It takes HOW LONG to order a wedding dress?
April 7, 2012 4:42 PM   Subscribe

So, how long does it really take to plan a wedding? (I know the answer is 'it depends on the wedding', but honestly, we don't even know where to start.)

We got engaged last week. There's no desperate hurry to get married by a particular deadline or anything, but we are hoping to get married sooner rather than later within a reasonable timescale. That 'reasonable timescale', though, is a thing of total mystery. Is a year reasonable, or optimistic, or way longer than we'd need? Is there a particular order we should plan things in? Can it really take over six months to order a wedding dress?

I've had a lot of general advice along the lines of "decide what things matter to you!", but what would be really useful at this point is more specific advice that would help us estimate a date for the wedding and start planning with that in mind. I'm hoping for advice along the lines of "you need to decide A, B and C before you can start planning anything, but don't worry about D until closer to the time", or "decide X thing before Y and Z, because that's the most time-sensitive part," or "photographers always need about ten months' notice for a booking", or "if you want 200 guests and a beach in Barbados, it's going to take about ten months longer and cost four times as much than if you want 20 guests and somebody's back garden."

Possibly-relevant information:

- we're in the UK (Scotland);

- we'll be doing the planning ourselves, and on a fairly tight budget;

- neither of us is particularly fussed about having The Perfect Day, but we do want to have a formal ceremony and a celebration with our friends and family;

- other than that, we have planned precisely nothing. Number of guests, budget, venues, etc., are all still to be decided.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Catseye to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
We planned one in 5 months, I could have done it in 6 weeks if I'd needed to, but it would have been much more stressful. I would suggest figuring out your budget first, then contacting vendors, and figuring out what the right timeline for you is.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 4:53 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does a formal ceremony include a church? Many churches in the US will scheduled weddings so-many-months in advance due to demand. Also, depending on the denomination, a meeting or two with the minister may be required beforehand. Catholics can count on several months worth of marriage preparation.

Failing that, I'd pick a date and start working backwards from that - booking a venue, caterer, and so on will all sort of flow from that. Congratulations, by the way!
posted by jquinby at 4:55 PM on April 7, 2012

A year is a reasonable timeframe. The thing that I've heard constrain most people is the venue scheduling for wedding and reception. See when, in about a year, you could schedule a venue. Then everything else can wait a little bit, but it's also nice to work on things like the dresses next, as they're the item I've heard take the next longest.
posted by ldthomps at 4:56 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it was Miss Manners that said to sort out your guest list, then determine your budget per person, and THEN look at venues. I would tend to agree, this way there's no fighting or choosing between people, or feeling bad that someone just "didn't make the cut".
posted by kellyblah at 4:56 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

We did it in 9 months, but I was writing my dissertation at the same time so that slowed things down a bit. Prioritize the bits that are important to you (venue? food? dress?) and get that rolling first. You can always work around the rest.
posted by goggie at 4:57 PM on April 7, 2012

My experience is limited to secular (non-church) US weddings, but a year should be more than enough time, and it's certainly doable in a shorter amount of time. Things to consider when it comes to dates:

* Do you or any important family members/friends have schedule limitations? (IE, your best friend is in the military and can only get leave in a certain month, or your sibling is studying abroad and won't be back till summer?)

* The very, very first thing to decide is budget, then number of guests. Everything else follows from there - the next most important are probably Venue, and then whether you'll have catering or what. Unless you are doing this in someone's backyard (this depends on your budget), the venue will have calendar restrictions that will limit when it can happen. Between the prior bullet and this one, your dates should be pretty well restricted.

* No, not all caterers and photographers are booked far in advance, but it depends on the season (in the US there is a wedding season from about April to about October - outside that most vendors are very flexible) - obviously the closer the wedding date the fewer options there will be.

* Yes, it can take 6 months to get a dress, or anything else, but really only if you want a specific dress from a specific designer. I bought mine off the rack 6 weeks before my wedding, and had the alterations done by my usual tailor in 1 week.

