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You want to look incredible on your elopement day, duh, that’s a given. You also want to pop against your epic backdrop in the hundreds or thousands of photos that’ll be taken by your photographer in the landscape you probably traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to elope in. And most importantly, you want to feel comfortable enough to pack, hike, and adventure the whole day in whatever dress you end up wearing.
It’s hard enough deciding on a wedding dress. Throw in all these other factors and sifting through the all the possible elopement dresses gets about 100x harder. Stress no more, we got you! This guide will help you make the best decisions on style, fabric, fit, and more while on the hunt for your dream elopement dress.
Disclosure: We include some affiliate links to various elopement dresses and accessories in this post. If you click through and end up buying something, we might receive a small portion of that sale. We weren’t paid by any of these dress designers or retailers to share their info, it’s all our genuine advise and preferences. We hope this article helps your search for the perfect elopement dress!
*There’s a lot of info here! Feel free to bookmark this page and refer back as you continue your dress search*
WEDDING DRESSES VS ELOPEMENT DRESSES
There are countless wedding dress styles and designs to choose from, but not every wedding dress makes for a great elopement dress. You’re not just waltzing down an isle and then going to cocktail hour in your dress. You’re planning to hike/climb/romp/spin/twirl all over a mountainside or beach or desert in that dress and it’s gonna take a beating in the best way possible. By the end of the day, your wedding dress will officially look like an elopement dress if you know what we mean. We’re talking that natural dirt ombré on the hem with maybe a few twigs in there 😉
So when you start shopping for your elopement dress, you need to think about things like mobility, packability, weight, and fabric texture. You should consider how it will look and interact with the landscape you’re eloping in and whatever weather mother nature might throw at you. And you need to think about the type of activities your day will entail so you can find the dress that will be best suited to your adventure. When it comes to eloping, not all elopement dresses are created equal. But if you pay attention to some key details, you can usually find a dress in any style that will look and perform amazingly at your elopement.
dress fabrics: WHAT'S BEST FOR ELOPEMENTS?
From a practical standpoint, something light and airy is best for hiking. From a photographic standpoint, anything with lots of fabric allows for lots of creativity. You can throw it in the air, let the wind whip it dramatically, drape the train off a cliffside – beautiful movement in a dress makes for such eye-catching photos. The good thing is that light and airy doesn’t necessarily mean a dress where the hem ends at your ankles. The fabric of your dress plays a huge part in all of the above, so learning a bit about the different fabric options out there is a good place to start.
Chiffon, Organza, Georgette, and Tulle are all lightweight fabrics that have lots of natural movement. The texture is sheer so it’s typically layered, which allows light to filter through and really pop against the landscape. When you’re out in nature, these dresses will move with the wind and catch the sunlight in the most beautiful way.
They can be a little clingy though – Tulle in particular tends to be a twig and leaf magnet – but don’t let that stop you from buying a dress with any of these fabrics. It’s easy to pick out a twig. Or just roll with it because you’re eloping and that’s how elopements do.
Satin, silk, and polyester are heavier fabrics in comparison. They won’t have as much natural movement due to their weight, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good for elopement dresses. Where these dresses really shine is their elegance and supple texture. Their lustrous quality glows in the sunlight and long trains are particularly dramatic.
Since they’re a bit heavier, they’re less breathable and warmer. This could be nice for a winter elopement, but a little hot and sweaty in the middle of summer. Pro tip – If you love the elegant look of these fabrics, try a dress made with charmeuse instead of satin. It’s quite a bit lighter and will have more natural movement, while still draping beautifully around your figure.
Lace & Embroidery
Lace and embroidery dresses are quite a bit different from other fabrics. We’ve worked with a handful of brides who have worn these types of dresses to elopements. From our experience, they seem very easy to hike and get around in.
The style of these dresses is usually less traditional. Many times they have a shorter hem length, and you can find interesting features like flared sleeves and cool embroidered designs. Another benefit to these fabrics is that they’re less prone to wrinkling, which is good if you’re planning to pack the dress out to your elopement location.
HIKING IN Elopement dresses??
