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Brides and Bridesmaids Guide to Dress Shopping

Even for those who have seen every episode of “Say Yes to the Dress,” when it comes time to buy a wedding dress, or help your friend buy a wedding dress, we tend to forget the big picture in all the crazy buying excitement. Here are basic things to bring and tips to remember when you’re shopping for the big day (yours or someone else’s).

For Brides When…

… buying a wedding dress

When shopping for a wedding dress, stay true to the theme, setting and season of your wedding.

1. Bring pictures of dresses you like

Do some research, and have an idea of styles you would like to try on and that you’ll also look good in. Bringing pictures is a good idea, because simply describing what you want to the dress consultant might be hard or confusing (especially if you’re interested in a lot of things!).

75332 Padded Seamless Multi-Way Bra by Naturana, available at Now That's Lingerie

A seamless, strapless bra like this Multi Way Bra by Naturana Lingerie is perfect for dress shopping – just bring it with you to your appointment.

2. Wear the right undergarments

You should definitely bring or wear a strapless bra, or at least one that can convert into strapless. As dedicated you may be to wearing sleeves now, you may change your mind in the dressing room. Strapless dresses outnumber sleeved by a wide margin, and halter tops and the trendy one-shoulder looks will look sloppy if you’re wearing a bra with straps. You should also wear full-coverage, seamless, nude panties that won’t show under white, or even a lace panty or thong, just as long as you can get the idea of what it will look like.

3. Consider who you want to bring with you carefully

When shopping for wedding dresses, it might seem like a good idea to bring all your female family members, or your best friend who might be a little jealous that you’re the one getting married, or your trashy-clothes loving cousin – you love them, after all. But you really have to think about which of these people have your best interests in mind, and which people might unknowingly set the appointment on the wrong path. If you’re afraid of telling people “you can’t come,” bring just one other person (like your mom or sister) and say it’s a “just us” bonding time.

… shopping for bridesmaid dresses

1. Be somewhat flexible

Even if you’re totally sure of what your bridesmaids will wear, you’ll have to be a little bit flexible because you’ll never know what will come up in the dressing room. Maybe they won’t have the color you want in the style you chose. Maybe you’ll realize that your stick-skinny 12 year old cousin and your curvy 26 year old sister don’t look good in the exact same dress. Maybe you’ll have to have your bridesmaid get cute jackets in case it’s too cold in October for strapless. Though you have the final say, you should take your bridesmaids needs into consideration – these are supposed to be your close friends and family, shouldn’t they matter too?

2. But have a clear vision

Well-executed mix and match

Plan your look carefully – even this mix-and-matched group looks great because of a thoughtful bride

The other side of the above advice is to make sure you have SOME guidelines for your bridesmaids. If you have no styles, colours, or lengths in mind, the dress-buying can easily turn into a free-for-all. Even if you want bridesmaids to pick their own style dress, give them a specific color to work with, or fabrics to stay away from. They (ideally) want to pick dresses that please you, so basically know what you want.

3. Discuss finances beforehand

Money is probably the one thing you don’t discuss with your friends, but you need to talk about budget before you go dress shopping. Nothing is going to lead to disaster as surely as your friend or relative having to pay for a dress they can’t afford, or even worse, having to drop out of the wedding because of it. As a bridesmaid, it’s her responsibility to pay, but it’s your responsibility to make sure you find options that will work for her budget.

For the Bridesmaid when…

… helping to buy a wedding dress

1. Alleviate drama, don’t create it

This is about your friend, the bride, not you. If you are having feelings of jealous (which are totally understandable), put them aside. Don’t suggest

Bad Bridesmaids Dresses

Don’t like the shine or color? Bridesmaids, you might have to grin and bear it, but brides, don’t make them!

dresses for your bride that you just want for yourself (or try to talk her out of a dress you might be interested in!). Be pleasant and upbeat. Bring snacks. Don’t take sides in an argument. At best, you can be a buffer between the bride and other people in the appointment who might be causing drama by reminding everyone that you’re there for the bride.

2. Be honest, not mean

As a bridesmaid, you’re there to give your opinion and make sure your bride isn’t picking a dress that is totally unflattering. But this can be an intense and emotional purchase for your bride, so be careful about how you word your comments. Even something as innocuous as “It’s just not ‘you’” might be too much for your bride to handle. Read your bride’s emotions, and think before you speak. If you have something to say that’s not 100% positive, use your judgment about how to say it or whether to say it at all.

3. Be enthusiastic about the bride’s choice

This relates to, actually, both pieces of advice above. Once the bride says she likes a dress and that it might be the one she buys, switch into supportive mode. Even if there are a couple of details you don’t love, as long as it’s not a dreadful mess, this is the time to ooh and ahh and say how much you love it. You’re not her mother, so it doesn’t need to make you cry and you don’t have to worry about the price. It’s about making the bride feel secure in the dress she already loves.

… buying a bridesmaid dress

503 Vintage Grenier Seamless Lace Control Panty by Grenier Lingerie, available at Now That's

These Vintage Grenier Lace Panties by Grenier Lingerie are great for quick dress changes.

1. Wear the right undergarments

Just like the bride needs the right undergarments when buying a wedding dress, you need to wear the right undergarments when trying on dresses. Again, you’ll want to wear a strapless or convertible bra, and panties that are seamless and won’t bulge out. It’s not as important to wear nude panties since you might be wearing a colour, but you should try to any way just in case. You also might be changing with other women, so for modesty’s sake, you’d probably want a full-coverage pair so you don’t flash anyone.

2. Don’t be afraid to speak up

If the bride wants you to wear something that is truly unflattering or uncomfortable, speak up – and fast! The longer you let the bride think you’re 100% behind her choice, the harder it’s going to be to break the news later. Compromise is key; for example, if you’re not comfortable wearing a strapless dress, ask if there’s a way to add straps, or if coverage is the issue, wear a wrap or cover-up. Talking about issues you might have with dresses before the appointment is always a great idea. But even though you have some say, ultimately you have to…

3. Accept what the bride wants

The dress is way too shiny, you hate the colour, and the bride wants you to wear a muff like it’s Winter 1895. It doesn’t matter; as long as it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable about your body, you have to go with what the bride decides. If you never wear it again, so what? Donate it to a charity and move on. The only time this issue becomes sticky is with price. Even though it is an awkward subject, you should approach the bride beforehand about budget and what you are willing to spend, that way it doesn’t have to come up at the dress shop. If it’s within the budget, you have to buy it.

Do you have dress shopping secrets for brides-to-be and her lovely bridesmaids?

Share them by commenting here, on our Facebook page and on Twitter!

Rachel Graham

Images, references & sources

Featured image (pink dresses):


Different hued bridesmaid dresses:

Green bridesmaids dresses:

Bad bridesmaid dresses: 




  • Abby

    A great informative article that should be read by and bride or bridesmaids. Especially the advice of taking a strapless bra as the number of backless wedding dresses probably outnumber those that aren’t backless. And the advice on being honest and flexible as the bride needs and wants your help, and you need to be able to adapt to any obstacles which may come up.

  • admin

    Hi Abby, thanks for commenting! Glad you enjoyed this bridal blog. It’s so important to be supportive and adaptive when a friend/family member is dress shopping for her wedding. It’s can often be a stressful time for her, and as a friend it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re helping her make her whole wedding experience as wonderful as possible!

  • javierfaust

    I read your blog its really interesting post. i love bridesmaid dresses nz.!!

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Pingback: How To: Be a Good Bridesmaid – Bra Doctor's Blog on May 10, 2012