Basically, the point is that there's sort of a triangle between money, time, and options. The less money and the less time you have, the fewer options.
posted by muddgirl at 4:58 PM on April 7, 2012

Venues book up the fastest, and caterers and photographers after that. If all three of the ones you want are available on your date, the rest could be comfortably done in six months, I think. I'd start touring venues first, pick the one you like, see what date you both have available, put them on hold while you contact your photographer and caterer of choice, and once you've verified availability put the money down for all three and you're well on your way.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 5:03 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did mine in eight months, and it was pretty OK. It absolutely can take nine months to order a wedding dress, but it can also take six weeks, or two; if you call around to dress shops and ask, you can get a better idea. If you don't want a Giant Ballgown of a wedding dress, you can even just buy something nice off the rack. Hell, I once helped a friend plan a wedding in ten days because her fiance was going to be deploying to Iraq; it was very casual, and a lot of decisions were made on the basis of "what can we get done in this amount of time," but they definitely got married!
posted by KathrynT at 5:06 PM on April 7, 2012

I think the amount of energy, angst and general anxiety centered around planning a wedding for most women (I'm a woman) in the U.S. is crazy. I planned my wedding with less than a week's worth of effort. We set the date about two months in advance to ensure people had plenty of time to decide whether to come or not, etc., but I didn't really do anything other than that until a week before the wedding.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I did it potluck style: got married in a family member's yard by a friend who is legally allowed to perform weddings inour (U.S.) state (yes, we asked him 2 months ahead of time as well), and sorted out clothing and food and everything else a week ahead of time. I asked my bridesmaids to select a garment of their choice in the same (ish) color, asked guests to bring a food item in lieu of a gift, and my husband's band played at the reception (yep, we did book them two months ahead of time as well). We made the cake that morning with help from my Dad, who made his own wedding cake when he got married and decorated with flowers that neighbors and friends brought.

I loved it and had a blast. I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much (and I'm certain my husband wouldn't have) if we spent months ahead of time planning. Of course, if that's what you consider fun, more power to you! But the friends I have who have spent a lot of time planning in advance of their nupitals have always seemed to need weekends away to relax, opportunities to detox, and have always seemed to have one or more thing happen that was incredibly stressful.

So...I say, 2 months warning, and one week of pulling together the details. Focus on your relationship and let your friends get involved! They felt like they were contributing in a tangible way to our wedding and our marriage (and they were) by bringing casseroles and roses and grabbing a guitar and joining in the band for a song or two.
posted by arnicae at 5:09 PM on April 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

We did it in 5 months, and it was a big wedding with around.250 guests. I had a wedding coordinator do most of the legwork, though, and we had a pretty big budget so I wasn't doing too much comparison shopping to get the least expensive vendor. Now, I always recommend a coordinator to my friends-- she knew exactly what percentage of the budget went toward which category, and she Only presented vendors that fit into that percentage.

My wedding dress didn't take 6 months--more like two and a half. The alterations took about another month, but I did those with a local seamstress and I think a bridal shop would have been much faster if I had needed that.

Churches around here usually limit their availability for weddings to only those who belong to the church or their immediate family--no exceptions. Ergo, the venues that aren't churches get booked pretty far in advance. Look for unconventional places to have the ceremony if the places you wanted to have the ceremony are booked.
posted by Mimzy at 5:09 PM on April 7, 2012

Your biggest constraints in terms of time are the venue and the major services - music, food, flowers, officiant. You can absolutely find a wedding dress - even a really nice wedding dress - in a month or less. You can find A caterer, A venue, A florist in a month - but probably not the ones you'd really like.

You need to know first whether you have really specific venue requirements (must be a church, must be outdoors), whether you have really specific officiant requirements, and a general sense of how many people you are interested in accommodating. Clear the date with the officiant before the venue unless you don't care about the officiant. Make sure that you know the specific rules for conducting a wedding in your jurisdiction. For example, if you want a friend to do it and they need temporary authorization (because it's a religious ceremony,) it takes at least three months' lead time in Scotland.

A year guarantees you can get everything done in pretty much the exact way you want (within your budget.) A month guarantees you are making major compromises (since you say you want a formal wedding and your whole family to be there.) Two or three months means that everyone who wants to come, will be able to find a way of pulling it off.

I am a picky person, and if I were getting engaged today, I would plan my wedding for either this fall (because I'm a Mormon and I know my church meetinghouse and bishop will be available) or next May (because this is Ohio and I know better than to try to hold an outdoor wedding any earlier in 2013, and I can't get what I need to get done before it's too cold this year.) It would depend on how willing the groom and important guests would be to do the outdoor wedding thing (which is my insane, insane preference.) Under no circumstances would I schedule a wedding sooner than six months out - but again, I am VERY picky. Like, "I might just do my own embroidery on the dress" picky. So.
posted by SMPA at 5:34 PM on April 7, 2012

I have good friends who did theirs in 3 months, both working full time, with no planner, and they had a very nice wedding. They weren't picky about the venue (they ended up with a pleasant lodge in a scenic area rather close to their house), and the meal was a buffet, but very nice. They bought their own beer and wine, and had only 3 catering staff for the event (1 being the bartender). I work for a caterer, so I see mega-fancy weddings all the time, but I actually preferred the way they did theirs, because it felt much more personal. My cousin also planned theirs in about that much time, but they live in a small city where not too many events occur.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:52 PM on April 7, 2012

I had a relatively laid-back wedding with about 45 guests. First thing I did was send an email to my closest friends and family to confirm that the weekend we were looking at would work for them. Because of the small size of the wedding and flexibility on the venue, I was easily able to find a suitable bed and breakfast to host us on the weekend I wanted.