We get asked about this all the time. Do brides hike in the dress? Do they pack it out and change in the woods? How’s all that work? The answer is that it totally varies depending on the elopement. Sometimes it makes sense to hike in the dress and other times it’s better to pack it out and change once you’ve reached the ceremony location. Your photographer should be able to help you make the right decision, so start by asking them. The main deciding factors are the physical demands and length of the trail you’ll be hiking. Logistics surrounding the first look also might play a role. Whether you end up hiking in your dress or packing it out, we have some tips for your elopement.
How Much Adventure?
It’s safe to say that even if you’re doing a short and easy hike, you’ll be moving a lot during the photo shoot – climbing on boulders, running barefoot down a beach, twirling in a forest – that kind of a thing. But oftentimes elopement adventures go above and beyond that.
We’ve worked with brides who snowboarded and rock-climbed in their wedding dress, scrambled over talus fields, crossed rivers, and backpacked to the top of mountains. Depending on how much adventure you have planned for your elopement, your dress might become more sportswear than formalwear lol.
We will say though that we’ve seen brides accomplish some pretty crazy stuff in less-than ideal elopement dresses. And they owned it and looked absolutely amazing. A big part of how well you get around is honestly your mentality and determination. But picking the right dress can definitely help.
How to hike in a gown
How you hike with your dress will depend on the style and material. The easiest dresses to hike in have plenty of fabric below the waist. A mermaid dress that hugs your thighs is going to be much harder to hike in than your typical dress, for instance.
Bunch up as much fabric as you can to one side and carry it so that you aren’t stepping on it or dragging it as you hike. Dresses with long trains can actually be easier to hike with because you have enough fabric to easily drape it over your forearm instead of clutching it in your hand. If you get tired of holding your dress, have your partner take a turn. It’s a great photo op!
Pro tip: When trying on elopement dresses, practice bunching it up and walk around the store to get a feel for what hiking in it will be like.
When to wear it and when to pack it
Everyone wants to know – do brides hike in their dress or change out there? The answer is both! For short hikes (1-4 miles round trip) that have beautiful views along the trail, we always suggest hiking in the dress. You’ll likely stop for photos along the way and it’ll just be easier to already be in your dress.
For elopements with longer hikes (5+ miles) where the views come at the end of the trail, we recommend packing your dress and changing once you’re out there. Where do you change? Find a big rock or tree to duck behind and have your partner keep a lookout! There are portable changing stations you can buy, but unless you’re hiking to a busy and barren place, we find them to be more of a hassle to pack out than they’re worth.
How to pack your dress
If you do end up packing your dress, the most important thing is preventing a wrinkly mess at the summit. We recommend putting it in a foldable garment bag that you can strap to your backpack with carabiners or bungee cords.
The alternative is finding a dress that’s made from a fabric that doesn’t wrinkle easily. But even then, it’s better to pack it in its own bag. When we get to the end of the trail, we find an area to stash all our bags and gear while shooting so it’s out of the way during photos.
One of our favorite packing methods for other things like bouquets and shoes is strapping those to the outside of backpacks as well. Stuff a bouquet into a water bottle pouch, or clip a pair of heels to a compression strap!
DRESSING FOR YOUR ELOPEMENT LANDSCAPE
Part of what makes elopement photos so stunning is just seeing couples wearing these beautiful dresses and suits in these rugged landscapes. The contrast is striking. It’s not something you encounter every day out on the trail. No matter what you wear, it’s going to look pretty great in your elopement destination landscape. Still, there are a few things to consider that can make your photos look even better and keep you comfortable throughout your whole elopement adventure.
A pop of color!
If you are feeling that non-traditional vibe, a great way to really stand out against the landscape is choosing a dress with a pop of color to it. This can be particularly effective in more monochromatic landscapes like deserts, but we honestly love color everywhere.
We recommend something that’s white with an ombré dip die or hint of color to it, as opposed to a dress that’s all one solid color. Another more subdued option is going for an off-white or very light color. White-ish dresses that have a hint of grey, pink, or cream are a great way to introduce a lil sumthin’ sumthin’ extra.
Accessories for fashion
Hip sunglasses, a flower belt, a cool hairpiece, a back necklace, a fur shawl, even a cape! We’re all about the little details that allow you to bring your unique style into your look. You don’t need to wear them in every photo. But accessories are so fun to play with throughout the shoot.
