I’ve been waiting to post this one for a while. I got married earlier this month, after a drawn-out pandemic engagement. And while I actually shopped for and purchased my wedding dress over a year ago, I couldn’t share any of this until now because I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. But now that the wedding’s done, the photos are live, and everyone including my husband have seen them, I can finally hit “publish” on this guide: Wedding dress shopping for petites. Specifically, for petite pears like me.
So you’re a petite bride
First of all, congratulations! If you’ve recently gotten engaged to the person you love, there’s no better feeling in the world. Enjoy it!
If you’re just getting started with your dress shopping and are finding the whole thing a bit daunting, though, hopefully this guide will help. It can feel overwhelming to see how many different options, styles, sizes and choices there are. You basically have to learn an entirely new language to understand all the lingo. And since, for many of us, this is the most expensive piece of clothing we will ever buy, the pressure can feel tremendous. I know some brides who had more anxiety about committing to the dress than to their fiance!
There are no rules
Let me get this out of the way first: There are no rules when it comes to wedding dresses. Want to go super-traditional and wear a white ball gown? Sure, that’s fine. Want to get married in a slinky evening gown, a little black dress, a tuxedo, a pair of jeans, or a Halloween costume? I’ve been to weddings with all of the above. Heck, in this pandemic era, I’m rather surprised nobody’s invented the wedding pyjama yet. (Or maybe they have?)
All that to say, you do not have to buy an expensive “wedding” dress or stick to a certain silhouette or style just because you think that’s what everyone expects you to do. Wear whatever the heck you like. But I decided that, even though I’m over 40 and not super traditional in my everyday life, I wanted the pretty white dress. And so I set out to find it.
The dress shopping experience
I was pleasantly surprised by how great the shopping experience was! I’d been dreading a similar experience to regular clothes shopping, where nothing in regular sizes fits my petite body properly.
But bridal gowns are entirely different from regular clothes. For one thing, they’re designed to make you look amazing. There’s a reason they cost so much, and it’s not just designer markup; these gowns are engineered to flatter women’s bodies in all shapes and sizes. It’s totally different from trying on a pair of jeans or a knit dress. Bridal gowns contain magical stitching, corset construction, beading, fabrics, and details to give you that “wow” factor, no matter what size you are or how you usually feel in your street clothes.
For another, the entire process of shopping for a bridal dress is such that you feel like a superstar. The boutiques I visited (with the exception of David’s Bridal; more on that below) all operated on an appointment basis, where I was basically the only person in the store and got tons of personal attention. Having these experienced consultants fuss over you is enough to make anyone feel special.
I went into the process fully expecting to reject dress after dress, and to have to settle for something that was just “okay”. I was shocked when I tried dress after dress that made me look awesome. It’s a new and unusual experience for me to be spoiled for choice while shopping; I got to choose what I wanted, rather than simply having to pick the only option that fit. It’s much like being a vegetarian and travelling to India for the first time: Suddenly, I didn’t have to settle for the one veggie option, but I could order from a huge menu full of choices.
Mind officially blown.
Where to shop
I started my search looking at lower-priced brands that have petite or custom sizes:
- David’s Bridal was the first place I visited. There isn’t one locally, so I made the two-hour drive to Ottawa to the nearest location. I wanted to start there for two reasons: DB carries dresses that are priced much lower than the premium boutiques, and they also are the only brand I know of that has true, honest-to-goodness petite wedding dresses. I figured, if I could find a dress there that I liked, I’d save a fortune on both the dress itself and on alterations.
I deliberately went there first, since I’d heard that the David’s Bridal shopping experience is, shall we say, less than exclusive; it’s more like a giant department store than a personalized boutique. You help yourself to samples off giant, daunting racks. Each consultant is serving multiple clients at a time, so the attention you get is limited. Still, as a first-time shopping experience, it wasn’t half bad. There’s not really any pressure to buy, nobody rushing you, and nobody trying to make you try on dresses you don’t like.
None of the dresses I tried on at David’s Bridal were the one, exactly. But it helped me narrow down my ideas in terms of silhouette, fabric, style, and colour choice. And it made for a fun Ottawa road trip with my bridesmaids. This took place just after we’d gotten our second doses of vaccine, back in August 2021 when case numbers were low, so it was the first time in over a year that I’d seen my friends. (We stopped for scones on the way home, which may have been the best part of the day.)
