How to Buy a Wedding Dress Online: The Ultimate Guide
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Twenty years ago, figuring out how to buy a wedding dress online wouldn’t have made it on many brides’ to-do-lists. But with the collapse of major bridal outlets like Alfred Angelo and the rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon–it’s clear the market is changing.
To be sure, the majority of brides still opt for a traditional experience by shopping at a small boutique or still-thriving chains like David’s Bridal. And it’s not hard to imagine why: as opposed to shoppers who buy a wedding dress online, in-store shoppers enjoy the benefit of consultants, and, of course, to see how the dress actually looks in person and on their body.
And yet no one can deny the numbers: sales for online bridal products, including dresses, were up by as much as 50 percent last year, according to a report by Edited.
Why would anyone want to buy a wedding dress online?
Yes, it mostly millennials driving the trend of buying wedding dresses online. But it’s not simply a desire to nix tradition or the convenience of shopping at your fingertips.
When it comes down to it, it’s mostly about saving money. The average cost of a traditional wedding dress is just over $1,500, and that figure may not include alterations, customizations, or other typical costs. For anyone with a modest budget, that already is quite an investment.
And for brides looking for designer gowns, the dress is more likely to cost several thousand….or more.
Online dresses range greatly in price, but savings can be dramatic. Depending on where you shop, it’s possible to score a dress for as little as $100 and under. That’s far harder to come by in the traditional bridal world.
Of course, that’s not the only reason someone might buy a wedding dress online. Other reasons include:
- Greater variety in style, size, and silhouette
- Vintage dresses
- Unique dresses (more options to buy in non-traditional hues)
- In-a-pinch shopping (although it can also take longer, depending)
- Customer reviews
The Essential Steps for Buying a Wedding Dress Online
If you’re wary of buying a wedding dress online or someone has advised you not to, it’s not without reason. But with some careful planning, investigation, and by following some simple but logical steps:
1. Decide if you really want to buy online.
As simple as this step may sound, it’s also arguably the most crucial. Buying online definitely has its pluses and minuses. While you can certainly slash a good deal off your price tag, you’re also giving up the experience of shopping with a consultant, and, if it’s important to you, the experience of trying on dresses. Plus, there might be some uncertainty whether or not what you’re ordering will fit the way you imagine, or look the same in person. There are ways to reduce these risks greatly, but if even our tips are still leaving you uneasy, you might want to reconsider.
Also, make sure you’re shopping online for the right reasons. While there is no specific “right reason” to shop online, there are wrong reasons:
- Going online because you think it’s the only way to save money
- Buying a dress online because someone else suggested it
- Buying online because you’ve bought almost everything else online
- Buying online just because you’re crunched for time
If you’re confident that buying a wedding dress online outweighs the negatives (and in many cases it does!) then you’re in the right mindset to commit.
2. Do your research like you would for any wedding dress
You wouldn’t go into a bridal shop with no ideas (or at least you shouldn’t). Having at least a sense of what you’d like before you stop shopping is essential.
It keeps you from getting overwhelmed, makes the shopping experience more enjoyable, and prepares you to think logically and not just on a whim. For online shopping, it might be even more important, since you have thousands of dresses you could potentially peruse.
Before you start shopping online for your dress, you should have in mind:
- Silhouettes you either love or hate ( a good rule of thumb: do you wear your dresses tight typically? If yes, a mermaid is a good option; if you hate tight dresses, look at more full skirt options).
- Budget (maximum price is very important; be sure to have room for alterations, which can cost up to a few hundred dollars)
- Fabrics You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to have a general sense of the most common kinds. Satin tends to be stiff and heavier; chiffon is light and flowing.
- Features you can’t live without (or with): Dream of pockets? Want an illusion neckline? Browse magazines or Pinterest or dress galleries to get a sense of what the dresses you like have in common. If you really hate something, make a note of that too.
Body Shape: Sure, there are traditional guidelines about what flatters your body type, but at the end of the day you’re the best judge. Do always keep in mind that typical ‘models’ don’t have a ‘typical body’; if possible, seek out galleries of real weddings so you can get a sense of what style of dresses are most flattering on brides that look more like you .
3. Narrow down where you’ll shop:
After you have a pretty firm sense of what you’re looking for, the most challenging part of buying a wedding dress online comes next. It goes without saying that there are seemingly endless places to find a wedding dress online. Type “wedding dress online” into a Google search and you’ll be presented with 618 million results.
