Consider these points when choosing your wedding dress and accessories.

By Real Simple
Updated February 21, 2009
Joe Scafuro

1. How do I ensure that my dress will look its best on the Big Day?

Two words: Handle carefully.

  • Put off picking it up from the shop for as long as possible. (Forty-eight hours before showtime is ideal.) It should be given to you in a garment bag. At home, take it out immediately and hang it from the highest possible point, so the train and hemline don't touch the floor.
  • Traveling? Return the dress to the garment bag and repeat the process later. When flying, ask if you can carry it onboard―or you'll risk tying the knot in your tracksuit.
  • Should anything happen to stain or wrinkle the dress, don't take matters into your own hands. Trying to dab out even the lightest smudge can leave water marks, and ironing a fabric like tulle can transform it into a burnt, crispy mess. Call your bridal salon for help or, if you can't reach it, the nearest cleaner.

2. Which white will work for my skin tone?

With more than 200 shades of white to choose from, the only way to know which one looks best on you is trial and error. Contrary to popular belief, few wedding dresses come in pure white―which is a good thing, because pure white washes out all but the richest and deepest skin tones. Most women will end up with a gown in the ivory family that flatters their skin tone. Keep these suggestions in mind:

  • If you're fair-skinned, look for ivory shades containing yellow undertones.
  • If you have a pinker complexion, choose creamy undertones.
  • If you have olive, yellow-based, or dark skin, select champagne or off-white shades.

When you think you've found the right shade for you, confirm with the salesperson that the color of the sample gown you tried on hasn't been altered by wear and tear.

3. How do I make sense of all the different fabrics out there?

You can find descriptions of common fabrics at, but your best bet is to get your hands on the real thing, either at a bridal salon or a fabric store. Fabrics have individual strengths and weaknesses, depending on your priorities.

  • Some materials, like silk duchesse satin, are best for providing support and structure, while gauzier, transparent fabrics, like organza and tulle, are better for achieving a romantic, ethereal effect. (It never hurts to ask if you can order your dream gown in a different fabric.)
  • Want to save some money? Check out rayon blends, which have the look of silk without the expense.
  • To get a sense of how a fabric will behave over the course of your wedding, bunch it up tightly in your hand. If it’s wrinkled after a minute or so, imagine what it will look like by midnight.

4. Is it possible to get an inexpensive dress that doesn’t look cheap?

Nobody ever has to know that you got a great deal on your wedding dress. The single most important factor when it comes to clothing is the way it fits: If a gown is perfectly fitted to your body, it will look like it was made for you by a Parisian couturier, no matter what it cost. So if you’re on a tight dress budget, plan to put a significant portion of it―half, even―toward the services of an expert seamstress.

Other than that, keep an eye out for telltale low-quality work: Does the beading look flimsy? Are the seams shoddily finished? If you spot a flaw that can’t be corrected easily, move on to the next mannequin.

5. Are there any pretty alternatives to traditional wedding dresses?

Yes, plenty. If you vastly prefer the clothing you see in regular stores to what’s in bridal salons, then that’s where you should shop for your wedding-day attire. Some popular options:

  • A skirt suit in a light color, which is a sophisticated look that flatters most body types. (Make sure that the cut is very feminine, so you look like a bride, not a CEO.)
  • A two-piece skirt-and-top combination, especially if it is made from a silky fabric or has beading.
  • Baby-doll and tube-style dresses in any color are cute and playful for more casual affairs.
  • When in doubt, a stunning black number never fails.

6. How can I incorporate parts of a family gown into my dress?

Odds are, you probably don’t want to wear your great-grandmother’s dress down the aisle as is. But, luckily, there are other ways to bask in the sentimental value of an inherited gown. Try these tips:

  • If the basic structure appeals to you, have a seamstress shorten or lengthen the dress, removing or adding features as you see fit.
  • Harvest lace from an old gown to create your veil or an overlay, or have the lace made into a rosette on your dress. The material can also be turned into the base for your bouquet, used for a sash that you can wear around your waist, or appliquéd onto the bodice of your gown.
  • If the styles are too different to blend, you should consider taking both dresses to a quilt maker after the wedding and asking her to combine them into an heirloom that you can pass down.

7. What do I need to know about undergarments?

So much attention is paid to the outside of the dress, it’s easy to forget about the crucial infrastructure.

  • Ideally, look for a gown with a built-in corset, which makes for the best fit. (If yours doesn’t have one, ask the salesperson whether you should have a corset put in, or consider an alternative, like Spanx or some other type of controlling undergarment.)
  • Make sure underpinnings are as close to your skin tone as possible so they won’t suddenly become visible in certain lighting.
  • Try on undergarments with your gown and examine yourself in the mirror from every angle. Better yet, have a trusted helper take digital photos of you. While you may glance at your rear end for only a few moments, it’s what everyone will see during most of the ceremony.

8. What’s the word on trains: How long is too long?

Almost anything goes―just remember that you’re the one who’s going to be wearing the thing. Your choices range from no train at all to a full-tilt royal train, which extends back for more than nine feet and is probably best suited to brides with an HRH before their names.

If you’re looking to make a dramatic entrance but would rather not require the assistance of a small army, opt for a four-foot chapel-length train. (Detailed illustrations of train lengths are available at

Whatever train length you prefer, ask your dress retailer if it (a) is detachable, meaning you can ditch it after the ceremony, or (b) will need to be bustled at the base of the bodice. If it needs bustling, ask to see what that will look like, since that’s how you’ll be spending the majority of your time.

9. Is it OK to wear white for a second marriage?

Absolutely. The notion that second-time-arounders should sheepishly tiptoe down the aisle in a color that advertises their lack of “purity” is hopelessly outdated. It’s your wedding day, and if you want to celebrate by wearing a white ball gown, by all means, go for it.

That said, many women do view a second wedding as a welcome opportunity to step outside the box. It’s like an automatic license to break the rules: You may be happier opting for a stunning ready-to-wear ensemble or may finally have the guts for a scarlet, backless evening gown. As long as it looks bridal (read: special enough to make you stand out from your guests), the sky is the limit.

10. What attire should the groom wear?

Whatever his choice, all the groom needs is to distinguish himself from the groomsmen. These are three classics:

  • A tuxedo: A penguin suit is still the gold standard for formal late-afternoon and evening weddings. Tie options include the classic bow tie, the wider ascot, and a standard necktie, which feels the most modern.
  • A morning suit: With a cutaway jacket and matching striped trousers, this ensemble fits a formal daytime wedding.
  • Standard business suits in black, gray, brown, or taupe are appropriate for almost any semiformal affair.