes but not exhausted, so they’re more likely to have had a good day, not bored or overworked. They’ll also appreciate you a little more because you may be helping them make their quota for the day (I would assume they have both appointment and sales quotas).

    • I had a similar experience as you at DB. I walked in to just look, but ended up trying on a bunch of dresses. My consultant was amazing, and took what I liked into consideration. She pulled dresses that were similar to what I liked in the catalog, and what I liked about the dresses I had tried on and used some awesome judgement to pull dresses I didn’t even think I’d like, but when I put them on made me feel awesome. By the end of the day I picked out my top 3, and scheduled a second apt so I could bring my mom with me. (I just had one of my bridesmaids with me at the time)

      DB are franchised, and I think that mostly accounts for the vast differences in customer service you see in different DBs.

      I’m still going to check some boutiques, but the one I saw after DB was soooooo expensive, I just quietly left. Also, we ended up having to help some poor girl make a decision about a dress because her consultant was nowhere to be found.

  3. I want to know what others’ thoughts are on bringing your significant other. I really trust my fiance’s taste, and he keeps me sane in stressful situations. On the other hand, I feel like I’m supposed to be keeping the dress a big surprise from him.

    • I say bring him. If he keeps you sane, if he offers valuable support and advice, if you trust his taste, bring him. And just because he knows what the dress looks like beforehand doesn’t mean he won’t be blown away by the complete look at your wedding.

    • If *you* want to surprise him on the big day or if he wants to be surprised, then don’t bring your fiance. But if neither of you particularly cares, then why not? When I was at David’s Bridal, I saw a couple there so it’s really not out of the ordinary. And let’s face it, he is probably the one person who knows your style the best. I agree with Bird, one he sees the complete look, he’ll still be blown away.

    • Another thing — you don’t have to tell him which dress you selected. True, if you try on 8 dresses and only even remotely like 1, it’ll be obvious. Still, you get the idea.

    • Another option is to show him pictures (either of you wearing the dresses or just the dresses themselves). That way there’s still some surprise when he sees you “live” but you can gather his opinion. But go with whatever works for you… not what custom dictates. That’s what OBB is all about!

    • I didn’t bring him, but I had shown him pics of the dress I was looking at. he agreed with me completely on it’s fabulousness. 🙂

    • I brought my fiancé and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I want him to like the dress as much as I do. Surprises are important to some people, but that’s not really us.

      Do be aware that some smaller boutiques may not welcome men, due to concerns about modesty if changing rooms have curtains instead of doors. Men had to sit in a corner on folding chairs or stand once there were no more chairs at one place I tried on dresses. Call ahead to see how many people you are allowed to bring and if you can bring men.

    • I believe you should bring whoever you want. I didn’t bring mine because he’s not fond of shopping and I know the shop I used made them sit up front away from us anyway. But if they allow them, and you want him there, go for it! He doesn’t have to know the final choice and the look is much more powerful when your coming down the isle toward him 🙂

    • I had my dress picked out from Pin-Up Girl before I had even proposed to my Mr. He had already seen the dress on line, and when it just happened to go on sale the same night I got my xms bonus, I showed him the page again…”Do you like it? Cuz if you don’t, now is the time to say so, cuz I can’t send it back (it was being discontinued).” “I like the dress.” “For our wedding?” “Yes.” His opinion was very important to me, I wanted him to like what I was wearing for our big day. When it arrived a couple days later, I tried it on, and he had to zip me up…I almost think he teared up a bit. So my advice is, take him, or at least involve him…It’s his day, too 🙂

    • I had always thought I would like my ‘bridal look’ to be a surprise, but then my significant other told me it would mean so much to him to be there for choosing the dress. I decided that is what I wanted after all. I’m a rather full figured girl and though I’ve made a lot of progress to loving my body, shopping for special occasions can often leave me feeling really discouraged. But my Prince Charming is so good at keeping me feeling beautiful and positive, plus he often helps me find things I LOVE but wouldn’t have chosen for myself because they’re outside my comfort zone. So what I’ve decided to do is let him come along, but he won’t be there for fittings or see it all put together with accessories until the ceremony. That way, the complete look will still be a surprise.

  4. who cares what you’re ‘supposed’ to do? If having your fiancé there would make it a more comfortable, less stressful experience for you then go for it. Besides, there’s a biiiig difference between seeing you try on a dress and seeing you all done up on your wdg day.