The wedding was planned and executed in 3 months (6 weeks of which I spent traveling internationally), and the only thing that presented a problem was the dresses. I solved that by buying my dress at a sample sale, and my bridesmaids were able to find floor model dresses in the color I wanted (I did not make them all wear the same dress) from a chain bridal store. If I really cared about specifics on dresses then 6 months with dresses being the first thing I worked on would have been better.

Being happy with spontaneity and whatever works, and only needing to deal with a smaller party of people is your friend in terms of wedding planning on a short schedule. For example, instead of a florist, my mom and I just went to a garden store the week before the wedding and bought pots of flowers, and got the bouquets and boutonnieres from Kmart (needed to order about 1 week in advance). I reserved a band I liked to perform at the wedding about a month and a half prior to it, and we reserved a tent, silverware/plate/other event item rentals about a month prior. I found a photographer I was very happy with for a great price on Craigslist. We had our favorite Indian restaurant cater the wedding dinner and we got the cake from Cold Stone Creamery. It worked out great.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:52 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are so many variables that there's no one answer to the question. I think the key is when you want to get married. The popular wedding months seem to be May through October. So if you're thinking June, I would say you're too late for this year because things will almost certainly be booked up, but you could easily do it in 2013. If you're thinking December through March, you could absolutely do it this year because it's still a ways in the future and it's not nearly as popular a time to get married.

We got married in March of 2011 and while we were engaged for about 10 months, we planned most of the wedding in the two months before (including the church, the florist, the cake person, etc.). Especially with the economy what it is, it was pretty easy to book a lot of stuff at the last minute because there just aren't a lot of weddings going on. We did get some of the big things like the dress and the reception venue about 6 months before. But even the reception venue wasn't booked for the weekends surrounding our wedding.

As far as the dress goes, it took mine about 5 or so months to get in. But if you're in a rush, you can easily just order a sample that's for sale. You might have to make some compromises in terms of selection, but I'm sure you could find one.

Really, it's one of those things where the amount of work expands to fill the time given. I have a friend who was engaged for almost two years and spend the whole time planning the wedding. I have another friend who planned her (June) wedding in six weeks. So it can absolutely be done.

Good luck!
posted by McPuppington the Third at 6:10 PM on April 7, 2012

For lead times, the hardest things are booking the venue, the photographer, and maybe the caterer.

My wife and i took a little over a year to plan our wedding. On the other hand I have a good friend who took 3 months, and their wedding was very very nice. He and his fiancé realized that (in his words) "the work would expand to fill the time available," so they gave themselves three months and got everything done. I was very impressed.
posted by alms at 6:31 PM on April 7, 2012

One thing that I found useful in trying to figure out what needed to be done was those checklists on wedding planning websites. I think I used wedding wire, but if there is a more local version to you, of course use that. Not all of the items on the checklist were relevant to me, but there were things on there that I never would have thought of on my own, so it was helpful in that way. It also had an order in which things should be done, and that was very helpful.
posted by echo0720 at 6:44 PM on April 7, 2012

The very, very first thing to decide is budget, then number of guests (muddgirl)

This is the way most people do it. However, it is possible to do those first two steps in the opposite order (as is suggested by Miss Manners). If you want to have a reception with a meal, then the way muddgirl talks about is easiest. But if you're happy having punch, cake, and one glass of champagne per guest to toast you and your beloved immediately after the ceremony, why not start by figuring out everyone you'd like to join you, and then go from there?

