Pros: The classic place to find that perfect frock, a full-service salon offers a comprehensive experience that includes a consultation to determine what styles you like, a bridal pro choosing gowns for you to try, and at least two fittings. Bonus: All alterations are done in-house. Your dress will arrive on time, in pristine condition, and fit perfectly. Be sure to call ahead, since most salons take customers by appointment only.
Cons: Dresses come in sample sizes; you may have to judge how a gown looks on you without seeing it zipped in back. And you'll wait several months for delivery.
Keep in Mind: Shopping for your wedding dress at a salon and having it fitted to your body is a magical experience, so if you can, embrace the VIP treatment.
Mass Market Retailer
Pros: These bridal emporiums (including national chains like David's Bridal) have all sizes, styles, and price points below $1,200 hanging from their racks. No appointment is necessary, and you won't have to wait for delivery—you can walk in and walk out with your dream dress the same day. Most have alteration departments.
Cons: Brides who are in the market for a one-of-a kind design will be disappointed. Ready-to-wear dresses are machine-made and mass-produced.
Keep in Mind: Even though these outposts take walk-ins, making an appointment is the best way to ensure that you'll get personalized service.
Pros: For fuss-free girls looking for something simple, ordering online may be the way to go. Some sites, like J. Crew, have amazing customer service, so it's easy to click your way to a wonderful gown.
Cons: Unless you're prepared to pay for multiple gowns (and then fork out more cash to mail back the ones you're not crazy about) chances are you'll try on only one dress. Where's the fun in that? And if you don't like that dress, you'll have to start the process all over again.
Keep in Mind: We've heard about Web sites that offer "factory-direct designer dresses" at greatly reduced prices. Be careful: They could be scams, and you could end up with a gown of inferior fabric and faulty design. Look for the words "authorized dealer" on a Web site to increase your chances of getting an authentic dress.
Pros: These fashion events are usually held at a department store or at a bridal salon. Here's your chance to see a designer's entire collection and try on the styles afterward. A representative from the line (or the designer herself) is often on hand to answer questions.
Cons: Trunk shows move from city to city, and the scheduling can be unpredictable; they also travel light, with only one sample size of each dress.
Keep in Mind: Always check the designer's Web site or your local department store for dates.