Wedding Dress Shopping: 17 Tips to Quickly Find and Choose the Right Bridal Gown Before You Buy

Finding the right wedding gown can be exhausting and overwhelming, and may even go wrong if you are uninformed about important wedding dress pre-shopping tips and advice (or dress shopping checklist).  It’s important that you’re prepared by knowing the bridal shopping dos and donts, what to expect and how to prepare for dress try-ons.  I want to help, and so in this post, I’m sharing 17 crucial tips and advice to make finding your dream dress fun and a lot easier for you.  Read on, and let’s get you to ready for stress-free bridal shopping.

nigerian bride white wedding gown and bouquet

Photo credit: Wedding Photography by Obi


17 Fail-Proof Tips and Advice to Make Shopping for a Wedding Gown Fun

The secret to quickly finding your perfect wedding dress lies in knowing what you want, way in advance, before stepping into any bridal store.  Knowing that will enable you to confidently communicate to shop reps an idea of different wedding gown styles you’d like to try on.  It lets them know you have already done your homework and not likely to waste their time (wearing every dress in the shop) and looking like you are not serious to buy a dress.

1. Have an Idea of Bridal Dress Looks (Styles) to Try on Before Going Shopping: Don’t go to the dress shop to discover what to buy, rather first do your homework from home and be armed with a visual wedding gown shopping list (to show) and the basic lingo of wedding gown parts, as well as how the shops call each wedding gown silhouettes / style-cut.  The next tips below will guide you on how to figure out wedding gown styles for your shape and personality, and also names of dress silhouette and parts.

2. Set a Shopping Budget (Limit) and Try Only Dresses Within Your Budget:  You don’t want to try on a wedding dress, fall in love with it, only to later discover that it’s 10 times costlier than you can afford. So, girl, stay in your lane – and not to worry because same style of wedding dresses can come in diverse price points.  For example, you could find a particular wedding gown style in $1000 (convert that to Naira, lol), and also find a similar style in lower costs $300. So, tell the bridal shop person the price range you’re looking for, as well as show pictures of desired styles (silhouette and cuts).

3. Try-On Familiar Cuts that Flatter Your Body Shape: Wedding gowns are styled and cut somewhat similarly to the regular prom or designer evening dresses.  So, if you know the outfit cuts (neck cut, sleeves, skirt area, body – fitted or loose) that always look good on you, you can start your store-try-ons by looking at wedding gowns that have similar cuts and silhouettes.  It’s quicker to find your “it-gown” from familiar cuts than from trying on strange outfit cuts you’ve never worn before.  With wedding gowns, the cuts and silhouettes have names, and it’s a good idea to know those names – to make it easy when talking with bridal shops.

Related: Names of Wedding Gown Style-Cuts and Silhouettes

4. Check Your Wardrobe for Occasion-Outfit Styles and Cuts You Gravitate Towards: Another way to get a good idea of the style of wedding gown that is “you” and true to your personality is to start from the familiar and what’s YOU.  Take a look at your wardrobe to identify a pattern  – look at the long dresses and evening gown styles you own.  Or even look at the long skirt-and-blouse styles you own.  Which cuts (sleeves, neckline, skirt-styles, dress-body styles) do you have more? Of those outfits, which ones do you get the most compliments from? What styles flatters your body type most, when you look at the mirror?

It’s a good idea to start your wedding gown search from what you already know that you look good in. Don’t start searching from the scratch.  A wedding gown is not much different from a long skirt-and-blouse style, only that it’s white and comes in delicate fabric and embellishment.  So, when you go to the bridal stores, help them to help you find styles to try-on, by telling them the cuts, necklines and skirt styles that usually flatter your figure.

5. Gather Visuals to Shop With: In advance, gather ideas of what to try on at the shops.  Before going to the shops, check wedding magazines and nternet (Instagram, Pinterest Boards) to find ideas of wedding gown style pictures that appeal to you, and at the same time have cuts similar with your best-flattering long dress (or long skirt and blouse) outfits (I’m talking of those ones that you get the most compliments on, even from strangers).  Cut out pictures from magazines, save website pictures to your phone.  Bring along pictures of wedding gowns you like, to give the bridal shop attendants an idea of styles to show you for try-on.  Remember to find pictures of wedding dress styles you like by and also tell the shop attendants the styles you like for each of the wedding gown part (silhouette, neckline, bodice, sleeve style, train style, skirt style).

