Guide to Buying Wedding Dresses Off the Rack

Blushing brides-to-be often have an image in mind when thinking about their dream wedding, or at least, what their perfect gown should look like as they walk down the aisle. Whether you’re going for modern and minimal or extravagant and elevated, the good news is that brides have a wealth of options when it comes to exploring wedding dresses. 

At Ila Bridal, we are known for our unique, elegant and enchanting off the rack wedding dress selection in Nashville, TN. And we might be a little biased in saying we’re a better way to do bridal. 

While sample dresses have been around forever, off the rack bridal boutiques are relatively new. This new concept allows today’s bride to carefully select, never worn, never altered styles that aren’t battered and tattered from abuse. Each gown is specifically chosen and handled carefully during our shopping experience because of our intentionally intimate atmosphere—you’re the only bride in-store when you book an appointment!

As a modern take to bridal boutiques in the Nashville area, we get asked often about how to buy off the rack wedding gowns and what to look for. Check out our top tips before you start your shopping experience. 

But first, what exactly is an off-the-rack wedding gown?

Off-the-rack bridal dresses are gowns that are aisle-ready. The standard process for ordering a wedding gown can be longer than a cathedral veil. Typically, once you find your dream wedding gown, the stylist will take your measurements and order you a whole new gown, as close to your size as possible. This process can take anywhere from 3-8 months, depending on when you decide to order and who the designer is. And you cross our fingers and knock on wood that the dress was made properly and will fit! It can be nerve wrecking with your big day fast approaching to rely on a questionable process and the unknown of behind the scenes alterations.

But selecting off the rack means you get to take your dress home with you the day you purchase it! Which is the beauty of buying off the rack! The dress you see and try on in the store will be the very same dress you get to say “I do” in! You have more control over alterations and have the peace of mind knowing you can accessorize or style the rest of your day around the dress of your dreams.

Our Guide to Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress of Your Dreams Off-the-Rack 

Tip #1: Do Your Research, But Not TOO Much

It’s fun to walk into a local bridal boutique and explore all the beautiful silhouettes displayed, but going in blind without knowing your style and preferences or overbooking too many appointments back to back can turn a fun process into one that’s very overwhelming. Not to mention, not knowing what you like could increase the risk of saying “yes” to the wrong dress.  

If you want to have a roadmap of the styles you know would tickle your fancy, then it helps to do your research in advance by searching the following critical elements of a wedding dress: 

  • How do you want to feel in your dress? Elegant, minimal, feminine, boho, casual, sophisticated yet sexy or classic? 

  • Are there design details you want to see in your wedding dress? Do you want a silk dress or prefer a more tactile feel? Do you want to see sparkling embellishments or prefer a clean look with touches of laces? 

  • What is your standard dress size? Bridal sizing can be funky and seem weird. Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Even knowing your general dress size is helpful to direct us to a range of options available. 

We recommend NOT booking consecutive appointments and cramming too much into one day (or one weekend). Option overwhelm can quickly distill your vision. Believe it or not, trying on too many dresses is physically and emotionally exhausting. It can also drain the energy and excitement of shopping when you schedule a full day of boutiques back to back. 

Due to the nature of our boutique, we HIGHLY recommend scheduling your shopping experience at Ila Bridal when you’re ready to find and purchase your gown.

Tip #2: Consider the Possibilities of Alterations and Accessories

A big pro to off the rack shopping is since you can take your dress home that very day, you have an opportunity to be creative and customize your gown to your liking! Want a slit but there’s not one? Alterations! Prefer to have more modesty in a deep V? Alterations! Minimal alterations can truly transform a dress in a unique way that just wouldn’t be possible with the timeline (or cost!) of made-to-order. Since you’ll have your gown ready for wear well before you walk the aisle, you can pull it out (sneakily) and match shoes, jewelry, or your something blue in person without having to pull out a low quality photo on your phone while your dress is being made.

Tip #3: Take Inspirations, But Be Realistic About Your Expectations 

It’s good to come into a bridal boutique with images of your favorite wedding gowns pinned from Pinterest, and even if the dresses fall outside of your budget, it’s a great way to help the stylist look for similar designs. 

It’s also important to set your expectations and be open to the stylists’ suggestions. During your appointment, it’s good to keep an open mind and focus on visualizing your day rather than being strict on your style. We see brides that walk in thinking they want one look and walk out with something totally different! And we’re here for it either way!

Tip #4: Bring the Right Companions With You 

We are very much “team bride” and will always encourage you to choose the gown YOU love most. It’s exciting to think of having all your favorite gals (or guys) with you when choosing your gown but we have found that the fewer the people involved, the better for the bride. Because “too many cooks in the kitchen” can easily overwhelm the bride, we highly recommend keeping your bridal tribe on the intimate side rather than a large party. 

Please don’t misunderstand us, we love a great girl gang, however, in our experience it didn’t take us long to discover that the more personal opinions tossed at the bride the more confused and frustrated she gets. Rather than taking into consideration how she actually feels and staying focused on what is most important to her she is easily distracted and influenced by others. 

Intentionally choose 3 of your most supportive humans who will keep in mind YOUR style and the things that are important to YOU when shopping for a gown. Or come alone. It’s not weird at all and in fact, sometimes it can be the best way to shop!

The Bottom Line: Broadening Your Bridal Gown Shopping Horizons 

Buying off-the-rack wedding gowns makes for an exciting shopping experience, but more importantly, it allows a bride-to-be to find a style that perfectly suits her personality with the instant gratification of taking it home that day. It’s the ideal choice for those who want to explore a world of stunning dresses that take inspirational cues from everywhere, but it can be a challenging experience if you come into the store without a game plan. Follow these tips and you’ll set yourself up for a smooth shopping experience. 

Are You Looking for the Wedding Gown of Your Dreams that Suits Your Style?

Choose a style that represents you as a human, that reflects your personality, and keeps you feeling like YOU! Thinking through how you want to represent yourself on your special day and how you may want to feel can help determine what style of dresses you decide to shop for. 

Ila Bridal carries a full collection of designer gowns at our Nashville bridal boutique, and you can also shop our dress selection online! (The online shop is more limited than what you’ll find in store. We are always adding more to the online shop.) Check us out today.