If you're just about to start dress hunting, then you absolutely must read this first. It's a slightly epic post - sorry about that. But you'll find looking at wedding dresses is not a business that can be rushed ;) Settle down with a glass of wine and enjoy...we're about to share inside information with you that will make finding your dream dress SO much easier.

What You Need To Know

There isn't really a 'right' time to go wedding dress shopping, it's more about making sure everything is ready for your wedding date. You'll need to allow time for your dream dress to be ordered and altered (this can take up to six months). And you'll need to actually find that dress in the first place (for some people this is a matter of weeks, for others it's months of searching). So we'd recommend starting to think about things about a year out from the big day itself. The bridal wear industry is not dissimilar from the fashion industry in that there are 'fashion weeks' where designers will showcase their collections (these happen in the Autumn in the US, and in the Spring in the UK), following which the dresses will land with stockists the following January or September respectively. Remember not all wedding boutiques stock every single designer. And if they do stock the designer you love - they may not carry every dress from the collection. But generally with the rise of some fabulous new style-led boutiques, bridal wear pop ups and a little thing called the Internet, there is always a way to get your hands on a dress you've fallen for. Generally previous years collections will be discounted before a new collection is brought into store, so keep an eye on your favourite designers and boutiques Instagram accounts to hear sale details. It's always worth calling stores about sample sales too - these run frequently throughout the year. When you're pinning and browsing designers websites - try to remember that dresses are put on models to 'sell' a brand/lifestyle. It can feel really overwhelming to imagine yourself in a dress when all you can see is model after model after model. Google real brides wearing the designers you love, find testimonials from real brides. And if I had a pound for every time I heard a bride say that she ended up with a dress completely different to what she'd always imagined, I'd be a very rich lady. Be open to trying on lots of styles and listen to the boutique owners/designers suggestions, they really do know their stuff.

Who To Have On Your Radar...

Now this list is by no means exclusive or exhaustive - I could have listed hundreds of fabulous designers below. The world really is your oyster these days, so get yourself to Pinterest and start finding styles and colours you love. Here's some of our favourite designers, worn often by the gorgeous real brides who grace these pages everyday.

Best Of British

We're really lucky to have some incredibly talented bridal designers in the UK. First up is stylist to the stars and queen of bridal cool - Kate Halfpenny who runs Halfpenny London. Her collections are all about celebrating the female body and doing so with beautiful cuts, fabrics and detailing. Think Brit cool, with a floral edge and stylish nod to bygone eras. Plus her Bloomsbury showroom is an absolute delight to visit and her team are all such fun. Another London based designer is the lovely Naomi Neoh, whose ethereal, elegant and feminine gowns have been delighting RMW brides for years. They are instantly recognisable and I honestly feel as if I'm looking at dresses for fairies every time I visit Naomi - her fabrics are just divine. For classic bridal glamour with a stylish modern twist, you cannot go wrong with Suzanne Neville. Her name is very well know outside of the bridal world, so you may well have come across her prior to being engaged. Suzanne does structured elegance like no other. Her collections are continually beautiful so definitely one to watch if you're having a timeless, sophisticated affair. Stewart Parvin is the go-to for classically cut, striking yet timeless bridal wear with a seal of royal approval.
Minimal, stylish brides should have a look at Jessica Bennett, Bon Bride and Charlotte Simpson - all of whom literally knock it out of the park with simple, elegant gowns for brides who want a dress with a real fashion edge. If you're looking for something bespoke (and don't forget all of the above designers will do bespoke too) then I'd highly recommend Cherry Williams and Emma Beaumont. If you're certain you want to buy off the peg, or for a second evening gown, then a trip to Needle & Thread or Self Portrait is most definitely in order.