  5. Don’t forget a camera if the shop will allow pictures (one place I went to didn’t, but they were kind of weird) and pen/paper for notes. I only went with my mom and sister but was able to share photos with my now-husband, mother-in-law, and out-of-state bff. It was great to include them in the process (since I really value their opinions) without creating an overcrowded and stressful store experience.

    And yes, bring a strapless bra of your own if you have one!

    I also found it helpful to look through each store’s catalog or designers before going. It was nice to start with a vision to share with the salesperson. While I still tried on some unexpected dresses “just to see” I was able to make sure I also saw all of the dresses I really wanted to consider even in the overwhelming racks of dress upon dress upon dress.

  6. On the note about breathing, I actually just learned this in class last week! (It’s a voice class for performers.)Although most ppl believe that minimal waist can be attained by breathing in while sucking in the stomach, it’s actually more natural and easier to allow your stomach to recede while exhaling. Though I would suggest using this tactic only if the dress is a comfy fit once zipped.

  7. I went to a handful of stores and narrowed it down to my favorite ONE DRESS at each – no more – then quickly reviewed the dress online at home.
    It made it easier to keep a mental picture of the dresses when they were tied to my experience at each location.

  8. It took me several stores before I bought a dress, and I quickly realized that it was helpful to bring a couple pairs of underwear with me. Then I could assess the situation and the dresses once I got into the fitting room (whether or not it was going to show through the dress, whether or not my butt was going to be exposed because the sample dress was too small) and change accordingly.

    The protocol (and the dresses) are really different at different stores, and for me this translated into wanting underwear options.

  9. This is a great post! Really practical! I shared it with my friend, who was a bridesmaid in my wedding several months ago and now she’s engaged herself and going dress shopping next weekend. So this is a very timely post.

    I don’t 100% agree with #4 because I think that you shouldn’t bring an entourage with you. Bridal salons are tight spaces! 2-3 people is fine but more than that starts to get crowded! Plus, there’s that whole too many cooks in the kitchen thing 😉 But definitely bring supportive and knowledgeable people, who will also be brutally honest with you and tell you if something doesn’t work on you.

    To #5, I would add try the dress sitting down, hopping back up, twisting around. MOVE! in the dress because it might feel OK when you’re standing up straight but then you’ll find it too tight when you sit down. Remember, you’re going to be moving around a lot on your wedding day. Make sure you dress can move with you!

    To #6, I would add, if you can, bring the undergarments you’ll be wearing that day or something similar. It’ll give you the closest fit possible to what the dress will feel/look like the day of.

    Although Hennypenny touched on this, I would add a specific #8: Bring a camera! Memories do fade with time so if you have pictures, it’ll help to refer back to those before you make your final decision. Make sure to get shots of you and the whole dress from the front, back, and sides. If there are any specific embellishments, take pictures of those too. You might remember that you liked the lace pattern of one dress over the other but you won’t remember what the pattern was. Pictures solve that problem.

    I would add a #8

  10. I took a gamble and ordered mine online without trying on any dresses. But, since I wanted a short dress, options are limited. I definitely have a pear body shape, so I wanted something with an A-line 50’s type skirt. I ended up ordering a dress on Etsy after fruitless searching for an affordable, non-frilly dress on regular bridal websites. Since the seller makes each dress custom, I just had to send in my measurements so that I know it will fit….I’m just crossing my fingers that I like it as much as I think I will.

    • I ordered my dress too, but I tried on similar styles at shops so I could be sure it would be a flattering fit. I also ordered it through a salon rather than the place i could find it online. They were actually able to give me a much better price than I could find on the web!

    • I ordered my dress online, but it wasn’t custom made. Same kinda thing- I wanted a short, swing dress style that I knew would be hard to find in a shop. Their returns policy was also really strict, and I ended up having to beg them to send me the right size when the first dress was too big. So, hopefully your experience will be better than mine!

      • Good luck! If it’s custom-made, I’m sure it will be beautiful! I also had trouble finding a shorter swing-style dress. I initially ordered one from Unique Vintage, but (while it is a really cute dress) it wasn’t as flattering on my body type as I’d hoped.

        After not finding any shorter dresses I liked at local shops, I chickened out about ordering a different one online and ended up falling in love with a longer dress that I could try on in person instead.

        • Well, my dress arrived in the mail (at my parents’ house) on Monday. Tomorrow I’ll have a chance to try it on. Wish me luck!

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