Finding the perfect dress isn't always what it seems — and it certainly isn't like a scene from Bride Wars (pre-Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway girl fight at The Plaza). Don't stress, though. With a few ground rules to follow, a budget established, and expectations managed, your wedding dress shopping experience should be smooth sailing from here on out.
1. SET YOUR BUDGET
Establish the maximum amount you're willing to spend on your wedding dress — and stick to it. The total budget should include the dress, as well as the estimated costs of alterations, veil or headpiece, and belt. Those "hidden" costs add up. To avoid any financial surprises later on, make sure to cover all the fashion bases from the beginning.
2. IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START LOOKING
As soon as the ring is on your finger, it's pretty much go-time on the dress shopping front. I'm not advocating for crazed behavior, but from a logistics standpoint, starting the process at least eight to nine months out is a good idea. Allow yourself time to actually find it, then allow time for fittings, alterations, and having it shipped or delivered to you.
3. HAVE A PLAN
Like all good plans, research and appointment-making go a long way. To the former point, peruse bridal magazines (Martha Stewart Real Weddings is a great resource!), put in some time on Pinterest, and check out your favorite bridal designers (Vera Wang, Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta, etc.) for design inspiration and styling reference. To the latter point, most bridal salons, specialty shops, and department stores don't operate on a walk-in schedule. Make sure they're expecting you upon arrival.
4. LIMIT YOUR ENTOURAGE
You'll most likely want a second and third opinion. Outside perspective and honest feedback are welcome, but too much "noise" can cloud your gut judgment. The most important thing is that you love the dress, even if that ultimately means going against the popular vote.
5. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Here's an (obvious) shocker: You may actually look good in styles you didn't think would flatter you. Perhaps you thought an A-line strapless gown was the shoo-in, only to discover a lace cap-sleeve mermaid gown was the clear winner. Don't be disappointed by dashed expectations — go in with an open mind, and remember to try on a variety of silhouettes. At the very least, it serves as added context.
6. DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE BIG PICTURE
Is this the wedding dress you can stun in at the ceremony? Sit in during the toasts? And dance your ass off in on the dance floor? If you can't envision all three scenarios while narrowing down the options, put the dress on the back burner. You want to look beautiful, feel beautiful, and let's be honest, you want to be comfortable, too.
7. NO TEARS, NO PROBLEM
Despite the fact that every reality TV show and rom-com have led you (and everyone around you) to believe you will shed tears as soon as you come out clad in "the one," this isn't always the case. And that's OK. It's totally cool if you do cry — it is a happy occasion, after all! — but don't let the absence of tears make you think it's a sign that you don't absolutely love what you're wearing. The waterworks just aren't for everyone.
8. SOMETIMES THE FIRST DRESS IS "THE ONE"
Shopping for a wedding dress doesn't always require countless try-ons. Sometimes it really is love at first sight. There's nothing wrong with finding "the one" right out of the gate — it certainly frees you up to focus your time and energy on things like stationery design, floral arrangements, and securing the best photographer.
9. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE GREAT SHAPEWEAR
Don't underestimate the power of great shapewear. The gown of your dreams may not be perfect yet. It may need alterations and it may need a little more shape, but you can work with that. Especially if you have a well-made corset or bustier to help you with those problem areas.
10. DRESS UP (JUST A LITTLE)
It might be difficult to imagine yourself walking down the aisle if you're trying on dresses with post-yoga hair and no makeup. You don't need to look your Sunday best, but a spot of mascara and your hair styled in the way you're thinking of wearing it on the "big day" could make all the difference when you're envisioning the entire look.