Most little girls dream about their wedding dress from a very early age. Some are realistic, others not so much. When it comes time to get married, that mental image has usually gone through several evolutions as our tastes and personality changes.

When it comes down to buying one for real, you’ll be surprised at the difference between what we dreamed of and what we buy. What looks good in our mind and what looks good on our body can sometimes be completely different. So that makes trying on sessions and careful consideration essential.

If you’re in the early stages of planning a wedding, this overview of wedding dresses is for you!

When do I start looking?

It’s never too early to begin wedding dress shopping. However, you will need to have an idea of the venue, the type of ceremony you’re having and the time of year you’re getting married.

If you’re planning to lose weight or tone up for the day, then you will need to have an idea of your target size and weight before settling on a dress. Or factor in a resizing session if you find the perfect dress and don’t want to miss it!

How to choose a style

As little girls, we all imagined ourselves with silk and lace dresses that were halfway between bride and princess. Now we’re all grown up, that image may no longer be relevant.

If you have a wedding theme already planned, then the dress should fit into that. If you do not, you’re going to need to consider shape, size and colour and build a wedding theme around the dress. Ideally, it should be the theme, then dress, not the other way round.

Style is also about trying on dresses. Some will visually appeal and others won’t. Some will complement your body shape; others won’t. Trying on the dresses will be the final arbiter.

Bespoke or off the rack?

A bespoke dress is one designed and made especially for you. An off the rack dress is made by a designer and then fitted to you. If you have the imagination and the budget, a bespoke wedding dress will truly be one of a kind. It will be designed with you and your shape in mind and made to fit your measurements perfectly.

An off the rack wedding dress will be made like any other dress, to a given template and then adjusted by a dressmaker to fit you. They cost much less but won’t be as original. Much depends on how much you have to spend and how much you care about being one of a kind.

What do I take to a wedding dress consultation?

A wedding dress consultation is a private session with the bridal shop to go through a range of dress options for you. These can be an hour or two where you get their undivided attention, so it pays to prepare.

If you have made a mood board of your theme, take that. If you have ideas of the type of dress you would like, take that too. Also take any accessories, shoes or anything else you already have and want to wear on the day.

You should also take your mother, chief bridesmaid and/or friends you trust to offer constructive opinions.

How much can I spend?

How much you spend on your wedding dress is up to you, but is usually no more than 10% of the overall budget. If you’re very persuasive and can make cuts elsewhere, you can probably squeeze a little more.

Your budget should also include fittings, adjustments, shoes and accessories, so bear that in mind when you’re out shopping.

When should I order my wedding dress?

The short answer is you should order your dress as soon as you find the one you love. The longer answer is at least 9-12 months for a bespoke dress and 3-6 months for an off the shelf one.

As mentioned, if you’re planning to lose weight or change shape, you’re going to need to arrange alterations before the day. Schedule these when you buy the dress with the shop.

Does my dress have to be white or cream?

This is a common question, more than you would probably imagine given how much is published on the subjects of weddings. Until Queen Victoria got married in white, brides wore whatever colour they liked. The white dress tradition is a nice one, but it’s not the only option you have.

More and more brides are bringing colour into their wedding day, and it’s perfectly acceptable for you to do the same.