If you’re a petite bride, I do recommend starting at David’s Bridal. Definitely look online to choose the styles to try on ahead of time, though, since only some of their dresses are available in petites. I also recommend going with a friend or two who can help you get in and out of the dresses, since the consultants are only sporadically available. Note that while David’s Bridal’s US site has the ability to shop online, Canadians can only purchase by ordering via the store.
After my David’s Bridal experience, I increased my budget and started to look at more conventional bridal boutiques. Where I live in Montreal, there are myriad options. I knew I wanted to avoid the St-Hubert stretch full of overpriced stores, so I made three appointments:
- Boutique #1 was a small bridal boutique about an hour north of Montreal. The personal attention I got there there was amazing; the boutique owner and her staff fussed over me for two full hours, bringing me dress after dress to try on. They also have very competitive prices and gorgeous styles. I didn’t find “the” dress there, but I tried a ton of absolutely gorgeous gowns.
This is where I started narrowing down styles and options. For instance, I realized I didn’t like dresses with sleeves, since they weighed me down and made me look shorter and heavier. I also realized that adding a belt to a dress improved it a thousandfold. I decided I preferred a dress with a v-neck and straps to an off-the-shoulder or strapless look, that lace was preferable to satin but chantilly lace was too busy and heavy-looking, and that open backs and sheath silhouettes don’t work for me at all.
I also started getting a sense of which designers work on different body type. For instance, I noticed that Morilee dresses were too long on the bodice and would buckle up, while Stella York gowns had a more flattering fit on my short torso. Designers tend to use the same fit models and proportions over and over again, so this is useful information while shopping.
- Boutique #2 was a popular boutique here in Montreal that I booked an appointment at, but I ultimately didn’t end up finding much there. They had a small curated selection of dresses, and had very little in the silhouette I was looking for. Moreover, they didn’t allow photos during the appointment, and they hid the tags, designers, and prices of all their gowns so you don’t even know what you’re trying on. I didn’t have the best overall experience there, but I’m glad I went because it allowed me to rule out what I didn’t want.
- Boutique #3, La Jolie Robe: This is where I ultimately said Yes to my dress, and I’ll give them a link and call-out by name because I had such a good experience there. Located in Vaudreuil, they dresses for both purchase and rental, and are also specialists in dresses for plus sized brides, for those looking for more size-inclusive options. I loved the amount of personal attention I got there on both my visits, and they were the ones that had the dresses I wanted. One nice thing about La Jolie Robe is that they list all the dresses they have on their website, including style numbers and in-store sample sizes, and they invite you to request specific styles ahead of time for your appointment.
I originally booked my appointment there looking for a specific Essence of Australia dress, but the consultant also pulled similar styles she thought I might like, including the gown I ultimately chose. The personal attention I got, the patience, the detailed recommendations on alterations and accessories, all made for a great experience. If you’re in or near Montreal and are in the market for a wedding dress, I highly recommend paying them a visit.
Sample sizes and clipping
My biggest worry going into bridal gown shopping was, how would I be able to tell what the dresses would look like? After all, most boutiques only carry one sample of each gown in a sample size that would probably be way too big and much too long on my body. Samples in smaller sizes are rare, because these dresses need to fit on as many different customers as possible. How on earth could I commit to a dress that I wouldn’t even be able to try on in my size?
I honestly needn’t have worried. Yes, it’s true that most of the gowns I tried on were in sizes that were far too big for me. But the bridal consultants at these boutiques are pros at clipping people into the dresses to give a great idea of what they’ll look like in your proper size. I tried on some dresses that were so huge I couldn’t even get them to stay up, but by the time the consultants were done with their clipping, they looked like they fit me properly — from the front, at least.
Most of the sample gowns I tried on were about three or four sizes too big for me, and they were all miles too long. It didn’t matter, though; I never had an issue getting a good sense of what the dress would look like.
Beware the platform
One of the little tricks that bridal boutiques use is to have you stand up on a riser or elevated platform while trying on dresses. The idea here is to be able to see how the dress would fall softly to the floor once it’s altered to the right length and you’re wearing high heels. Sample gowns are very, very long, so these platforms avoid having them bunch up on the floor in the dressing room.