For example, lots of brides go back and forth between veil or no veil. We say why not both? Bring it along for a portion of your day and we can pack it in the backpack when you’re done with it. Plus, accessorizing is a fun way to buy little things for your outfit that you can wear again after the big day.
Accessories for weather
Whether you’re eloping on the beach midsummer or on a snowshoe hike midwinter, there’s always a chance things could get chilly. Weather changes fast in these places and it’s often unpredictable. You’ll probably be out at sunrise or sunset too, when the temps are coldest or dropping fast. The best thing you can do is be prepared for all of the above with the proper gear.
Shawls, cover ups, or a cozy blanket are great ideas for warmer locations. Up in the mountains or during chillier shoulder seasons, layers are a must. We suggest finding layers and jackets that are functional but also hip (like leather jackets or colorful puffies) just in case you end up wearing it in a lot of your photos. Little pops of color will look great, but stay away from loud patterns – those are distracting. And of course, having rain jackets and collapsible umbrellas is always smart.
We love trains!
Okay, we’re definitely biased towards dresses with trains. Short train, long train, extremely long train…we love them all! There are elopement dresses without trains that are beautiful too, but trains are so nice for so many reasons.
For starters, it really makes a dress look like a wedding dress. Trains give dresses that extra formality that says “special occasion.” And they look oh so good in epic landscapes. You can drape it over a cliff, let it blow dramatically in the wind, or collect dirt for that natural ombré look 😉 Plus, trains will make your dress easier to bunch up and carry while hiking. No matter what kind of dress you end up going with, we highly recommend going with at least a subtle train.
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TIME TO SHOP FOR YOUR DREAM ELOPEMENT DRESS!
Okay, so it’s time to start shopping for that elopement dress and trying out different styles to find one you love. But where to start? Do you look online or in brick and mortar stores? What styles will look best on you? Will you be able to find a dress you love that’s within your budget? We’ve put together some helpful resources that answer these questions and more!
Three things to keep in mind while shopping
1. DRESS SHAPE // From a photography perspective, we’re biased towards A-lines, ball gowns, princess dresses, and flowy skirts because those styles really stand out against busy backdrops like mountains and forests. Those styles of dresses have a lot of natural movement, which makes them fun to play with for epic photos. If you’re going for a more form fitting look, we recommend a mermaid style dress that opens up at your booty so your legs are free for hiking around. Which leads us to our next point…
2. MOBILITY // If you’re eloping in the mountains, on the beach, in a forest, in the desert, or anywhere even remotely adventurous, you’ll be happiest in a dress that allows you to move around easily. When you’re trying on elopement dresses, pretend hike in them around the room. Try to image yourself taking big steps, stepping up onto small rocks or over roots, jumping up in your partners arms, spinning around, etc. Okay, maybe don’t do all of that in the changing room 😉 But if your dress feels like you can truly adventure around in it, then you’re golden.
Pro tip: Avoid anything that restricts leg and arm movement. Mermaid, trumpet, and form fitting styles are more difficult to hike and move around in. Straps that wrap around your arms (as opposed to over your shoulders) can be restrictive when moving your arms above your head too. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy these types of dresses, just make sure to test out your mobility while trying them on.
3. CONFIDENCE // This might seem obvious but it’s SO important. Don’t choose a dress that you like, choose a dress that you absolutely LOVE! You might be thinking “well, duh” but it’s true! If you feel like a rockstar, you’re going to enjoy your day even more than you could’ve imagined. And as a bonus – your confidence will absolutely show through your photos.
SHOP OUR FAVORITE DRESS STYLES
*Hover over (or tap if on mobile) the images to read about each style.*
PRICES FOR ELOPEMENT DRESSES AND HOW MUCH TO SPEND
Everyone has a different budget and priorities for what’s most important for their elopement. But one thing that’s universal is wanting to feel incredible in what you wear on your wedding day. Our advice is to determine a realistic budget for your outfit, but don’t compromise the way you feel in it. If you are putting time, energy, and money into having the elopement of your dreams. You owe it to yourself to wear the dress of your dreams! Your confidence will shine through and the photos will look unbelievable. Below are some tips and resources for finding your dream dress in every budget range.
