For many brides-to-be, buying a wedding dress is one of the first steps in the wedding planning process. Many women begin budgeting and planning for their gown purchase a year before their wedding, and experts recommend you purchase a bridal gown at least 8 months before the wedding day. Brides understand that so many things still need to happen once the gown is purchased — like attending as many as three fittings, leaving time for alterations and shopping for undergarments, shoes and accessories — and they plan accordingly. A bride’s wedding day aesthetic is typically designed around her bridal gown and venue, so knocking those off the list early makes the whole process easier.

There are loads of wedding planning checklists and online resources that help brides figure out their bridal gown purchase, but not many resources that help them understand how and when to choose bridesmaid dresses. Many brides don’t realize that their bridesmaid dresses will take some time to get right. Although bridesmaid dresses don’t usually require as many alterations as bridal gowns, there’s still a lot to consider.

Whether you’re planning something straightforward — like Brideside’s blush bridesmaid dresses in the same style — or you want to do a mix of fabrics and styles, a little planning goes a long way. Here’s the best timeline to follow when you’re shopping for bridesmaid dresses.

lavender bridesmaid dresses from Brideside
Shop Brideside.com for beautiful lavender bridesmaid dresses like these!

Day 1: Nail Down Your Budget

Let’s get the not-so-fun part out of the way, stat. Once you know who’s in your bridal party, you should have a sense of what your crew is able to spend on bridesmaid dresses.

If you’re paying for the dresses yourself, this process will be super straightforward. You can work your bridesmaid dress purchase into your overall wedding budget. Most brides spend 8–10% of their budget on their wedding gown and related attire; play around with your numbers until you can comfortably fit your bridesmaid dresses into your budget. Your girls will be incredibly appreciative of you purchasing the dresses. It’s a great way to thank them for being part of your day, and it can even double as a bridal party gift.

Don’t sweat if you’re expecting your bridesmaids to pay their own way —they’re typically expected to do so. If you fall into this camp, let them know right away so that they can start saving for your big day. A good rule of thumb is to budget with your most cash-conscious bridesmaid in mind. If you choose a designer at a price she feels comfortable with, your whole crew should be happy.

Many bridesmaids spend $200 or more on their dresses, but there are lots of beautiful, affordable options out there. If you’re looking for wallet-friendly styles, try the Brideside collection, now priced at $150!

8–9 Months Out: Get Inspired

Nothing will have a bigger influence on your bridesmaid dress style than your bridal gown. Romantic tulle gowns look great with muted color palettes and lace details, and sleek silk gowns hold up nicely against rich jewel tones and luxurious crepe fabrics. Once you’ve decided on your own dress, use it as inspiration for your bridesmaid dresses. Your Brideside stylist can help you mix and match dresses in different colors and fabrics, and you can always draw inspiration from real brides. Getting all your bridesmaids together for one fitting appointment is the fastest and easiest way to land on your styles, but many brides have friends all over the country. Settle on a  few styles with the bridesmaids who can make the appointment, then use our try-at-home program so bridesmaids who live far away can find the right sizes and styles for their bodies.

6–7 Months Out: Confirm Your Sizes

The other upside of working with a (free!) stylist? They know exactly how every dress in our collection fits.

In the weeks leading up to your purchase, your stylist will help each of your bridesmaids select the best size for their body. This is especially helpful when you have bridesmaids who are pregnant — or thinking of getting pregnant soon — and aren’t sure how their bodies will change. She can help them choose styles that have extra give in the hips and waist, or even maternity versions of the same dress other bridesmaids are wearing. If you’re looking for a comfy maternity style, the Kerry is a good place to start.

Stylists are also a lifesaver for women who are between sizes or who have proportions that aren’t perfectly suited to a size chart (aka, everyone who isn’t a model.) Alterations are always expected, but your stylist will help you find the closest fit for your unique body type.

She can also help you navigate each designer’s unique size chart. Sorella Vita is one of Brideside’s most beloved bridesmaid dress designers, but the brand uses an Australian size chart that mystifies American customers.  An AU size 8 is more like a US size 4, but most women don’t realize that. A stylist knows when to size you up, when to size you down, and which styles present unique sizing issues.

Unlike many bridesmaid dress brands, we carry sizes up to 32 in our showrooms and online, and we sell long versions of almost every dress in our collection. Brideside is a space where every shape and size are welcome, and our collections reflect that.

floral jenny yoo bridesmaid dresses
Floral printed bridesmaid dresses? Find these beautiful Jenny Yoo dresses at Brideside!

6 Months Out: Place Your Orders (Yep, It’s Getting Real.)

Fun fact: most bridesmaid dresses are made-to-order.

Less fun fact: most made-to-order dresses take 2–4 months to arrive on your front door step.

Ordering a dress six months before you need to wear it probably feels a little silly (OK, it feels crazy organized) but it’s important to plan ahead. Trust, you’ll thank us later. Most bridesmaid dresses aren’t pulled off of the rack. Instead, they’re made to order based on the sizes, colors and fabrics your bridesmaids order. But keep in mind that made-to-order doesn’t mean custom. You should still leave time for alterations.

2 Months Out: Get into That Altered State of Mind

Once the dresses arrive, it’s time for another fitting, this time wearing the heels or flats your bridesmaids plan to wear during the wedding. These fittings are especially important if they’re wearing long bridesmaid dresses. If the dress is too long, it should be hemmed so that it brushes across her shoes but doesn’t drag. Straps, bust and waist measurements should also be double-checked to ensure the dress hits in all the right places. Most dresses only need minor alterations, which shouldn’t take more than a few weeks. But if a bridesmaid has a unique situation, such as a pregnancy or major weight gain or loss, a second round of alterations may be needed.

long navy blue bridesmaid dresses from brideside
Looking for navy bridesmaid dresses? Click here to browse.

Shopping for bridesmaid dresses early will help keep your wedding planning timeline on track, and working with a stylist ensures that the entire process will go smoothly. Whether your bridal party is on a budget, has unique sizing needs or you just want to create a really special mix and match look, we’ve got your back. Ready to get started? Sign up to meet your (free!) stylist.