Ultimate Guide for Choosing Your Dress
Looking for elopement dresses that will look amazing and work well in the outdoors? This guide will help you find a dress that’s easy to pack, hike with, and even the fabrics that work best for different seasons and different landscapes. As an elopement expert, I’ve helped so many beautiful brides find a great dress. And I’ve learned some great tips along the way! So let’s find you a dress that helps you look amazing and keeps you comfortable on your wedding day.
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Wedding Dress vs Elopement Dress
Your elopement dress is going to go on quite the adventure compared to a typical dress. This isn’t a wedding or reception where you’ll be inside most of the day. You’ll want to consider the style, fabric, and texture of a dress in a totally different way. So what makes for a great elopement dress? What should you be looking for?
Things to Consider For Your Elopement Dress:
- Mobility: Think about the activities you’ll be doing like hiking, climbing rocks, twirling around on the patio at your mountain cabin, jumping over streams, sitting on a blanket, etc. So being able to freely move around in your dress will make it a lot easier and keep you more comfortable throughout the day.
- Packability: You want to know how easy it is to pack in your suitcase and backpack when you hit the trail. On the trail though, you can attach your dress to the outside of your backpack. And to help you when hiking, use bungee cords to strap it to your pack and keep it from swaying back and forth. I’ve seen it all, including couples who had DIY clips they made at home to secure their outfits on their packs.
- Weight: You want a lightweight dress for warm weather or longer hikes. And a heavier dress if you’re eloping in the fall or winter. This isn’t usually a huge factor, but when trying on dresses, try to think about how heavy it is compared to other dresses you liked. You’ll be the one carrying it on your hike!
Fabrics for Each Season
Of course, you’ll want to think about the time of year and the location you are getting married. Will it be cold, windy, and snowy? Hot, dry, and sandy? Rainy and muddy? Knowing what weather you might have will help with the type of fabric/dress you’ll want to look for.
- Winter/Fall: heavier fabrics like silk, satin, charmeuse, polyester
- Summer/Spring: light and airy fabrics like chiffon, tulle, organza, silk
- Wrinkle-resistant: lace, embroidery, polyester
Final Fabric Tips
Lastly, if you’re eloping in the mountains in the summer, you can expect chilly mornings (even if it says the high will be in the 70s). Layers will be your best friend! Dresses that move with the wind will look stunning in photos and keep in mind that lace/embroidery/polyester fabrics will be more wrinkle-resistant.
Staying Comfortable in Your Dress
If you are hiking and then putting on your dress at the end of the trail, make sure you have separate hiking clothes. Besides that, here are a few things that you’ll likely want for your elopement day (and other days you plan on hiking too).
ExOfficio Women’s Undies – You can wear these for multiple days, wash them in the sink, and hang them off your backpack to dry. So if you want to be adventure-ready for your post-elopement road trip with a ton of hikes planned? These will be great.
Kula Cloth – This antimicrobial pee cloth is perfect for when you have to use the restroom while on the trail. I use it for our backpacking trips, when camping, on the trail, etc. It easily straps to your pack and you can wash it in the sink or the washer at home!
Socks – You can wear stylish socks for photos, but we recommend upgrading to socks that will help avoid blisters, stay dry if you step in a puddle, etc. Check out my elopement gear guide for my sock recommendations (and more)!
Dresses for Each Landscape
There is no exact dress for each type of landscape, but there are a few tips for finding the right dress:
- A smooth dress in a textured landscape (think forests with lots of trees) will help it pop from its background.
- While a textured dress (lace or embroidered) in a simple environment (wide open mountain valleys) will do the same.
- It’s also okay to do texture on texture. I’ve seen beautiful lace dresses in the Redwoods and silk dresses on the beach. Focus on what seems more eye-catching to you in the location where you’re eloping.
- Windy landscapes are just begging for a long flowy dress! If we’re heading up to a windy ridge–I can really capture some magic with a flowy dress.
Final Landscape Tips
Finally, no matter which dress you get, just remember a bit of the landscape will make its way onto your dress. I love it when the dirt from the trail creates a beautiful ombre effect at the bottom of your dress. Twigs and leaves will find their way stuck in the lace or tiny ladybugs will cling to the tulle. No matter the dress, Mother Nature will want to be a part of it!