Elopement Dress Stats:
- On average, brides spend about $1,500 on their wedding dress (source)
- If you’re having alterations done, expect to spend an additional $200 – $700
- If you are planning a reception at a later date, dry clean your dress the day after your elopement (don’t wait!) to reuse it for your party. You’d be surprised the magic a good dry cleaner can work.
- Brides spend about $250 on outfit accessories like shoes, veils, hair pieces, belts, etc.
Where to find a dress for any budget
We’re not going to sugar coat it, finding a high quality dress dress under $400 will be hard. But with a lot of research and patience, it can be done! Here are our favorite places and tips to find a dress in this budget.
You can find some designer dresses in this price range if you get lucky, have some patience, and know where to look. Used dress stores, eBay, sale dresses, and sample sales are great places to find a good bang for your buck. You’ll have quite a bit more flexibility finding dresses in this budget than under $400. The best deals might be on Etsy, where a lot of dress designers are creating beautiful custom gowns for under $1,000.
- Etsy’s elopement dresses under $1,000
- BHLDN’s under $1k and sale section
- Nearly Newlywed’s used designer dresses
- Search your favorite designers on eBay
- Find a dress off the rack or a sample sale dress from a local boutique that are one or two sizes too big, and then take it to a tailor to have it custom fit to your body.
Fav designers under $1,000
This is the most common price range for wedding dresses, which means this budget range has the most options for brides. Between handmade custom dresses on Etsy, well known designers on BHLDN, and the designers at your local boutiques, there are countless options for beautiful dresses that are perfect for adventure elopements.
- Etsy’s best elopement dresses
- BHLDN’s wedding dresses
- Bridal Shops! Find a designer (or a few) you love and make an appointment at a local bridal shop that stocks that designer.
Fav designers in $1,000 to $3,000 budget
If you’re a fashionista looking for a true artist who has dedicated years to perfecting the craft of dress making, and you have the budget for it, you can find some pretty remarkable high-end gowns. These are statement pieces and wearable works of art. You’ll likely have an elopement dress that no one else has seen before! And these dresses will undoubtedly make your photos extra stunning.
Favorite designers $3k and up
How to BUY Elopement dresses online
1. Research with Pinterest and Instagram
Well, if you’re reading this article then you’ve already started on this step, nice 😉 The best way to do dress research is by looking at pictures and imagining yourself in the dresses. Search your elopement location on Pinterest to get a feel for what different dresses look like in that landscape. Search for dresses that brides with similar body types are wearing. Follow our elopement wedding dress board in Pinterest and check out the #elopement hashtags on instagram.
2. Pick Your Top Three and Narrow in on “the one”
The ideal situation when shopping for elopement dresses online is finding one that you love, ordering it, trying it on, and absolutely loving it in person! Okay, we realize it might not be that easy, but our best advice is to aim for that. If you narrow it down to your top three, really try to picture yourself in each dress, rest on it for a few days, and then go with your gut – it’s likely that you’ll pick the right one.
Pro tip: To see what real life brides think of the dress, read the customer reviews and look through the customer uploaded photos.
3. Ask for second opinions from friends and your elopement photographer!
Send your top pics to your mom and best friends. You’ll get an honest opinion from people that know you well and, as a bonus, this is a great way to incorporate them into your elopement. And who is more experienced with judging how an elopement dress will look in photos than your elopement photographer?! Almost all of our brides ask us for input and text us pictures of their dresses – and we love helping! We know what kinds of dresses work best and can help provide some insight that you may not have thought about.
4. Return Policies
Hopefully you wont have to make any returns, but just in case, make sure you’re fully informed of the return policy. Larger online dress retailers typically have a return policy whereas handmade to order dresses from Etsy may not.
Not everyone works with a seamstress for their wedding dress, but a lot of women do. This is a great option if you absolutely love your wedding dress but want to make it fit like a glove, hem the bottom, or do any changes to the dress. Shop around for local tailors, read reviews, and find your seamstresses before making a final decision on your dress to make sure they can make alterations to it if need be. Depending on how much alteration you are looking for, you can expect to pay on average of $200-$700 (source).