Here are my TOP 4 TIPS to find (and score!) the perfect dream wedding gown for your budget, season, and style. But first…
Now that you’ve locked down the FIRST 4 THINGS YOU MUST DECIDE WHEN PLANNING YOUR WEDDING HERE, you’re well equipped to understand the details that follow along that initial checklist. You’ve selected your season, narrowed down your guest count, scouted the venues, it’s time to SAY YES TO THE DRESS!!! My absolute favorite part of the entire preparation!
1. How to Budget
You have an overall “idea” of how much you’re willing to spend on your gown but instead of allotting a specified range, I say GO WILD, be free, and allow THE ONE dress to dictate the rest of the wedding budget!
If you’re spending more on your dress than expected, skimp somewhere else. Say, invitations (which no one barely keeps except you, lol) or the food, or the entertainment! Instead of 10 courses in a Chinese catering situation, pare it down to 8. Instead of a live 7-man band, try an all-night DJ or a simple acoustic guitarist and accompanying vocalist (which is what I opted for).
Trust me when I say your wedding gown is the most important purchase of your life (up until now). So SPLURGE HERE if anywhere at all! Haven’t you felt even more excited for a big event because you found the PERFECT outfit? Well recall that feeling and multiply that by a million! You should look like a queen, feel like royalty, and rock that aisle like you’re getting crowned honey! But no pressure! Lol
2. Where (and when) to Shop
Go early- up to one year if you can. At 6 months before the wedding you’ll be clamoring for couture but can only settle on off the
rack since most ateliers take a MININUM of 6 months to custom make your dress. Factor in transit time, alterations for that perfect fit and all of a sudden you’re 8 months out since first trying on the oversized sample in the shop.
Bonus points for shopping during Thanksgiving and Christmas when the bridal boutiques are marking down their in-store merchandise, selling “as is” and making way for new styles. Seeing as how we’re at the beginning of October, start SCOUTING NOW!!!
Wedding Gown Boutiques in Orange County
Here’s a list of the local Southern California | Orange County bridal salons I visited in the order of my preference. Click on the shop links provided to head directly to their website.
Located right next to South Coast Plaza, expect a higher price point than most salons but you cannot beat their selection of designer couture dresses! My first visit here and I was hooked honey! Found the one within an hour. They feature designers Inbal Dror, Amalia Carrara (my gown and the first wedding couturier in the world), Pronovias and mid-range designers like Enzoani, Maggie Sotero, and Davide Tutera. Just a good wide range of mid to high end price points.
This boutique is literally every bride’s fantasy. Couture designer gowns average approximately $7000-$8000 here so prepare to totally splurge if this is your route. They have the dreamiest setup with couture and vintage bridal spilling from the aisles and the most wide range of accessories to finish your fabulous look. Bonus points for the most attentive staff of this entire list.
If this sounds like it’s way out of your budget but totally your style, here’s a tip.
Try on the dresses, note the designer and description and look for second-hand options online.
There’s more out there than you’d think as I’d know from past experience over months and months of trolling the web. Designers include: Galia Lahav, Ines di Santo, Angel Rivera, Lazaro, and Marchesa to name a few.
…and yes, they even pop bubbly when you haven’t purchased a thing. (Ahem, Panache! Take a hint!)
A lovely small boutique with major press having been featured in all major bridal magazines, TV shows Good Day LA, Good Morning America, and the Today Show to name a few. Bride-to-be’s flock from all over the country to try on Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhullier, Zuhair Murad, Naeem Khan, and Vera Wang wedding gowns, all the designer heavy hitters who frequent the fashion runways. Had I not found my dress at Panache, I would have easily found it here.
Update 2017: Erin Cole in Newport Beach is now officially closed.
Every bride-to-be I know visited Blush Bridal during her search. Average gown prices don’t top $3000 so definitely very affordable for ready-to-wear designers like Badgely Mischka, Matthew Christopher, Hayely Paige, and Enzoani. Check their bridal directory HERE for the complete list. I do love that the boutique is very casual, with cute young sales gals zipping you up and helping to find the perfect accessory. However; don’t expect them to wait on you hand and foot with champagne in tow as you try on yet another ballgown when you’ve stated you were going the mermaid route. Like I said, the staff is young, the dresses mid-range, so their patience wears thin when commission rates are low, sad but true.
I have to include Mary Me on this list for the sole reason that I made an appointment. When I researched the designers online, I found they carried the same couturier that I spied at Panache (Eve of Milady). Thinking I could possibly get a discount because the shop was a little “older” (read: dated) I booked an appointment and hightailed my ass down to Orange with my Mom and sis in tow. Boy was I in for a rude awakening! Totally not my style, hated the fabric selections, all the gowns were crushed together on the racks, and everything just looked cheap guys! They didn’t carry the gown I was looking for, instead they carried OLDER samples of the couturier’s line. Like decades older, lol. But hey, if you don’t go, you’ll never know!
