When you close your eyes, what type of wedding dress do you see? Rather than chasing down the "perfect" gown with single-minded intensity, you may want to visit a few shops first. There could be wedding dresses out there that flatter your figure and your wallet even more than you'd expect.
Finding the Right Shop
You'll want to visit a variety of shops as you look for dresses. What kind of shopping experience do you want to have? Large bridal warehouses will have a wider selection of gowns to choose from, but may sacrifice personalized assistance. Small boutiques will give you plenty of personal attention, but often have higher prices than the warehouse stores. Seamstresses will gladly make you a custom gown, if you have room in your budget.
Be cautious when ordering wedding gowns online. Before purchasing anything, make sure you're dealing with a trustworthy site. Research the business thoroughly and keep an eye out for customer reviews; positive ones can be faked, but a mountain of negative reviews aren't easily hidden. Be sure you can communicate easily with the site's personnel, preferably by phone. If the wrong dress arrives, you don't want unanswered emails as your sole form of communication.
You might score unexpected finds in regular (non-bridal) clothing stores; if a white dress flatters you, no one will be the wiser. You can also browse "gently used" or consignment shops for a bargain gown that still looks great. Or do you want to borrow your great grandmother's wedding gown to continue a family tradition? In either of these cases, you will want to visit an alterations shop to ensure a perfect fit.
Be sure you understand your shop's return policies. If you buy your dress many months ahead of time, you may have gained or lost weight when the wedding date comes. It's also a good idea to buy the dress in a slightly larger size than you need, since alterations are more easily taken in than let out. This goes without saying, but never buy a dress in the "size you want to be!" When having alterations made, use a shop that comes highly recommended by someone you trust, or see samples of their work beforehand. You don't want your gown in the hands of an amateur.
When looking at a shop's dress selection, observe that the fabric is high quality and won't rip, tear, or snag easily. Look in areas that will bend and stretch, like the bust and waistline, and make sure the seams are strong. Sometimes less expensive purchases end up being quite costly by the time repairs are done.
Don't feel pressured into buying something at the first shop you visit. Some salespeople can be pushy, but ultimately the customer is always right. Take notes of which gowns you like, and get the designer and style number if the shop allows you to have that information (since some shops deliberately disguise this so you can't shop around).
Selecting the Right Dress
Your wedding gown speaks volumes about you. A perfect gown not only presents you at your best, but also complements the style of your wedding. Keep your venue and theme in mind: a romantic ballroom can easily carry a princess gown with lots of petticoats and lace, whereas an outdoors country wedding can get away with some denim embellishments.
Not only should you consider how you want to present yourself, but also how much of yourself you'd like to present. Some gowns reveal much more than others. If you fear your dress is too matronly (mature brides especially want to avoid this), you can compromise style and coverage with high, embellished necklines, longer sleeves, and even elegant bridal suits.
Do you want a traditional, all-white wedding gown? Or will you opt for more color? You can look for gowns with colored trim, lacing, or accents if you don't want to be too flashy. When choosing your bridesmaids' gowns, some brides find it easier to give each bridesmaid a color swatch so they can find their own dress style. If your bridesmaids have different body types, they will thank you.
We're all built differently. It's important to pick the right fit for your body type. A-lines flatter hourglass figures, and full skirts lengthen bodies with short torsos. If you don't want to highlight your waistline, try a gown with an empire waist. For pear-shapes, strapless gowns draw attention up to the face and shoulders. Sheath dresses complement thin bodies without many curves, and more petite brides will usually do better in simpler gowns that don't overdo ornamentation.
At the store, keep an open mind. Even if you don't like the way a dress looks on the rack, it doesn't hurt to try it on anyway. Some gowns don't flatter the hanger; they're made with your body in mind.
Be practical. How easy is it to take the gown on and off? Will you need a contingent accompanying you to the bathroom? A gorgeous dress isn't worth it if the inconvenience impacts your wedding day. Look for gowns that have removable bustles or trains to simplify dancing at the reception, if you're wearing the same dress. If you're wearing two or even three different dresses for wedding events, keep in mind the amount of movement you'll be doing. Also, consider your venue and planned activities. Floor-length gowns don't do well with dewy lawns, and in a woodland setting, a long train is only a liability. A little practicality now can mean a lot more fun later.
When you fall in love with the perfect dress, be sure to order it with plenty of time to spare. Not only will this give you time to make minor alterations as needed, but if there's a strike at the chiffon factory, you'll want enough time to find a perfect Plan B.