1. Give yourself time
Start the dress search early – six to nine months ahead of the wedding day, if you can – so you’re not stressed out with last-minute shipping and alterations. Bridal salon appointments typically last from about an hour to 90 minutes, so block out enough time to talk to consultants, take measurements and try on plenty of styles. “It’s always fun to look and try on, but keep in mind you do need to make a decision eventually,” says Ramona Southard, owner of Love and Lace Bridal in Irvine, California.
2. Go with an open mind
Before the appointment, look at dresses in bridal magazines and websites, and on social media like Pinterest, to see what might suit your style, but remember that dresses may look entirely different once you actually put them on. “You might have an idea of what you want for the day, but you might end up with a completely different dress because it looks fantastic on you,” says Sydney, Australia-based designer Sarah Janks of Sarah Janks Bridal. Adds Southard: “In the end, it’s what suits you and what suits your body type. Be open to our expertise and let us guide you to what looks good.”
3. Choose the right shopping buddies
An entire entourage probably isn’t the best strategy. “Everybody likes to have their experience be small, intimate and personal, so when you bring in a group of 10 people, it takes away from that,” Southard says. “Bring people who mean something to you – your mom, your sister, your close friends – but don’t turn it into a party. Bridal gown shopping should be about you finding a dress. “Stick to a small group of two or three companions whose opinions you trust. You want to bring people who tell you the honest truth, or someone who is calming,” adds New York City-based “professional bridesmaid” Jen Glantz, founder of Bridesmaid for Hire. “We all have those friends who tell us we look great in everything we wear; those are people I’d bring to the second dress fitting.”
4. Dress for success
Slipping into glamorous gowns will be so much more enjoyable if you really feel the part of a beautiful bride. Wear nice-quality nude underwear (a bright purple thong won’t exactly give the lines you’re looking for) and a good strapless bra. “You’ll get so much better of an idea of what you will look like with good foundation,” Janks says. Also, consider taking it up a notch in the hair and makeup department, whether it’s wearing long and loose waves or a neat chignon (rather than a messy bun), and a touch of mascara and lip gloss. “Look the best you can, so you can get a good picture of how you’ll look on the wedding day,” Glantz says.
5. Silence your inner critic
Remember that voice you sometimes hear as you’re trying on swimsuits or jeans? The right dress will make you feel gorgeous and glowing, not focused on your hips (too wide) or your tummy (too flabby). “If you’re feeling those things, maybe it’s not the right dress for you, and eventually you will find the right dress. Don’t convince yourself that’s the right one,” Glantz says. Though if the negative feelings persist, “voice those opinions and work through them through the fitting process,” Janks says. “Even if nobody else is seeing it, if you’re feeling it, that’s important. You need to feel comfortable on the day.”
6. Add finishing touches
Want to really look and feel like a bride? Complete the potential winning look with accessories like a headpiece or veil. “Ask to try on any jewelry they have that’s similar to the style you want in order to help recreate the picture you have in your head for the day,” Janks says. Some shops will let you take photos, while others may not permit it, so always ask beforehand.
7. Don’t get overwhelmed
You found a dress you absolutely love – maybe. Some brides are able to make a decision on the spot, but don’t get stressed out if you’re not entirely ready to commit just yet. “We suggest you take time, grab some coffee to get out of the environment or sleep on it. If you still can’t get the dress out of your mind, make a follow-up appointment,” Southard says. Just remember, you don’t need to see every dress – Janks recommends about five to 10 to get a good picture. And most important, she adds: “Stop looking once you get the dress.”