You've already found the love of your life. Your next big mission will be to find The Dress. You'll want to leave plenty of time for your search. Keep in mind that most wedding gown shops only keep samples of dresses, so when you find The One, you'll have to place an order. Even the dress manufacturer doesn't keep every dress size in stock. It's most cost-effective for manufacturers to cut the fabric for many orders all at once, which means it could take up to four months just to get your dress in after you've ordered it. And remember, once the dress arrives, there's still more to do! You'll most likely need some alterations, so plan on about three dress fittings. With such a lengthy process, it's a good idea to start your hunt for the perfect dress at least six to eight months before the Big Day.
Before setting up appointments, do your homework! You'll need to know if your venue or officiant have any restrictions regarding what you can wear. For example, some churches and synagogues may require that your shoulders be covered during the ceremony. Need inspiration? You may have noticed that most bridal magazines consist primarily of advertisements for dresses. Browsing through these magazines can give you a sense of the styles you like. If you see styles or even a particular dress that you're attracted to, go to the designer's web site. Designers often put photos of their entire collections on their web sites. From there, you can search for the stores in your area that carry those dresses. Then, call those stores to inquire whether they carry the specific dress you're looking for.
Be prepared for your appointments. Bring any pictures of dresses that you like to the bridal shop. Some shops allow customers to browse through all of the dresses in stock on their own. Others will ask the style of dresses that you like and your budget, and consultants will use their own judgment to pull dresses for you to try on. If a consultant is pulling dresses for you, be careful! There are gorgeous, unique dresses for $1,000 to 3,000. If a consultant is only pulling dresses that are the top of your price range, ask to also see dresses that match your style in a lower price range. If you want to play it safe, you can start out by lowballing your budget. And don't forget when determining your dress budget to factor in the cost of alterations, which can range from $100 to $500.
Be open-minded and try on a variety of styles. Even if you're set on finding a slinky satin sheath, try on at least one ball gown and A-line gown. A dress that you thought wasn't your style, may end up being the one dress that makes you feel like a beautiful bride.
Also, be forewarned that a lot of bridal salons have a "no photos" policy. Believe me, I know how frustrating this is! When I was planning my own wedding, I lived in a different state from my mom and had to do some of my dress shopping on my own. But of course, the one opinion that I really wanted on my dress was my mom's! I admit that I snuck a few photos of potential dresses to send to her. I say, when in doubt whether a store has the "no photo" policy, shoot first and ask questions later! But if you can't take a photo of the dress, just take note of the designer and the name of the dress, and you can track down a photo of the dress on the Internet.
Once you've decided on The Dress, start asking questions. You'll want to know how long it takes to get the dress in after it's ordered. Ask if the shop does alterations on site. Ask how much the alterations will cost and how long the alterations typically take.
You may want to go ahead and look at the shop's selection of veils. Be aware that even veils can take about two to three months to come in, as they are sometimes cut to your specified length.
Once you've settled on The Dress, stop your search! You don't want to end up second guessing yourself as you see other possibilities. To avoid this, simply don't commit to a dress until you've exhausted your search and are sure that you have finally found The One. You may end up going back to that first dress that you tried on, but you'll know that you've made the right decision.