Wedding Planning

Your Wedding Dress Shopping Questions, Answered

May 22, 2024



There are so many options for wedding dress shopping, but how do you know what’s right for you? While there are a variety of options, in this post we’ll be exploring the most commonly asked questions about wedding gown shopping we hear from brides.

Wedding Dress Shopping
Photography: Rachel Owens | Planning & Styling: RSVP Events | Gown: Morgan Davies Bridal

What is a bridal boutique?

A bridal boutique is a wedding gown shop that carries a collection or a variety of bridal designer collections of made-to-order gowns. They typically offer private appointments for brides to try on gowns.

Most bridal boutiques carry a few different bridal gown designers with some gowns from each designer’s collection.

What is a made-to-order/ made-to-measure / sample wedding dress?

Bridal boutiques offer made-to-order wedding gowns. A made-to-order wedding gown is made when your order is placed, rather than buying off-the-rack from an existing stock of dresses. The bridal boutique will take your measurements and order the closest fit in the designer’s size range.

It’s important to remember that this is different from made-to-measure gowns. Made-to-measure wedding gowns are made specifically for you with your exact measurements. With a made-to-order wedding gown, you will still need alterations for the perfect fit.

Sample gowns are wedding dresses brides have tried on in a boutique, but never altered or purchased. Sometimes bridal boutiques will have sample gown sales from their collection. Sample gowns are sold as-is and final sale at a discounted price.

When should I start wedding dress shopping?

Because there isn’t existing stock and gowns are created when they’re ordered, made-to-order wedding gowns take more time. Ideally, we recommend starting your wedding gown shopping 10-12 months before your wedding day to ensure you have plenty of time.

While this timeline isn’t a requirement, more time to shop means you can avoid feeling rushed or stressed in the process. Rush options are available, but incur additional fees. If you’re on a tight timeline for wedding dress shopping, check out off-the-rack bridal boutiques (more on this later!)

Wedding Dress Shopping
Photography: Julie Paisley | Planning & Styling: RSVP Events | Gown: Monique Lhuillier

What is the bridal boutique wedding dress shopping process?

Shopping for your wedding gown at a bridal boutique is a more custom experience than big box retailers. Here’s how the process typically goes:

1. Initial Communication

The bridal boutique will usually begin by gathering some information about you to help curate your experience. Some examples:

  • Which of our designers are you drawn to?
  • What wedding gown budget range would you like to stay within?
  • What silhouettes or styles of wedding gowns are you interested in?
  • When do you need your wedding gown?

These types of questions will help your stylist guide you in your wedding dress shopping. If there are specific gowns you’ve seen on the boutique’s social media or website you’d like to try, be sure to mention it.

2. Private Appointment

At your bridal gown appointment, your bridal stylist will chat with you about your wedding and what you envision for your wedding dress. Based on your feedback, your stylist will pull gowns for you to try on in line with your vision.

As you try on gowns, your stylist will help you rule out gowns and find the right wedding gown for you. Once you’ve found your wedding gown, the boutique will order it from the designer.

3. Ordering Your Wedding Dress

The next step is to order your wedding gown. Your bridal stylist will take your measurements and make note of any requested customizations. The bridal boutique will place your order with the designer and give you a timeline for picking up your wedding gown.

Some boutiques offer in-house alterations, but others do not and will have recommendations to share. The amount of time needed for alterations will vary based on the extent of the alterations. When you order your wedding gown, your bridal stylist should be able to give you an idea of how extensive your alterations will be.

Wedding Dress Shopping
Photography: Julie Paisley | Planning & Styling: RSVP Events | Gown: Galia Lahav

What is a bridal boutique trunk show?

A bridal boutique trunk show is a limited time event where a boutique has an extended collection of gown samples from a designer.

This is often the launch of a new collection from a designer, or a collection of their best-selling gowns. Trunk shows are a great opportunity for fashion-forward brides to see rare, trendsetting gowns.

When a bridal boutique hosts a trunk show, they offer appointments for brides to try on the sample gowns. This is perfect for brides in love with a specific bridal gown designer without a flagship nearby. As a bonus, trunk shows sometimes offer a discount.

Wedding Gown Shopping
Photography: D’Arcy Benincosa | Planning & Styling: RSVP Events | Gown: Dylan Parienty

How do I choose a bridal boutique?

While we always recommend shopping with established bridal boutiques with glowing reviews from brides, you can expedite your wedding gown shopping by tailoring your list to your tastes.

