How Early Do You Need to Buy a Wedding Dress Now?

It feels like navigating shortages has become our new norm: In the past few years, we’ve all had a hard time getting our hands on everything from toilet paper and disinfectant spray to building materials and baby formula. The global supply chain issues aren’t just impacting household goods, though. The world of weddings is also feeling the pinch, and essentials like flowers and paper are regularly in short supply. So, it should come as no surprise that wedding dress production—which previously took anywhere from six to nine months—has also been delayed.

According to Julie Sabatino, wedding stylist and founder of The Stylish Bride, the ideal scenario has always been to purchase your gown about nine months ahead of the wedding; now, you’ll want to tack on at least another three months, which means you should make your purchase about a year before the big day. It’s important to note that you’ll also want to leave enough time to have three fittings before the wedding day. “Pre-pandemic, we really wanted people to have a comfortable timeline,” Sabatino says. Now, sticking to this deadline (at a minimum) is essential if you want your attire to be ready on the big day.

Debi Lilly, wedding planner and founder of A Perfect Event, can attest to this. “While it’s improving, the supply chain and container delays have caused several challenges for clients and dresses designed overseas,” she shares. “Months and weeks on the water in containers, weeks sitting on the docks in containers, delays in unpacking containers, delays in trucking and shipping to stores from the containers once unpacked…Some dresses have arrived just days before the wedding, causing incredible levels of stress at the last minute.”

Ahead, everything you need to know about buying a wedding dress in these still unprecedented times.

What You Need to Know About Buying a Wedding Dress in 2022 and 2023

Photo by Sydney Noelle Photography / Photo by Amy Anaiz / Design by Tiana Crispino

Supply chain issues affecting the delivery date of gowns is one major issue, but appointment times are also hard to come by, says Sabatino. The stylist adds that she is having to schedule her clients out for sessions sometimes two months in advance to secure a spot. Both Sabatino and Lilly stress that it’s important for brides to find out upfront what a realistic timeline will be. “Discuss timelines, tailoring, and fittings. Have the salon or retailer create a very solid timeline on deliverables so everything is understood and in writing. This saves you so many headaches and heartaches if things do fall off schedule for any reason, and you can point back to it for clarification and guarantee,” advises Lilly. 

The same is true in the opposite direction. Sabatino reminds brides not to let salons or retailers pressure them into purchasing a dress immediately and scaring them into thinking it will be too late if they sleep on it or keep shopping. Ask for the must-order date, she says, and also inquire if the designer accepts rush orders and how much cost that would add. Opting for a domestic designer can also help shorten lead time. “You don’t want to make a mistake because these are nonrefundable decisions,” she adds. “If you are someone who needs to think and sleep on things, you need to allow yourself to do that.”

Her advice for choosing the right dress? “I always advise people to really look to themselves for inspiration before going to social media; that’s where you’re going to get your answers. Pretty pictures are part of it, but what you like to wear and what you’re comfortable in is better.”

What to Know If Your Wedding Is in Less Than a Year 

Not everyone’s wedding plans permit for a leisurely timeline. If you are planning a wedding in under nine months, there are a few ways to think about wedding dress shopping, experts say. “[Brides] are now buying wedding gowns off the rack and at thrift stores. The idea of what a bridal gown is or the steps of getting one has totally changed,” Darryl Moore of D’Concierge Weddings told Brides. And, Lilly agrees. “The faster and easier option is to buy off-the-rack in bridal salons or retail stores and have alterations done locally. There are so many gorgeous options,” she says, adding that some salons may also let you buy the sample at a fraction of the price. In addition to asking about samples, Sabatino suggests asking if any designers keep a few of their most popular dresses on hand. 

Photo by Matoli Keely Photography

Second-hand and vintage dresses are another great option for brides racing the clock or who want to think green. “I love the idea of buying a sample or second-hand gown from a sustainability standpoint,” says Sabatino. “So many wedding dresses are produced and only worn once.” Sometimes wearing a second (or third)-hand dress can be really special. Sabatino recently helped a bride revamp a wedding gown that was worn by her mother, and grandmother before her. “I loved this project because it was different,” she shares. Re-wearing family gowns is somewhat of a trend that Lilly is seeing. “Family heirlooms have never been more popular—taking mom’s dress and giving it new life with new hemlines, removing sleeves, or repurposing the laces or trains. Once-worn dresses are really trending. It’s your something old,” she shares. 

Just be aware that this route may not always save you time. The 75-year-old dress Sabatino helped bring back to life was way too small for the bride, and it had to be professionally cleaned and restored. It took about six months to complete, which underscores the importance of coming up with a realistic timeline for vintage dresses, too. If the dress is in good shape and just needs a hem and a few alterations, a quick turnaround can be possible, but if it’s been sitting in a box for ages and needs a ton of restoration, you may need to find a quicker option. 

What to Know If You’re Buying Two Dresses

Photo by Inma Fuiza / Design by Tiana Crispino

“As much as you love your wedding dress, it’s a lot to carry around all day. So, we always advise people to have a second option just in case,” says Sabatibo. “Just knowing how long wedding days are, I’ve never had someone say they’re not changing [if they have another dress]. They’re always excited.” If you do decide to get a second dress that’s easier to dance and move around in, budget some time for this as well. If it is going to be more of a cocktail dress or a ready-to-wear evening gown, you don’t have too much to worry about aside from if it’s in stock or needs any alterations. (Though, be aware that with ready-to-wear, seasonality comes into play. For example, it may be hard to find a summer dress in the dead of winter.)

If you, like many of Sabatino’s clients, are buying a second wedding gown, the same issues with supply chain and backup orders arise. She recommends shopping for your second dress as soon as you know what your main gown is going to be. In some instances, brides even try on a few second dress options while looking for the main gown. However, if budget and time permits, the more dresses the merrier. “I think people want to get dressed up more [since the pandemic],” says Sabatino. “For us, it’s about coming up with spectacular choices and going all out. That’s just me.”

  • If possible, start looking a year in advance and have your decision made nine months before the wedding. 
  • Ask the salon or retailer for a realistic timeline for ordering, shipping, and fittings. Get it in writing. 
  • Find out if your designer takes rush orders.
  • Use a domestic designer rather than someone overseas.
  • If you are considering a second dress, start shopping shortly after you pick the main gown. 
  • Consider shopping off-the-rack or vintage if you are in a time crunch. 
  • Ask if the floor samples are for sale.