But when you’re petite, that platform can add 6″-8″ to your height, giving you the illusion that you’re much taller. I’m 5’1″. Standing on a platform, I look 5’7″ or 5’8″, which gives me a completely skewed idea of what the dress will actually look like once it’s been altered to my size.
Unless you plan to wear ridiculously high heels (or stilts!) on your wedding day, I highly recommend skipping the platform. If the boutique doesn’t mind, you can slip on a pair of heels in a similar height to the ones you plan to wear on your wedding day. Alternately, just stand on a slight tiptoe. This will give you a much more realistic picture of how the dress looks on your body, and will help you avoid disappointment later on when your dress order arrives.
The best silhouettes for petite pears
First things first: We petites can wear anything that our taller counterparts can. Maybe you’re dreading shopping for a wedding gown because you think that, as a shorter human, you can’t wear your favourite silhouette as well as a taller bride. Maybe you’re worried that the gowns will be too long, will swallow you, that alterations will be expensive and difficult, or that you won’t get the same effect. Maybe you’re hearing far too many people tell you “can’t” and “don’t” about the dress style of your dreams.
Don’t listen to them! Your wedding day is about you, about what you want and imagine yourself wearing. Whatever makes you happy is the right wedding dress.
Now, let’s say you have no idea where to begin. Try, try, try on different silhouettes. What silhouettes can you wear as a petite bride? Literally anything you want that makes you happy! I tried on dresses in virtually every style that exists, and was sometimes surprised at how I could carry off something I didn’t think I’d like.
Having said that, I’m a petite pear, with broader hips that I usually prefer to minimize, and narrow shoulders and a short torso. And I’m writing about my own experience. So, disclaimer, this section is about what I personally found worked best on my body. Feel free to ignore this advice if it doesn’t work for you.
So what are the most popular wedding dress silhouettes? They usually break down into five types, and yes, spoiler alert, I believe one in particular works best on petite pears.
- A-line gowns: I’ll say this straight out: The best wedding gown silhouette for a petite pear is A-Line. Okay, I can hear you arguing already. But what about [insert favourite silhouette here]? I love it so much! And hey, if you do, then go for it. Like I said above, there are no rules. But in general, the humble a-line is a great go-to silhouette for petite pears. A-line gowns flare at the waist and skim gently over the hips. There’s a reason it’s the most popular and universally-flattering dress shape.
Other popular silhouette options that may work less well on petite pears:
- Ballgowns/princess gowns are more voluminous than a-line dresses. They also flare out at the waist, but tend to have layers of crinoline to create a large full skirt to make you feel like a princess at the ball. The challenge for petites is that ball gowns can have so much fullness and fabric that they actually overwhelm and visually shorten us. It’s basic geometry: The wider a dress is, the shorter the wearer looks. Taller brides can pull this off much more convincingly, but a petite bride in a ball gown can be quickly lost in all those layers of tulle.
- Sheath dresses cling more closely to your body, hugging your curves the whole way up and down. They can look great on petite brides with more straight up-and-down body types, since they work to emphasize or create curves. They also work well on hourglass types who want to show off their curves. However, for us pear-shaped petites, they tend to cling to the hip area and draw more attention to it, which can make our shoulders look narrower and more sloped in proportion. There’s nothing wrong with this if you want to show off your assets, of course. But if you are looking to minimize the hip area, sheath dresses are not the best way to accomplish this.
- Mermaid or trumpet gowns are also super tricky for petites, especially petite pears. They tend to come in again and flare out at the knee area, which can actually shorten the leg by adding another horizontal line midway down. The style also works to create additional emphasis and curve at the hip area, which is the opposite of what we petite pears are usually trying to accomplish. Moreover, mermaid or trumpet dresses can be the trickiest to alter for length.
Of course, any body can wear any style. This is just a guideline, not a rule. You should try on different styles and decide what makes you happy. Personally, I suspected going into my first appointments that I’d want an a-line gown, and after trying on dresses in all the different silhouettes, I confirmed that for myself. But hey, don’t take my word for it.
Necklines and fabrics
For petite pears, a trick I usually recommend is to look for v-neck gowns that have some shoulder emphasis. Cap sleeves, flutter sleeves, visual interest or detail at the shoulders, all help balance a petite pear-shaped frame.
