A Wedding Planner Turned Bride’s Journey Part 5: Wedding Dress Shopping During COVID

The first step to planning your wedding is always the foundation. Because you need that in order to plan anything else.

But what comes next?

While nailing down a date and venue is usually number one, it’s also important that you start working on another thing.

And that thing might not be something you realize you need to work on early.

Finding the wedding dress! Or the wedding outfit.

Why? Because it can take a while!

It might be easy to find. But it also might not be.

So starting early is always a good idea.

But you know when you throw COVID into the mix, things are… a little different.

So we’re going on this wedding dress journey with Stephanie!

In this Part 5 installment of a wedding planner turned bride’s journey, we’re going wedding dress shopping.

By the way, make sure you check out all of the tips and info from Stephanie and Kirk’s wedding planning journey from the beginning:

What it’s like getting engaged during a worldwide pandemic (part 1)

Engagement ring shopping online (part 2)

How to start planning your wedding (part 3)

How to create your wedding budget (part 4)

So, let’s pick up the story where we left off …


I think we’ve all seen the “Expectation vs. Reality” memes. They show the picture perfect version of what you expect from something juxtaposed with the messy version of how it turns out.

Some of my favorites feature beautiful culinary creations next to funny fails in the kitchen.

But what does this have to do with planning my wedding?

Well, I recently went wedding dress shopping.

During a pandemic.

With all of my other wedding plans, the pandemic has loomed large in my mind.

For instance, Kirk and I are having a very small, completely outdoor wedding to minimize risk. We decided to have our wedding in late summer, so our guests would have a chance to get fully vaccinated.

We even decided to have a weekday wedding, so we wouldn’t have to compete for a handful of Saturdays with all the couples who postponed their 2020 and early 2021 weddings.

And with all of our careful planning, we’ve been pretty fortunate so far!

We’ve thankfully snagged venues we love and found vendors available on our date. And just recently, our immediate family became fully vaccinated, so we can celebrate without worry!

But with wedding dress shopping… I didn’t really think about the pandemic.

It was little more than an afterthought.

And although I had pretty measured expectations going into it, the reality was a bit of fail.

Let me explain.

Close up of beaded white wedding dress from BHLDN while wedding dress shopping wedding planner turned bride Passport to Joy online wedding planners


My wedding was a little less than three months away, so I knew I had limited options.

Most wedding dresses are made to order, so it’s typically best to start shopping 6 – 9 months out.

But the sleek dress style I had in mind was minimal, and I specifically selected a bridal retailer with lots of off the rack options.

My expectations for how it would go were restrained, yet still optimistic.

I thought I’d be able to try on a handful of dresses in the shop, including maybe one or two poofy wedding dress options that weren’t quite my style. You know… just to see how they looked on me.

My friend and I would have a good time, and I would walk out of the store with a better idea of what I wanted, if not the dress I wanted to buy.

The reality turned out to be something different.


Walking into the shop started off pleasantly enough…

We got there early. Browsed the racks filled with gorgeous gowns. And picked out some options for me to try.

But things took a turn after my appointment started.

It began with an apologetic sales clerk greeting us and letting me know that almost all the dresses I wanted to try wouldn’t be available in time for my wedding.

She walked us around the store checking inventory on her tablet. And dress after dress was either sold out or backordered to a date that wouldn’t work for my wedding.

She explained that there was an increased demand for wedding dresses now that things were finally opening up across the country.

After COVID rates started dropping in the US and especially after larger gatherings had been given the go ahead, brides have been ordering wedding dresses faster than they can make them.

In addition, the pandemic also slowed wedding dress production over the past year. And this likely compounded supply and demand problems further.

Because of these reasons, most dresses were backordered until after my wedding date or even until fall.

In one instance, she explained that a dress they just got in was already sold out! Even though it had been in the store for less than two weeks.


So if you’re trying to shop for a wedding dress, what can you do about the supply and demand issues caused by the pandemic?

Tip #1 – Start early if you can

Your wedding dress is a part of wedding planning that is particularly hard to rush.

Even in normal times it’s hard! Because so many dresses are made to order.

But because of the pandemic, even off the rack dresses take time right now.

So start looking early, if you can.

Give yourself 8-12 months for a traditional wedding dress and 5-6 months for something off the rack, if you don’t want to feel rushed.

But if time is something you don’t have, I have a few tips for you too…

Tip #2 – Try online shopping

Online shopping is your friend! Some retailers make off the rack inventory available online before sending sample dresses to brick and mortar stores.

Online wedding dress retailers typically allow returns within a certain number of days. So if a dress you’re interested in is available, buy it! And try it on at home!

This is a good option, especially if you can’t make it to a store right away.

And if you are ordering online but don’t want to buy multiple sizes, I’d recommend sizing up. It’s always easier to take in a dress than letting one out.

Colored wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses at BHLDN while wedding dress shopping wedding planner turned bride Passport to Joy online wedding planners

Tip #3 – Look at non-wedding retailers

Non-wedding retailers are another good place to look.

These can be regular retail shops that have a bridal or wedding line. Or they can be shops that just happen to have white dresses.

Better yet, if you’re an untraditional bride, take a look at colorful gowns too!

There will always be so many more options available to you.

Tip #4 – Don’t forget about alterations!

While we’re on the topic of time, don’t forget to include tailoring in your timeline too!

Alterations usually start 6-8 weeks out from your wedding date.

So you want to have your dress, shoes, and even undergarments by that time, so you can wear them together at your first tailoring appointment.

Otherwise, you may have to pay additional fees to rush your alterations. Or you may have to get your dress adjusted again later.

BONUS TIP: Alterations can eat up a big part of your budget too! Alterations can start at hundreds of dollars and sometimes end up costing as much as the dress itself! Make sure to allocate enough money towards tailoring in your budget to avoid a disappointing reality later.


Going back to my shopping experience…

So, it turned out there were really only two styles available that I wanted to try.

Which is not what I expected at all.

But, thankfully, it wasn’t a total loss!

Two dresses had a flattering fit and helped me narrow down what I wanted in the end.

While neither dress was the one, I think the experience was still helpful because it gave me a much clearer picture of what to look for.

Wedding planner turned bride, Stephanie trying on a beaded wedding dress at BHLDN while wedding dress shopping Passport to Joy online wedding planners
(One of the two dresses!)

After my appointment, I hopped on the good old Internet and ordered a few more wedding dresses to try at home, from brands with ready to ship inventory.

I’m confident that one of these options will be a winner!

Probably with some help from alterations… which thankfully I have time for!

You’ll have to wait to see my final dress, but good luck wedding dress shopping!

And next up, I’ll be sharing all about venues. You won’t want to miss it!

Stay tuned for the next installment in Stephanie and Kirk’s wedding planning journey! Till then, if you have any questions, please let us know in a comment below.

And if you’re looking for help planning your wedding, we share tons of pro tips in Passport to Joy. To learn more about becoming a Passport to Joy member, click here.

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