Most bridal boutiques have a specific brand or aesthetic. When you’re researching wedding gown inspiration, ask yourself:

  • How would I describe the types of gowns I’m drawn to? Are they more classic, romantic, modern?
  • Are there any bridal designers I keep going back to?

Bridal boutiques curate their collection of designers. If you like one of their designers, you’re more likely to be drawn to their other designers, as well.

For example, Carine’s Bridal Atelier in D.C. is known for classic bridal gown designers like Monique Lhuillier, Oscar de la Renta, and Vera Wang. LOHO Bride in Los Angeles has a design-forward aesthetic like Danielle Frankel and Vivienne Westwood.

If there’s a designer that you’re drawn to, finding a bridal boutique that carries that designer can also show you other designers in a similar aesthetic you might also love.

Bridal Gown Shopping
Photography: Julia Basmann | Planning & Styling: RSVP Events | Gown: Dylan Parienty

What is an off-the-rack bridal boutique?

Some bridal boutiques offer off-the-rack collections. In a traditional bridal boutique, you try on a sample gown in the store and your made-to-order gown is ordered from the designer with your boutique handling the ordering, fitting, and logistics.

Some boutiques have sample sales, and some boutiques specialize in off-the-rack collections like LVD Bridal in Nashville. These gowns are typically sourced from bridal boutique sample gowns, vintage buying trips, or past brides in a curated collection of gowns in great condition.

Brides love off-the-rack shopping for several benefits:

  • A short turn-around time without the long production process
  • A sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to wedding dress shopping
  • Stunning designer gowns at a discounted price point

How do I try on a specific wedding dress I love?

If you found a specific wedding gown you love, search your area to find a bridal boutique who carries the designer. Even if the boutique doesn’t have a sample of the exact gown, boutiques can often loan a sample for you to try.

If you’re head over heels for a specific designer, you might want to go to a flagship.

Monique Lhuillier Flagship
Monique Lhuillier Flagship

What is a flagship?

If you find yourself coming back to a designer again and again, you might want to consider visiting a flagship. A flagship will have the designer’s full collections for you to try. For example, Monique Lhuillier has flagships in Los Angeles, New York, Costa Mesa, and London.

For unmatched style, you might find multiple looks from the same designer. With access to their full bridal and ready to wear collections, there are so many styling possibilities: a ceremony gown, reception gown, afterparty dancing dress, rehearsal dinner dress, and more.

Wedding Gown Shopping
Monique Lhuillier Inspiration Board

How do I manage my wedding gown budget?

Bridal boutiques will typically list the price range of the gowns they carry on their websites. However, it’s important to keep in mind the context of that range.

If a boutique carries gowns ranging from $2,000 to $8,000, we still want to know what range most of their gowns fall within. For example, if your budget is $2,500, there may only be a few gowns in their collection at that price point, with the bulk of their gowns being $5,000+.

When choosing bridal boutiques to visit, it’s important to ensure that there are plenty of gowns in your price range. Most bridal boutiques will give a price range that most of their gowns fall within. Check out bridal boutiques with most of their styles in your price point to avoid stress.

When wedding dress shopping, keep in mind that the cost of your gown from a boutique does not include the cost of alterations. Alterations can have a significant cost depending on how much work is needed, so make sure to leave some room in your wedding dress budget for any needed alterations.

More Wedding Planning Advice Posts

Check out these other blog post for more wedding planning advice from a wedding planner:

And check out our Journal for more wedding planning advice and bridal fashion.

Looking for More Wedding Advice from a Wedding Planner? Join Our Wedding Planning Advice Newsletter

Looking for more wedding planning guidance from a wedding planner? Join our wedding advice email list here. We share resources for engaged couples and answer your frequently asked questions about wedding planning. Join the wedding advice email list and get the Wedding Budgets 101: Expensive Wedding Planning Mistakes to Avoid freebie here.


behind rsvp events


American wedding planner based in Paris, France curating unforgettable experiences with art de vivre in Europe and the United States.

As seen in leading publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Raela has serviced weddings and brands both stateside and abroad, from the sun-drenched hillsides of Southern California to the resplendent châteaux of France to the lemon trees of Positano. With unparalleled attention to detail, Raela’s specialty lies in creating unforgettable, exquisite, sensory experiences.

the latest

the venue edit

The best wedding venues in france

cal-a-vie health spa

The best Château wedding venues

coming soon

The best paris hotel wedding venues

exquisite weddings

     sought after


We would love to learn more about your vision for your celebration. Contact us to begin planning your destination wedding.

© RSVP Events 2o16 - 2024

site credits