What works less well:
- Halter or high necklines will give the illusion of narrower shoulders, which, for many pear-shaped petites, will make the hip area look wider in comparison.
- Strapless necklines will visually shorten an already short torso by cutting you off below the armpit. A strap or short sleeve, especially with a v-neck, will add the entire shoulder height to your torso, making you look visually longer.
- Off the shoulder styles can have the same effect as strapless, cutting you off at the shoulder and visually shortening your torso. I also find that, for narrow-shouldered petites, getting them to fit properly is a problem.
- Long sleeves have the effect of making you look shorter and heavier. Sleeveless, straps, or — ideally — cap or flutter sleeves will be much more flattering since they draw the eye upward. It’s one of those little tricks that never fails.
- Last year when I was shopping, split or plunging necklines were incredibly popular. These necklines were often extremely low cut, which didn’t work at all on my short torso, since they often plunged right to the waist. The rule of thirds is your friend here: try to make sure the plunge or V of your neckline ends no more than one third of the way down your chest.
I also highly recommend a belt. Conventional wisdom says that you’ll look longer without cutting your vertical in half. But for petite pears, a strategically placed belt can do the opposite, nipping in your waist and actually making you look taller. Look at the same dress below (not the dress I chose, for reference), with and without a belt, to see what a difference it can make:
The simple addition of a belt instantly changes the entire look of the gown. Don’t be afraid to ask your consultant to bring over some in-house accessories just to show you the effect of an alteration.
Honestly, there are no rules here. I personally love lace and knew I wanted a gown with lace details, so that’s what I got. Satin, crepe, organza, charmeuse, taffeta… you can get lost in the options and in the vocabulary.
The key considerations when you’re petite are to beware of fabric details that can either draw attention to, or distract attention away from, areas you may wish to emphasize or de-emphasize. For instance, lace details can be either too busy or just right. Satin or shiny fabrics can draw attention, while ruching and soft pleating can minimize problem areas.
I’d also suggest in general that petite brides stay away from too much heavy fabric in general. Gowns with a ton of beading, layers, long sleeves, or other heavy details add both visual and literal weight. If your dress is very heavy and you’re small and petite, you may find it uncomfortable and exhausting to wear.
Saying yes to the dress
The dress I chose was a gorgeous a-line lace v-neck gown by Stella York. It’s true what they say: When you put on “the” dress, you just know.
Once you’ve chosen your dress, the fun begins. The consultant will take your measurements, colour choice, other customizations, and place the order.
Bridal gown sizing
Bridal gowns aren’t sized the same way as everyday street sizes. Once you choose your gown, the bridal consultant will take your measurements and order the dress in the size most appropriate for you. Don’t be surprised if this is a higher number than your normal size.
Note that some lower-end bridal brands like David’s Bridal or Azazie use a sizing system that’s much more similar to street sizes. But once you move up to most other bridal lines, you’ll be into a different sizing system. A general rule is to take your US street size and go up two sizes, so if you’re a US 8, you’re probably a bridal 12. (This conversion may work a bit differently for missy and for plus sizes.)
For instance, my measurements are roughly 33″/26″/36.5″. I usually wear a size 4 Petite, but in bridal sizes, I’m a size 8:
With bust, waist, and hip measurements, it’s recommended to choose your largest measurement and order the dress that fits, and then take it in elsewhere. The exception may be the hip measurement on some a-line or ballgown styles. If you’re pear-shaped like me, a dress that is loose at the hips can be safely ordered in a size to fit one of your smaller measurements.
Beware, beware, beware of ordering a dress in a smaller size than you are with the intention of losing weight. That’s a classic error. A dress can almost always be taken in if you lose weight before the wedding, but it’s much harder to let it out if it’s too small. Order your true size; the dress should make your body look awesome, not the other way around.
Standard versus custom length
Some bridal companies give the option of ordering a custom length, taken by measuring from hollow to hem.
The advantage is that, if the dress has details at the hem or along the skirt, you won’t have to cut them off as part of the alterations process if you’re shorter. The disadvantage is that it is always more expensive to order a custom length.