Most bridal salons host trunk shows seasonally so get on their email list so you receive advance notice to RSVP. Designer gowns are discounted a hefty 15%-20% before they’re released to the public at full retail price. Check out the links above for the nearest trunk show happening in your hood NOW! Also, if you’re not from around here, I’d suggest Yelping bridal boutiques by you, cross referencing the reviews with their website online and make sure the style of designers is in range with your preference and budget. A little research goes a long way guys.
Vintage and Second-hand Wedding Dresses and Accessories
For budget conscious brides there’s always second-hand options online where previous brides sell their once-worn dresses for sometimes more than half off! One deep cleaning at the dry cleaner’s later and you’ve saved a TON my loves. My favorites below:
You must make appointments in advance to visit most bridal boutiques. They typically allot one hour per person so time is of the essence my loves. Come on a full stomach (‘cuz no girl can make imperative decisions hangry!) with your posse in tow, and make sure you bring a butterfly clip or ponytail holder in case the dress warrants an updo. Try to wear minimal makeup (if at all) so you
don’t dirty the dresses when slipping in and out of dozens of em.
3. How to find THE ONE
Forget all about dressing for your body type and enhancing your best features…blah, blah, blah. You’re not looking for the perfect bikini, it’s your WEDDING GOWN dammit!!! A once-in-a-lifetime occasion (for THIS marriage at least ;D), you literally need to TRY.ON.EVERY.SINGLE dress that catches your eye! Whether it’s a really pretty lace detail, blinged-out bodice, dramatic train, cool color you’re spying, never mind the fit and style JUST TRY IT ON!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accompanied a bride-to-be on her appointment and she ended up purchasing the ONE dress she’d never thought she’d like or fit!
Same with me! I always imagined myself going for a super sleek and slinky, long-sleeved, fitted lacy number with full on white fur on top (hence the winter wedding theme and a CLOSE 2nd pick above) but instead opted for a fit and flare, couture-inspired strapless gown with a beaded bodice. A total departure from what I initially envisioned. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t get the one outta my mind once I tried it on.
Which is where your gal pals come in. I had every one of my girls pull dresses she liked for me and the difference in opinion is where the magic really happened. One by one, I tried on SO many dresses that drew oohs and ahhhs, ehs and okays…but when I found THE ONE and emerged from the dressing room, the girls literally SQUEALED, audibly GASPED. IN UNISON. Lol
It was the SWEETEST reaction ever and that’s when I knew it guys!
I had finally FOUND HER!!!
Some salons (especially the higher end ones like Panache) don’t allow photographs, so definitely rely on your trusted girlfriends’ and family’s opinions when combining with your own. But we snuck a few snaps in here and there anyways, shhhh! It’s SO important to see how the dress photographs on your body versus seeing the mirror image live since everything is backwards! Hellooo! I’m having a total Cher Horowitz moment here! If reviewing images after trying on these gowns is important to you, make sure you inquire about photography policies before booking your appointment.
4. How to Accessorize your Wedding Gown
Now that you’ve splurged on your gown, it’s time for the finishing touches. Since I got married during the wintertime, I wanted to be draped in fur and dripping in diamonds. Hollywood Gothic Glam was the intent and I achieved it with my selection of accessories, most of which I purchased from online discount stores and vintage/ consignment bridal boutiques like those I listed above.
Here’s a little cheat sheet so you don’t forget the basics:
Bridal Veil, Hair accessories, Headpiece
Jewelry: Necklace, Earrings, Bracelets, Engagement Ring (plus wedding band after the ceremony)
Undergarments: Bra, Petticoat (for underlayment of gown), Garter, Garter belt
Shoes, Memory foam shoe inserts (my fave is from Dr. Scholls HERE, Sandals (to change into when you’re seated lol)
If you’re a spring bride, try a shorter tea-length gown with a full skirt for the reception portion just to change things up. If you’re getting married during the summer, maybe a silk bias-cut sheath gown with tiny spaghetti straps and long luscious locks to frame your look. If opting for an autumn wedding, chic camel toppers like wool capelets or feathered accessories would look amazing against an ivory ballgown. If you’re partial to winter like I am, go for deep crimson lips, fabulous white fur and throw in a 20 ft. train to really amp up the glam factor.
No matter what you decide, make sure it’s 150% YOUR DECISION! Don’t ever feel pressured to drop bucket loads of money on the dress that your Mom loves, or that your best friend dreams of, or even the one that’s conveniently on sale. It’s YOUR wedding, YOUR style, YOUR say! Remember that nothing haunts you quite like the things you didn’t buy. At least that’s my mantra! So make those appointments now and have a BLAST girls!!! With some determination, lotsa good vibes, this post, and just a bit of luck, I KNOW you’ll find THE ONE faster than you think!!!
Thank you so much for reading my loves!
In case you missed it, catch up on all previous #WeddingWednesday posts below: