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Special Occasion Shopping 101!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the best part of an event I have gone to is the planning of, and the search for, my special event dress. Finding and buying “that dress”, “the perfect one” or quite simply “My dream dress” is about the hunt!  

You have been searching online, and on Instagram, for “the one” from Sherri Hill and it is tempting you, but you need to try it, and some others, on. Well, here are some must know tips in finding the ultimate grad, prom, engagement, or wedding gown – special occasion dress shopping 101!


  1. Do your homework

Who doesn’t love looking at gorgeous dresses on websites like,,, and to name a few. Look up these and other designers that offer the best selection in the dress category you are looking for. Most designer brands will have hundreds of prom, guest of prom, graduation, wedding, guest of wedding, engagement, and second dress styles on their sites, which will help get the ideas of what you are after flowing.


  1. Finding “the dress” to try it on

Once you have inspiration for the perfect prom or special occasion dress from your newly researched favorite designer, use their “Where to Shop”  page to locate the store in your area that carries their collections. Looking for your dream dress at your local store has multiple advantages. Shopping locally ensures that you have an expert close to you that is easily accessible. You might end up deciding between multiple contenders, and may want to visit your potential dresses several times. Trying on your choices becomes harder if you have a 2 hour drive both there and back home instead of a few minute drive to your favorite local dress store. Almost all evening gowns have small tweaks to them, and shopping in your local area also makes visits easier for alterations when they are completed close by.  

Local dress stores will have a better sense of what is trending in your area and can also help ensure you do not duplicate a dress that is already going to your event. Dress consultants can make sure you pick the most flattering style for your gorgeous bod, and make suggestions for similar dress styles if you choose to go off brand. They work closely with you and eliminate the anxiety of buying and receiving a poorly made, fake, online knock off. Most importantly, your local dress expert, or dresspert as we call them here at Elizabeth Noel, will work closely with the designer that produces your gown. Your dresspert ensures that your dress arrives correctly, and is there to help, on that odd occasion, that the designer sends your dress incorrectly or with a manufacturer’s defect. A high level designer authorized retailer has direct access to their designers and will be your advocate.

Supporting any local business in your community makes your city’s economy stronger. In the case of a dress store, being a patron allows you to have a place to access designer styles you would normally not have a chance to see, touch, or try on in person. A home town business usually employees your neighbours, friends, and generally offers part time youth employment. Elizabeth Noel has often offered jobs to our own grad and prom shoppers. 


 3.  Timing

Whenever possible, start Prom, grad and wedding dress shopping early. The more time you allow yourself in the ordering process, the better chance you have of getting your dress and with time to spare. Some popular dress designers like Sherri Hill have, and produce, limited inventory. You don’t want to miss out on “the one” because it had a limited production run and sold out early in the season. Some Sherri Hill dresses sell out even before the first one hits the stores. Other designers like Jovani, will produce a dress for their high level stores that have sold out, however, depending on how many orders are ahead of yours, the production on your dress may take, not always, but as much as, 16-24 weeks.


  1. Mind Set

You are ready to start trying. An open mind to trying dresses on might be one of the most important things in the buying process. People ask me what is the number one rule of dress shopping, and by far it is to have an open mind. Very often the dress you hate on the hanger, ends up being fabulous on you. Trust your dresspert. They have seen the dress on, and if they have a good eye for your body type, may know that the dress you are questioning is going to be phenomenal on you.  

Do not worry about the fit of the dress in the store. In our store, we have only one of each style so we can offer a huge selection of dresses, and we will order the size that you need if we do not have the right size on hand. It is amazing what small tweaks like lifting the straps, or positioning a dress on a client, can do to get a true glimpse of what the right size will look like on you.

In truth, there are really only about 12 core dress styles in the dress industry, so if the exact dress you are looking for is not in store, or not in a close enough size, your consultant will bring you the same type of style to get a good feel for the one you want to order.

Again, remember that almost all special occasion and prom dresses need to have their straps and hems adjusted. Your sales associate is on site to position the dress you are considering, so you can get a true picture of what YOUR dress will look like when you have it fitted and is ready to be worn to your event.


  1. What to wear when shopping

The real question is what NOT to wear. Do not worry about your hair – a messy bun will definitely get things done. You will be pulling dresses on and off, and some styles of dresses, like ballgowns, will go over your head, and your hair will get messy.

Do not wear make-up. Make-up can rub off and ruin the garments you are trying on, but more importantly, not wearing make-up will really let you assess what a color looks like, and which shades make you pop! Make-up can change how a colour looks on you. If a dress colour looks fabulous on you without your foundation and make-up, imagine how incredible you will look when your hair and face are done for your event.

Wear comfy clothes and shoes that you can take on and off easily. After trying some dresses on, you may decide to search through the store’s racks for more dresses, and don’t want to get frustrated with shoes or clothes that are a chore to take on and off.  


  1. Undergarments and footwear

Well made prom, wedding and special occasion dresses generally have bras and/or breast cups already sewn in the dresses. Designers like Portia and Scarlett, Jovani, Jessica Angel, and Sherri Hill have multiple dress styles with low backs and know that finding a bra that will work with a backless dress can be a challenge. Seeing your bra straps while trying on a spaghetti strap, off the shoulder, or strapless dress, distracts from truly seeing what the neckline should and will look like on you. When customers come out of their dressing rooms with a gown, and their own bra still on, I will often ask if they normally wear two bras at a time? If they say no, I ask them to take their bra off, because the dress already has a bra sewn into it for them, and let’s face it, one bra is definitely more than enough in any situation let alone when you’re dress shopping.

As you may try on several evening gowns or prom dresses that others have tried on too, always go shopping with the comfiest pair of undies you have (even granny panties – we won’t judge). Underwear will keep a barrier between you and the dress. It is far more hygienic and courteous for you, and the next person who may try on the same dress.

As you will be going in store with your comfy shoes on, take a pair of heels with you that you have already broken in. It may sound crazy, but a pair of heels can really change your posture and will give you a better idea of how your gown will look. Wearing your own heels, especially if you have already broken them in, will be a much more enjoyable outing for you and your toes too!


 7.  Assistance

Do not be afraid to try a range of dress styles on. Use the expertise of the dress consultant that is at the store to help you. Dress stores that carry designer dresses have dressperts that know the styles and the inventory of the collections they carry, and are in store to help you. Prom, grad and all event dresses are not an everyday purchase and better dresses, even off brands, are not cheap to buy. You want to make sure your dress hunt goes smoothly and anxiety free. At Elizabeth Noel, our favourite way to help our beautiful dress divas find their perfect dress is during free, after hour, private appointments. By helping you one on one, we assess the best style, fit and colour, keeping your budget top of mind, and all within a relaxed and calm consultation that is all about YOU!


We hope you’ll keep these tips in mind next time you’re on the hunt for your special occasion dress! 


The ENoel team 🙂


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