By Sharon Townsend, Owner/Manager of Tiffanys Bridal & The Groom’s Corner

Think it might be too early to start shopping for your wedding gown? It’s never too early in most cases! Five years before you even get engaged might border on too prepared, but many brides don’t realize that their dream gown might come with a long lead time.

Here’s the truth about ordering a wedding gown: It can take up to six months for a special-order gown to arrive at a bridal boutique. True story. Many brides who’ve never been involved in a wedding are quite shocked when they hear this news. Plus, it’s best to have the gown arrive six to eight weeks before the wedding, not only for peace of mind but also to give you plenty of time for any alterations. This means the best scenario is to start shopping at least eight months before your wedding.

Gasp! Do you only have 5 months until your wedding? Don’t panic!

Sharon townsend tiffanys bridal groom's corner gown richmond wedding order
Aniko Levai Photography

Let’s start by getting an understanding of the process. When you try on a gown at a special-order boutique, you are trying on the store’s sample. Once you choose the one and determine a size with your consultant, the store should contact the company within 24 business hours to order it. Generally, there’s not a warehouse with gowns waiting in each size to be plucked from the hanger and sent immediately. Yours is now on their “to do” list, and when you reach the top of that list they start cutting the fabric that will ultimately become your gown. They carefully hand-stitch the details and perfectly place each layer of fabric to ensure you get exactly what you saw in the store. It takes a bit of time, naturally.

However, all hope is not lost if you simply don’t have the recommended eight to nine months before the big day. First of all, each designer will provide boutiques with estimated ship dates each week. So… don’t be shy! Come into the boutique with a positive outlook and let your stylist know exactly how much time you have. Often a stylist can match up your needs with a designer who gets it done faster (or is able to, for the moment at least, as lead times can change). Some designers have a select list of gowns that can be obtained in a shorter amount of time than the rest of their line, and you can ask to see those as well. Gowns may also be ordered on “rush” or “super rush” for many companies.

Sharon townsend tiffanys bridal groom's corner gown richmond wedding order
Hayes & Fisk Photography

Still worried? It is definitely stressful to have a gown arrive only a few weeks before the wedding, and although your stylist may reassure you that your gown is a priority and a seamstress is ready and waiting, some brides just can’t take the pressure. If you know cutting it close is not for you but you really want that couture look in a short period of time, ask to see the store’s sample gowns that are on sale! You might get lucky and find a sample with the price, style, and size that fits just like a glass slipper. Even if it’s not on sale, it never hurts to ask if they will sell a sample gown you love off the rack.

From the hopeless romantic who can wait a whole year to get married to the bride whose groom will be shipping out soon, there’s almost always a way to help you get the gown. If you are pressed for time, it’s worth visiting a bridal boutique to discuss your options and at least seek their advice, and please avoid looking for knockoffs online. Many brides have received horrendous knockoffs that look nothing like the original designer’s photo that was used to sell the gown, and, sadly, some have received nothing at all.

Sharon townsend tiffanys bridal groom's corner gown richmond wedding order
Paige Stevens Photography

No matter how much time you have, enjoy the process and know that your stylist is there to help. Of course, if you have the time, save yourself the stress and make an appointment nine months (or more!) before your wedding. You’ll be glad you did!

Sharon Townsend is the Owner/Manager of Tiffanys Bridal & The Groom’s Corner, a Richmond tradition since 1969. To learn more, go to www. tiffanysbridal.com.