But there are some places than others. Partly this is a matter of personal comfort, but it’s safe to say that wedding dress sellers online fall into three categories: high risk, moderate risk, and low risk. Though it’s impossible to provide all sellers here, we’ll break down each category and some sellers within that category.
Do note that none of these are “scam” sellers per say; that is another category we will cover in a bit.
Any retailer that falls under this category is not advisable to buy from unless you’re willing to take a risk and feel you do not have another option. These sellers may truly present reputable dresses, but it’s hard to verify, or the quality varies greatly. In general, sites that allow third-party sellers without much moderation are going to be riskier.
The problem is you might have a great experience or you might have a terrible one. And that’s not a great feeling to have when you’re shopping for a wedding dress.
- Examples Include: Craigslist, eBay (Auctions), Discount general sites with an international origin like CocoMelody, Light in the Box.
Moderate to Low Risk
These retailers tend to have more safeguard policies in place in terms of exchanges and verification, but they lack the customer service or extra support that might prove helpful. These sites also importantly rely less on stock images and more on images of the actual product.
- Examples Include: Etsy, Used Wedding Dress Sites (Once Wed/ Still White/ Preowned Dresses/ Nearly Newlywed)
While not exclusively considered online shopping, the lowest risk shopping is one connected to a brick and mortar company. Many bridal boutiques, especially larger chains, allow you to purchase select dresses online. While not infallible, standards concerning quality, service, and privacy tend to be higher. And you could of course preview in a physical store (unless it’s an online-only dress).
There are also hybrid stores that operate more or less like a fashion box service like Stitch Fix. Lux in a Box ships you three sample gowns of your choice, so you can physically try on and see the gowns. You then keep which gown (if anyone) you like, a ship the rest back for a small fee.
- Examples Include: Bridal Boutiques and Chains; Hybrid Try-On Shipping Services
4. Know what to watch out for:
Unfortunately, the risks of shopping online for a wedding dress go beyond getting a dress that doesn’t look as flattering as you’d hoped. While complete scams are rarer, everything from safety concerns to simply not getting what you purchased are understandable and realistic concerns.
Like any online shopping, you need to be careful with the information you give out. All online retailers should:
- Provide terms and conditions blurb that you will be required to agree to (and you should actually read)
- Never ask for a PIN or online banking number
- Have a statement about not storing your card information (unless you give permission)
- Accept major credit cards (and, for the most part, PayPal)
- Have a customer service and contact page with verifiable information
- Have outside reviews (you’ll have to do a search for this)
When it comes to wedding dresses, also be wary of dishonest selling. This is mostly in the form of showing or promising a product that they aren’t really selling. While it’s hard to tell for sure if this is happening, here are some clear signs:
- The use of stock images
- The use of images of a designer dress (but the description does not mention a designer)
- A statement about “product variability” (this can sometimes be innocent, but also can be a red flag with other signs)
Too good to be true: If it’s used, you may very well find a deal of a lifetime. But if you come across a wedding dress that’s new and appears to use expensive materials….all for under $100, there’s a good chance you’ll be getting a lower quality knockoff.
5. Don’t settle:
You want to be flexible and open to other options, but you also don’t want to rush your shopping online if you don’t have to. Good deal aside, buying a wedding dress is still an important investment. Save some dresses you like, then compare them before you make your final decision. The dress should:
- Fit into your budget, with some wiggle room
- Be something you could see yourself wearing
- Work for your venue (A heavy ball gown isn’t the best idea for a beach wedding)
Even after you’ve purchased your gown, you don’t have to simply accept what comes to your front door. Alterations can make a world of a difference in fit and overall look. Chances are, even if it’s a good match, it will have to be altered in some way, whether for length, the bust cup, the neckline, or simply adding a little something to make it your own.
And if you’re completely unsatisfied–or if the dress doesn’t match the description of what you purchased, don’t be afraid to ask for a refund. That said, it’s crucial you understand and fully investigate refund policies before you buy. Also always make sure to have a full description and a receipt of our purchase to present if needed.
You’ve likely put in some time researching dress styles, companies, and ultimately settling on your final purchase. And chances are if you shopped online, you scored a pretty good deal.
Bonus Tip: For anyone who thinks that they can’t find a dress online because they want a high-end gown, also be sure to first check out what bridal boutiques and used or hybrid retailers have to offer. Often you’ll find otherwise unaffordable dresses for just a fraction of the price.