The Ultimate Wedding Dress Shopping Timeline: A Comprehensive Guide

Shopping for your wedding dress is undoubtedly one of THE most exciting parts of wedding planning! Despite all the fun of saving bridal gown inspo on TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest – it can feel overwhelming if you’re not 100% sure when and where to start. 

Your wedding dress is not just a piece of clothing — it’s a symbol of your love story, your individuality and the beginning of your happily ever after. It will hold a special place in your heart and in the hearts of everyone who witnesses your big day. Starting your wedding planning on a fun and fashionable note will help motivate you to cross off those additional to-dos! 

Amidst the joy and anticipation, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of having a well-planned wedding dress shopping timeline. Sticking to the timeline will help limit stress by having enough time to order your dress and schedule alterations. By avoiding the last-minute dress search, you avoid compromising your vision or exceeding your budget. Luckily for you, we’ve created your wedding dress shopping timeline below so you can start planning the appointment of your dreams!  

When is the Best Time to Start Looking for a Wedding Dress 

If you’re wondering when to start looking for a wedding dress, the best time is around the 12-to-18-month mark. This is a great time to begin curating design inspiration, researching boutiques and formulating your budget. It is best to have an idea of the season and location in which you want to get married, as these factors will affect the look you are going for. Around the 10-to-12-month mark, you’ll begin to shop!  

You don’t want to shop too far in advance or before choosing your venue and date because you’ll miss out on the latest trends or may purchase a dress that doesn’t match your season or venue. For example, slinky sheath dresses are trending, and while beautiful, you may not want to wear one down the aisle if you get married in a grand ballroom in the winter. 

Understanding the Wedding Gown Shopping Timeline 

Wedding dress shopping is an exhilarating journey, but a process that demands careful planning and consideration. The wedding gown shopping timeline can vary depending on a range of factors. This includes how long your engagement is, if you’re having a destination wedding and if your gown is off the rack or made to order. Let’s explore the average wedding dress shopping timeline and the key stages involved in the shopping process. 

12 to 18 Months Before the Wedding: Initial Research and Inspiration 

The early stages of wedding dress shopping involve researching styles, designers and trends. You can browse bridal magazines and social media to gather inspiration to bring to your appointment. Consider your budget, venue and overall wedding theme, as these factors will influence your dress choice.

10 to 12 Months Before the Wedding: First Appointments 

You should start booking appointments at bridal boutiques, ideally a year before your wedding. Early appointments allow you to explore different styles and silhouettes before committing to the one. 

8 to 10 Months Before the Wedding: Decision Time 

By this point, you should have a clearer idea of your preferred bridal style. Now is the time to decide on your wedding dress and place your order. Remember to consider the delivery timeline, especially for custom gowns. 

6 to 8 Months Before the Wedding: Accessorizing 

Once you’ve chosen your bridal gown, it’s time to think about accessories like veils, shoes and jewelry. You want to ensure you have enough time to browse and order the pieces if they aren’t in stock. 

3 Months Before the Wedding: First Fitting 

Three months before is the ideal time to begin the wedding dress fitting timeline and schedule your first fitting. This fitting is crucial in ensuring any necessary alterations are identified and planned. Each seamstress or boutique may have varying policies, so factor that into your wedding dress alteration timeline. 

6 Weeks Before the Wedding: Second Fitting 

Schedule your second fitting around six weeks before your wedding. This is for those final tweaks, like adjusting the straps slightly or evening out the hem. Practice walking in your dress and heels to ensure the length is just right (it should barely sweep the floor, and you shouldn’t trip!) 

3 Weeks Before the Wedding: Final Touches 

In the weeks leading up to your wedding, you’ll need to pick up your dress, make any last-minute alterations and ensure your bridal gown in pristine condition for the big day. Bring a bridesmaid with you to learn how to bustle your dress. Once at home, store your dress properly to prevent wrinkles and damage.  

How Long Does It Take to Buy a Wedding Dress? 

The process of purchasing a wedding dress typically occurs between the 8- and 10-month mark prior to the wedding. Of course, the more time, the better! 

