1. Determine Your Wedding Style
First, try to picture your big day. Will it be a formal church affair, a casual outdoor celebration or something in between? You’ll want a gown that fits this vision. For example, a long-sleeved velvet gown with a cathedral train would look out of place at a bash on the beach; instead, you’d probably want something light and airy, like a chiffon or organ-za dress. And remember, the season doesn’t have to dictate your choice—you can always add a bolero jacket, cape or shawl to any style for warmth.
2. Create a Gown File
Having some visuals to bring with you to the dress salons will save you time and help you avoid frustration. Before you hit the shops, rip out pictures of dresses you like in magazines. Then, when you are assigned a salesperson, take some time to go through the images with her and point out the dress details you like—and definitely don’t like. She should be able to take in that information and narrow down a selection for you. As you try on each dress, continue to point out the features and styles that appeal to you. Together, you’ll hone in on the strongest contenders.
3. Shop Early, and Search Far and Wide
We suggest starting 10 months ahead, or at least as soon as you’ve chosen your site. You never know whether you’ll be the bride who finds her dress on the first boutique visit or the one whose quest is seemingly endless, so set yourself up to have options. Ask your planner and recently married friends for suggestions of dress salons that have a wide selection and outstanding service. And once you’re there, it’s a good idea to try on some designs you think you don’t like, just to be sure you’re right.
4. Dress to Shop
Finding your wedding gown is a big occasion, but you don’t have to get decked out for it; loose-fitting clothes that are easy to get on and off, and comfortable shoes are ideal for putting you in the mood to try on dresses. Throw a strapless bra into your bag and a pair of heels similar in height to what you’ll wear at the wedding. And don’t forget pretty underthings—not only so you feel your best, but also because you’ll be standing around in them as your mom or bridesmaids help you make dress decisions.
5. Spend Strategically
In a high-quality gown, every detail is finished properly. You’ll never see unraveling embroidery or loose beading. Natural fabrics like silk are pricier than synthetics, but they let your skin breathe and don’t lock in sweat. A lined gown costs more but falls smoothly and hides panty lines. If you have budget constraints, choose a fine fabric and a good fit, and forgo fancy details like appliqués and embroidery; instead, dress up the gown with your own jewelry or "something borrowed."