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Shopping secrets wedding dress outdoors

11 Must-Read Gown Shopping Tips

Study up on everything you need to know before you hit the stores.

Photo: Eric Kelley

Have a Price In Mind

If you know you’re not going to spend $15,000 on your dress, don’t waste time trying on a bunch of gowns out of your range. You’re better off zeroing in on your realistic price point so you can spend more time editing down the amazing options you can actually buy. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need to factor in the cost of alterations, taxes and shipping fees, plus your veil, shoes, lingerie and jewelry, which can add up to $500 or more altogether.

Start Early

This is one of the things that surprises everyone. You really need at least six to eight months to get your gown—and that’s if you’re really decisive. If you’re a picky shopper or don’t really know what you want, start looking eight to 10 months before your wedding. Give yourself plenty of time; if you put it off for too long, your selection of dresses could be limited or you might make a quick decision you may regret later. Once you’ve found your gown, give yourself at least eight weeks to make alterations, says Terry Hall, fashion director at Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City. Custom gowns take six to eight months to tailor on average, and heavily-embellished ones can take up to a year. Why so much time? A muslin version of a custom gown is created before the actual dress to guarantee a perfect fit.

Determine the Dress Code

You may need to consider religious restrictions when shopping for your gown. If your ceremony is in a house of worship, find out whether there are any attire guidelines you’re required to follow, such as covering your shoulders.

Figure Out What You Like

Take cues from your venue, the season and the time of day you’re getting married to help narrow down your dress style. Rule out fabrics and silhouettes that won’t work (a bulky ball gown is probably not the best fit for a midday beach affair) and consider what styles will flatter your shape. To help you search, download the Wedding LookBook by The Knot app to browse thousands of gowns and find local retailers that have the ones you like. If you love a particular designer, find out if they’re having a trunk show in your area—you’ll see a larger range of their collection and you might even get a discount (usually about 15 percent).

Call in Advance

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 beforehand and request a specific style, chances are the salon will be able to call in a sample of that gown especially for you. While you may get lucky and snag a salesperson just by walking in, scheduling an appointment guarantees you’ll get a full hour of undivided attention. Plus, many salons require you to book an appointment in order to try on gowns, so you’ll want to call ahead.

Let the Salon Make Recommendations

Don’t eliminate anything at first glance. If the salesperson brings you something she says you should try, try it—even if you don’t initially love it or think it’s totally “you.” It’s possible to fall for a wedding gown you didn’t think you’d like or want. Not every dress looks great on a hanger, and you might have to let go of some preconceived notions and keep an open mind.

Shop At the Right Time

Taking a half day off to shop on, say, a Tuesday morning is absolutely worth it. Saturday afternoons are the most popular times—which actually makes them the worst. Unless the store is by appointment only, try to target those slower times. Consultants are fresher earlier in the day and can give you more of their attention. A calm store means a more personalized shopping experience, Hall says. If you’re shopping a sample sale, do yourself a favor and skip the first day. Call ahead to ask how many days the sale will run, then go a little later—there will still be plenty of inventory. Another shopping trick: Don’t bring an entourage. It may be tempting to include all your friends in this experience, but any more than one or two adds up to too many clashing opinions.

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. Besides, it’s a lot easier (not to mention less expensive) to take a gown in than to try and make a too-small dress work.

Read the Fine Print

When you order your gown from a salon, it’s important to triple-check the contract. Read it carefully, so you don’t end up with the wrong size or color, and get the designer, style number, measurements, delivery date, the price of the gown and number of fittings, as well as the deposit amount, all in writing.

Bring Your Accessories

While most salons will have shoes and a slip on hand for you to try on with your gown, you should still come prepared with a nude bra and underwear for the fittings. Also bring shoes with a similar height as 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 (if you have them), like your veil or cover-up, to get an idea of how your whole look will come together.

Trust Your Instincts

If you have to be reassured that the dress looks great on you, it’s probably not “the one.” If you can’t see yourself walking down the aisle in it, move on. When you find the right dress, you’ll know—you won’t want to put on anything else. Have some tissues handy; it will be an emotional moment!

-- Lauren Greene

See More: Wedding Dress Shopping