When Should I Buy My Wedding Dress? A Complete Timeline

If you’re Googling, ‘When should I buy my wedding dress?’, we’ve got a hunch you’re engaged! If so, congratulations! This is such an exciting time, and we’re not in the least bit jealous…!

But while this part of the engagement timeline is super thrilling, and at times hard to wrap your head around, there are certain things you need to lock in before it gets too late. Your bridal gown is one of them!

Unlike any other item of clothing you’ve ever bought, your wedding dress needs to be ordered within a set time frame to allow for alterations and multiple fittings.

Do not leave it too late to find your beautiful wedding dress, or you may not have a dress at all!

Now, we know that this time can be confusing and overwhelming, but we need to make it crystal clear that the wedding dress process takes time. Unless you’re buying off-the-rack, or at a bridal sale, your bridal gown will be made to order, a process which typically takes between 6-9 months, depending on your designer.

According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, the average engagement length is 14 months. This means you need to start thinking about how you want your dream dress to look fairly soon after getting engaged if you are to achieve a stress-free bridal shopping experience.

In this post, we’ll share when on the engagement timeline you should start wedding dress shopping, while also offering a few “dos and don’ts” that should help you find “the one.”

when should i buy my wedding dress

Are Wedding Dresses Made to Order?

On the whole, most wedding dresses are made to order. Typically, this process begins in a professional bridal boutique with a stylist who’ll attempt to find the perfect dress for you based on the hints you give them.

Once you’ve found a gown you love, the stylist will then take detailed measurements of you and share them with the designer, who will create a brand-new dress for you.

The entire process can take up to nine months, which is why it’s important to get the ball rolling shortly after your engagement.

The made-to-order process does differ depending on your price point:

Gowns on the more expensive end of the scale will be created (not designed) just for you, to your precise specifications.

Whereas, a medium to lower-priced wedding dress will usually be ordered by the bridal stylist according to a size chart from the designer/brand. They’ll use your current measurements to determine which size you should have. That gown may well be shortened to fit you better, but will not be crafted to your exact size.

At the end of the day, whether you buy a gown from a designer bridal shop, or find the perfect style at your local mall boutique, the dress is still kind of made-to-order. Every wedding dress needs to be altered before the big day anyway, to make it fit the bride. So, it doesn’t matter where you buy your dress from, it’ll still be fitted to your exact measurements.

If you choose an off-the-rack wedding dress, it won’t be made to order, but this has its upsides if you’re short on time (and potentially money)! You’ll be able to take the dress home with you the same day, instead of waiting months for it to be ready.

When Is the Best Time of Year To Buy My Wedding Dress?

Unless you intend to have a super long engagement, most brides don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to timing their purchases to get the best deal or better selection.

Largely, the time you need to start searching for dream gowns depends on your wedding planning schedule.

However, if you can wait, or feel you need to because of budget constraints, January is widely considered to be the best time to begin your wedding dress shopping timeline.

The start of the year is engagement season, as many brides (and grooms) are proposed to over the holiday season. Bridal salons and the wedding industry as a whole are well aware of this, which often leads to quite a competitive market at that time.

Designers will typically drop a new collection in January to coincide with demand, or they’ll offer a special deal for brides who find their wedding gown during engagement season.

If you’re planning on a summer or fall wedding, January also works well time-wise. You’ll have roughly six months until your nuptials in the sun, or up to nine months if you intend to be an autumnal bride.

How Early Is Too Early for Wedding Dress Shopping?

In most cases, the sooner you start the wedding dress shopping experience, the better. That being said, there are a few key details you’ll need to finalize before you say “yes” to that beautiful wedding gown.

The most important of which is, don’t go shopping until you’ve chosen your wedding date and have booked the venue. These two details will hugely influence the type of dress you should look for!

Which season you’re marrying in, for example, will certainly impact certain features of your gown, while the wedding venue may affect its overall style and level of formality.

Your venue and date will also shape your wedding dress budget, as the place you tie the knot is typically the most expensive wedding day vendor you will book. Its price will very much be influenced by the time at which you marry there. Therefore, you need to know what this final price will be before you start spending the wedding budget.

