Wedding Dress Timeline – Monthly Checklist to Your Perfect Bridal Look

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Wedding Dress Timeline: Monthly To-Dos to Perfect Your Bridal Look

When it comes to finding "the one," timing is essential. These are the wedding dress deadlines you don't want to miss.

Chances are, you've been dreaming of your wedding gown since for as long as you can remember. If you want to make sure reality lives up to your dream, it's important to start planning and shopping for your wedding dress early on. Here, we've compiled a wedding dress timeline that leaves no detail overlooked.

The average engagement length is just over twelve months, so our wedding dress timeline fits that length. If your engagement period is shorter, this timeline still works — just compress it! (And if you're getting started wedding dress shopping with less than nine months to go, consider focusing on a finding an off-the-rack gown or a scoring a dress at a sample sale, which will spare you the wait time for custom-order dresses.)

Here's Your Complete Wedding Dress Shopping Timeline –

Twelve Months to Go

It's tempting to dive headfirst into wedding dress shopping as soon as you get engaged, but you'll save yourself some potential headaches if you plan out a few things first and take the time to do some research. At the twelve-month mark, figure out the following details, so you'll be ahead of the game when you start the actual shopping process.

Determine Your Wedding Venue and Date

It's important to know your wedding date before buying a wedding dress because certain styles that would be gorgeous in a fall or winter wedding just won't work for a spring or summer affair. Nail down your date so you can plan accordingly. Similarly, knowing where you're getting married can also be a huge help. As with the wedding date, the venue will positively influence your own choices. What is perfectly chic at a boho beach wedding won't look quite right at a sit-down ballroom reception.

Alternatively, however, you can work backward: If you've had your heart set on a particular style of wedding dress for as long as you can remember, you might want to disregard the following and let your dream dress influence your date and venue decisions instead. For example, if you've always envisioned long, lacy sleeves and a faux fur muff, you're probably going to want to pick a winter wedding date. Or, if you've always imagined a subtle look, with a simple flowing dress and a flower crown, you might choose the beach or a field as your venue.

The sky's the limit, and it's entirely up to you — just make sure to coordinate the vision of your dress with the idea of your overall wedding!

Set a Budget for Your Dress and Accessories

After setting the budget for your wedding, you'll need to decide how much of that'll be spent on your dress. In addition to the cost of the suit, add on taxes, alterations, and possibly shipping.

It's never a good idea to start wedding dress shopping without a budget in mind. Imagine falling in love with a wedding gown that's way out of your price range? Figure out your wedding dress budget right off the bat — that way when you head out shopping, you can let your salesperson guide you to the dresses that fit your budget. Be sure to factor in the cost of wedding dress alterations, tax, and shipping (if applicable), as well as accessories including your wedding veil, undergarments, and shoes.

Do Your Research

Before you start shopping, figure out what style you're looking for. Your venue can help you narrow that down. If you're having a beachside wedding, you'll probably want a flowy, unfussy gown. Getting married at an upscale hotel? A formal ball gown could be your dress. Also, find out what silhouettes the best suit your body shape. Then look through pictures of wedding dresses online and in magazines, and tear out or save your favorite styles.

The Wedding LookBook by The Knot app is a great place to begin—you can search thousands of gowns by style and price and find local salons that carry them. Or, browse our wedding dress marketplace for a list of salons in your area.

While plenty of research can help narrow down your options, keep an open mind. An experienced consultant can help you find the right dress for your budget and body type—and the style of dress you end up loving might even surprise you.
Start a Pinterest Board and Figure Out Details You Like

Though you don't need to decide the exact style or silhouette of your dress before you start your search, you do want to figure out a list of things you like and don't like. Having a vision board, whether it's physical or digital, can be useful (and fun!).

Choose Your Shopping Mates

Bring either your mom or a trusted friend when you dress shop, but limit your entourage to two or three people. Too many opinions can make your dress shopping experience unnecessarily confusing.

Go Wedding Dress Shopping

There's a reason you need to get a jump-start on your gown search­—you are not buying off the rack, so your wedding dress is mostly custom made for you. This means it will take months of work to create and a series of alterations to fit your body perfectly. Schedule your appointments early since salons can get booked up fast. When you go for your bridal salon appointment, bring photos of dresses you like so the salesperson will be better equipped to help you. If you know you want to wear a specific designer, see if they're having a trunk show (a traveling exhibit of their entire collection) at a salon near you.