Since most brides are wedding dress shopping for the first time, it’s easy to assume bridal shops stock every designer and style in sizes 0-36 — but that’s not the case! Not all bridal shops have every plus size sample in store, so be sure to do your research ahead of time to ensure they have gowns that interest you! The EveryBody/EveryBride store locator is a great place to start in looking for your dream plus size wedding dress, as it’ll help identify bridal salons that carry what you’re looking for.  

It takes about 4-6 months to order the dress, then another three months to complete alterations, so give yourself plenty of time to work with your retailer. 

Note that when you find THE dress, you’ll pay for it at that point. Bridal shops may charge you the full price then or take a deposit (roughly sixty percent) and request the rest upon pick up. Here are a few of our top tips to stay on track with your wedding dress purchase timeline: 

  • Start Early: Begin your dress shopping journey on time. This early start gives you more flexibility and choices. 
  • Book Appointments in Advance: Schedule appointments at bridal boutiques well in advance. Many boutiques require appointments, especially on weekends, and may book up quickly. 
  • Stay Organized: Use a wedding planning calendar or app to stay organized and track your dress shopping appointments, fittings and deadlines. 

Wedding Dress Shopping Checklist 

There are a few tips, tricks and tasks to help you have a productive, successful and fun appointment! 

  • Set a Budget: Determine your wedding dress budget and stick to it. Consider additional costs for alterations, accessories and taxes. 
  • Create a Vision Board: Gather inspiration from magazines, TikTok, Pinterest and wedding websites to define your preferred dress style, silhouette and overall look. You’ll also want to take your venue into consideration as you gather inspo!
  • Choose Your Shopping Squad: Select a few trusted friends or family members to accompany you to dress appointments. Keep the group small to avoid too many opinions. 
  • Book Appointments: Schedule appointments at bridal boutiques well in advance, considering the availability of your preferred boutiques and travel time. It is best to limit the number of appointments in a single day. 
  • Undergarments: Wear appropriate undergarments, such as a nude strapless bra and seamless underwear, to your appointments. This will help you visualize how dresses will look on your wedding day.  
  • Eat Something Before and Hydrate: Trying on dresses can be fun, yet hard work! Make sure to eat something and hydrate before to feel your best, especially if you are squeezing multiple appointments into a single day. You can check out even more self-care tips for brides here. 

Wedding Dress Purchasing Tips and Tricks 

Once you’ve made it to your appointment, here are a few things to remember to make the wedding dress buying process go smoothly. Think of this as our buying a wedding dress guide! 

Be Open-Minded: While we did say to curate wedding dress inspiration to bring to your appointment, make sure you keep an open mind. It isn’t uncommon for brides to change their wedding dress vision after trying on a few gowns. Trust your bridal consultant if they pull a dress that is out of the box. It may just be the one for you! 

Be Honest with Your Consultant: Be honest with your consultant about your budget, how many gowns you’ve tried on and your preferences. The last thing you want to do is try on a dress outside your price range and fall in love or have an appointment that doesn’t end in progress or success! 

Look at the Dress from All Angles: On your wedding day, your photographer will be snapping away, and your guests will see you from all angles. It’s always a good idea to make sure you are viewing your wedding dress from all angles before you decide it’s the one. 

Step Off the Pedestal: A pedestal can add about six inches to your height, changing how a dress appears to fit. For more accurate proportions, we recommend stepping off the pedestal. In addition, make sure to walk and sit in the gown to see if it is comfortable and easy to move around while wearing. 

Focus on the Fit: You’ve probably heard it before, but there’s truth to the saying that “it’s all about the fit.” It doesn’t matter whether you love a dress with lace, beading or tulle. If the fit isn’t right, it just won’t work. On your wedding day, you will want to feel your best without fidgeting or constantly adjusting your dress. 

Do Your Hair and Makeup: No need to go full glam for your bridal appointments (unless that’s your thing!) but putting on a little makeup and wearing your hair similar to how you think you would wear it can help you visualize yourself in each dress, walking down the aisle. 

Wedding Dress Shopping Experience: What to Expect 

If you’re curious about how your appointment will go, here is a standard appointment timeline! 

