How to choose a wedding dress

posted in: Designing, Style advice | 15

One of my all time favourite blogs is Fit for a Queen, where the intrepid Mrs Mole takes a range of off the peg, designer, heirloom and unusual wedding dresses and alters them to fit her variously shaped clients. She always succeeds, in my opinion, in making the brides look pretty good, despite the sometimes less than promising raw material.

This is quite a skill, especially given the attitude of some who are approaching the big day. Frayed nerves, overstretched budgets, miserable diets, family pressures and there being just too much to do can make it hard to make sensible decisions. My two sons and daughter in law are in Australia at the moment celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth and Clive.

Gus, Bianca and George (alterations by me!)

Earlier this year we attended the lovely wedding of Maria and Adam (below) and we are looking forward to Kate and George’s wedding later this summer. I therefore want to offer a little advice on wedding dresses if you, or a loved one, is getting hitched this year.

Maria and Adam
Maria and Adam


The wedding market is worth $72bn in the US alone. A survey by Brides magazine shows UK couples spend around £30,000 on their wedding. I believe if you say you want something for a wedding – from venue to menu – the price goes up. Myself,  I would not spend more than about £200 on a dress. For my first wedding I made a suit in a good quality crepe wool; for my second I got a nice dress from a high street shop for £55.  It is an important day, everyone will be looking at you and you want to look your best. But unless you are a celebrity you do not need to spend £1000s a dress you will wear once.  Keep some perspective – you have so many other more important things to spend your money on. If you making your own dress you can buy beautiful fabrics within this budget.

If you are buying a dress rather than making it (and just ask Anne who made sensational  bridal outfits for her three daughters how much time, work and stress is involved), there are some very nice dresses available on the high street. Have a look at Top Shop, Whistles, ASOS, and H&M.


Once you have a budget you will want to think about the type of look you want. The modern preference is moving away from Disney princess approach to a sleeker, paired down look that is also more wearable for less formal settings such as barns, beaches and country house hotels. But while fashion and preference is important working with your body shape is important too. My main piece of advice is choose a style of dress that is similar to the dress shapes you already like and wear, in terms of silhouette. The three types of figure – the hourglass, the straight  shape and the slightly shaped figures all have an ideal type of full length dress.

A wedding dress will generally make the bride look feminine and desirable – the length and close fit of the dress will make her look taller and slimmer. The light colour will reflect light onto the face and make her look younger and fresher (of course most brides are already young and fresh!). However some people do get it wrong. Princess Diana wore a style of dress that would have suited a curved figure (and it was two sizes too big for her). The second image of Diana in a column dress shows a much more flattering choice.

All images from Davids Bridal. 

Shaped, curvy figure

Look for a dress with a fitted bodice, a defined waistline and a relatively full skirt. If you are full in the bust avoid high neck styles –  – a lower cut is more flattering.  The classic ball gown is probably your best look. You can wear softer, drapey fabrics, and curved hems.


A fit and flare dress will work well, as will princess seams. Emphasis on the waistline is good but make it smooth and uncluttered. A fitted bodice with a high waist can create a nice, balanced look.

Straight figure

If you are slim make the most of your shape with a column style dress. Look at dresses that are slim through the hips and thighs, perhaps “cupping” the butt. A halter neck, deep V or mandarin collar, will probably look good. If you have a straight figure but carry more weight try the dropped waist look, with fullness coming out from your relatively slim hip line can be very pretty.  Stiffer silks and other fabrics will look better than the softer, draped fabrics.



White is the colour that will make you look larger than usual – wider and taller – especially if you dress in a full length style. This is the whole point of wearing white – you will stand out and appear to fill the space, larger than life. A very full skirt, or a long train, will again make you bigger than the congregation and cement your position as the centre of attention. The dark suit of the groom will tend to enhance the contrast and again help you to stand out. If you want to look taller and slimmer high heels and a creative headdress will add length.

The exact shade of white you choose is related to your colouring. People with cool, bright or deep colouring will look best in the brightest whites – often easier to find in synthetics rather than natural silks. People with warmer complexions will look lovely in the natural, warmer, creamy whites. And if you have muted colouring the very slightly greyed off white will look best – also very light greys, pinks and blues may appeal.

Shiny white fabrics will make you look even larger, as will lace and other textures. Consider avoiding them if you want to look slimmer.



15 Responses

  1. Anne Frances

    I too made wedding dresses for three daughters and their bridesmaids – seven altogether (and indeed my own, but that was a very long time ago when such things were more common). No collars, no sleeves, no buttonholes (except on the silk jacket I made to go over one dress) so very little stress, though admittedly lots of fittings! I once made a wedding dress for a Zambian friend. Every shade of white and cream somehow looked lifeless against her very dark complexion, but in pale primrose yellow dupion she looked glowing and radiant. I am quite sure that having a wonderful and memorable day need not involve a huge budget. Melissa Fehr (FehrTrade) with her DIY wedding, for example, showed how it can be done with great success.

  2. Linda Wilson

    What a great piece. Couldn’t agree with you more!
    If I had my time over again I’d be wearing the H&M dress you’ve chosen to feature, it’s gorgeous.
    I wore an off the peg Laura Ashley dress with coordinating bridesmaid. I would not have spent thousands on this or the event either.
    I had a friend who changed how she looked so much for the big day that she regretted not recognising herself in her wedding photos years later!!