12-10 Months to Go

Start Your Dress Search

You know those episodes of Say Yes To The Dress, where the bride-to-be brings her entire girl gang wedding dress shopping? It looks fun, but that can quickly get out of hand with all the opinions coming your way. Consider limiting the number of people you bring with you. Stick to your mother, grandmother, the person you're closest with on your spouse's side, and your most devoted and open-minded best friend. Everyone's viewpoint is not needed and can make the joyous moment even more complicated than it needs to be. You might even want to head out shopping on your own! Chances are you'll be making multiple trips, so you can also change up your shopping companions.
As you shop, evaluate fabrics and silhouettes to figure out what you're really into. What you loved on Pinterest might not suit you in real life.

Keep your options open and at least try on different materials and gown shapes so you can experience them all. You might find your dream dress is even more magical once you try it on, but you also might discover a hidden gem in a style you never even considered.

8-9 Months to Go

Make a Final Decision and Buy Your Dress

Now it's time to make a final decision and place the order.
And while nine months out might seem really early, it's actually not — unless you're buying off-the-rack at a sample sale, wedding dresses are typically custom-ordered, which means you've got to give the designer ample time to create and ship the dress, as well as leaving enough time for alterations, which 99% of wedding dresses will need.

You'll know it's "the one" when you don't want to take it off. When you buy your gown, you'll have to sign a contract and put down a deposit, which is usually about 60 percent of the price of the gown. This is because your one-of-a-kind dress takes manpower to create, so designers need a down payment to start production. Before you sign the contract, make sure all the information is correct. Ask at the salon when they expect your gown to arrive—on average it's 16 to 20 weeks from the day you place your order—and confirm they'll call you when it comes in.

5-6 Months to Go

Figure Out How Your Wedding Day Hairstyle and Choose a Wedding Veil

The perfect wedding hairstyle can either make or break your bridal look. It's best to know exactly what you want far in advance, especially as you've already selected your dress. Are you opting for a veil and any embellished hair accessories? Will you be donning an updo, sleek chignon, or loose curls? There are so many possibilities to consider, but you'll have more than enough time to get everything in order if you plan ahead.

For a casual dress, go with a complementary short blusher or cage veil. If you're wearing a ball gown, you might want to choose something more dramatic and grand, like a chapel- or cathedral-length veil.
Buy Your Wedding Shoes

Wedding shoe shopping will definitely be one of the more fun tasks of the entire process. Perhaps you'll want a custom-made pair from your favorite designer, or need to take time deciding whether you'll choose a pointed-toe pump or ankle-strap sandal. You'll also want to have enough time to break those bad boys in before you walk down the aisle. A few days of wearing them in the house will ensure you'll be ready to dance from sundown to sun-up. The six-month mark is an excellent place to get your shoes because you'll need them before your first fitting.

Take the height of your heel into consideration. You'll be on your feet for most of the day, so make sure your toes can handle it. If you're looking for fun alternatives to traditional wedding heels, look for classic flats or new sneakers.
Choose Your Something Borrowed, Something Old and Something Blue

For your big day, you might want the shoes you're buying at this point to be blue, or you might want to wear your grandmother's vintage clip-on earrings. These are the pieces that will make your wedding ensemble truly special, so you'll want to decide on them early.

Get Your Undergarments

Get your under-the-dress essentials before your first fitting. Whether you're planning on wearing a strapless bra, slipping into a body-slimming shaper or going braless, the slightest twitch in your undergarments can change the fit of your dress.
You will need to pick up a specific kind of bra based on the style of your dress's back and neckline, as well as choose the proper shapewear for the occasion. You might also need a petticoat to make your dress fluff out. This is also a good point at which to order your garter belt.

3 Months to Go

Have Your First Fitting

If you were wondering when to get wedding dress altered, three months out is your answer! Sticking to your wedding dress fitting timeline is really important from here on out. You want to make sure your seamstress has ample time to perfect the fit of your dress. Timing is everything here and bringing your gown in too late may result in having too little time for alterations.

This is when you figure out if your dress needs to be taken in or out, as well as determining whether the hem length needs to be lengthened or shortened. The seamstress will also add bustle points to the dress so that dresses with trains can seamlessly transition during the reception.

You'll most likely have three fittings to get your dress altered to fit you perfectly. It's important to understand the timing of each alterations appointment right. Have your accessories too early, and you may end up with a dress that doesn't fit properly—you may lose or gain weight after your gown is altered. Bring your gown in too late, and you won't have enough time to make all the alterations.

Most dresses will need at least some sort of change, and while some salons charge a flat fee, others charge per item. The costs can range from $200 for a simple hem to more than $1,000 for significant adjustments. And remember: Don't bring just your gown—you'll need your undergarments, shoes, and accessories as well.

