Watch a few romcoms and you might assume that every bride-to-be dreams of swanning from bridal salon to bridal salon with an entourage of besties who will ooh and ahh and cry tears of joy the moment she finally finds that rainbow-unicorn of a dress known as "the one."
I am not this bride. In fact, that whole scenario fills me with dread. It’s not because I’m unromantic, nor is it because I don’t want a dream dress to call my own. It’s more that I just prefer the no-fuss ease of buying online. I shop online nearly every day of my life, so why should shopping for my wedding have to be any different?
Plus, I don’t believe my special day should require going into debt — and as an experienced (and successful!) online wedding dress shopper, I now know that it is possible to get a drop-dead-gorgeous gown for under $500.
Ahead, the five tricks that helped me find my dream wedding dress without ever setting foot in a bridal boutique.
Step 1) You already know what works for you — so stick with it!
Take a moment to reflect on the clothing designs that you return to again and again in everyday life — stuff like your preference for cap-sleeved blouses over tank tops, that kind of thing. These details will be the unlikely starting point for finding your dream wedding dress online.
Here’s what I'm talking about: I love a wrap dress. It’s the one design that I could order sight unseen and know it will flatter my figure. Strapless dresses, on the other hand? You’ll never catch me in one. And although I adore shoulder-baring gowns on other brides, I know that my (admittedly irrational) fear of baring my own isn't going to disappear just because I’m getting married, and I definitely don’t want my insecurities accompanying me down the aisle.
Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Yet certain friends have already tried to sway me with statements like, Oh, but every bride goes strapless! Nope. Not me. I know what I like and I’m sticking with it. So I banned strapless gowns from my Pinterest page. In their place: silhouettes and design details that I naturally lean toward on the days when I’m not a bride. For me that means a wedding dress that shares many of the same qualities I love in a wrap dress: V-neck, nipped waist, that classic fit-and-flare shape that I always feel confident in.
Step 2) Learn how you measure up
If H&M’s fitting rooms have taught me anything, it’s that my size can run anywhere from an extra small to an extra large, depending on what garment I’m trying on—it's the main hurdle to shopping for clothes online. Luckily, wedding dress designers tend to be more precise, which is why when shopping for a wedding dress online, a flexible measuring tape will serve as the very-honest friend every bride needs.
Learn to measure from a pro by heading to YouTube, or better yet, stop by a local tailor or dry cleaner and have your measurements taken there. Armed with your stats you’ll be in good shape to consult your prospective dress’s size chart and buy the correct size right from your MacBook, or smartphone, or whatever. (If in doubt: Choose one size up.)
Step 3) Check the fine print.
No matter how precisely you’ve measured, there’s a chance your dream gown will look a little less dreamy when you unbox it. So before you commit, closely check the return policy from your retailer. If returns are expensive or not permitted, keep shopping.
Step 4) Test-drive a tailor
Before I started shopping for a wedding dress online, I imagined that I'd spot my dream dress, add it to my cart, slip it on the moment it arrived, and be dazzled by its perfect, made-for-me fit. But here’s the reality: I needed to have my dress tailored. So will you. It’s just a fact of life. I’ve known a lot of brides, and not a single one of them managed to get an off-the-rack dress that didn’t need a little nipping and tucking. Same holds true for buying online.
If you don’t already have a tailor you trust, ask your friends (or Google) for recommendations, then do a test-run with a coat or suit jacket that needs altering before handing over your wedding gown.
Step 5) Shop sites that are bride-friendly
Some sites are better than others for online wedding shopping — and they're not always the ones you expect. Asos, for example, has a wide range of bridal looks that are elegant and very, very on trend. Reformation features gorgeous designs that could easily cost a grand more than their very reasonable price tag. These sites and the others ahead get high marks for ease of ordering, simple return policies, and gorgeous designs. Plus, they’re shockingly affordable. We found dresses that start at under $200 and top out at just over $500.
Stone Cold Fox
The Lookbook is Bravo’s celebration of personal style. We keep you up to date on the inspiring looks from trend-setting stylistas, test and report on the most-coveted fashion and beauty products, and offer solutions to all your style-related conundrums. Like us on Facebook to stay connected to our daily updates.