Seeing so many styles and designs of wedding gowns at the shops can be overwhelming.  Having ideas in advance, of what to try on, will help you reduce overwhelm and ultimately find the right dress for your body shape faster, without engaging in several try-ons. That’s because you will know what you want (styles and shapes to ask for) and  the shop reps will also know what styles to recommend to you, based on what they know you like.

Try-ons are an essential part of the process for finding that dream wedding gown, but here in Nigeria, that can be very frustrating because most bridal stores will only allow you to try on a few dresses, for fear of having sweat stains on the white gowns that could make them difficult to sell (if you do not buy).  Not really their fault, as they usually do not have sample dresses, unlike bridal shops abroad (USA, UK, Canada and many other countries).  With the above tips, you will be able to find “the right one” with not too many try-ons.

6. Keep An Open Mind:  The purpose of trying-before-you-buy a wedding gown is to ensure you find the perfect fit.  So, ensure to try on plenty different styles and shapes of wedding dress in order to find the best shape for your body.  While I advice that you have something in mind before going for wedding gown fitting/ try-ons, also allow the shop assistants to bring you different gowns to try, including styles and shapes you wouldn’t imagine wearing – you never know.  Just try them and see – only you should make the final decision (it’s your money, so don’t let anyone push you to buy what you’re not comfortable with).

Sometimes, the wedding gown you have in mind may not look that good on you, and maybe, the shops in your part of town may not have them in stock.  So, don’t say no to trying-on wedding gowns suggested by the shop reps.

FUN FACT: Many brides said they found their dream wedding gown by trying-on what’s suggested by the bridal shop person – even when they didn’t think it would look good on them.  The above video illustrates the point I’m making about keeping an open mind – the perfect wedding dress for that bride was not the style she had in mind, but an entirely different silhouette.  

RELATED: Pictures of Trendy Wedding Gown Styles – Get Inspired.

7. Know Your Dress Size: While this may sound like common-sense, not every woman knows their dress sizes. Before you leave to the shops, ensure to know what size of dress you wear – because the shop assistants would ask you.  Besides, you don’t expect to try on 5 different sizes of the same dress, just to know which is yours.  Read the labels on your old outfits to find your dress size in UK, USA, at least.

HINT #1: When shopping, only try on wedding dresses whose sizes are your size or close to your size, as it’s easier to have a tailor take in the dress sides to make it fit better. However, by all means, do not touch any gown that is a lot bigger than your size, because amending it would involve some serious re-cutting that could go wrong on such an expensive outfit. HINT#1: If you have the upper and bottom part of your body as different sizes (for example: size 14 up/ tops/ blouses AND size 16 bottom / trousers or skirts), a good idea is to purchase a bridal gown in the size of the bigger part, and have a tailor adjust it the necessary part.

8. Online Wedding Dress Shopping Tip:  Ensure to know the country of the website you’re shopping at, and specify your dress size to that country’s.  You’ll need to do a conversion for that – but not to worry, Google is your best friend. All you need is to type something like this into Google: dress size 12 UK to China OR dress size 12 UK to USA or dress size 12 UK to Italy. Hope you get the gist. HINT: To score a significant bargain when buying wedding your dress online, many shops offer big discounts during American Thanksgiving day/ Black Friday / Cyber Monday holidays and Christmas. HINT (again): Oh, what if the dress arrives but looks totally different or doesn’t fit you?  So, before you pay, call and speak to someone and ask if there’s a money-back return policy.  Be sure that the duration of the return policy is long enough for the shipped item to reach them early.

RELATED: Before Buying that Gown: 5 Things to Consider

9. Slight Amendment/ Alteration May Be Needed:  Sometimes, you’ll need a hem-in here and there to take a wedding gown from okay to a perfect fit.  In fact, we’ve seen cheap wedding dresses look a million bucks just because it was slightly adjusted to the body of the wearer.  You don’t have to wear a store-bought dress  the way it is, if it does not sit very well on you.  Big name designer bridal shops do a final fitting (and alteration) to make the wedding gown fit perfectly on the buyer (bride). It’s okay to borrow that idea even if you cannot afford the Couture dresses. HINT #1: Wedding gown alterations are better done a few weeks or 3 months to your wedding day, to ensure you’re about the same weight.  HINT #2: Some bridal shops have an in-house tailor that does this – so, ask them. Whichever tailor you use, ensure it’s a reputable one that is known to do perfect amendments – just ask around. So, get it slightly amended to get that snatched-look.

