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Hello, belles! Our practical advice posts are some of the most popular in our archives, so I’m back to shed some light on another aspect of wedding planning: shopping for a gown. This is the advice I would have wanted to read before I began dress shopping for my own wedding; it turns out I had more to share than I thought, so hold tight! And if you think I missed something, be sure to chime in in the comments!


Pull inspiration. Start by gathering images of dresses that appeal to you (Pinterest, of course, is a great place to collect them!). Don’t worry if they vary widely or don’t seem to fit the type of wedding you’re having — at this point, you’re just trying to pull together a visual representation of your style. Take note of recurring features or designers.

Decide on your budget. To determine your gown budget, you’re going to need to have a firm handle on your entire wedding budget (we covered wedding budgets here). The industry rule of thumb is that the wedding gown generally makes up 10% of the overall budget, but that doesn’t resonate with me — I spent about 4% of our budget on my gown. However, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else is doing as long as it works for you!

Nail down the basics. The location, venue, and time of year of your wedding will likely have a big impact on the type of gown that feels appropriate for it. Make sure you’ve determined these basics before you begin dress shopping!

Two of the dresses I tried on in my search — see more here!


Start the process well in advance. Unless you’re planning to buy off the rack (think J. Crew or BHLDN), know that it can take 6-8 months for a custom gown to be made, ordered, and, if necessary, altered. If you have it, the 15-to-10-month-out time range gives you plenty of breathing room to avoid making a panicked decision (but only if you’ve established your basics!).

Choose your shop(s) carefully. There are nearly as many bridal shops as there are brides, so there’s certainly one out there that will be a perfect match for your personality. Do you want an intimate boutique experience? Or do you want to see as many gowns as possible? Are you in love with a particular designer? (It seems obvious, but make sure the boutique you’re headed to carries her line!) Does the shop offer a range of gowns/lines in your budget? Have your friends had a wonderful experience there?

Do your hair and makeup. On the day of your appointment, take a little extra time to do your makeup and hair — just the fancy version of your usual look! If you’re anything like me, this will help keep you from nixing gowns just because you’re not feeling super confident that day. In addition, if you are SURE you’re going to want to wear your hair up, put it in a bun or a ponytail. Same goes for wearing it down.

Ask the RIGHT people to come with you. Dress shopping tips often focus on the number of people to bring to an appointment, but I think the TYPE of people is much more important. You want folks who will be supportive, kind, and generally hesitant to share their thoughts unless you ask (ha!). Now is not the time for the opinionated or the attention-hungry. If only your best friend falls into the first category? She’s the one who’s coming. If mama, mama-in-law, grandmama, sister, and best friend fit the bill? I think that sounds like a fabulous bonding experience.

More dresses I tried on!


Bring inspiration… Again, a lot of advice pieces tell you not to do this, but I think that’s absurd — I certainly did! I brought four printed pages of my favorite gowns to communicate my aesthetic to my consultant.

…but be open to anything. The point of bringing inspiration is to share the look you love, NOT to box yourself into a specific gown or designer you’re committed to. Dresses often look and feel VERY different on you than they do in photos, so be open to trying on anything! Even if you are absolutely SURE you would NEVER wear that gown the consultant is holding up, try the dang thing on. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re there to try on dresses, so have fun! Respect your stylist’s expertise (they do do this for a living, after all), but respect yourself, too — it goes without saying that you should never feel pressured into actually buying a gown you don’t love. As a final note, I can’t tell you how many interviews I’ve read on this site from brides who ended up picking a gown 180 degrees different from what they originally envisioned :)

Only try on dresses in your price range. There’s no point falling in love with something you can’t afford, so be honest with your consultant about your budget. The only exception I’d make here is if you are committed to the idea of selling your dress post-wedding, like I did — then, I think it’s okay to wiggle the budget up a bit to compensate for the fact that you’ll recoup part of the cost later.

