A Wedding Stylist Shares Her Best Tips on How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress

You've gotten engaged, set a date, and shared the news with your family and friends. Now, the real fun begins — it's time to start looking for a wedding dress. Perhaps you're just starting to think about your bridal look or maybe you have been dreaming about layers of organza for a few decades now, but one thing's certain: with lockdown lifted, expectations for the shopping experience are once again at an all-time high. There will be bubbles, gasps, and that special moment where you stand in front of the mirror and let out a giddy sigh, content in knowing you have found the one.

Except when you call the bridal shop, you're told that thanks to COVID, they're booked six months in advance. When you do finally get in and try on the style you have in mind, something isn't quite right, or worse, it's very, very wrong. Six dresses in, you find a dress you love only to have your heart drop when you turn over the tag and see that it's significantly over budget. Suddenly, your Champagne tastes flat, you feel deflated, and you leave the shop wondering if you'll ever find your dress (Spoiler: you will.)

While a highlight moment in the movies, anyone who has tried to navigate the real world of bridalwear without being equipped with a solid plan will tell you that it can be confusing and overwhelming, so much so that it has left some brides in tears (this author raises her hand).

But here's the good news: it doesn't have to be this way. Enter expert wedding stylist and consultant Julie Sabatino. After having her own "crisis of confidence" while dress shopping in 2001, Julie founded The Stylish Bride , a company dedicated to helping brides find their perfect ensemble for their big day. Since launching TSB, she has helped hundreds of brides find the perfect dress and has earned a reputation as the go-to stylist amongst celebrities, royals, and socialites (though she refuses to name names as the privacy of her clients is of the utmost importance). Today, she's sharing her expert tips to help you find the dress of your dreams, sans the tears.

Christian Oth

Let go of the film fantasy

While rom-coms and fairy tales will have you believe that wedding dress shopping is a fun, Champagne-filled experience, the reality is that it's much less glamorous for most brides, and not understanding that upfront can cause a lot of brides to become quickly disillusioned. "Shopping for your dress can be exciting, but it can also be difficult and emotional. This is why it's important to do your research, set realistic expectations, and choose who you involve carefully. When you do these things, it can be a much more pleasurable experience," said Sabatino.

Pick a date and choose your location

Though you may have dreamt of wearing a ballgown since the age of 7, the reality is that, when it comes to finding the perfect dress, your wedding date and location play crucial roles in determining the design. "Though you might love the idea of lots of beading and a long train, that kind of dress is going to look out of place (and feel heavy and hot) at a beach wedding," said Sabatino, who suggests brides consider the fabric and weight of a dress as well as environmental elements and venue appropriateness when making their choice.

Set a realistic budget

Not sure where to start with this? You're not alone. "So often my clients have no idea what to expect with cost because there is so little price transparency in bridal dresses online. I would say there are three main groupings: £800-2500, £2,500-5,000, and £5,000 and above," she explained. When calculating your final number, consider extra fees such as alterations, shipping, VAT, and any accessories you would like to add. Then, be realistic about what's available at your price point. "Though you might have your heart set on Spanish lace and intricate beading, the reality is not every budget will offer those as options. But that doesn't mean you won't have a dress you love. The basic rule is this: the smaller the budget, the simpler the dress," she said. She advises brides in this category to focus on uncomplicated designs that can be personalised with beautiful accessories. "Find a fantastic ready-to-wear dress, a previously owned dress, or a sample, and then get creative with it. This can look so chic when done correctly," she said.

Christian Oth

Stay off of social media . . . for now

While it might be tempting to start scrolling Instagram in search of your dream dress, that's a big no-no, warned Sabatino. "The most common complaint I hear from clients is that there are too many options, and it's hard to choose. This is exacerbated by the hundreds of thousands of wedding dress images online. Sorting through them can be a daunting task for the most optimistic bride." Her advice? Be your own muse, and look inside of your wardrobe to get a sense of your personal style, and then start looking for designers and dresses that are aligned with your taste. "Note the types of necklines you typically wear, the shape of dresses or skirts you like, and the details you gravitate toward. This will provide great insight into the type of wedding dress you will like. Then you can enter the social media sphere equipped with the information needed to curate your shortlist."

Book appointments well in advance

Pre-pandemic, brides were advised to begin shopping six to nine months before their wedding, but with so many postponements, staff layoffs, and social distancing measures, some shops are suggesting that brides come in at least a year before their big day. "The past year has been challenging for everyone, and the wedding industry has been hit very hard. This has led to a bottleneck, and many establishments don't have the time available to meet the demand, so brides must give themselves plenty of time," Sabatino explained.

Be clear about what you want

You know that list we mentioned earlier? It will come in handy at your first bridal salon visit. "Being clear with the consultant about what you are expecting from the experience and your budget will save you from wasting time and feeling disappointed when you fall in love with a dress you can't afford," she said.

Jose Villa

Prep yourself for bridal sizing

If you're the type of person who pays attention to the size on the label, you might find yourself in for a shock when you can't fit into your normal size. "Most wedding dresses are at least two sizes above ready to wear, which can initially be a shock," she said. If you're planning to visit a sample sale, it's important to be aware that samples are usually in a bridal size 8 and fit for a model, which can particularly difficult for busty or curvy women, and it can be quite demoralising when nothing zips up," said Sabatino, noting that this very issue is why she created The Sample Size Solution, a series of beautifully covered clips with a panel of fabric and adjustable elastic bands designed to allow brides to get a better idea of what the dress will look like in their size while they're trying things on.

Stay focused on what's important

Before social media, it was only friends and family who looked at your wedding photos, but today, photos are out for the world to see. This has created a lot of pressure for brides to look "perfect", which Sabatino said can become an obsession. "I've seen some brides get so wrapped up in the 'Instagrammable moments' of their wedding that it becomes more like a photo shoot than a wedding. At the end of the day, this whole experience is about marriage and your love for each other. Yes, the photos are important, but they shouldn't take over the day. They should document it," she said.

The Day by Irra Lipke

Trust your instincts

There will be a lot of dresses you like and ones you can't get off fast enough, but you'll know you have found the dress by really being in tune with how you feel in it. "There is no one-size-fits-all reaction. Some brides cry, some dance, and some just stare. Some women just know when they've found the one, and there are others that need to analyse the options. I think the most important thing here is to know how you are and how you make decisions. If you are an analyser, don't order a dress without at least sleeping on it!" she said.

Finally, know how to keep your dress in tip-top shape

Choosing and buying a dress is just the beginning; you will also need to know how to care for it. "It's best to leave any pressing or steaming to the experts as nonprofessionals can harm the fabric," warned Sabatino. Other common mishaps? "Bustle breaking can be prevented in advance by making sure at your fittings that the entire train is off the floor and not dragging when it's bustled, and the hem coming undone can be quickly fixed with safety pins or hem tape that is ironed on rather than sewn in. Lastly, if you are going to be on grass that is wet or muddy, make sure you have a plastic tarp to stand on," she said.