  3. Jay

    I totally agree that talking up the wedding market (£30,000!) is insane, especially when so many young people need to think of their basic needs, like housing. Quite simple styles will look marvellous in the wedding setting, the bride has the advantage of having no competition – she is centre stage. I’ve a personal preference for styles which look reasonably modest, if only because the photos will be there for a lifetime – including when you have teenage children.
    I agree with Anne Frances that a DIY dress doesn’t have to be an exercise in stress. Your point to pick a shape which you know you look good in comes in here. It can be a re-run of something you like, which fits well, but in a more beautiful fabric.

  4. Esme

    If I hadn’t been massively pregnant I would have loved something drapey – I like the topshop. Ahh well, there’s always next time….!

  5. mrsmole

    The best advice I would give to a bride who has no knowledge of what can and cannot be altered despite what the salesperson tells you is to take a seamstress with you when you narrow down the choices. Or send her photos of your choices to ask her opinion of which dress will give the best results in the altering. Start with something close to your dream dress and be reasonable about adding and subtracting. If you want a totally open back, don’t ask your seamstress to remove a closed in one and expect it to hang right and not gap. Sleeves and straps/halters make for a fuss free day of not spending all your time yanking the front of your strapless dress up. You want to enjoy the day. Thanks Kate for mentioning my blog…it is a labor of love…most days.

  6. Caroline

    Thanks for this great post. Wedding dresses – so stressful, and expensive. I have friends who bought theirs from ebay and I gather Oxfam has a special shop for secondhand wedding dresses. But you would need a skilled seamstress to alter it for you.
    I was so lucky – my aunt ( she called herself a couturiere raher than a seamstress!) made mine. It wasn’t white it wasn’t long and I wore a hat not a veil. We walked to the local church down a country lane so white and long would have ended up muddy and torn. But I was very happy in a blue and white lawn afternoon tea dress with a fabulous white wide brimmed hat decorated with corn flowers. It was 1992. Would I choose the same again? Fashions change so quickly. Diana’s meringue seemed quite daring at the time – it certainly spawned a lot of lookalikes. I was rather glad Catherine chose that lovely slim fitting lace dress – again it changed the style of the moment. And do you remember Princess Annes balloon sleeves?

  7. ceci

    The last many weddings I have been to have each featured a strapless dress, several were so low cut that it was a bit embarrassing to stand and chat with the bride afterwards…..this is really not a style for everyone, and I would love to see more variety.

    I got married in the very early 1970s in patchwork and bare feet, wreath of flowers in waist length hair, it was that era!


    • fabrickated

      I like the flowers in the hair look, and still believe in natural beauty when every teenager round here seems to aspire to glued on eyelashes, high and uncomfortable shoes and even Botox (my 24 year old hair dresser!) And I know what you mean by too much cleavage – it’s hard not to stare – maybe it’s rude not to!

  8. Bonnie

    With encouragement from my mother, I took on a hand-smocked wedding gown (McCall’s 7893). “It’s not hard,” Mom assured me. “I used to smock the tops of your dresses when you were little.” Well, this dress had a smocked upper bodice, upper back, neck and sleeve bands. At the time, I did not know about pleaters or people you could pay to do this. So I ironed the blue transfer marks onto the fabric and began to connect the rows upon rows of dots, then gathered them into the right size and shape to be sewn together. I worked on this project every spare minute and managed to complete it in time. And I knew I had picked the right man when he offered to help me connect dots. (Yes, I was desperate enough to accept.) We have been married 35 years. The pattern didn’t stay in the book long. I’m guessing I may have been the only one crazy enough to try this.

    • fabrickated

      Ha ha ha. What a terrible story! I would love to see a photograph. I smocked a little dress for Esme when she was small using the iron on washable blue dot method. The stitches were small too but it was done eventually. I had never heard of pleated or professional smockers either!

  9. Annie

    The wedding industry is big business, a bit like quilting it’s now all about the latest must have and perfection.

    The last two weddings I have been to were just as I remember weddings used to be, joyful family gatherings. The brides arranged everything themselves, the dresses were off the peg from Debenhams and the wedding cakes and invites were home made. Their biggest expense was on venue and photographer.They were sweet and charming occasions made more memorable because many of the guests had had a hand in the organisation.

  10. Sue

    We have a wedding in the family next April and I’m going to make sure that my future daughter-in-law reads this post as I think she will be considering wedding dresses quite soon. I agree about the overcharging for weddings – it’s almost criminal.

  11. Bunny

    Afew years back our eldest and first to marry asked me to help her buy her gown. We both decided and agreed I would not make it. Too much stress! I suggested she shop with friends, nail it down to a few and then we would hit those together. The day came and off we went to the salon. She told me ahead that she had one that she thought was THE dress but wanted my opinion. She came out in dress number one. Way too white and way too foofy. She is a no makeup classic woman and naturally beautiful. She is gifted with a gorgeous figure. Dress #1 one was out. Then Dress #2 was out. Then she came out in Dress #3 and I swooned. She swooned and we both agreed it was perfection, simple, classic, perfect color with her red hair, etc. Then she told me “Mom, I so wanted your honest opinion. This dress only costs 200.00 dollars and the others were thousands.” I reassured it was perfection and we put down our 200.00 and knew we made the perfect decision, not one based on price.

Leave a Reply