As engagement season looms, soon-to-be engaged ladies begin scoping out the wedding gowns they like best. Some girls will start Pinteresting. Those who don't want to admit they're looking before they get the ring may be tearing glossy pages out of BRIDES to hide in a file.
Excited as you may be to launch the hunt for your ultimate wedding dress, you need to approach your dress shopping carefully. If you go about it the wrong way, you might end up spending significantly more on your wedding gown than you intended. So how do you figure out where to start the wedding gown shopping adventure? Follow my five easy tips...
1. Do your research and find out what discount bridal shops, warehouses and vendors exist in your area.
Find out if they do appointments, or have limited hours. Ask if they have alteration services (not a non-starter, but it's good to know if you're going to have to track down an excellent seamstress to make sure your gown fits perfectly on the big day).
2. Research trunk shows and sample sales within a reasonable driving distance of your home.
When new lines of wedding gowns come out, and other lines are discontinued, designers and bridal shops frequently hold sales with ridiculously low prices for gowns that were used as try-on samples for other brides. As long as it's not marked in a way a drycleaner can't handle, trunk shows and sample sales can net you an unbelievably expensive gown for a fraction of its original cost.
3. Research the bridal boutiques and salons you're considering for your shopping experience.
Ask your friends where they bought their gowns, and how their experience was. You may have loved her dress, but her nightmare getting the alterations handled may turn you off completely. Unless you're going into a designer showroom, every dress available at a good bridal salon is available in other gown shops.
4. Find out if they'll allow you to take pictures of yourself in your favorite dresses, and if they'll reveal the designer's name when you're shopping.
Some shops are incredibly strict about this because they know you have other options. You're less likely to go someplace else if you have to research extensively to find the dress. But you do have a right to know whom you're trying on, and rather than get in a contentious situation with the bridal consultant, find out what the store's policies are in advance.
5. Find out what size wedding gown samples the shop has available for you to try on.
Many boutiques only carry a bridal size 8 — which is actually a woman's size 4 — so if you're bigger than a size 4, nothing will actually fit you. While it isn't necessary for every dress to zip up to figure out if you like it, you should be able to try on a variety of styles in something close to your size.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a full-service traditional and destination wedding planning company and Do-It-Yourself wedding planning consulting service for DIY brides and grooms based in the Washington, DC area. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show "Wedding Island," about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques. Sandy's book "How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional," will be released on March 1st, but is available online for pre-orders now where books are sold.