Be gentle with yourself. I expected dress shopping to be an easy experience — until I found myself in tears after my second appointment, convinced I’d never find a gown I loved. While I was pretty shocked and more than a little embarrassed to feel that way, it is what it is — don’t beat yourself up about it if you something similar happens to you, and don’t feel pressure to feel a certain way! That goes for “the moment,” too. Neither I nor my Mom cried at any of my dress appointments — I just felt calm and happy.

Photos from one of my dress fittings — more here!


Consider your husband. Yes, you’re the one wearing the dress, and yes, you should absolutely choose something that’s your style and that you feel beautiful in! But just as the wedding day is about the two of you, I think it’s worth a passing thought to consider your fiance’s style as you make your final decision. Know he hates anything too frilly or fussy? Save the rows of ruffles for your next black tie event.

Wait for a trunk show. Finally, if you’ve zeroed in on THE dress and have a bit of time before you need to order it, see if the designer will be having a trunk show nearby anytime soon. Most offer 10% off to those who order during the show, which can be a great way to save!

What do y’all think? Did I miss anything? How was your dress shopping experience? Painful, amazing, stressful, fun? How many shops did you visit or dresses did you try on? I’d love to hear!

emily Written with love by Emily
  1. avatar Aimee McMurtrey reply

    Never disregard a style you might not think you like. My dress is a style and design I never thought I would look good in. I ended with a dress that is like a mermaid with very little too it. I knew that I want as simple as could be and I could not be more in love with my dress.

  2. avatar Lisa reply

    As always, Emily, so grateful for your wisdom! Even though I’d love to share the experience with my whole 8-person bridal party, I will either be shopping with just my mom or my mom and my sisters due to travel. I’m actually very happy that it’s going to end up being a small and supportive group!

  3. avatar Liza reply

    Thanks for the ideas! Did you sell your dress online after your wedding? I found the dress I want on one of the used dress sites for 50% of the price but I am hesitant to buy it online. Just curious if you had experience with this and if it was positive or negative.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Liza! Yes, I did! I actually did a private sale (not through a dress site – payment went through PayPal) because a gal approached me post-wedding before I even had a chance to list it. I’ve heard from LOTS of people who have had great experiences through dress sites, though, so I’d say go for it if it’s the dress you want!

  4. avatar Tiffany reply

    There were two things that were so obvious, yet I missed because I was not really ‘into’ wedding planning before. 1. You have to make an appointment at a bridal salon to look at dresses, so make sure you’ve secured enough time and don’t feel rushed. 2. Ask the salon you’ve made an appointment at what undergarments you should bring (if any) to try on the dresses. 3. If you have any heirloom jewelry you can’t see yourself walking down the aisle without, make sure you try the dress on with those pieces so they mesh well.

  5. avatar Katherine reply

    I completely agree with all of these! We found a Carrafina gown that was a bit more than what we initially had planned for, I kindly asked the store owner (who was also my consultant) if there was anything she could skim off the top. She took 10% off no problem and we walked out of there that day with the dress of my dreams!

  6. avatar Hannah reply

    As someone in the process of searching for the perfect dress these tips are wonderful! So far I have gone to one shop, found a dress I loved, then later that night after thinking about it questioned if I loved it after all as I felt I had found it so quickly. I definitely agree with bringing the right person. I am going back to the shop with my mom who I feel will help the decision process. Also, the famous it’s “the one” reaction. I too, was very calm and felt relaxed trying on dresses. (I think that has a lot to do with how I questioned it later) feeling like I need to have this dramatic “feeling”. Love all of your advice :)

  7. avatar Lauren reply

    Don’t be afraid to shop by yourself! I really liked looking on my own and then bringing back my mom and aunt.

    Also, like said, when you find the dress you dont have to buy right away. In addition to trunk shows, many boutiques have sales and take up to 20% off. Some boutiques promise to give the lowest price and will price match. You buy your dress so early that it’s easy to splurge but when you are scrambling for pennies the week before your wedding you will be happy you saved!!!

  8. avatar Amanda reply

    Could you tell me who makes the dress on the left in the second row of pictures? I think it’s an Amsale–I love it!