  1. Warm Welcome: A friendly consultant will greet you upon arriving at the bridal boutique. They will make you feel comfortable and welcome.
  2. Consultation: The consultant will sit down with you to discuss your wedding plans, including the date, venue, theme and overall vision. They’ll ask about your style preferences and any specific details you’re looking for in a dress. 
  3. Budget Discussion: You’ll discuss your budget for the wedding dress, including any additional costs for alterations and accessories. It’s important to be clear about your budget to avoid trying on dresses that are out of your price range. 
  4. Choosing Dresses: Based on your preferences and budget, the consultant will select a variety of wedding dresses for you to try on. They’ll guide you through the selection process, explaining the details and features of each gown. 
  5. Trying on Dresses: You’ll then go to a fitting room to try on the selected dresses. The consultant will help you into each dress, ensuring a proper fit. 
  6. Evaluating the Dresses: As you try on each dress, take your time to evaluate how it feels, how it complements your figure and how well it aligns with your vision. Share your thoughts and feelings with the consultant and be honest about what you like and dislike about each gown. This feedback helps the consultant refine their selections. 
  7. Narrowing Down Choices: Gradually, you’ll narrow down your choices to a few favorites. The consultant may also provide additional suggestions based on your feedback. You may have a “showdown” moment where you compare your top choices. This can help you make a final decision. 
  8. Photographs and Notes: Take photos and notes of each dress to help you remember the details and compare your options later. Note the designer, style name or number and any customization options. 
  9. Discussion and Feedback: Talk with your consultant about your favorite dresses. They may offer insights and advice to help you make a decision. 
  10. Accessory Consideration: Depending on your progress, you may start discussing bridal accessories like veils, shoes, jewelry and hairpieces that complement the dress. 
  11. Final Decision: Once you’ve found “the one,” you’ll finalize your decision. The consultant will explain the next steps for ordering the dress, including measurements and delivery timelines. 
  12. Celebration: After making your decision, take a moment to celebrate this exciting milestone in your wedding planning journey! 
  13. Scheduling Follow-Ups: If needed, schedule follow-up appointments for bridal fittings and alterations to ensure your dress fits like a glove. Remember! This may need to be outsourced, as not all bridal salons offer in-house alterations. However, your bridal stylists should be able to offer trusted recommendations.  
  14. Payment and Contract: Review and sign any necessary contracts and make the initial payment or deposit for your dress. 
  15. Thanking the Boutique: Before leaving, be sure to thank the bridal boutique and your consultant for their assistance and hospitality. 

Remember that the dress shopping experience should be enjoyable and stress-free. Trust your instincts and take your time to find the wedding dress that makes you feel confident, beautiful and ready to walk down the aisle on your special day. 

Where to Buy a Wedding Dress and When 

The ideal boutiques to shop at have gowns in the style and price point you are looking for. You can find an Essense of Australia retailer near you to get started! Remember, you should begin shopping 8 to 10 months before the big day and stop looking once you’ve found the one! 

Factors to Consider When Purchasing a Wedding Dress 

Additional factors to consider when purchasing a wedding dress may include the level of formality of the event, style of the venue or wedding theme. Don’t forget to take the season into account, and even the desired color scheme of your bridesmaid dresses. While there are really no rules when it comes to your gown, if you want to align your dress with your wedding day vision, we recommend keeping these things in mind. You can also bring a vision board of your décor and photos of your venue to keep it top of mind for you and your consultant. 

Shopping for your wedding dress is a thrilling and symbolic part of your wedding planning. It marks the beginning of your journey toward your dream wedding, reflecting your love story and individuality. In this comprehensive guide, we’ve highlighted the importance of a well-planned wedding dress shopping timeline to ensure you have enough time to order your dress, schedule alterations and avoid last-minute stress. 

As you venture into this memorable process, keep an open mind, stay true to your budget and trust your instincts. The wedding dress shopping experience should be enjoyable and stress-free, from the first dress you try on to the final decision. Embrace each step with confidence and excitement, knowing that your wedding dress is not just attire; it symbolizes your love story and the beautiful journey ahead. 

After the big day, ask your bridal shop for wedding dress preservation recommendations. You can have it cleaned, boxed and stored for years to come, or you can sell/donate it so it can make another bride’s dream come true.  

Now that you have all the knowledge you need, you can find a store near you and book an appointment with us to find the dress of your dreams!