In addition, short-torsosed petites, beware: Usually, the proportions of the dress will be scaled all over if you order a custom length. That means, if you’re shorter on your top half (and therefore expect to need to take up the waist or the shoulders even further), a custom length measured to fit might actually end up being too short on the skirt. Make sure you discuss this with your consultant and, depending on how the measurements are taken, consider adding a bit of extra length to the custom order to compensate.
Choosing the right colour
If you’re confused by the notion of choosing a colour for a bridal gown, don’t worry, so was I. After all, unless you want to be an unconventional bride and get married in a black, red, teal, or metallic silver dress (hey, nothing wrong with that; you do you!), most wedding dresses come in white. Simple, right? Not quite.
Actually, did you know that fewer than 3% of wedding dresses actually come in ‘true’ white anymore? Most bridal white is actually ivory. Bridal companies have found that most brides find a soft warm white or ivory to be more flattering on their skin tone than a pure white. Pure white washes out a lot of brides, and also has a habit of photographing a little blue-ish.
What’s more, many more dresses are coming in colour options like blush, champagne, or gold. The sample I tried on for my gown was actually in a moscato (sort of a champagne/blush colour) with an ivory overlay, which had the lovely effect of making the lace detail of the skirt “pop”, but also looked a bit muddy and dirty compared to white.
However, you have to know yourself and your undertones. I’m a very pale, fair-skinned redhead, so most consultants would have automatically put me in ivory. But I know from long experience that I have cool undertones and actually look much, much better in pure white. Ivory makes me look sallow, ill, and washed out; white brightens me and gives me a healthy rosy glow. I actually surprised the consultants in the bridal boutique when I tried on a dress in true white and they saw how much better I looked in it; their assumption was that only deeper skin tones could pull off white. So many guides to choosing a wedding dress colour get this so incredibly wrong; if they’re advising ivory for cool undertones and white for warm, that advice is backwards.
If you’re unsure about what colour to order, it’s really important that you try on dresses in the different colours. Even if your particular dress is only available in one sample colour (they usually are), you can usually ask to try on another dress by the same designer in a different colour so you can compare, which is what I did above. Beware of lighting; most bridal boutiques customize the lighting to flatter everyone, but you’ll want to look at yourself in the most natural lighting possible — try standing by a window in daylight, for instance.
I stuck to my guns and ordered my dress in white-on-white, and it was perfect. Just beautiful. It matched perfectly with my silver and white gold shoes, belt, jewellery and accessories, as well as with the cool toned colour palette for the wedding. I’m so glad I insisted.
The alterations process
Once you’ve said yes to the dress and placed your order, the fun begins. The alterations process can include everything from alterations for fit to customization of the dress to match your vision.
In addition to the required alterations to take up the waist and narrow the shoulders, I personally knew I wanted to customize my gown to:
- Add a cap sleeve (I ordered extra appliques for the purpose). As mentioned before, a cap sleeve is a great visual trick for a pear shaped petite to widen the shoulders and thus minimize the hip area.
- Add a belt, which really made the dress work for my body. (See above).
- Add a hidden pocket in the seam. Some dresses today come with pockets, but most don’t. I wanted to have a pocket in my dress so I could put my glasses someplace while I wasn’t wearing them.
- Add cups to the bust. Wearing a bra under a wedding gown can be tricky, especially one that, like mine, had a lower-cut back. So I had the seamstress add cups to offer some coverage and support.
- Add a bustle to the train. My gown had this absolutely gorgeous long train, which I loved for the drama. But I also wanted to be able to dance at the reception, so I had the seamstress add a bustle so I could move around without tripping over it all night.
A good bridal boutique will give you a reasonable estimate of what you can expect to pay for the alterations you need done, as well as advice on what can easily be changed versus what’s much trickier.
When I picked up my dress last spring, my boutique recommended a seamstress for the job. It’s generally recommended not to do the alterations until a couple of months before the wedding, in case you gain or lose weight in the interim. I went for a first fitting in July, a final fitting in September, and my wedding was at the start of October.
All in all, my alterations cost another $500 or so on top of the price of the gown. They would have been even more, but since I paid extra for the custom length, I only had to shorten the dress slightly.
