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Brides 101: A Wedding Dress Shopping Checklist

You’re engaged. Congratulations! Find your perfect bridal gown with this shopping checklist from Amy E. Goodman, author of Wear This, Toss That! Hundreds of Fashion and Beauty Swaps That Save Your Looks, Save Your Budget & Save You Time.

Give yourself enough time. The advice I give my friends is a minimum nine months to search, shop, order and alter (and actually that last word is plural, for you will have many, many fittings). You may be that lucky gal who finds a dress off the rack that fits you perfectly, but for most brides, there is a great deal of custom-tailoring that goes on — no matter what the price of the gown. Mind you, plenty of peeps get married with far less time on their hands, so you can slice the nine months to about half that if need be… but you’ll need the speediest tailor ever!

Do your homework. It’s not ideal to stroll into a bridal salon and have no idea what you want. Most salons require an appointment for a truly individualized experience. Start looking at pictures, buy some magazines and look online at gowns. Save pictures of your favorite dresses and make notes as to which styles you best think will flatter your body. You want to be comfortable in your dress–otherwise for the entire wedding, you’ll only be thinking about how uncomfortable you are.

Make your dress an extension of your personality. Starter questions to ask yourself:
–Do you love vintage fashion?
–Are you a conservative dresser?
–Is a bohemian gown more your speed?
Once you nail down some general categories, get more specific:
–Do you like strapless or sleeved?
–Do you want your back bare?
What type of neckline best highlights your face? Do you love a belt, ruffles, lace?
–Do you gravitate towards longer or shorter hemlines? Generally, you do not use a trip down the aisle as the moment to spotlight a whole new you or shock people with a drastic makeover. If, however, you want to try a style slightly dressier than you normally wear and it still speaks to your gorgeous self, then go for it.

Location, location, location! If you’re getting married on the beach, do you really want to be wearing a full ball gown with a long train and stilettos that sink in the sand? Think about where you are getting married, what the temperature will be like, any environmental conditions that may come into play and how active you’ll need to be (is your first dance a well-choreographed routine–involving lifts?).

Limit your dress-shopping guest list to a chosen few. Perhaps you’ve seen a few episodes of TLC’s Yes to the Dress where the bride’s entourage outnumbers the staff? As you gather people to join your dress search, take pause and remember: a small group makes for an intimate experience (three or four, including you!). Make sure those special family members and friends really get your style and can offer honest yet not overly critical feedback in the dressing room. The last thing you want is people who try to keep you from a dress you really love. There is a gown out there for you! You just need the right team to help you find it.

Pack for the fitting. As I recommend in Wear This, Toss That!, take shoes and shapewear that you plan to wear with the given clothing item you are shopping for, along with supportive bras (strapless if you want a strapless gown; backless if you want backless, etc.) and a bottle of water with you to your fitting. All of the above will give you a better sense of how the dress will look as a finished product. (And if you have no idea about whether you want a long or short dress, then take a few heel heights with you. I did!)

Have hope! You’ll try on a number of dresses and the process is tiring on the body, mind and soul. I wish more people had warned me of this. Also remember that wedding gowns run small (it is an industry-wide norm) and that salons often have only sample sizes in house.

Dare to try something unexpected. If you have a good rapport with your gown specialist, try on a few of the dresses s/he brings you — even if don’t think it will fit the bill. These wonderful individuals are trained in the business of bridal and fit brides all day long. They can offer supreme clarity in moments when your mind is swimming in a sea of white.

Consider consignment bridal shops, both retail and online. They’re a fabulous resource for gently worn designer gowns at deep discounts. If it’s in the cards for you, try wearing your mother’s gown. The latter is a tradition that’s utterly beautiful, and if the dress fabric is in good condition, you can stay true to her style, or with her blessing, have it reworked by a talented seamstress to reflect a more modern style that better suits you. Just keep in mind that tattered vintage lace and severely yellowed fabric are among the hardest issues to remedy. Consider a cleaning specialist that specializes in bridal to give you an assessment.

The entire experience will be a fun one, if you are aptly prepared.

Do you have personal tips that made your or your friend’s bridal gown buying experience a snap?

For more of Amy’s style tips, like Wear This, Toss That! on Facebook or follow Amy on Twitter.

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