Kelsey Miller, Contributing Editor
Real talk: Wedding dresses are ridiculous. Sure, they are also beautiful and thrilling, and unless you’re an actual princess, then wearing one is one of few opportunities in adult life to walk around with a train. A few months back, I purchased my own, and from the moment I put it on I couldn’t help but clap my hands in the mirror like a five-year-old. But the truth is, it took a lot of hair-tearing and pavement-pounding to get to that moment. And it didn’t have to.
Here, I’m sharing the lessons I learned when hunting down my own dream dress. Shopping in the bridal world is like entering a pastel, lace-edged jungle. If you know how to navigate it, you’ll get through it unscathed—and you might actually have a blast. Either way, I guarantee, you’ll come out with a dress you love.
1. Book appointments early, and everywhere.
Bridal appointments book up way, way in advance. It may seem counterintuitive to start calling dress salons before you really dig into dress research, but I advise making at least a couple appointments ASAP. This is even more important if you’ll need a weekend time slot, or if you want to bring your friends (remember: they have lives and jobs, too). If you already have an inkling of a store or designer whose gowns you like, great! If not, just start with the biggest or most popular bridal shops in your area.
2. Do your research.
Some brides start out with precise visions of the dress they want, right down to the beading. Others just know they want long sleeves, because they’re getting married in February. In either scenario, a simple Google-Image search is a great place to start. Just start plugging in search terms and make notes on what you love and what you hate. It’s just as important to know what you don’t want as it is to know what you do.
3. Now, step away from the laptop.
The research phase could go on for months if not centuries, if you let it. Like the Mirror Of Erised, the bridal internet has a way of luring you in with image after image of that which you desire most, but which you cannot touch. Linger too long, and you’ll inevitably wind up falling in love with pieces from old collections that are no longer available, as well as those that are simply out of your price range. Think of this process as a way of honing in on what kind of dress you want, rather than finding the actual dress. At a certain point, you’ll find yourself scrolling through Pins and Instagram posts featuring minor variations on the exact same thing. That’s when you know it’s time to look away from the laptop and get out in the real world.
4. Know your budget right down to the penny.
Before you step into a store, do the math. Know exactly what you’re willing and able to pay. The bad news is that wedding-dress prices typically range from shocking to obscene. The good news is that there are so many gowns out there that, with some gumption, you should be able to find one within your budget. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed once you’re in the dressing room, and that’s why it’s crucial to know your number when you walk in. Yes, sales associates want to sell you a dress, but they also want you to leave happy. That’s crucial for their business, too. The clearer you are with them, the better they’ll be able to serve you. Be realistic—but hold your ground.
5. You can totally buy a dress online. But it’s not like buying any ol’ dress.
Here’s some more good news: There are many more budget-friendly options out there than there used to be, especially if you’re willing to shop online. If you’ve got some flexibility on style, or if you’re more excited about booking your favorite band than shelling out for a dress you’ll only wear once, then hell yeah—buy online. Just be okay with knowing you may have to buy and return a few times, as you might with any online purchase. And, please—for my own peace of mind, and yours—double check that return policy.
6. Forget the word “perfect.”
This is last on the list, but of utmost import: There is no such thing as the perfect dress. You will never find it. Even if you do, once you buy it, you will instantly yearn for all the wedding gowns not taken. The process of dress shopping is rife with opportunities to drive yourself crazy, but you can avoid almost all of them if you remember to forget the word “perfect.” Letting go of “perfect” makes room for things like “beautiful,” “fun,” “comfortable, and “exciting.” If you leave perfect outside, then you can walk into the store and see all those other adjectives. That’s how you find the one that’s right for you. That’s how you find the dream dress.