How To: Find Your Dream Dress in Five Steps

Have a million ideas and unsure where to start? Finding the gown of your dreams shouldn’t cause a headache – allow us to break it down.

  • Story by Photo Marissa Findlay

Have a million ideas and unsure where to start? Finding the gown of your dreams shouldn’t cause a headache – allow us to break it down. 

1. What’s the context?
Before you think ‘dream dress’, take time to consider your venue, the time of year you’re getting married and the vibe you want for your big day – this will all help you to decide on your ideal gown’s fabric and style. For instance, if you’re saying ‘I do’ on a black-sand beach, then a delicate lace train is unlikely to hold up well; and while you may love a long-sleeved look that’s all the rage, you’ll need to choose something lightweight if there’s any chance you will be marrying in 40-degree heat. If you’re tying the knot in a church, also check the dress requirements, as they can drastically vary. Some will require full shoulder coverage, for example, while others are happy for the bride to go strapless.

2. Mind the method
Following a logical process to assemble your ensemble will not only make the task less daunting, but will help create a cohesive look. Once you’ve established the kind of gown you want, create a moodboard using images from magazines and Pinterest that will enable you to do a ‘show and tell’ for your dress consultant. Keep an open mind, though – you might be visualising a certain neckline or cut, but trying alternatives could open your eyes to a style that suits your body shape better.
Try to hold off on buying shoes or accessories until just before your final fitting – but be sure to have them ready then, as it will help the person designing or altering your dress to get the hem length and final details just right. Buy your bridal lingerie in time for the last try-on too, particularly if you’re wearing heavily structured corsetry. It will allow your seamstress to tweak your dress to suit, and give you time to find another option if necessary.

3. It’s not all about you
When searching for your gown, give some thought to your bridal party’s attire, as well as that of your groom. (It pays to match your gown, to a degree, to the formality of your groom’s suit.) A well thought-out collection of outfits will look more cohesive both in photos, as well as when when you’re all gathered for the vows. To help set a tone or theme for the group, pick a keyword and use it as a guide: rustic, polished or summery, for instance. Seeking out similar fabrics is a good way to tie the look of your dress to that of your bridesmaids: complement a floaty organza bridal gown with airy chiffon dresses in hues that match your chosen colour palette. If shades or fabrics are along the same lines, it’s easier to vary other aspects of the bridesmaid dresses, such as length, without losing the cohesive feeling. Some of your 'maids may be happy with shorter hems that put their pins on display, whereas others may prefer to opt for a floor-length gown in order to be comfortable. But beware of bridesmaid dresses that mimic standout features of your dress too closely – you don’t want anyone struggling to pick the bride out of the line-up in the photographs! Instead, consider opting for different necklines for your girls and eschew similar hair accessories, for example. Ultimately, if any features run along the same lines, (perhaps all your gowns have diamanté embellishments at the waist) the bridesmaids should don a pared-back version of what you're wearing

4. Where to start?
With such a huge variety of places to source your gown – a dressmaker, off-the-rack, a couture designer – it can be difficult to know where to begin your search. Ask yourself a few key questions to help make things clearer: are you under time pressure? Do you have a tighter budget? If so, an off-the-rack gown could be an option. Browsing through the racks at stores and trying on dresses (as opposed to simply looking at pictures) will give you a practical and realistic idea of designs you like. Bring your ideas to life with the help of a skilled dressmaker, especially if there are specific design features you want to include, or perhaps a vintage style you’d like to replicate. Ask for references before committing though, as dressmakers can vary greatly in terms of expertise and skill. If your budget stretches further, then a consultation with a couture designer will give you complete control over each design element, from the fabric to embellishments, resulting in a gown that’s specially designed and made for you. For a slightly less extravagant alternative, enquire about the designer’s made-to-measure range. This lets you choose a style of theirs you like, with room to make tweaks as needed.

5. Revel in the details
Being selective is crucial to creating a timeless and stylish bridal ensemble. For accessories, take the lead from your dress: if it has heavy embellishment or detailing, choose chic, simple extras such as a twinkling pair of studs or a slim, delicate bracelet. If you’re having trouble, ask a dress consultant for help – an artful eye can do wonders for streamlining an outfit. Save the beautiful lingerie for your wedding night – the day itself is all about underwear that supports your dress. Ask your designer for advice as some gowns are best worn with sculpting garments, while others will simply require a supportive strapless bra. Choose items in a shade as close to your skin tone as possible and ditch the lace. Your big-day undergarments may not be the most glamorous creations, but they will give your dress a smooth, sleek finish – that’s the look you want.  

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