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 shoes, lingerie and jewelry.
This is one of the things that surprises everyone. You really need at least three 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 ten 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. Custom gowns take three 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.
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. 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 boutique 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 salesperson 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.
Let the Boutique 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. 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.
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 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!