Selecting your dream wedding gown can feel daunting, but it doesn't have to be.
This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.
Shopping for a wedding gown is often one of the most anticipated—and simultaneously most dread-inducing—tasks on a bride’s wedding checklist. On one hand, it’s an iconic moment that’s filled with magic and excitement. But on the other hand, it certainly can be stressful, especially when you factor in prices, strange sizing conventions, unfamiliar silhouette styles and more.
For many brides, shopping for a wedding gown starts at home. Whether you’re filling your Pinterest board, clipping pages from magazines or Googling styles to figure out your body shape, you should plan to do a little homework before your appointment.
“Take your time to research different styles and silhouettes that may look good on your body shape,” says Heather DiMasi, owner of White of Dublin. “Then you can walk in with confidence and say, ‘Hey, I think I might like to try some of these looks.’”
At the same time, she adds, it’s important to trust your consultant, who’s been trained to assess a woman’s shape—as well as her personality and overall wedding aesthetic—in order to pair her with her best matches. “It’s our job to educate them” on what will work best, DiMasi explains.
Some styling conventions still hold true; a halter neckline probably won’t work for a woman with broad shoulders, and a bride with a square or apple silhouette should steer clear of super-fitted sheath dresses. But Twirl boutique owner Laura Wingfield thinks that many hard-and-fast silhouette rules are ready to be retired.
“Sometimes it’s about the magic of the dress,” she says. “It just has all the right [elements]. It fits a woman’s body really well.”
Jaimie Rodger had a six-month engagement, so she had to fast-track her shopping process. (Most boutiques recommend ordering a gown at least eight months before your wedding, to allow time for shipping and alterations.)
“I just went into the whole experience knowing my body type and knowing what kind of dress I wanted,” she says, which was fortunate—she was able to find her dream gown during one excursion to David’s Bridal. “I knew I didn’t want anything strapless, and I wanted something that was low-cut,” she says, citing concerns about having a smaller bust. Rodger also wanted to avoid anything too form-fitting, so she could eat without worrying about the dreaded food-baby after.
“I wanted something that was not going to ever make me feel self-conscious about my body type,” she says. And the final requirement: A nontraditional color. It seems like a tall order, but she quickly found the perfect gown—a Galina Signature A-line with a plunging V-neck and organza skirt. It was available in ivory, but she opted for a blush hue called rose water.
But what if you don’t have such a detailed vision for your wedding gown?
“My best advice is to try on each different style to narrow it down,” says Maria Vietmeier, store manager at Henri's Bridal. That was precisely what Katie Simmons did when she ventured to Henri’s to shop.
One of Simmons’ main concerns was her height; at 6 feet tall, she was worried about having to add length to a hem, which can be complicated and expensive. Beyond that, she wasn’t particularly picky.
“I thought I wanted a princess ballgown; that’s what I’ve always imagined, even as a little girl I imagined wearing a poofy ballgown,” Simmons says. “The other thing was, as far as fit, I have love handles, so I wanted something that wasn’t as tight. … But I was open to anything, you know; I wanted to try everything on.”
And that openness proved beneficial. When her consultant at Henri's Bridal suggested she try on a mermaid-style gown to show off her height, Simmons was game. “I was like, ‘Oh, I actually love this,’ ” she recalls.
DiMasi, Wingfield and Vietmeier all encourage brides to have a similar mentality. “Trust your consultant, because that’s really why they’re there,” DiMasi says. “They’re going to try their best to incorporate the things that you like in a dress into what looks great on you.”
Above all, a dress that fits well and is suited to your personality and wedding vision has to be comfortable. After all, you won’t look your best if you’re uncomfortable.
“We hear ‘comfort’ over and over and over again,” says Wingfield. “Even a fit-and-flare or a ballgown can be comfortable, just depending on the designer and what elements are on it.”
No one knows that better than Erin Mitchell. After a disappointing experience at Elegant Bride (which has since closed), Mitchell headed to Wendy’s Bridal with her mom, sister and friend.
“I told my mom I did not want a strapless gown and I did not want a poofy gown,” she says, “and that’s literally what I got.” Mitchell was concerned that a strapless gown wouldn’t give her the support she needed in the bust, and she favored a sleeker look for the gown overall. When her consultant brought over the gown that Mitchell eventually purchased, she initially resisted.
“I’m super glad that she was like, ‘Please just try this on,’ because I absolutely loved it,” she says. “If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have even tried on a poofy dress.”
The built-in boning of the gown gave Mitchell enough structure and support to eschew straps altogether, and the skirt’s mixture of organza and crepe organza kept the gown light and airy. She was so comfortable, in fact, that a wedding guest’s inside joke—a challenge to do The Worm—didn’t intimidate her.
“I did it! That’s how comfortable it was,” she says.
A Style for Every Shape
Hard-and-fast rules about wearing only certain silhouettes based on your body shape can go out the window, says Twirl owner Laura Wingfield. But if you’re completely clueless about what might work for you, these general guidelines from Wingfield, Henri's Bridal store manager Maria Vietmeier and White of Dublin owner Heather DiMasi are a good place to start.
If you have a straight figure, try on a sheath or mermaid silhouette and avoid ballgowns. Here’s why: A ballgown might overwhelm what natural curves you do have, while a mermaid silhouette enhances them. A sheath gown will accentuate a willowy figure, especially if you’re tall.
If you have a pear silhouette, try on dropped waists and fit-and-flare silhouettes like trumpet and mermaid, and avoid sheath gowns. Here’s why: If your body is bootylicious, rock it in a mermaid that will show off every beautiful curve! A sheath will downplay those looks and could cause awkward bunching.
If you have an apple silhouette, try on something with built-in structure and avoid fit-and-flare and sheath gowns. Here’s why: If your bust, middle and hips are roughly the same dimensions, a structured gown with built-in boning will accentuate your waist, while super-fitted styles will draw attention to it in an undesirable way.
If you have lots of curves, try on an A-line, fit-and-flare or ballgown with structure, and avoid sheath gowns. Here’s why: Your individual proportions will dictate your best silhouette, but built-in boning is a must to accentuate your best curves and downplay areas you might be self-conscious about.
If you have broad shoulders, try on something strapless and avoid halter necklines and wide straps. Here’s why: Again, the rest of your proportions will dictate your silhouette, but your neckline should work to elongate your décolletage or break up your shoulders—and halters just don’t do that.
If you have a petite stature, try on an A-line or empire waistline, and avoid fit-and-flare silhouettes and dropped waists. Here’s why: You’ll likely have to hem your gown, and hemming a trumpet or mermaid silhouette will throw off its proportions. A dropped waist may make your legs look shorter, while an empire waistline will give you length.