Plan Your Wine Country Wedding: The Bride's Dress

Location: Vintners Inn, Santa Rosa || Photography: Emily Jean Images

Shopping for your wedding dress is one of the most fun parts of wedding planning! Pinterest is an excellent place to get inspiration. I ended up trying on 35 dresses over two weekends in 6 boutiques all around the Bay.  That probably sounds pretty crazy but I was pretty picky and needed to try on every option before making a decision. Based on my experience, I will share some tips and things to know when wedding dress shopping:

1. Know the types of silhouettes!



I started out searching for an A-line dress with off-the-shoulder cap sleeves and lace detail. I had seen this style in magazines and thought it was an elegant and sophisticated style that would suit me perfectly. Once I actually tried on several of those dresses I learned it was too much fabric for my petite frame, so I definitely recommend looking at 2-3 different styles from the start. Pin your ideas on Pinterest and have your phone or tablet with you to show your stylists what you have in mind.

2. Research boutiques and plan your visits over several days

I recommend using Yelp for reviews and selecting boutiques not only in the city but outside the city as well. I learned quickly that boutiques in the South Bay and Oakland were larger and therefore carried larger selections and offered a wider range in prices. Some even carried bridesmaids dresses as well. Most boutiques require you to book an appointment, and appointments go quickly especially on weekends so make them well enough in advance. Do not expect to walk in and be able to try dresses right then and there. Appointments typically last one hour.

I wanted my mom to be present when I would "Say Yes to the Dress!", but since she lives across the country, I had to do some pre-visits to narrow down my choices before she would arrive. I visited the below boutiques over a weekend two weeks before she arrived and made following appointments at the three I liked the most for the weekend she'd be in town.

  • Janene's Bridal (Alameda)

  • Papers & Petals (Burlingame)

  • Nouvelle Vogue (San Mateo)

  • Novella (San Francisco)

  • Trudy's (Campbell)

  • BoLee Bridal (Sunnyvale) ***where I said YES!

I found the perfect dress at BoLee Bridal! This was the last place I had visited on my first round of visits and the ladies there were super sweet and helpful. They even had a cute chalkboard with my name on it next to my dressing room waiting for me when I arrived. As I showed my stylist the dresses I had on my Pinterest board, she pointed to a Maggie Sottero dress that my mom pinned and said they actually had it in the boutique!

How do you know you've found the right dress? Well, some cry, some laugh, some don't say anything. Don't think you have to have an "ah ha!" moment right away or that it means something negative if you don't. I have a small waist but a big booty so the ball gown silhouette turned out to be perfect for me. After 34 dresses they all looked beautiful but started blending together in my mind. It took me a while on the 35th dress to realize it was the one... when I didn't want to take it off! What I love about this dress is the amazing cut, the plunging v-neckline, the sparkly, gorgeous beading, and soft flowy organza skirt. And the champagne color!! I felt truly like Cinderella and couldn't wait to show my mom when she would visit. I still couldn't believe she had found the dress on Pinterest - how special! When we went back two weeks later and she saw it on me, it made waiting to say yes to the dress so worth it :)

3. Don't let the boutiques show you any dresses over your budget!

This is important. You have to be real strict with your budget when it comes to dress shopping. It is so easy to fall in love with a dress and once you learn how much it costs, feel your heart dropping with disappointment. You may think you can go ahead and buy the dress and save money in other areas but the truth is, there are very few areas in which you have control over the budget and the dress is one of them. The dress will live on forever in photos but you will only actually wear it for one day. Maybe you'll choose to sell it, donate it, or keep it for your children (I know I will) but don't expect the style to be "in" when their day comes either. The point is, you WILL find something you like in your budget if you stick to it. Don't let the boutiques tempt you with anything above your max budget. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what exists in your price range. Trust me, I know I was!

4. Bring someone with you, but NOT the whole gang

Of course, shopping is always better with a friend! When it comes to wedding dresses, you want to bring those close to you who know you well and know your tastes. You are depending them to be supportive and give you their honest feedback to help ensure you look and feel your best! I suggest bringing your mom and your bridesmaids. They can help you look through the dresses and also help prevent the stylists from showing dresses above your budget! There were days I had one of my bridesmaids with me and days where I was alone trying on dresses. The days with my bridesmaids and mom were definitely more fun and helpful. However, avoid what we've seen in some wedding TV shows where brides bring their mother, their fiance's mother, their 2 sisters, their 4 bridesmaids, their cousin, their second cousin... just don't do it! It's already exhausting getting in and out of these big and heavy dresses, so having too many opinions will just overwhelm you and you'll be drained before you know it. Plus, the more people see it, the less of a surprise it will be on the big day. Enjoy the crescendo to the grand reveal!

5. Be mindful of timing and good service

As with finding your venue, service is key with bridal boutiques as well. You won't be walking out with a dress. Boutiques typically only carry samples and will need to order your dress in your size. In my case, they had to order from the designer to make a new dress in my size, taking about 4-5 months for the dress to arrive at the boutique. Then it was another 4 weeks to tailor the hemline and some areas that were a bit loose. You definitely want to maintain good communication with your boutique and plan on ordering your dress 6-7 months before your wedding date!

My next post will be all about dressing your groom and wedding party for the big day!