Basically, the point is that there's sort of a triangle between money, time, and options. The less money and the less time you have, the fewer options. (muddgirl)

This is true. Of course, having fewer options can make things easier than having many, so don't worry if you decide you want to have your wedding in three months (or two weeks, even). Having some limits might make the planning process a lot less stressful for all.

neither of us is particularly fussed about having The Perfect Day, but we do want to have a formal ceremony and a celebration with our friends and family (Catseye)

It sounds like you might really like A Practical Wedding. It's a great website about weddings which focuses on the fact that it's a celebration, not the be-all end-all of your life, and that planning a wedding shouldn't drive you insane. You might find their "Yay! We're engaged! Now what?" primer and their planning spreadsheets to be particularly useful.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:48 PM on April 7, 2012

I futzed one of my links:

"Yay! We're engaged! Now what?" primer
posted by ocherdraco at 6:50 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

For us the venue was the keystone piece in the planning, and what needed to be booked the soonest. That came after we figured out ballpark budget and number of people. The venue then determined a number of other things, like caterer and date.

This is more not-so-helpful advice, but you can make anything work in the time you have. I've been married literally the next day and also with a year of planning. If you need to buy a dress in a week, you can do that. If you have a particular look or designer or price point in line, finding your dress will take longer.

Multiple web sites have "wedding planning timelines" but I found them useful only in the broadest of terms.
posted by gingerbeer at 6:52 PM on April 7, 2012

On your title question: I bought my traditional white pouf of a dress from a store specifically for used wedding dresses -- picked it out and took it home that same day, and had a seamstress do some alterations. If you go used, it helps to be small -- you can cut off any worn/dirty hem, and it's always easier to take things in than let them out.
posted by palliser at 8:13 PM on April 7, 2012

We planned ours in about 9 months. Our limiting factor was the reception venue (we were both dead-set on the local microbrewery's restaurant) so we got the first available Saturday around the time we wanted, and then found whatever outdoor venue was available that day.(We looked at a few different parks/gardens in the area.) I got my dress at David's Bridal and it fit pretty much right off the rack, so I really didn't have to do a lot of fittings and alterations. So 9 months was plenty of time, really. (Although if you're planning on inviting friends/family who are going to have to travel overseas or whatnot, it would be nice to give them plenty of notice.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:23 PM on April 7, 2012

I did it in 3 months in the US!! Of course, I wasn't working for two of those months, but I DID order a dress that came just in time for one alteration and fitting. Definitely plan your budget first then make a list of your must-haves and then start shopping for locations and vendors, etc...
posted by LilBit at 8:57 PM on April 7, 2012

Congratulations in your engagement! Have fun with the planning and don't let people bully you into agreeing to things/activities/places you really don't want.

4 1/2 years ago, I planned my Canadian big city wedding in 8 months. Inchose my date options, checked with the church, then found my reception venue. We had fewer than 100 guests on a long weekend Saturday.

I got chastised for visiting bridal salons "late" by going in February for an early Sept date... but there was enough time (6 months, almost exactly) for me to get a "made upon request" gown.

If I was doing it over again, I would have thought more about my budget (and how I wanted to distribute it) in advance. I bought a "shoe string wedding" guide midway through the planning process and had already missed some good opportunities to be frugal. For example, in retrospect I might not have bought the "Gown" because it influenced some other choices towards the more formal. But then again, I started out thinking I wouldn't buy a gown and choose it after contemplating some less formal options and I did feel more lovely than ever before or since (yay boning)... so maybe that was all worthwhile.

I had non-profit event planning experience before planning my wedding and that helped keep the panic at bay. It's definitely an activity that expands to fit the time available. I was also underemployed for a chunk of the planning period, which was nice. But this is where you decide what you want to do, and then go out and figure out if that's possible.

Some of it also depends on your local culture & customs via a vis how much you're going to DIY with friends vs hire others to do (flowers, baking, decor). The time-money-quality triangle dictates cheap & good will be time-expensive. But cheap & fast might be good enough for your "vision".

Based on my experience, and what you've said, I think September would be the earliest I'd plan for. Unless it was just going to be us and our closest circle at a location with an in house caterer, in which case, mid-late summer seems viable.

Invite printing, addressing and mailing so that potential guests have substantial (6+ weeks) warning is also a determining factor.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 9:35 PM on April 7, 2012

My husband and I were engaged in mid-May and married a few months later, in early October. We had a small ceremony with about 30 guests and then a large party afterwards. We didn't have an officiant; my friend was ordained online and signed the license for us. I wore a regular dress, not a wedding dress. However, the venue for the big party cancelled about 2.5 months out, and I still had time.

I tend to think that weddings expand to fill the time alloted to planning them. If you want something traditional and big and formal, give it a year or more. But if you want something individual and less formal, take less time.

What's really helpful: there are wedding websites (I used where you can punch in a wedding date and it will give you a checklist of stuff and when you'd want to do it. What's great is that you can ignore/delete the stuff you don't need to do. This can also help with your budget. Weddings are big business, so there's a lot of product placement, ads, etc, but the planning tools are helpful.