The most important tip is for you to love love love your dress. I want you to feel your best on your elopement day. It will boost your confidence, make you feel special, and your significant other will notice you beaming and make the photos even more adorable and amazing! 🙂
Hiking With Your Elopement Dress
Now, you’ve got your dress, and your hair and makeup are done, now do you wear your dress or do you pack it away in your bag? Which one do you do? Well, you can do either! I have had brides decide to hike in their dress and I have had brides wait until the end of the trail to change into their dress.
Should You Hike In Your Dress?
- Are you going on a short or long hike? A short 1-3 mile hike with minimal elevation gain is great for wearing your dress on a hike. Otherwise, it’s probably too long or steep of a hike to be comfortable hiking in your dress.
- What’s the weather like? Cool mornings with an easy hike are great. But if we’re hiking on a warm afternoon uphill? You’ll probably get pretty sweaty and want to hike in your hiking clothes instead.
- Are you hiking in the dark for a sunrise elopement? Perhaps it’s best to change at the end of the trail so you can hike quicker, use your headlamp easier, etc.
- What’s the trail condition like? Some hikes are flat and paved. Others might have creek crossings, boulder fields, or even some scrambling.
- Are you doing a first look? You’ll want to hike up in hiking clothes and swap for your first look.
After Your Hike or Ceremony
There might be great photo opportunities on the way back down. So depending on the hike, I might suggest staying in your outfits at least when hiking back to the trailhead. I have done it both ways, but it just depends on your plans for the day.
And if you are still feeling stuck or have a more unique situation, the best thing to do is ask me!
How to Hike in Your Elopement Dress
You’ve decided to hike in your dress. Awesome! But how do you do that with hiking boots, a backpack, oh and the flowers? Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years:
- Bunch up the train and drape it over your arm.
- “Tuck” it into your yoga pants. This works best with lightweight/wrinkle-resistant fabrics).
- “Scoop up” the outer parts of the skirt and using the innermost layer, hold it all together (think apple picking and placing all the apples in your skirt).
- If your dress has a slit, even better! You can sweep your hands through it, gather it all to one side, and drape it over your arm.
- Have your partner carry the bag so you can focus on the dress.
Final Hiking Tips
- Are your flowers getting in the way?
- Put them in a water bottle or wrap the stems in a wet cloth and put them in a dry bag
- Strap them to the side or back of your pack
- Place them in your bag, zipping up the sides to keep it steady
How to Pack Your Elopement Dress
You’ve decided you want to wait until the epic views to change, but how do you pack up the dress? Here are some ways I’ve seen brides pack up their dress (remember each dress is different though):
- Lightweight dress: lay flat or hang the dress, fold carefully, place in a garment bag, and strap to the outside of your backpack using carabiners or bungee cord.
- Poofy dress: Get a foldable garment bag, lay your dress out or hang the dress, fold the skirt into thirds making it all one width, roll up the excess train, fit into a garment bag, and zip up (being careful and slow with the zipper).
- Lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, durable dress: lay flat, roll up loosely, place in a bag to protect it from things in your pack, and gently put it in your pack. A more durable dress that’s protected will stay mostly clean and won’t be prone to wrinkles.
Where to Change Into Your Elopement Dress
After you’ve hiked to your ceremony spot (or just a spot for photos), you’ll want to know where you can change. Look around, find a spot behind some boulders or trees where you can be secluded and out the way from other hikers, making sure to stay on the trail (Leave No Trace!). A few tips to help you change successfully:
- Bring a blanket: to lay out all of your clothing pieces and not get them dirty. Even though they will get dusty/wet throughout the day. Which is a great sign of an adventure-filled day! You can grab a lightweight hiking blanket like a Rumpl Blanket if you want something that’s easy to hike with.
- Maybe a second blanket for me (or your partner) to hold up while you change. This will help not only with privacy but also with wind!
- Consider bringing a crochet hook if you have a ton of buttons. I always have one with me and I’m prepared to use it! 🙂
- If you have an open back, make sure your hiking bra doesn’t leave impression marks. I recommend wearing a bralette and using baby wipes to wipe down any sweat.
