How to Buy a Wedding Dress Online: Tips, Tricks, and Gowns to Consider

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Photo courtesy of Danielle Frankel

The ritual of gathering in a bridal boutique—your loved ones sip Champagne while you slip into gowns in a plush-carpeted dressing room—is undoubtedly a joyous one, but some modern brides are foregoing the tradition and opting to buy wedding dresses online.

“According to The Knot 2020 Wedding Attire Study, nearly half of females (45 percent) said COVID impacted how they searched for attire,” says Shelley Brown, The Knot’s senior fashion and beauty editor. “The main change being they did more research online.” Not only has the pandemic had an impact on shopping habits, but its effects are also redefining what a wedding looks like. Instead of one big ceremony with several friends and loved ones gathering in the same place, couples are pivoting to virtual ceremonies and safely planning a series of micro weddings.

“A lot of the brides we are styling now are having multiple events,” says Anny Choi, head stylist at Over The Moon. “With not everyone vaccinated yet and uncertainty around travel, we’ve noticed couples splitting up events between close, older family members and the friends group.” In most cases, multiple events mean multiple looks for the bride, and “instead of putting all eggs in one basket with a more expensive bridal designer, a bride might look to buy something from a contemporary ready to wear designer to split up costs,” says Choi. One of the easiest ways to discover those need-to-know designers? Browsing online.

When you walk into a store, you’re typically beholden to what’s inside those four walls, but the internet broadens your choices, granting every bride, no matter their location, access to emerging designers who are redefining the definition of evening wear and bridal attire. “There is also easier access to international brands,” Choi adds.

Navigating the web for such a momentous occasion can be a daunting task, but “a good rule of thumb is if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Brown explains. “We recommend brides be wary of stores promising high-end designer gowns for unbelievably low prices. Pay attention to the URL and the overall look and feel of the online store. Are the photos grainy? Are the product descriptions vague or poorly written? If something seems off, it could be a counterfeit site.”

Similarly, don’t forget to read the fine print on return policies and shipping costs and delivery dates. Also steer clear of anything that’s final sale, as those selects are ineligible for returns. “The last thing you would want is to take a risk on attire that you can’t return,” says Brown.

Once you’ve found a trustworthy website and a dress you love, don’t just settle for one picture. “See if you can find the look you’re hoping to purchase on several different sites and compare imagery,” Alexandra Macon, Vogue contributing editor and founder of Over the Moon, suggests. “Go to the brand’s Instagram page as well, so you can review any editorial campaign photos where the look is on a model.”

Seeing the dress in various photos will also come in handy when choosing the best size for you. Some websites—like My Theresa, Net-A-Porter, and MatchesFashion.com—will also share details on what exact size the model is wearing. Use that information to decipher your own size in relation to the model’s. “Once you figure out this base system of, ‘Oh I’m always two sizes up from the sample size,’ it’s easier to figure out your size,” says Choi. “Especially when you are converting UK, Italian, French, and AUS sizing.”

In addition to international sizing conversions, bridal sizing, in general, can be totally different from traditional sizing. It’s important to make sure you’re reading the details. Taking your measurements is also extremely helpful. “We recommend measuring your bust, waist, and hips and having those measurements on hand so you can use the store’s sizing chart to assess the best size for you,” says Brown. “If you’re between sizes or confused about where you fall on the size chart, email customer service.” Don’t be afraid to make phone calls. Brands and retailers with great customer service will be more than happy to answer any questions.

Recent bride Sierra Tishgart, founder of Great Jones and whose wedding was featured in Vogue, actually tracked down her resort 2017 Alexander McQueen wedding dress, which she first saw online, by dialing up the fashion house. I felt very drawn to the pops of color and the embroidered flowers on this McQueen dress,” says Tishgart. “I didn’t seriously consider any others—I devoted my time and energy to tracking down this specific runway look.”

Once it was finally delivered to her, the gown was several sizes too large. “It needed major alterations—so many that I wasn’t even sure they could be done,” Tishgart explains. But it’s always wiser to size up because items can easily be taken in. If they’re too small, adding fabric isn’t really an option. “I reached out to tailor extraordinaire Bill Bull, who performed surgery to make my dress fit perfectly,” Tishgart adds. “I think he even spoke to Sarah Burton’s team at McQueen about it directly.” It’s also important to hire a tailor who knows how to work with fine fabrics. When Tishgart’s gown was finally delivered, she says, “The embroidery and the tulle were even more beautiful than I imagined, but also extremely delicate.”