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Amanda! Yes, that is the Amsale Melina, from her spring 2011 collection! Good eye :)

  9. avatar For the Perfect Day – Tip #6 | Michael & Laura Photography reply

    […] walked me through fitting, and picking the dress up.. they were fabulous.  And tip #3, go read this article from Southern Weddings.  It’s super helpful and practical!  So, I found the dress and immediately started […]

  10. avatar reply

    The second card should be placed on leading of the first card, forming a cross.
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    so that you are neither too impulsive nor as well cautious.

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Get ready for your heart to be melted, because we have a sweet-as-can-be Texas love story to share with y’all today! Kristy and Cory are college sweethearts, and three years after their first kiss at the State Capitol in Austin, Cory proposed in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. They were married at his aunt and uncle’s ranch on a hot day in June, but I can only imagine how little the heat mattered when everyone was focused on their deeply meaningful ceremony. The pictures from Kristy’s walk down the aisle are some of the most touching I’ve ever seen!

Thanks so much to Sara & Rocky for sharing Kristy and Cory’s wedding with us!

Tell us about finding your wedding dress. All the dresses I tried on were beautiful. After trying on tons of dresses and loving all of them, I finally asked Cory’s opinion. He described to me the dress he imagined in boy terms, which was adorable and awesome. He ended up describing a lace fit and flare dress with small straps. I went dress shopping the next day with my mom and sister at a precious boutique in Austin, and the experience was so fun and peaceful. I found a dress like one he described and knew instantly that it was the one.

Describe your wedding flowers. My wedding flowers were dreamy and beautiful! Cory’s aunt arranged the flowers and designed the ceremony and reception. We sat down many times as I described flowers I loved and we looked at Pinterest over and over. She took all of the flowers I liked and designed the most beautiful bouquet. It was wild, colorful, and big!

The size of the wedding party was definitely Southern! We each had 13 bridesmaids and groomsmen and I had six girls in my house party. We are both blessed with precious, lifelong friends. The weather was also pretty typical for the South–we got married in late June outside, and it was hot! We made our programs into fans so that our guests could cool themselves off.

Did you decide to do a “first look”? Why or why not? We didn’t do a first look. We weren’t nervous or anxious for our big day–I always say that marrying Cory was the most natural thing I have ever done. We wanted the moment of seeing each other for the first time to be a part of our ceremony–a moment of our hearts bursting with pure joy!

Did you write your own vows? If so, what was your favorite phrase, verse or line? We did write our own vows. It was really special getting to craft them together! We did the same opening and closing lines, with the middle part of our vows unique for a man and woman’s roles in marriage. Our favorite lines were “With deepest joy and humble gratitude, I accept you as my perfect provision from Christ. This love is not from ourselves–it is originated in Him who loved us and sacrificed for us first.”
What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? We had three readings done by dear friends. They were Psalm 84, a scripture Cory’s dad shared with him before he started dating, which we held onto during our dating relationship, Proverbs 3:3 and Romans 15:5-6, all scripture that helped shape our engagement.

The most memorable moment for the two of us was right after the ceremony. We stood on the porch of the barn, just the two of us, and held each other tightly. They were our first still moments together as husband and wife.

Cory’s aunt and uncle have a ranch outside of Cleburne, Texas, where they recently built a wedding barn. We loved the idea of getting married at a place Cory grew up visiting, and that Cory’s aunt and uncle ran. Thistle Springs Ranch is overflowing with love and sweet memories, and getting to work with Cory’s aunt and uncle to plan the wedding was the best. The only challenge was planning a wedding in a town that neither of us are from. I had no idea about a hair stylist, a location for the bridal luncheon, etc. My family and I spent a day walking around Cleburne stopping in at salons, tasting cakes at bakeries, and discovering cute restaurants. What was originally a challenge ended up being so much fun, and we loved every vendor we ended up using!