And by the way: congratulations!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:02 PM on April 7, 2012

In my (English) experience most people book their venues 1-2 years in advance. If you want a summer wedding this matters more. You may find limited availability for summer 2012, but more for summer 2013. If you plan to get married in a different season, it'll be easier.

And yes, budget, approx number of guests, then venue(s) then everything else.
posted by plonkee at 12:51 AM on April 8, 2012

We spent about a month planning, but it was very low key. Mostly just rented a tux, bought some rings and a dress, found a suitably novel honeymoon destination and a pleasant restaurant for after the ceremony. City hall, ten people, couple hundred dollars.

People make a huge deal of it, have no fun, and get terribly stressed. I don't understand why they put themselves through all that.
posted by ead at 12:52 AM on April 8, 2012

Our timeline was determined largely by (1) when we got engaged (October) and (2) when we wanted to have the wedding (wanted early october originally, but ended up booking for early September). We've had about 10–11 months to plan. I've been doing most of the legwork, and during that time, I've been working 20 hours a week at my main job, 8 at another, had a three-month internship (10 hours per week), and been a full-time grad student. I wont say it's always been easy (especially around the end of last semester), but it's always been manageable. We're still 5 months away, but we're in great shape.

Just for reference, we're looking at around 100 invited guests (so, decent size, but not insane), we didn't spend much time waffling on venue, our venue caters all of their events, and we hired a photographer I'd been admiring for years. We're doing cider donuts rather than a fancy cake, and we're having a friend marry us in a non-religious service. I got my dress free from a friend who was married last year, but I still need to have it tailored. We're also not doing any of that videographer stuff, or hiring a florist (I'm doing most of the decorating myself, including plants). So, all of that eliminated some work.

DIY can be extremely time consuming, but it can also save money, so that's something else you might want to consider, depending on where your talents lie, what sort of look you want, and whether money or time is harder to come by.

Also: Nthing looking online for checklists. I found several, but the one we've been using is from Pash Weddings. It's been extremely helpful, although I've adjusted things somewhat to suit our own needs.
posted by divisjm at 6:26 AM on April 8, 2012

My mom planned hers in six weeks. This involved lots of help from her mother, and basically never saying no to anyone who was available. If they needed a service done, and there was a person who wasn't booked six weeks hence, they hired that person on the spot. This was in 1982, and I suspect times have changed a bit; it would be harder to do this now.

Mine took a less ridiculous but still pretty short eight months. It felt like enough time, but I think six months wouldn't have.
posted by troublesome at 10:23 AM on April 8, 2012

I should clarify that when I say 'start with the budget', I just mean you need to know the total amount you can spend on the whole shebang, including your dress and often-forgotten incidentals (bridesmaids/groomsman gifts, payment or tips for the officiant, etc. etc. etc.)

Of course you can't know how much you're going to spend on each individual thing before you start researching your options, but before you think guests and options, you should have a firm number.
posted by muddgirl at 10:32 AM on April 8, 2012

Thank you all! Fantastically useful, all of it.
posted by Catseye at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2012

Update: We got married yesterday, and it went great. Thank you again to all who gave advice here; it was both helpful and reassuring!

For future readers with the same question: we planned it in just under 6 months, and had a formal-ish wedding (church ceremony with sit-down meal reception and a ceilidh) for around 90 guests. We worked out a very rough budget, but mostly we decided what we wanted first and then worked out how many people we could afford to include.

We picked the venues first, then the rough time of year we wanted to get married, then narrowed it down to a date based on when both venues and our immediate families were available. In general, six months was a long enough timescale for us and photographer, caterers, invitations, venues, etc. weren't a problem to choose. But I don't think this would have been so easy if we'd been talking about the summer, when they're all much busier; the most difficult thing to organise was the ceilidh band, because they're no less busy in winter. I do wish we'd started working on the guest list slightly sooner, though, as it took much longer to sort out than we'd anticipated and I was keen to give guests as much advance notice as possible.

As for my dress, some shops did tell me that I pretty much had to pick right there on the spot if I wanted one in time for the wedding, but others said they could do it much quicker. When I found one I really liked, the shop said they could do it in three months or sell me the (much cheaper) sample dress I tried on; I went with that and it only needed minor alterations done a few weeks before the wedding.

The planning was time-consuming and stressful enough that I'm glad we didn't have more than six months to do it, as I very much got the impression it would have expanded to fill the time available. The day itself was amazing, though, and we're both super happy about the whole thing!
posted by Catseye at 1:03 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

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