My Advice On Changing
Bathrooms: A lot of trailheads either don’t have bathrooms or they have vault toilets (no running water, mirrors, or lights). So you probably can’t rely on a bathroom to be your safe haven for changing unless I’ve prepped you otherwise. It’s best to change at the car or at the end of the trail.
Keep Your Socks/Shoes Clean: Packing a big trash bag is a great, lightweight “makeshift rug” to stand on while changing, and then you can shove your hiking clothes inside when you’re done changing. It’s also a great backpack liner to protect your belongings if it starts raining. You can bring a lightweight blanket for changing too if you’d like for me to create a makeshift wall for privacy.
Be Mindful: When changing, try to keep all of your belongings in one area, preferably out of the way of other possible hikers. Look for a boulder or clear area where you can safely put your belongings. And most importantly, try to find a more secluded area behind some boulders or trees for privacy (not as difficult as it sounds).
Ready to Find That Perfect Elopement Dress?
Yay! You’re ready to go shopping. Grab a friend or loved one to go with you, and prep them that you’re looking for an elopement dress and not a wedding dress. Remember to bring your shoes and the undergarments you’ll be wearing on your elopement day (hiking boots, leggings, bra) to make sure it’s a great fit.
On that note, it’s important to have conversations with loved ones about the meaning of your dress. Some family members might see your wedding dress as a prized possession that should never get dirty. And that’s pretty impossible when exploring nature. So it’s best to address this in the buying stage or early on, rather than on your elopement day when you come back in a dress with dirt and twigs! Your loved ones mean well, but they’ve probably only seen traditional weddings. So including them in these conversations and what your experience will be like is really important.
Finding That Perfect Elopement Dress
However, there are so many dress inspiration posts out there on Instagram and Pinterest. And chances are you feel a little overwhelmed with inspiration and what will work best. The more options we have, the more anxious we tend to get. Did we make the right decision? Should I have gotten the other dress? My advice is to pick the dress that gives you confidence and freedom to move around comfortably. Try to be intentional, avoid over-researching, and try to avoid the FOMO feeling. You’re going to look gorgeous, and if you put this advice into action–you’re already steps ahead of where you’d be on your own. Enjoy this moment!
A few shapes I think work great for elopements:
Tips + Questions When You Try on Dresses
- Twirl, run, “hike” around, take big steps, and frolic! I felt a bit silly when I was doing this in the bridal store, but I knew it’d be better to do that than to figure out I couldn’t hike in my dress later.
- Avoid mermaid and trumpet-style dresses. You’ll want ample legroom to walk, hike, or climb on rocks throughout the day.
- Make sure your dress can stay in place with a lot of movement. You’re welcome to wear any style of dress you’d like. Just try to avoid having a wardrobe malfunction!
- Practice bunching it up and walking around so you get a better feel for how you’ll move around and hike in it.
- “Fold” your dress up and see how heavy it is. You may be hiking with it in your bag, so you’ll want to know how heavy it is, and possibly trying on some dresses with light and airy fabrics.
- Wear your hiking boots and leggings to see how it feels. Maybe your leggings/yoga pants cling to your dress fabric, or maybe even your boots keep getting stuck as you walk. By bringing these things to try on with dresses, you’ll really learn what works and what doesn’t for you. Clean your hiking boots before taking them to a bridal shop. If your boots are dirty or muddy, you might get all the way to the dress shop before realizing the mess you’ll make!
How does it feel? Can you put it on easily?
- Leave the dress on a little longer. On the flip side of carrying your dress, make sure you are comfortable with the weight of the dress as you walk around the store. When I was with my best friend trying on dresses, I really liked this one dress. However, after standing there for 5 minutes with it on—I realized it was a bit heavier than I’d like to hike with. So keep that in mind!
- Can you put this dress on easily? It’s not an absolute necessity to zip it up yourself (I can totally help out), but also think about how easy it is to put on. Does it have a ton of buttons? Will you be putting on your dress outside when it’s cold? If the dress is hard to get on and has a lot of buttons, it’ll be more challenging to put on in cold weather with cold hands! It’s helpful to put it on as much as you can by yourself before asking for help. Then you’ll be able to tell me how much help you’ll need.