10.  Week-Days Are Better for Shopping Wedding Gowns:  I am sure you know how busy the shops can get during the weekend. If you go shopping on a weekend, the bridal stores would not be able to give you as much personalized attention as you need – because many other brides are also shopping.  Girl, no weekend shopping for a wedding dress, okay.

11. Get a Second (or Third or Fourth) Eye: How can you trust when a shop staff tells you ‘this or that looks amazing on you’?  Don’t even trust your eyes-alone and the mirror – because many brides regretted doing so.  On your wedding day, all eyes would be on your dress, so why not get a few other trusted family member and/ or close friends (3 or 4 max). Ask yourself that one or two persons you have always trusted will tell you the truth. A good idea is to bring 2 or 3 persons from best friend, your mom, your sister, aunt, cousin  – but only invite a person if you know they’ll tell you the truth if a gown looks okay or not on you.  You don’t want to have a person that would tell you that every outfit looks good, just because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  Girl, you can’t risk that because that dress would be the centre of attention on the D-day!

12. Take Photos of Your Try-Ons: Picture snaps tell things better than a mirror – snap pics of front and back of each dress on you. You may also ask one of your escorts to snap pictures of each look with their phone or yours, so you can personally review and process – to compare the dresses (tried from one or many shops) and make a better judgement when deciding on the winning wedding dress.  Generally, you will get a better idea of how you look in each wedding gown from photos of you wearing them, and reviewed at a later time.  Be aware that some stores don’t allow pictures to be taken – either be okay with it and trust your mirror /escorts opinions, OR move to another store ÓR just find a way to get snaps.

You can’t afford to not-choose-right. So, it’s important that you use every possible method to later review and compare dresses you tried to get an informed judgement.  When shopping, every dress you try-on may just look and feel like “the right one”.  Most brides felt so, purchased and later hated the dress (but stuck with wearing it because they don’t have extra money to buy another. Some that can afford to, buy a second dress, afterwards).  I don’t want you to make that same mistake.

HINT: Two mirrors are better than one.  Looking at yourself in two mirrors (front and back) will give you a better picture – so ask the shop reps if they have two mirrors.

13. Bring Shoes and Appropriate Undergarments: To get a better idea of how a dress would look on you, bring along appropriate bridal lingerie and shoes similar to the ones you’ll wear on your big day.  Every fashion savvy girl knows that during outfit try-ons, clothes tend to look kinda ordinary without appropriate shoes.  Similarly, without the necessary underwear, a dress doesn’t look well-fitting.  So, be prepared to pack your assets well when going for wedding dress shopping and try-ons.  Yes, pack well. Lol. Bring along a good, supportive strapless bra and a shapewear for tummy and /or thighs (spanx or any other good brand corset / waist cincher/ girdle).  Oh, a clean white bra, please; and sparkling clean pants and other underwear.

Bra – Extremely Important: Bra is one item that most brides forget to add to their wedding fashion shopping list.  Not all bras are good for wedding dresses, and your old bras may not give enough support or push-up.  You need a bra with good support to bring out the shape of your wedding gown.  I suggest you buy a new, special bra for your wedding gown. In fact, buy a set of wedding-day-underwear (bras, shapewear, underskirt and other necessary lingerie). Wearing the wrong bra has made many great wedding dresses look not so perfect on bride’s bodies, because they wore a not-for-wedding-gown type of bra. We’ve also been at weddings where the bride’s bra was peeking out from the sides and it looked like a once-white-bra turned dirty-white, and she was unaware that her supposedly tucked in and hidden bra has decided to show face. Coloured bras (even browns, blacks) are not a good idea for wedding dress.

Bring Shoes: Oh, also bring along a pair of high-heel shoes or any shoe similar to your actual wedding day shoes.  High heels add some elegance to any outfit, but any shoe of same height as your actual wedding shoes will be fine.

RELATED: Names of Parts of a Wedding Gown – Necessary for Describing What You Want to Bridal Stores.

14.  Put it to Test – Wear It Sitting, Walking and Moving Your Sides:  Remember that you’re going to dance in your wedding gown. You’ll walk down the aisle, stand through the time you’ll say your vows, and at other times. Most brides, on their wedding day, discovered they could not function comfortably in their “perfect wedding dress”.   Some dresses are very comfortable when worn a few minutes and show their true colours later.  So, when shopping for “the one”, check out how comfortable the wedding gown is – put it to the test.  You may not notice anything until try doing some normal things you’ll do on your big day.  HINT: For every dress you try-on, test walking around in it, sit down,breath in and out,  move your body left/ right/ bend forward and backward. 