Describe your wedding cake or dessert. We did a wedding cake and mini pies! The wedding cake was a simple three-tiered cake with the stroke marks of the icing visible. I am gluten and dairy free, so the top layer of our cake was made so that I could eat it! Cory’s aunt put the most perfect flowers on it. Instead of a traditional cake topper, I made a tiny banner that said our names for the top layer. We also had about six different flavors of miniature pies, all of which sat under a banner that said “love is sweet.”

Our advice is to not stress about the details. While the music, food, and decorations are fun, they are added blessings. At the end of the day, all that matters is the covenant you make. If something goes wrong (which it probably will) or doesn’t get planned, that’s okay! You will still walk away as husband and wife. I always said that my dream wedding was one where I was married to Cory at the end.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. During our freshman year of college at Texas A&M, we started to see each other more and more within our group of friends. Our first impression of each other was that we looked so familiar–like we had seen each other or met somewhere else. We still haven’t figured that out. On the first day back at A&M for sophomore year, I saw Cory locking his bike outside of his classroom. My heart leapt, and I smiled and said, “Cory?” He looked up and smiled. So many of our thoughts and dreams over the summer were confirmed and exceeded in that moment. In October 2009, after a few dates and “coincidental” time together, Cory told me that he was serious about our relationship, and wanted to protect it in such a way that we would be ready to marry when we left college. We spent the last year and a half of our relationship long distance, and though neither of us preferred it, we are confident that this allowed us to see clearly the importance of our relationship, learn creative communication and affection, and cherish every moment together. Now, we delight in getting to walk each day side by side.
Tell us all about the proposal! In the nine months prior to our wedding, Cory had moved to Washington, D.C. for an internship and seminary courses, while I had decided to help a friend start a company in Houston. I had always said that when I got engaged, I wanted a party with all our friends and family there to celebrate with us. Cory knew this, but his plan came with a little bit different of a timeline. Right when Cory moved to DC, I had booked flights for a visit in the middle of October. Because of my expectations, I had no idea that he would think about proposing while I was visiting. Cory picked me up from the airport that weekend and took me straight to dinner and a concert. When we left the concert early, Cory suggested we go and look at some national monuments. Since we’re always going on adventures together, I didn’t think that this was out of the ordinary. We got to the Capitol building and walked hand in hand, humbled by the greatness and beauty of the building. We started reminiscing on the sweetness of our relationship over the years and talked about sharing our first kiss at the Texas state capitol in Austin. Cory then said, “What if we shared our first kiss as an engaged couple at the nation’s capitol?” I started going numb and couldn’t really speak–I was in shock! I finally believed him when I saw my grandmother’s ring. After the feeling came back to my body, I mustered a “YES!” and started crying tears of joy! Although Cory proposed in a different state and there was no party with friends and family, it was perfect. Instead of bringing friends and family into the first moments of our soon-to-be covenant marriage, we got to spend the evening just the two of us, establishing ourselves as an engaged couple and talking about the magnitude of being a picture of the gospel. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
When did y’all get married? June 22, 2013
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 280
Tell us about some of the songs you used throughout your wedding and why you chose them. One of my sweet girlfriends played “Before the Throne” and a mash-up of our favorite hymns on the piano during the processional. During the ceremony, Cory and I took communion together while my sister and a friend sang/played “In Christ Alone.” Our first dance was to “Love Like That” by Ben Rector. We first heard the song at one of his concerts while we were dating and immediately loved it!
Our favorite detail of the wedding was: Our favorite detail was getting to celebrate with our friends and family! We made a point to love on and talk to everyone at the wedding, and we hope we succeeded! The conversations, hugs, and encouragement we got from our community is something that we will always cherish.
What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? For our favors, my mom and I made homemade peach jam. Cory and I are Aggies, so of course, we did the Aggie War Hymn at the end of the reception! It’s one of our favorite Aggie wedding traditions.
What is the one detail or vendor that you were so happy to have as a part of your wedding? We loved our photographers, Sara and Rocky Photography. They were the first vendor we booked when we got engaged! We knew our photographs of the wedding would be precious to us forever, so we were very intentional when choosing photographers. Sara and Rocky are so friendly, creative, and crazy gifted!
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you most looking forward to about married life? Before we even met, we both desired to work in outdoor Christian ministry in the mountains. We worked towards that dream together for our whole relationship and the Lord blessed us greatly! Graciously, He provided a job for us helping to develop a camp in the mountains in New Mexico. We moved to New Mexico the month after our wedding and get to work side by side. We are still in awe that we get to live together and love on each other day in and day out. Because of our long distance, we delight in every second together and pinch ourselves that we get to live with our best friend!