- Should you get a bustle? I love a good train on a dress and usually keep it that way while taking all of your photos. I love how it blows in the wind and it’s easier to drape over your arm when hiking. So I normally don’t bustle your dress. When I do bustle your dress, it’s when you have a gathering of people at your Airbnb. Or when you know you’ll have a reception at a later date where you’ll want a bustle. Either way, I am fantastic at bustling a dress. I’ve done many over the years!
- Are you willing to get this dress dirty? There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get sweaty and dirty throughout the day. While you can have a super classy or meaningful dress, just make sure you’re willing to let it get dirty. Don’t let your dress prevent you from enjoying the day and feeling comfortable.
Final Dress Tip
You might not find the right dress on your first visit. And that’s okay. Sometimes you just need to go to the bridal shop and figure out what looks best on your body. You might find it the first time, or it might take a few visits. Either way, enjoy this moment and realize you will eventually find the right dress!
Tips for Your Dress Fitting
You might have a dress that fits perfectly or you might have a dress that needs some alterations. Either way, here are a few tips and questions to ask when you go into your dress fitting:
- Bring clean hiking boots to try on with your dress.
- Don’t forget undergarments.
- Invite a few close friends or loved ones to give you a second opinion
- Know to speak up and let your tailor know if something feels off with your dress. They are there to make this the perfect fit!
- Make sure to have an appointment closer to your elopement day to make sure it fits how you want.
Questions to ask:
- How long will alterations take/how long will the appointments last? Usually one hour for the first appointment, then 30 minutes for additional appointments.
- How many fittings should you have and can they be done before the big day?
- Will there be any unexpected costs? Just so everyone is on the same page.
- If you are getting your dress bustled, ask how much?
- What’s the coverage if the dress gets damaged while it’s being tailored?
- How should you preserve your dress before the big day and after?
Where to Buy Your Elopement Dress?
There are loads of places you can buy your dress: in-store, online, your mother’s dress, a friend’s dress, having a friend sew your dress, or even thrifting. I’ve even had a bride who got a beautiful Korean silk dress made specifically for her elopement and another bride who wore her Singaporean lace dress for some photos. So feel free to do whatever you want for your elopement! Check out this beautiful Indian dress here that the bride wore for sunset!
Here are some of my favorite online and in-store shops:
Reclamation (on Etsy – unique and not just white dresses)
Blush Fashion (on Etsy – great shop for our curvy brides)
Wear Your Love XO (on Etsy – the free spirited bride)
Alex Veil Bridal (on Etsy – from Russia, but gorgeous, more couture-like dresses)
Leanne Marshall (high end, beautiful flowy dresses) See a real bride in a Leanne Marshall Wedding Dress here!
Brides for a Cause: in-store in Seattle and Tacoma, WA and Portland, OR. This is where I got my Elopement skirt for my 2-piece dress!
What Am I Doing For My Elopement Dress?
I always had a vision in my head that I would walk into a thrift store and hanging amongst the dresses would be the perfect white/ivory dress. Indeed, that might sound weird, but I am an avid thrifter! After Ryan proposed, I’ve been scouring all the thrift stores across the country on our road trip hoping to find it. It’s a lot harder than it sounds!
One day in Colorado Springs, a local shop that I followed on IG posted their new finds for their shop and there it was! The most perfect crop top ever! I quickly drove right over, tried it on, and bought it for $28 smackeroos!! I was so elated that I had found the top half of my dress.
My Elopement Skirt
Later on, my childhood best friend offered to make my skirt! We got together, bought the fabric, and she made it for me within a week. She’s incredible! And it is gorgeous!! When we lived in Portland, Oregon, I had gained a few pounds during the lockdown. Yikes! As soon as we could shop again, I went to a local shop called Brides for a Cause to find a skirt that could fit me. Luckily, I found another skirt with more wiggle room! Brides for a Cause takes donated wedding dresses and sells them again for charity.
Good luck finding your dress! You’re going to find the perfect one (or two!) and I hope you found this guide helpful. I also have a guide about finding the perfect elopement suit as well as an elopement gear guide!