Even if you are shopping with a limited budget, your wedding dress is still probably the most expensive piece of clothing you will ever buy. It should look like it.
Bright, optic white can be a tough color to pull off. A lot of the details that make the dress special can end up getting lost, especially in photos, and the overall look can start to feel graphic and harsh, instead of soft and romantic.
Consider choosing a soft white, like ivory or cream, over pure white. And don't buy into the whole "wedding dresses have to be white" thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with incorporating color into your wedding look, whether all over or only as an accent.
Wedding dresses, especially the ball-gown variety, require a lot of fabric, and good fabric, like silk and handmade lace, is expensive. That's why many mass-market bridal brands favor cheap synthetics like polyester to help keep their costs down.
Choose a simpler dress made with higher-quality materials over something big and flashy made of lower-quality materials. A dress with a small amount of handmade lace will look much richer than one that is absolutely covered in the cheap stuff. And if you want that big, ball-gown look, but you can't afford the high-quality materials needed to do it right, consider buying your dress secondhand. Once it is tailored to fit your body, the only way anyone will ever know you didn't buy it new is if you tell them.
Choose matte fabrics. Very often, even an expensive, shiny white dress still ends up looking like it's made out of sateen bedsheets, especially if it is a pure, bright white as opposed to a softer shade like ivory. And don't go too crazy with the rhinestones either. When it comes to wedding dress sparkle, less is definitely more.
If you want a sexy wedding dress, great. More power to you. Just understand that things like visible corsetry, lace-up backs (or fronts, for that matter), and extreme cleavage can make an otherwise sophisticated dress look, well, not.
Instead of choosing a dress with illusion paneling and a high slit and a plunging neckline and lingerie-inspired details, focus on just one of those things. Maybe two. It's not that all those features together can't look sophisticated; it's just that they so often don't, especially when you are shopping on a budget and don't have the benefit of expert tailoring, fine fabrics, and high-quality embellishments to elevate the overall look.
Don't squash them down like that!
You want to look like you've been poured into your dress, not like you're about to come pouring out of it. Luckily there are tailors and seamstresses to make it all better. Nothing is more important than a proper fit. Nothing.
Ruffles, bows, beading, three-dimensional lace, and gathered skirts held in place by giant rhinestone clips? All on the same dress? It's too much. It just looks like you couldn't make up your mind.
Don't be afraid to focus on one main decorative statement across your entire dress or to let parts of your dress go unadorned, since doing so will make your whole look feel more balanced. And be extra careful with three-dimensional embellishments. If they are too bulky, they can start to look cheap and stuck on, no matter how much they cost.
That's right, reaching your thumb into your bodice to pull your dress up makes your whole situation look cheap. Whether you are doing it because your dress actually doesn't fit properly or because you're just not used to the feeling of wearing a 30-pound strapless gown for 10 hours straight makes no difference.
If you wouldn't wear a strapless dress on any other occasion, don't wear one on your wedding. Straps help keep everything in place. They support you. Straps are your friends. Don't you want your friends to be at your wedding? If the dress you like doesn't come with straps, add them. You'll be glad you did.
Most wedding dresses really don't need much in the way of extra bits and pieces to complete the look, especially if they are already embellished, and few things cheapen a wedding look, or any outfit, faster than heavy-handed accessorizing.
Dial the jewelry back a bit and limit yourself to one attention-grabbing accessory at most. That means choosing either the jeweled belt or the tiara. Not both.
It should go without saying, but high-low wedding dresses always look cheap. Always.
Pick a length. Do you want it long, or do you want it short? Either is fine. Just pick one.
If you base your look on a cartoon, there is a very real possibility that you will wind up looking cartoonish.
If you are going to attempt to channel royalty on your wedding day, take a page from Kate Middleton's playbook and keep it simple. Look for an A-line gown that flows smoothly out from your waist instead of puffing up and out, and limit yourself to just a few understated accessories, so that they don't compete with the drama of the gown.