Your undergarments and shoes will help determine the fit and length of your gown, and trying on your hair accessories or veil with your dress will give you an idea of how you'll look on an actual day. If you don't have the exact shoe you'll be wearing, bring something similar in height. Remember: Your dress should just barely sweep the floor—any longer and you risk tripping on the fabric.

You'll want to bring your jewelry, undergarments, shoes, and any other accessories you can to make sure everything will be flawless on your big day.

Six Weeks to Go

The Second Wedding Dress Fitting

Most brides have two to three fittings to make their dress absolutely perfect, so you'll head your wedding dress alteration timeline will require a trip back to the bridal salon. Most of the difficult work is done during your first fitting. Thus the second is for more minor revisions to your dress — like smoothing out the hemline for instance. You'll want to walk around in the salon with your gown on to ensure you are happy with the length, fit, and any alterations that were completed since your first wedding dress fitting.

During this fitting, you'll also want to make sure there's no visible wrinkling, bunching or pulling anywhere. Move around the salon in your gown and practice some dance moves in your shoes. This will help you test that the fit is right and comfortable so you can quickly get around (and breathe without feeling like you may split a seam). You'll be wearing your dress for 8 to 10 hours on your wedding day, so it has to feel good.

Decide on Your "Something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue"

If you want to include these customs in your ensemble, you may want to have them before your final fitting. For instance, if you're planning to sew a blue ribbon or keepsake pocket to the inside of your dress, you can ask your seamstress to do it while she's making your other alterations.

2 to 3 Weeks to Go

Practice Walking in Your Shoes

Strut around in your shoes at home to make sure they aren't too high or too stiff. This way, you'll have enough time to break them in, buy a new pair or snag a second, comfier, pair.

Have Your Final Fitting

You may want to have a box of tissues on hand for this final trip to the seamstress.

This is where it all comes together! Make sure you wear waterproof mascara because you will shed a few tears seeing yourself so close to absolute bridal perfection. You'll want one person you're incredibly close to by your side — like your mother or maid of honor — to bask in the joy, as well as to take a couple of pictures for your scrapbook.
This is where you'll get to see your gown the way it'll look when you walk down the aisle. Bring at least one family member or friend to share this particular moment with, and so you have someone there to learn how to create the bustle.

Pick Up Your Wedding Dress

Once your gown is ready, you'll need to find a place to store it where your fiancé can't sneak a peek—some salons will even hold a dress until just days before the wedding. Inspect the dress when you get it to make sure everything looks right. Keep it in a breathable, opaque garment bag (just in case your fiancé stumbles across it in the closet). If your veil is in the same bag, make sure it's wrapped in its own piece of plastic, so it doesn't snag on any of the gown's embellishments.

Find a Place to Store Your Wedding Dress for Safekeeping
You will not only want to keep your dress safe, but you'll also want to hide it from your spouse so it will be a total surprise once you walk down the aisle. Keep in mind that if your dress is embellished, separate your veil, so no rips occur. Place it in a bag that will allow for the fabric to breathe and examine it to ensure it's perfect. Alternatively, some wedding salons will enable you to store your dress there until the big day, which, in some cases, might be more comfortable!

One Day to Go

Gather Up Everything You'll Need

Your veil, jewelry, dress, and shoes should all be in one place, so you never lose sight and misplace a piece altogether. You'll also want to have a steamer and a bleach pen on-hand, just in case something unfortunate happens. Keep a needle, white thread, and clear fishing wire on hand, as well, in case there are any snags in any of the delicate fabric, or a bustling point comes loose. Pro tip: Pack everything (other than your dress) in a small suitcase, so it's easy to haul around.

Stash Your Stuff

Buy a handheld steamer and put together an emergency kit (safety pins, fashion tape)—it's better to be prepared. Make sure you have all of the parts of your ensemble in one place. Everything from your gown and veil to your jewelry and shoes should go together, especially if you're switching venues after your makeup and hair are done.

The Day-Of

Give Yourself Ample Time to Get Ready

This is your moment! You'll need at least a half an hour to slip into your dress, so add extra time to the day. Wedding dresses take time to put on, especially those with multiple buttons, hooks, and intricate details. You should be relaxed and not rush for even a second.

Have a Blast

Happy wedding day! Just a few of to-dos left: First, give your dress a final steaming and schedule about 30 minutes to get dressed (a bridesmaid should help you). Then relax and enjoy the moment.
After the Wedding

Keep It Or Pass It On

The wedding day may be over, but the wedding dress decisions aren't. Now it's time to decide what you want to do with the gown. If you're holding onto the dress as a memento, you'll want to take care of it as best you can. While that's not as easy as hanging it up in your closet with the rest of your clothes, it is relatively easy!

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