Photographer: Sara & Rocky / Venue: Thistle Springs Ranch / Florist: Groom’s aunt, Ann Wright / Cake and Pies: La Trattoria / Catering: Pappas Catering / DJ: Ryan Lee / Bride’s Gown: San Patrick / Bridal Salon and Veil: Blush Bridal Boutique / Bride’s Jewelry: Nordstrom / Bride’s Shoes: Tom’s / Bridesmaid Dresses: J. Crew / Men’s Attire: Vera Wang

lisa Written with love by Lisa
  1. avatar Nicole reply

    Oh goodness, my eyes watered just looking at that photo of the groom seeing his bride for the first time!

    • avatar Kristin reply

      Me too, Nicole! His sweet reaction had me in tears. Oh my — such emotion.

  2. avatar Emily reply

    Their ceremony photos ARE so sweet! And I love Kristy’s thought that she wasn’t nervous or anxious because marrying Cory was the most natural thing she’s done!

  3. avatar Sara Garza reply

    Thanks SO much for featuring Kristy and Cory’s wedding, it looks wonderful. You guys are great.

  4. avatar Dana reply

    the pictures of her walking down the aisle are sooo perfect!!!

  5. avatar Bobbi Jo reply

    What a sweet story and wedding! They both sound like good people. I feel like we could be friends!

  6. avatar Natalie reply

    Beautiful wedding, beautiful couple, and beautiful story. Thanks for sharing!

  7. avatar Plan Your Wedding without cracking Nuts | Mine Forever reply

    […] Sarah and Rocky Photography via Southern Weddings […]

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Longtime readers of the Southern Weddings blog will know that we are big fans of Donna Morgan. We called in several of her bridesmaid dresses for V6’s Blackberry Beauty editorial…

Lauren Kinsey

…and our own Marissa wore a Donna Morgan beauty for this year’s team photos!

Landon Jacob

So of course, we were thrilled to hear about the newest addition to the Donna Morgan family! Blaire is their first convertible design — she can be worn eight different ways, including with a strap (or two!) or without.

The way Blaire works is actually really fascinating and really cool — the convertability comes from extra skirt panels, which can be twisted and tucked into a one-shoulder, halter, twist front, or two-strap style, among others! The design is super flexible and easy to use.

Blaire comes in every color offered by Donna Morgan (25!) including lemonade and spearmint, the two shown here. We also love the look of spearmint paired with the Orchid print Rhea dress!

If you have a large bridal party like so many of our belles here in the South, a convertible dress is the perfect way to please a variety of figures and aesthetics. And just like all of the Donna Morgan dresses, Blaire is available off the rack (once pre-order ends in February!), making shopping a snap for each of your gals.

Are you embracing the mix and match look for your bridesmaids? What color are they wearing? We’d love to hear!

Donna Morgan photos are by Trent Bailey with styling by Jacqueline Weppner for Merci New York and hair and makeup by Facetime Beauty Concierge.

Landon Jacob is a delightful member of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
  1. avatar Sarah Bradshaw reply

    My bridesmaids wore a LOVELY mix-and-match of grey tones. You can see the pictures here:

  2. avatar Brudepikekjoler – Forloverkjole – Inspirasjon Brud og Bryllup | Norwegian Wedding Blog reply

    […] Kinsey via Southern Weddings – Brudepikekjoler fra Donna […]

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