Continental Style

Naturally, the French boast several designers who absolute nail that effortlessly chic thing we all envy them for. Delphine Manivet somehow encapsulates that 60s era of lady-like femininity into bridal gowns. Laure De Sagazan is all about laid back luxury and Rime Arodaky is the epitome of flirty. And if all else fails, there's always Chloe. And quite frankly, you can't go wrong in Chloe.
There are several Spanish bridal wear brands I keep my eyes on. Pronovias have fast become the most worn designer by RMW brides and I'm not surprised because they truly make the kind of dresses you'd imagine dreaming of as a child. Beautiful full skirts in the most stunning silks, with gorgeous illusion lace details. And they have lots of stockists in the UK, making the gowns easy to find. For the bohemian hearted babes who want their dress to reflect their personality - then try Immacle or Otaduy two brands who are both for free spirits, but with a very different vibe to one another. And for something totally different, think structure and laser cut florals - German brand Kaviar Gauche is the one.

The American Dream

You can always count on the Americans to create a princess wedding dress of dreams. But if you like softer shades like blush pink, lilac, champagne and bronze then Hayley Paige and Wtoo by Watters should be your first port of call. For floral lovers - Claire Pettibone is where it's at. Her dresses are distinctive, use a lot of gorgeous lace and always have a botanical vibe to them. If Claire Pettibone's dresses are too vintage-esque for you, then Alexandra Grecco embraces florals in a modern way.
If you're after something sleek and a little bit sexy then Sarah Seven dresses will blow your mind. I'm a sucker for a t-shirt style top with a clean, a line skirt. And then they created one in mustard yellow????! I die. And finally, if you haven't heard of BHLDN, the wedding arm of Anthropologie, then get browsing and prepare to be lost for a while. Mustard Yellow Sarah Seven Wedding Dress

Israeli Glamour

No one does sparkle quite like the Israeli designers. If you're looking for a dress that is truly knock out and dazzles your groom and your guests alike - then try Inbal Dror, Galia Lahav and Lihi Hod. And don't be put off by the leggy utterly perfect models used to market these dresses - as these gorgeous real brides below show, often there are a couple of dresses in a collection that are purely for campaigns and the rest of the dresses are really wearable. I mean deep v backs and super high thigh slits aren't for the vast majority of us, especially not on our wedding day.

From Down Under

And finally, the Aussies. They made weddings cool again and the rest of the world had to follow suit, seriously upping the style game. Grace Loves Lace have the most pinned wedding dress of all time, and opened their first UK store last year. It's worth a visit for the decor alone, never mind the gorgeous gowns. We were lucky enough to meet Bo and Luca designer Shannon last year and see her gowns in the flesh. Her detailing is exquisite and if you're a creative, free soul with big dreams and an endless wanderlust, then I think Bo and Luca is the brand for you. For even more embellishment and sparkle then try Anna Campbell. And last but by no means least, the wonderful Karen Willis Holmes whose collections just seem to radiate sunshine. Sounds strange I know, but I really do find their dresses joyful and I think you will too.

What No One Tells You...

The world of wedding boutiques can be rather a strange one, with lots of interesting characters. Find a boutique that not only stocks your dream dress designers but also fits your vibe. You don't want to be pressured to buy, made to feel like you're on a time limit, made to feel like your cash isn't worthy of the store, or worse - made to feel you're the wrong size/shape/colour for the store. It really should be the dream experience that you deserve it to be. Don't accept anything less. (You can find lots of amazing boutiques local to you on our supplier directory, The List. All of these come with the RMW seal of approval). You may have to pay for an appointment (this should be redeemable against any purchases made), wear minimal make up as you absolutely don't want to get foundation or powder on the dresses and make sure you're wearing well fitting, nude underwear. It's also advisable to take a pair of shoes that are a similar height to what you'll be wearing on the day. If you're really not feeling it, then change things! Try the high street - Monsoon, Phase Eight and ASOS all do year round bridal wear. You can always get the dress tailored to fit perfectly. Not everyone has a 'the one' moment. If you want to shop alone, then you flippin' well shop alone. Order your dress online if you want to. (Obviously making sure it's from a reputable source). I honestly have read it all here on RMW and every single bride we've ever featured has looked both truly radiant AND truly happy - no matter how they found their dress.
Fern Godfrey

Written by Fern Godfrey

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