The Bride's Ultimate Guide to Choosing Her Perfect Wedding Gown

By: Natalie Kilgore

Image Gallery: Wedding Gowns With so many choices out there, you need a litlte help finding the right gown. See more pictures of wedding gowns.

You've been waiting patiently for the day when it's your turn to have multiple stylists fussing over you at a glamorous wedding boutique as you sip champagne and try on gorgeous gowns in front of three-way mirrors.

As much fun as shopping for a wedding dress can be, it can also seem like quite a daunting task if you don't have an idea of what you want -- I know from experience!


However, with a little time and patience, I eventually found the perfect wedding gown. Along the way, I devised a formula to help other brides choose their ideal gowns, too. While you're shopping, just remember four key words: fit, flatter, flair and funds. If you stick to these guidelines, the journey to finding your dream gown will be a lot easier.

Does the Dress Fit the Occasion?

Is your wedding ceremony or reception going to incorporate cultural traditions and customs? If so, you may want to choose a dress that represents your heritage, like a bright red sari or a silk kimono. If you'd rather merge elements of your culture with Western traditions, look for a dress that will coordinate with special accents, such as an heirloom shawl or a meaningful henna tattoo. Are your religious beliefs more on the conservative side? Modesty doesn't mean you have to sacrifice style! Shop for gowns with lace cap sleeves and fabulous sequined bib necklines.

Of course, be sure to consider the season when choosing your gown. If you're getting married outside during the summer months, shop for dresses made of lightweight, airy fabrics with minimal beading and layers to keep you from feeling hot and sticky. For colder months, heavier fabrics, like satin and taffeta, are more appropriate, and warm, stylish wraps, such as a mink stole or a cashmere cardigan, can be an elegant addition to your ensemble.


Finally, make sure your dress fits the venue. If you're having an outdoor affair at the beach or in a botanical garden, opt for a simple, breezy wedding dress. Is your wedding going to be a black-tie event? Make sure your dress is equally as formal and reflects the tone of the evening. Go for the Monique Lhuillier dress with the silk organza ruffle skirt, and bring the drama!

Does the Dress Flatter Your Figure and Style?

The perfect silhouette is out there for you!
The perfect silhouette is out there for you!
Frank Gaglione/Getty Images

No matter what kind of figure you have, there's a dress out there to flatter you beautifully. Tall women should try gowns that give them a long and fitted silhouette. If you're short and petite, trumpet style dresses will work for your figure, but beware of tea-length gowns -- they'll make you appear shorter than you really are!

Girls with fuller figures might like tight-fitting dresses made of heavy, sturdy fabric; loose fabric will hang off of curves and won't flatter. Wearing a corset (which can work wonders) is a great way to appear svelte in any gown. If you have more of a boyish figure, opt for a mermaid silhouette, which creates an hourglass. Also, choosing a dress with ruching at the bust can help a small chest appear larger.


You only get to wear your wedding dress once in your life, so make sure the gown you choose is a direct representation of your style. While you might like some of today's trends, like larger-than-life, avant-garde style ruffles, be mindful that you don't want to look back on your wedding photos years from now and feel like your dress was over the top. However, pockets are one no-regrets, trendy addition to wedding dresses that we want to see more of -- perfect for stashing a tube of lipstick for touch-ups throughout the night! If you're nostalgic and want a retro-inspired look, go for a short shift dress or a long gown with a high neckline and lace sleeves.

One traditional style that's both popular and flattering is the strapless gown. "Strapless has been a huge success because most women look good in it. But it has to be made well and fit correctly; otherwise, you will be tugging [on the dress]," says wedding gown designer Robert Bullock of Birnbaum and Bullock. Whatever your style, make sure that you feel comfortable -- there's nothing worse than a dress that sags or pinches when you want to dance all night!


What Fair Will Accent Your Dress?

Don't forget to consider what accessories you want to wear with your dress; these details are what make your wedding day look one-of-a-kind. If your gown is formal, you might want to fix your hair in a tight updo with a cathedral-length veil. For simple dresses, opt for more drama with a birdcage veil during the ceremony and a frilly feather headpiece during the reception.

When accessorizing, choose pieces that complement your gown. Floral headbands and Juliet caps are trendy hairpieces that really make a statement. If you want to wear your great-grandmother's art deco necklace as your "something old," you should choose a wedding dress with a strapless neckline. Dresses with elegant drapes that gather at the waist are even more beautiful when highlighted by a sunburst brooch.


The shoes you choose can also make or break the dress. For short or tea-length dresses, you might want to consider a unique pair of heels to accent your legs, but if you're tall and don't want to tower over your groom, go with ballet flats or jeweled sandals instead. You could even pick out a pair of shoes in the same shade of fuchsia that you chose for your bridesmaids' dresses! For brides wearing ball gowns or full-skirted dresses that only reveal a hint of footwear, a shoe with an elegant tapered toe looks pretty in candid photos where you're dancing, walking or sitting with crossed legs.

Does the Dress Suit Your Funds?

Shop within your budget, or you'll wind up disappointed!
Shop within your budget, or you'll wind up disappointed!

Last but not least, shop for dresses that are within your financial means.

Have a sit-down with parents and your fiancé to determine a budget for your wedding and the gown. Most importantly, try your best to stick to the dollar amount you all agree on!


According to Kleinfeld Bridal co-owner Mara Urshel, it's wise to reserve 12 to 15 percent of the wedding budget for your gown. If you want to wear one gown at your ceremony and change into a shorter dress at the reception (which is an increasingly popular trend) remember to budget for two dresses.

Of course, if you find a discounted or vintage dress that you fall in love with, even better! You'll be able to use the money you save for other wedding expenses.

Once you find a dress that looks fabulous on you, fits your budget and style, and will coordinate perfectly with the accessories you plan to wear, purchase it and don't look back! Enjoy the rest of your engagement, and look forward to your wedding day when you get to wear the perfect gown as you float down the aisle to marry your best friend.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Real Simple. "Upgrade Your Bridal Gown With Accessories." (Aug. 11, 2010).
  • TLC Weddings. "Advice from the 'Say Yes to the Dress' Bridal Consultants." (Aug. 12, 2010).
  • TLC Weddings. "Wedding Veils." (Aug. 11, 2010).
  • Tsui, Diana, Aja Mangum, and Doria Santlofer. "Don't Forget the Details." New York Magazine. Summer 2010. (Aug. 11, 2010).
  • Waterman, Lauren. "The Gown Designers." New York Magazine. Summer 2010. (Aug. 11, 2010).