When Should You Buy Your Wedding Dress?

Exactly when to go wedding dress shopping depends on the length of your engagement and how soon you’re getting married.

Ideally, you should start trying on dresses about one year before your wedding date. That’s a perfect world scenario.

If you don’t find your dream wedding dress during your first shopping appointment, there’s no reason to panic. It’s beyond normal, and just because your friend Claire found hers the first time around, it doesn’t mean you need to. You’re just more discerning than her!

On average, it can take a few weeks (or even months) to find the perfect style!

Assuming your engagement period is around 14 months, we would recommend purchasing your wedding dress between 8 and 10 months before the wedding. This leaves enough time for your gown to be made to your measurements, shipped to your bridal salon, and then sent to the tailor for alterations.

If your engagement is less than a year-long, you should start shopping for a wedding dress as soon as possible! Especially if you’d like to customize your gown in some way.

The process of buying a wedding dress traditionally takes several months, so the later you leave it, the fewer options you will have.

Plus, you could be staring down the barrel of a hefty rush fee, just to get your dress delivered on time.

When Is it Too Late to Order a Wedding Dress?

If you thrive on stress, you’ll love ordering a wedding dress with little time to go before the big day. 

If you’re beginning to look for a wedding dress less than six months before your wedding, you will probably find it’s too late to put through a standard delivery order.

In this case, you’ll be left with two options:

You can order your dress, but you’ll be paying rush fees, which will increase depending on how quick the turnaround needs to be. With this option, you may also be limited in the choice of styles you can pick from – not all gowns can be made within such a short timeframe.

Note that paying a rush cut fee, however, will only work if you haven’t left it less than four months until the big day.

Your second option is buying off-the-peg. This is the most favorable option when you’re limited on time as well as budget. Typically, you’ll be picking through the samples your bridal shop has had on the rails for possibly years, and are desperate to get rid of! This could be a good thing because you’ll often find a real bargain if you’re not too fussy.

It can be very disheartening to find a dress you love on a sale rail, only to discover it’s three sizes too small and not quite the color you’ve been dreaming of.

But, if you’re lucky, off-the-rack styles from local bridal boutiques can offer really great options, along with ready-to-wear elopement looks ideal for a beach wedding!

How To Find Your Dream Wedding Dress

That moment you find “the one” is a truly special time. Whether you’ve been in and out of bridal boutiques for weeks or it’s literally the first gown you’ve tried on – it doesn’t matter, the feeling is just the same.

We didn’t want to end this post on logistics, but on what else plays a part in you slipping into that dream wedding day gown that just feels like you.

Here are a few simple tips that’ll help you find the style, size, and fit that’s perfect for you.

Shop for the Size You Are Now!

Shopping for your current size or a realistic goal weight is crucial. Too many women punish themselves by trying to get to a certain weight or for not reaching it at all.

Whichever path you end up going down, neither is healthy. Choose an achievable goal and work towards that target healthily, focusing not just on short-term ambitions.

Be Cool

It’s easy for us to say, but honestly, if you can keep a calm head during every dress appointment, you will be so much more successful.

The whole process is undoubtedly frustrating sometimes, and knowing which of the many millions of wedding dress styles is right for you can seem daunting. But if you can remain patient and level-headed, you may actually have that dream shopping experience that everyone keeps talking about!

Trust in Your Stylist.

Before your first bridal appointment, it’s good to flick through bridal magazines or browse wedding dress designers online.

However, try not to get too fixated on one particular style, or confuse yourself by looking at too many. Just find an element, a fabric, a silhouette you like, and note it down. Your stylist can then use that information to guide you towards the perfect dress for you.

Trust that they know what they’re doing and that their only goal is to find a gown you love. Take a leap of faith and let someone select something for you.

Surround Yourself With Positive People.

Much like picking bridesmaids, you should pick your wedding dress shopping crew based on how good they make you feel.

Don’t feel obliged to bring along certain family or friends just because they brought you to their fittings or if they asked to be invited. No, you need a small entourage (two or three people) who you trust to tell you when something just isn’t right and to boost you up when you need that little bit of encouragement.

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