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Wedding Dress Shopping 101: 14 Must-Read Gown Shopping Tips

Everything you need to know before you go dress shopping.

Photo: Sandey Tenuto

Set (and stick to!) your budget

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 (even if they’re just as beautiful), or you’ll blow your budget. Also, keep in mind that 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.

Shop early

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 three months for the dress to be tailored to fit your body. Give yourself plenty of time—if you feel rushed, you could end up making a quick decision that you may regret later.

Determine the dress code

Take a cue from your venue and the time of day of your wedding to determine your dress style. A ball gown might look out of place at a midday beach affair but would be perfect for an evening ballroom wedding. Another thing to consider is religious restrictions. If you’re getting married in a house of worship, find out whether there are any attire guidelines, such as being required to cover your shoulders.

Go with a clear vision of your style

Do you want to be romantic, classic, modern or glamorous? Knowing which one describes the look you want for your wedding will make it easier for you and your salesperson to find your gown. Think about your everyday style as a place to start.

Make requests

Just because a salon carries your favorite designer doesn’t mean it’ll have the exact 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 in a sample of that gown especially for you.

Book an appointment

While you may get lucky and snag a salesperson just by walking in, scheduling an appointment guarantees that you’ll get a full hour of undivided attention. Plus many salons will only see you if you book an appointment.

Let the salon make recommendations

Don’t eliminate anything at first glance. If the salesperson brings you something she says you must try, try it—even if you don’t initially love it. Many a bride has ended up falling for a wedding gown the salesperson had to persuade her to put on.

Play hooky

When you're in the bridal salon, don't eliminate anything at first glance.

Shop during the week while crowds are at a minimum. You’ll get more personal attention from the sales staff on a quiet Tuesday morning then you will on a hectic Saturday afternoon.

Shop with a small support system

When starting your search, limit your shopping partners to one or two of your closest friends—any more and there will be too many clashing ideas. Also, consider taking a solo shopping trip first to form your own opinion about what you like and don’t like.

Buy a dress that fits now

Even if you’re planning on dropping 15 pounds before your wedding day, your body type isn’t going to completely change now that you’re suddenly swapping cookies for carrots. So buy a dress that fits your body the way it is now. Trust us, it’s a lot easier (not to mention, cheaper) to have a dress taken in then to add fabric to a gown after the fact.

Read the fine print

When you order your gown from a bridal salon, it’s important to triple-check the contract (yes—even your dress has a contract!). Read it carefully to ensure you don’t end up with the wrong size or color, and make sure to get the designer, style number, measurements, delivery date, the price of the gown and number of fittings included, as well as the deposit amount, all in writing.

Bring your accessories

While most salons will have shoes and undergarments on hand for you to try on with your gown, you should still come prepared with a nude bra and modest (read: no thongs!) underwear for the fittings. Also bring shoes with a similar height to what you plan on wearing at the wedding, so you can see how the dress falls with your heels. And try on your other day-of accessories, like your veil, headpiece, gloves or cover-up, to get an idea of how your whole look will come together.

Sleep on it

Even if you fall madly in love with the first dress you try on, don’t buy it on the spot. Give yourself a chance to look at all your options by shopping around before you buy. Once you’ve found your wedding gown, take a day to be absolutely sure it’s “the one.” Since bridal gowns are custom-made, 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, move on. You, better than anyone, know what style you’re looking for. When you find the right one, you’ll know—you won’t want to put on anything else. Have some tissues handy; it’s going to be an elating and emotional moment!

Want more dress shopping ideas?

- Wedding Dress Shopping Countdown

- Search for your dress by style or price

- Wedding Fashion Rules to Break

-- Hollee Actman Becker

See More: Wedding Dress Shopping