Choosing the right formal or debutante dress is a big decision. Finding that dream dress can help make the night a truly magical experience. However, dress shopping can quickly turn into a nightmare. The endless style and design choices, hefty price tags, uncertainty around online purchases, shipping delays, fitting problems – these are just some of the factors that can ruin your dress shopping experience.
Despite all this, finding your perfect deb dress doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. It should be part of the fun and excitement leading up to the big night. So, to help you navigate the rough waters of dress shopping, we’ve put together a list of tips for choosing the perfect formal outfit.
- Create a budget
Before doing anything else, you need to have a general idea of how much money you have to spend. Setting your budget will help to narrow down your dress options and stop you from over-loading your credit card. The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a gown that’s wildly outside your price range, because then everything else will feel like a lesser version of your dream dress.
When creating your budget, it’s also important to remember that spending doesn’t end with just the dress. Make sure you still have enough money left over for shoes, accessories, dress alterations and hair and makeup.
- Search online for inspiration
Before you start hitting the boutiques, do a little online digging to find a few dresses you really love. And don’t just limit yourself to deb dress websites. Browse celebrity red carpet photos, fashion magazines, runway pics. Having a range of different styles that you’re interested in will help you narrow down choices once you get into the boutiques.
- Don’t buy online
Browse online, but don’t buy online. While the online price tags may appear tempting, buying your dress online opens you up to a whole bunch of risks.
The biggest risk is around fit. No matter how detailed the online measurements may be, there is no substitute for trying on the dress in person. While it may look great in pictures, that’s no guarantee it’ll suit you when it arrives. And if the fit isn’t right, that can mean costly and difficult alterations that may affect the integrity of the dress.
Shipping delays may mean your dress doesn’t arrive in time or doesn’t give you enough time to take care of dress alterations.
There are also a large number of less-than-reputable online boutiques that offer poorly made dresses that won’t fit properly and may require significant alteration to even make them wearable.
- Consider the dress code
When it comes to deb balls and school formals, most events will have specific dress codes that outline what is and isn’t appropriate. Some of the common guidelines include dress length, exposed backs, strapless dresses, neckline and colour.
Buying a dress that violates these guidelines can be a risky business. You may be tempted to purchase that strapless dress you love, thinking that some quick alterations will bring it into line for the night. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that some dresses can be extremely difficult to alter and that any alterations may end up significantly changing the look and feel of the dress.
- Pick a colour
In some cases, you may not have much of a choice when it comes to colour (depending on the dress code for the event). If you do have the freedom to choose a colour, you’ll want to select something that suits your complexion. Different colours will work better with different skin tones. Here are some general suggestions:
Dark skin: Look for reds through to golden tones or shimmery golds or ivory
Olive or earthy skin: Metallic golds or prints and patterns on reds and greens
Medium or peach skin: Try plums and lavenders or soft pastels
Fair skin: Look for blues, pinks or bright pastels
And don’t forget about hair colour. If you have a particularly bright or vibrant hair colour, it may be more important to match your dress to your hair colour than your complexion.
- Pick a style to suit your frame
Whatever size or shape you are, you’ll want to choose a dress style that complements your body type, balances your natural shape and brings out your best features. Here are some style suggestions for the most common body types:
Apple-shaped body: Try a skirt with plenty of volume to balance your silhouette. Look for a defined waist and a plunging sweetheart or V-neck neckline.
Slender or athletic frame: Aim for a dress that suggests curves, rather than a straight up and down column dress. A narrowed waist and flared tail or mermaid or trumpet skirt can create shape below the waist and sweetheart neckline can add curves up top.
Petite or short frame: Single colour dresses mean the line of the dress isn’t broken up, creating a feeling of length. A high belted waist can also create the illusion of longer legs.
Busty body shape: You’ll need for something that supports your bust, while also balancing your lower half with some flare and proportion.
Pear-shaped body: Loose, flared or flowing skirts are great for balancing out the body shape. On top, look for a halter neck or plunging bodice, especially something with pretty details, beadwork or attention-grabbing accessories.
- Add some personality
Once you have your dress, it’s time to really make it your own. Shoes, jewellery, accessories, hair and makeup – whatever you choose to add, make sure it reflects your individuality and personality. Remember, you want to look beautiful, but also feel comfortable. And a little expression of self will help make that happen.