15. Pretty Up, Please:  To get a good picture of how a dress would look on you, it’s best to mimic what you intend to look like on the D-day.  So, go shopping with a bit of makeup and your hair done, similar to a bridal hairstyle or look-alike of the hair you plan to wear.  Don’t forget to add a bridal-like earring.  Not that it’s bad to go shopping for a wedding gown without prepping your face and hair, but the wedding-day-look will make you get a better judgement.

16.  Speak the Lingo: You’ll quickly understand, be understood and better helped at the shops, if you ask for what you want in the language and terminology of the wedding dress Industry.   Know the names of wedding dress silhouettes/ styles, and names of different parts of a wedding gown.

17. Arrive Very Clean and Smell Good: This is a bonus tip. Sometimes, some brides are the reasons they are turned down from trying on wedding gowns at the stores.  No dress boutique likes to allow someone with smelly armpits and sweaty body to try-on and be fitted in clothes they are selling, especially if those are white dresses (which wedding gowns are).  Go to the bridal shops looking and smelling good.  So, before leaving your house, have a good bath, spray on some nice smelling body spray or perfume

HINT: To avoid sweating before you get to the bridal store, leave early (morning, preferably), take a taxi that has none or a few passengers (if you’re not going in a personal car). If you can only get bus transportation in your area, avoid buses that are not a direct stop – you don’t want to hop through 5 bus stops and changing buses (and gathering sweat) before you get to the wedding gown shop.  After your dress fittings, you can choose to return home in any type of transportation.

Here’s What Usually Happens At Many Nigerian Wedding Gown Shops…

See if you can relate to this…

If you’ve started shopping for your wedding dress and shopping right in Naija, you may have had one or more attendants get angry at you for still not picking a dress after sampling dress number 3 or 4 or more.

Also, you may have realized that every dress looks great on the mannequin and on the model in the magazine/ catalog, but not so great on you when you try them on.  So, you are excited to try some more outfits until you reach “the one” made just for your body.  But some Nigerian wedding gown shops get annoyed when a bride-to-be has tried on a couple of wedding gowns and still has not found “the one”. Others simply don’t allow too many dress trials for fear of the dresses getting stained from brides-to-be who may not buy.

In some bridal shops here, attendants first ask if you’re sure you’ll buy the gown if allowed to try it on.  They’ll quickly say no when you reply that you’ll only buy if it looks good on your body.  In some shops, some  wedding dresses are strictly not-to-be-tried BUT still for sale.  Most bridal stores would ask you ‘what exactly are you looking for? or What kind/ style of wedding dress are you looking for?’  

If you’re like most brides, you came expecting them to show you arrays of dresses in styles and cuts, and allow you try as many as possible, until you find “the perfect dress”.   Since you’ve just realized that things are different here in Nigeria, you’re wondering how you can possibly get around this to finding that perfect-fit wedding gown you’ll say yes to.  After getting the same no-more-try treatment from a couple more shops, you’re discouraged and wonder ‘how is a bride going to find a dress style and cut that fits her without trying on many samples?’.  Girl, have you experienced something like the one described above? Comment to let me know.

Now, Your Wedding Dress Shopping Just Got Easier

That you read this far means you now know how to figure out, in advance, the wedding gown shapes, cuts and styles that are likely to look good on you – so that you can find a perfect dress in not so many try-ons.  If you follow the above tips and advice, the entire process of finding and choosing the perfect wedding gown will be faster, no matter where you buy it from (abroad or here in Nigeria).  Also, you’ll be guaranteed of a pleasant experience at the bridal shops, and ultimately find “the one” wedding dress without needing to try-on 100 different ones.

Did I miss any wedding gown shopping tip? Add it in the comments below.  Also, feel free to share your bridal fashion shopping experience (in Nigerian or abroad) – comment below.

Photo credit: Wedding Photography by Obi

About Stella Anokam

Stella is the founder and Editor of this blog (NaijaGlamWedding). Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. Submit your photos to be featured - it's FREE, because we love everything weddings, bridal showers, engagement shoots.


  1. http://Bassa says

    U guys gat me imagining maself in dos SWIT n LUVLY dresses, dey’r sooooooo biuti4ul

    • Oh yea! So therefore, make your imagination a reality kia-kia. Run to your tailor to sew those styles you’re imagining on you. Haha.

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