It helps when shopping to have a good eye for what can and can’t be changed, though, before you make your dress selection. For petites, a few things to keep in mind:
- Details at the hem may need to be cut off and re-sewn, and that can make a skirt lose some of its drama. If the dress can’t be ordered in a custom length, look for styles where cutting off the bottom of the dress won’t affect its style as much.
- Short-torsoed petites in particular need to be very aware of details at the bodice that are tricky to shorten. It’s relatively easy to take up shoulder straps that are too long. But shortening a split neckline, a corset top, or the waist on an intricately beaded bodice, is much tougher. If the waist on the sample dress comes far too low, ask detailed questions about alterations before committing to the style.
- Open-back gowns can be tricky to take up at the waist, and the open back may come too low on petites. Unless you want to show way too much of your backside during the wedding, it might be best to skip low-back styles.
What about rentals?
An increasingly popular option for many brides on a budget is to rent a dress. After all, a bridal gown is worn for one day, so why not save some pennies by just renting it instead of buying?
If you’re petite, rentals can be tricky, though not impossible. I opted to buy my gown, but one of my close friends who around is the same height as me got married a few months ago and she rented hers. Rental boutiques will typically include some simple alterations like temporary hemming with a removable hem or tape, so if all you need is to take up the length a bit, that’s doable. The other con of renting is that you’re far more limited in options: You need to find a dress that’s available in your size, on your day, and usually there are only a handful of choices.
My friend is 5’2″ and I’m 5’1″, but the key difference between us is that she’s a long torso / short leg body type, while I’m very much the opposite. So the rental dresses mostly fit her top half without any alterations required, and all the boutique needed to do was to add some temporary tape to the hem to take it up for the day. In my case, all the sample dresses regardless of size were too long at the torso, and taking up the waist is a much trickier alteration that usually isn’t possible to do on a rental gown. So I ruled out renting right away.
My friend looked beautiful in her rental gown. But I’d suggest that most petite pears would find it better to buy a dress, even a less expensive dress, than to rent one that doesn’t fit properly.
Sample sales and trunk sales
Many brides save money and time by buying a wedding dress off the rack at a trunk sale or sample sale. This is normally when a bridal boutique gets rid of old stock of sample dresses in order to make room for new ones. They’ll generally offload these dresses, which may have minor signs of wear and tear from being tried on, or might simply be backroom stock, for a fraction of the original price.
For petite brides, beware, though. Sample sales may be tricky. A few things to watch out for:
- Store samples are generally in larger sizes (typically 12-14) so many petite brides might find them too big. Alterations can take in a dress… to a point. Try not to buy a sample gown more than two sizes too big, since it may be almost impossible to fit right without looking strange.
- You can’t customize. Options like a custom hollow-to-hem length aren’t available at a sample sale; what you see is what you get.
- Most samples are final sale. Trunk sales attract a lot of heavily motivated buyers who tend to pounce quickly on the dresses. You may find yourself hastily grabbing an 100% nonrefundable dress that can’t easily be altered to fit.
If you’ve waited too close to your wedding day to order a dress, and an off the rack sample is your only option, try to look for samples in petite sizes at somewhere like David’s Bridal, or dresses that fit relatively well right in the boutique. If you’re planning to attend a specific designer’s sample sale, try on some of their gowns beforehand so you can get an idea of how they fit.
Buying a used gown
Another way many brides are saving on cost these days is by buying their gown gently used or “pre-loved”. Buying used is sustainable, low-waste, budget-friendly way to obtain a pricey designer dress at a fraction of the cost. Websites like Stillwhite list thousands of dresses in every imaginable size, style and design.
Petite brides may actually have an advantage over our taller counterparts when it comes to shopping for a used bridal gown. After all, if a dress has already been hemmed or shortened, it’s more likely to fit us anyway. And for gowns that have minor signs of wear and tear at the hem, for instance, if it had been worn for an outdoor or beach wedding, that may not matter if your alterations process involves chopping a few inches off the bottom.
A few things to keep in mind if you decide to go the used route:
- Read the listing carefully to see what alterations have already been done to the gown. If the previous owner had already customized it, taken it in, or made other changes, you’ll want to know.
- Check sizes carefully. Sites like StillWhite use your street size, not your bridal size. Also, sellers are located around the world and may use different sizing systems. You’ll want to ask for the size on the tag to be sure.
