Not that you need any coaxing, but you should start dress shopping
around 8 to 10 months before the wedding. It can take up to two months to find the right gown and then four months for the dress to be custom made to fit your body. The first fitting usually happens six to eight weeks prior to “I do.” Give yourself plenty of time and keep in mind that the sooner you start shopping, the less likely you’ll feel rushed and make a quick decision that you may regret later.
Set Your Budget First
As excited as you are to start shopping, work out your budget
first. Trust us -- you’re better off not trying on gowns outside of your price range. You’ll either end up falling in love and being disappointed by every other dress you see (even if they’re just as beautiful), or you’ll blow your budget. If you do find yourself pining after a dress that’s outside your budget you can ask the designer if they can limit the beading to the bodice only and skip it entirely on the skirt or train. Or ask if the dress comes in an alternative fabric that is less expensive. Savvy savings can also be found at sample sales, where you can get discounts on past seasons’ gowns. Consider a bridesmaid
or ready-to-wear dress in white: Wear your mom's dress or surf the web for lightly used gowns. Also, remember that within your wedding dress budget, you’ll need to factor in the cost of alterations, and your veil, headpiece, shoes, lingerie and wedding jewelry, which can easily run up to $500.
Determine Dress Code
Take a cue from your venue and the time of day of your wedding to determine the formality of your dress code. A ball gown might look out of place on a beach but would be perfect for a hotel ballroom wedding. Also, keep practicalities in mind when choosing your dress -- for example, if you’re getting married on an outdoor lawn, skip the train. Another thing to consider is religious restrictions. If you’re getting married at a house of worship, check with your ceremony officiant to find out whether there are any attire guidelines, such as being required to cover your shoulders.
Go in With a Clear Vision of Your Style
Do you want to be romantic, classic, elegant or glamorous? Studying these buzzwords -- knowing which one describes the look you want for your wedding -- will make telling your salesperson what you want a whole lot easier. Think about your everyday style as a place to start.
Just because a bridal salon carries your favorite designer, that doesn't mean it'll have the exact wedding dress you've been dying to try on. If you phone in advance and request a specific style, chances are that the salon will be able to call for a sample of that gown especially for you. So look through online gown galleries and magazines before you shop so you can give your salesperson an idea of what you want.
Book an Appointment
While you may get lucky and snag a salesperson just by walking in, scheduling an appointment is the only way to ensure that you'll get a full hour of undivided attention. And many salons will only see you if you book an appointment.
Shop during the week while crowds are at a minimum. You'll get more attention from the sales staff if you shop on a Tuesday morning rather than on a Saturday afternoon. There will also be fewer people hogging the mirrors (hey, a little vanity is allowed!).
When you're in the bridal salon, don't eliminate anything at first glance. Even though certain styles work best on certain body types
, don't let these “rules” narrow your search too much. It helps to first try on all different kinds of dresses and then decide which shape and style you look and feel best in. So if the salesperson brings you something she says you must try, try it -- even if you’re not loving the way it looks on the hanger. Many a bride has ended up falling for a wedding gown the salesperson had to persuade her to try on.
Shop With a Supportive Entourage
Limit your shopping partners to one or two of your closest friends to help you start your search. This way you don’t have too many ideas clashing and feel pressured by others' opinions. Your entourage should also have a very clear understanding about your goal and your bridal style and budget. Also consider taking one solo trip to the bridal salon first to form your own opinion about what you like.
Buy a Dress That Fits Now
Even if you’re planning on dropping 15 pounds before your wedding, your body type isn’t going to completely change just because you started swapping cookies for carrots. So you’ll want to buy a dress that fits your body the way it is now. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to have a dress taken in than it is to add extra fabric to a gown after the fact. Wedding gowns can run small too, so don't be alarmed should your final size measurement jump up a number or two. The store will measure your bust, waist and hips. After the final fitting, make sure that the hem (if it’s a full-length gown) skims the toes of your shoes, you can move comfortably, the gown stays in place as you move and there’s no obvious wrinkling, bunching or pulling.
Read the Fine Print
When you order your gown from a bridal salon, it’s important to triple-check the contract
(yes -- you even need a contract for your dress). Check to ensure that you don’t end up with the wrong size or color, and get the designer name, style number, measurements, delivery date, number of fittings included in the price, price of the gown and deposit amount in writing.
Bring Your Accessories
While most bridal salons will have undergarments and shoes on hand for you to try on while choosing your gown, you should still come prepared with a nude bra and underwear for the fittings. Also bring along shoes in a similar height to what you plan on wearing at the wedding so you can see how the dress falls with your heels, as well as other accessories like your veil, headpiece, gloves or cover-ups to get an idea of your whole wedding look.
The first dress you try on may very well be the one, but try on a few more just to be 100 percent sure you don't like a different color, style or fabric better. This will be the biggest clothing decision you ever make and often times wedding gowns are custom made or custom ordered so you don't want to be in a position of putting down a deposit on a dress and then changing your mind -- especially since most salons put a no-return policy in their contracts.
Trust Your Instincts
If you have to be reassured that the dress looks great on you, it's probably not “the one.” Can you really see yourself walking down the aisle in this gown? If not, take it off and move on. You, better than anyone, know what style you’re looking for and what features you want to highlight. Be vocal about your vision, your favorite assets and your trouble spots when consulting with the salon attendants. When it’s the right one, you’ll know -- you probably won’t want to put on anything else. Have some tissues handy, since it’s probably going to be an elating and emotional moment!
See More: Wedding Dress Shopping