If you're like many brides, you've been envisioning what you'd wear to your wedding since before you bought your first bra. Then again, maybe you've never thought about it at all. Either way, a lot of pressure can accompany dress shopping. After all, the gown you put on for your walk down the aisle will be the true centerpiece of the day. This one article of clothing is probably going to be the most expensive and talked about thing you'll ever wear.
To assist you on the quest for your dream dress, we've got answers to your most pressing questions. When should you start? Where should you go? And what can you expect once you get there? For the lowdown, read on!
When to Begin
Two words: shop early. Nine to 12 months before your wedding is ideal since you'll need about six months to spare for fittings. Why? Unless you buy a ready-to-wear dress or a sample gown, wedding dresses are custom-made. And once your dress arrives, it's going to have to be altered -- usually several times -- until it fits you perfectly. That said, many companies can turn a dress around more quickly if need be. But if you have less than six months, start shopping right away and try to be flexible about your dress choice. Here's a tip: Avoid weekends and evenings if you can swing it. Bridal salons get insanely busy -- especially if you're marrying in a popular wedding month. If you can take time off during the week to shop, you'll get more of the salesperson's time and attention.
Where to Go
The most popular place to shop is the bridal salon, known for its personal service, tranquil setting, and wide selection of gowns from a variety of designers. You'll find boutiquey salons in upscale urban shopping districts, suburban downtown areas, strip malls, full-scale malls, and even inside some of the larger department stores. Check online under "Bridal Shops" or "Wedding Services" to see what's available in your area. Word-of-mouth recommendations are also very helpful. Find out which shops have given excellent service to past brides you may know, then call to make appointments. Try to limit your shopping to three or four salons, and bring along a small notebook to jot down the details on the gowns you like.
Research which salons are most appropriate for your budget. While the average salon carries lines in the under-$1000 category, there are others in which the dresses start at $3000. Save yourself -- and the salons -- time by asking before you make an appointment.
Besides the day-to-day business of selling dresses, salons also hold special wedding-related events like trunk shows and sample sales. At a trunk show, a specific designer (or representative of a bridal manufacturer) brings his or her latest dress line for brides-to-be to try on during a special in-store gathering. The advantage? You get to see every dress in the line, not just the styles selected by the store. And you may even get the small thrill of chatting with the designer in person -- or better yet, having he or she advise you on your look.
At a sample sale, the dresses used in the salon for brides to try on are put up for sale. Some stores have sample dresses in an array of sizes, though the typical sample sizes are 6, 8, and 10. Keep in mind that wedding dresses run small, samples are likely to fit you if your regular dress size is a 2, 4 or 6. The dresses may not be super clean, but since they're sharply discounted, you can put some of your savings toward the cleaning bill.
If you're on a strict budget and find that the gowns in a bridal salon are out of your league, you might want to try your luck at a bridal outlet. These outlets generally stock older designs from past seasons, or gowns designed by lesser-known companies whose names you may not recognize. Shopping here can save you money, but keep in mind you may have to sort through many dud dresses as part of the process. You might not find what you're looking for, and prices aren't always that low.
Another money-saving option is to rent a gown, especially if you're not too sentimental and the logic of buying something to wear for just one night is lost on you. Some clothing rental shops have wedding dresses in stock or you may be able to find a store near you that rents only wedding gowns (check online under "Clothing Rental"). On the downside, you wonï¿½t find the selection you'd find at a bridal salon. And the styles may not be the most up to date.