- Look for styles without detail at the hem that may get lost if you have to shorten the dress. This applies to new dresses, but goes double for used gowns where the hem may not be as easy to detach and replace if it’s been worn.
- Try on some gowns by the same designer to get a sense of what size you are before ordering. If you buy a new dress, the consultant will measure you in detail. For a used purchase online, you’re taking a chance, so you will want to be extra certain you’re buying it in the right size. Most used styles will no longer be available for sale in boutiques, so it may not be possible to try on a sample of the exact dress you plan to buy. But if you try similar styles, you’ll get a sense of what works and doesn’t for your body before you decide.
- Budget for alterations. Just like with new dresses, you can assume your pre-owned dress will need some alterations to customize it to your body. What’s more, there may be minor stains or defects that can be hidden or fixed through clever alterations.
- If you resell your gown afterwards, be up-front that it was altered to fit a petite bride. Give precise height, bodice, and skirt length measurements, and include your height in the listing to help other brides decide.
Other bridal gown shopping tips and tricks
- Start shopping early. Most bridal gowns are made to order and require a lead time of about 6 months to arrive. COVID has caused supply chain issues and has made that process take even longer, so it’s best to start shopping early! Unless you expect to buy a sample size off the rack, you need to give yourself a good year or so, at least. For reference, I shopped for and ordered my dress in August 2021, it arrived in March 2022, and my wedding was in October 2022.
- Look for photos of real brides wearing the gowns, not just models. The average model is 5’9″ and above, and wedding dress modelling is no exception. The photos you see on the designer sites all feature extremely tall women wearing these gowns. If you want a realistic idea of what a dress will look like on a shorter body, try googling the style or designer name and look for photos of real brides wearing the dresses. Used wedding dress sites like StillWhite are useful for this, too; many listings include photos of the seller wearing her dress for reference.
- Bring photos and inspiration to your appointment. Research, browse online, and make a Pinterest board or a photo album to show your bridal consultant. If there’s a particular dress designer or style you want to try, look into which boutique(s) in your area carry it; often, there are exclusivity agreements such that only one store in a certain region will carry a certain line. Mention the specific styles you want to try at your appointment when you book, so that the store can pull them for you and also use them as inspiration.
- But don’t be afraid to try on different styles, too. Especially at your first appointment, take a chance and try on some silhouettes, fabrics, and styles that you never thought you’d like. You may be surprised to find yourself falling in love with something totally different than what you’d envisioned. Or, as in my case, you may have your original vision reinforced. Either way, this is (for most of us) a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so feel free to try on some styles just for fun.
- Stick to your budget. A word of caution on the “just for fun” front, though: Don’t, under any circumstances, try on dresses that are above your budget. Not even just to see, or for a laugh, or because the consultant pressures you. If you fall in love with a dress that’s far above your budget, you could end up comparing everything else you try to it and having it come up short, or spending way more money than you’re comfortable with. Remember that your budget needs to include the dress, the alterations, accessories like a veil or belt, shoes, and undergarments. It adds up. And it’s something you’ll wear once.
- Don’t try on too many dresses. You’ll get overwhelmed quickly. I went to a total of four boutiques, fell in love with THE dress at the third one, and went back a week later to order it. At some point, if you’ve found the dress, it’s best to stop looking.
- Ask permission to take pictures. Not every store allows this, but most don’t mind, especially in these days of COVID shopping. I found it so helpful to be able to go home and look at snapshots of myself in the different dresses I tried on, to compare and remember what I tried, and to see them with different eyes. In the store, it can feel overwhelming. Looking at myself in photos at home gave me some perspective to digest what I’d tried on and see how I looked in the different styles.
- A word on shoes. Some petite brides feel pressured to wear incredibly high heels with their wedding gown, to make themselves look taller on their wedding day. Don’t succumb to that pressure! Not only will your feet hurt, but there’s no reason for it. You will look stunning and gorgeous as a bride at any height. All eyes will be on you. Pick a pair of shoes you can comfortably walk (and dance) in, and go own your day.
To all the petite brides-to-be out there reading this, I hope this guide inspires you and that you find it helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or advice in the comments below.
I’m insanely lucky to have gotten to marry my best friend. My dress was pretty awesome, too, if I may say so myself.