When it comes time to select a wedding dress for the special day, many people are faced with the paradox of choice. With so many gowns to choose from, how is anyone expected to land on just one? That’s why more and more modern brides are opting for multiple wedding day looks instead of a singular gown.
For some, additional bridal looks offer the chance to show off another side of their personality, while for others, it’s more about functionality—after all, it’s hard to bust a move in a giant ballgown. And with celebrities like Kate Middleton and Hailey Beiber opting for multiple day-of outfits, it’s clear that this trend is growing in popularity.
Not only does donning a second (or third) outfit give you more chances to showcase your style, but Annie Lee, the principal planner at Daughter of Design and founder of Plannie.com, says it can actually help the flow of your day. If your ceremony vibe is stylistically different from your reception—such as a garden ceremony versus a sexy, lounge-like celebration—an outfit change will help bridge the overarching aesthetic of the events.
As you’re navigating all the choices that come with dressing for your wedding day, deciding to add additional bridal looks is a big decision that takes extra time, planning, and room in your budget. That’s why we’ve recruited stylist and founder of Gabrielle Hurwitz Bridal Styling, Gabrielle Hurwitz, and Annie Lee to break down everything you need to know about changing bridal dresses on your big day.
Understanding Why Brides Opt for a Second (or Third) Look
The reason for changing wedding dresses varies from person to person, but Hurwitz says it usually comes down to wanting different vibes throughout the day. “Maybe they went more conservative for the ceremony and they want something sexy for the reception, [or] maybe they chose a big ballgown for the first part of the day, but they also want something they can really dance in.”
Before you head to the boutique with the mission of selecting multiple day-of looks, however, Hurwitz typically advises her brides to try and narrow down their reasoning. Ask yourself: Are you changing to show a different side of your personality? To dance more comfortably? Are you changing simply because it’s your wedding and you can? “Once you get to your “why”, I think you’ll be able to find the perfect second look that meets your needs,” she explains.
The Right Time to Change
Opting for an additional look involves a bit more planning than just tossing on another gown. Finding the right time to switch outfits is essential so you don’t miss out on important moments during your big day. Typically there’s a shift in tone from the ceremony to the reception, so many brides choose to switch up their looks between those two events.
Hurwitz states the specific time to change will really come down to the timeline of your celebration. For some events, that means changing dresses during cocktail hour, while for others, an outfit change can come just after dinner is served but before the dancefloor opens.
To figure out where the switch fits into your schedule, Hurwitz recommends speaking to your wedding planner and photographer/videographer. This will help ensure everyone’s on the same page so you don’t miss any of the special moments you spent so long planning for.
The Appropriate Amount of Wedding Day Looks
Both pros agree: There’s no hard and fast rule to follow when it comes to the number of wedding looks you can showcase. “I’ve had brides with as many as three wedding day looks (ceremony, reception, and after-party) but I’ve also had brides stay in one dress the whole day,” notes Hurwitz. “Some brides are head-over-heels in love with their wedding dress and can’t imagine changing out of it. For other brides, [a second look] is a no-brainer.”
As you’re debating a ‘fit switch, Lee says the most important component to consider is the time. Most outfit changes take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, she explains, which is time you’re going to miss out on the festivities.
While you shouldn’t skip out on your second dream gown due to time restrictions, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons to ensure you’re thoroughly present for your day. “[Dress changes] become too much when they take away from your enjoyment,” Hurwitz says. “Your wedding day flies by, and you don’t want to spend the majority of it in a green room changing your outfit.”
For Lee, a good rule of thumb is to have one outfit change maximum, for every six to eight hours of celebration.
What to Consider When Changing Looks
As with almost all things weddings, what the bride says goes, and the day-of look should be no exception. That said, since the ceremony is typically the more serious and formal part of the day, classic attire is suggested. However, once the “I dos” are done and the license has been signed, Lee and Hurwitz agree that you can feel free to have fun with your style.
For the Ceremony
“Whatever you wear to the ceremony is most likely going to be your most photographed look between the getting ready photos, ceremony photos, and formal portraits,” notes Hurwitz. Not only that, but it’s also the outfit you’ll wear for the most crucial part of the day: exchanging wedding vows with your partner.
Because of the importance of the ceremony look, Hurwitz says most brides choose a gown that’s more “timeless and traditional” and save the “fun look” for the reception. When selecting your ceremony gown, you’ll want to consider the season, the formality, and the theme of your day so your dress feels true to both the sacredness of the moment and the style you’ve been envisioning.
For the Reception
Whether or not you were a little more conservative for your ceremony look, Hurwitz says the reception is the best time to showcase a bolder side of your personality and creatively lean into the party vibe.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to do something really fun and unexpected with color or silhouette,” she explains. “I recently had a bride change into a red mini dress for her reception in Mexico—it was a major hit.” Feel free to switch your heels out for some customized Converse if you don’t want to dance in stilettos, or trade your mermaid gown for a mini dress so you don’t have to bother with a bustle.
Lee also notes that if there’s cultural attire you’d like to feature, switching in or out of your outfit between the ceremony and the reception—like at cocktail hour—is a great way to pay tribute to your roots.
Additional Styling Tips
If you want to switch up your look but don’t feel like purchasing a second gown, there are plenty of other options that’ll give you that ceremony-to-party vibe switch. Both pros suggest changing accessories between the ceremony and reception, in order to refresh your style without buying a whole new wedding dress. “Consider going for a statement piece of jewelry, a pop of color in your shoe, or even a fabulous headpiece for your second look,” Hurwitz advises.
And while you’re off swapping necklaces, don’t forget your partner! Lee suggests having your S.O. change too, even if it’s something simple like removing a tie or switching shoes. This will give you both the appearance of being ready to party and help get you into that celebratory spirit.
What Not to Wear
The good news: There aren’t any set rules or faux pas to keep in mind—etiquette-wise—regarding your wedding day look. “We’re in an age where anything goes,” Hurwitz says. “It’s so exciting for brides to have the freedom to fully express themselves through their fashion.”
Before opting for a more outside-the-box style, nonetheless, it’s a good idea to double-check with your ceremony space if you’re having a religious wedding. Some houses of worship have sleeve, cleavage, color, and veil rules, so you’ll want to be aware of any parameters before saying “yes” to a ceremony dress.
Ultimately whatever you decide to wear to your wedding, Hurwitz and Lee agree that switching gowns is absolutely not a “must.” Whether you envision one look for the celebration or multiple styles throughout the entire day, all that truly matters is you have your person by your side and you’re wearing whatever you feel most radiant in.