An Insider’s (Honest) Guide to Finding Your Perfect Wedding Dress

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A real-life bridal consultant offers up a tough love guide to finding The Dress

If we were living in a fairytale, the wedding gown shopping experience would probably be, well, magical. Adorable little birds would deliver your immaculate (and perfectly steamed) dream gown on a gold hanger whilst tweeting a lively melody.  In real life – and by real life, I don’t mean Say Yes to the Dress real life – choosing the dress you will wed the love of your life in often comes with its share of anxiety, stress, and discomfort. Simply put, it can be quite an exhausting hassle.

Bridal gowns are specifically designed to be beautiful; one of their primary goals to take your lover’s breath away as you walk down the aisle. But like any good double-edged sword, their amazing beauty can yield an arduous decision-making process. Bridal boutiques overflow with hundreds of gorgeous creations, yet you may only wear one – or two if you’re lucky – on your big day. But you’re in luck, because, I, an extremely single and very much unwed bridal consultant (how ironic), have a few tips to aid with the task of choosing your gown.

Start sooner than later

If you want to avoid the ‘my wedding is in two months and I still don’t have a dress’ panic attack, start shopping sooner rather than later. Most bridal boutiques only carry samples, meaning they will have to order a new gown in your size, which usually can take up to six months. Being organized and starting early will help relieve stress as you won’t be rushed into choosing a gown. Shopping ahead will also ensure you don’t have to cram all your appointments in one day…which is basically the ideal plan for ending up frazzled and in tears by 5 pm. If, for any reasons, you find yourself shopping for a wedding gown last minute and on a tight budget, don’t expect a miracle. You will probably have to buy off-the-rack worn samples from older seasons and it might not be your dream dress.

Plan a realistic budget

When heading to your first appointment, you should already have a good idea of how much money you’d like to spend on a gown. Remember to ask about the prices of alterations, because a good chunk of your budget might be needed just to make your dress fit you properly.  Yes, alterations will probably be required because unless a dress was custom made to your body, it probably will not be an exact fit, and trust me, you don’t want a badly fitted gown on your big day. Remember that money constraints also yield an obligation to be realistic: unless you’re getting an haute couture custom dress, being overly picky won’t get you anywhere. Not everyone wants to spend $5,000 on a wedding gown –I certainly wouldn’t — but don’t expect to snag a stunning Reem Acra fully-beaded number for a few hundred dollars. High quality craftsmanship comes at a price.

Limit your entourage

Yes, your mom, you aunts, your five bridesmaids, your sister (plus her two children) and your grandparents may all want to be part of this magical moment, but try to avoid pulling a My Big Fat Greek Wedding while you’re still in the early stages. More people come with more opinions and generally make the process much more chaotic than it needs to be. I suggest bringing along two carefully-chosen people with you: the ones who know you and your style the best, so they don’t keep suggesting gowns that look like figure skating costumes when you’re aiming for minimalist elegance (and consequently wasting everyone’s time). Besides, these allies need to vow not to make you feel crap about your style or your body. (Yes, that unfortunately happens.)

Be prepared, yet open-minded

There are two types of brides in this world : the ones who like EVERYTHING (which, believe it or not, makes my job very difficult), and the ones who know specifically what they are looking for and consequently limit themselves. Aim for in-between. Prepare images of dress styles and silhouettes that you like, but remain open-minded. Use your first appointment to try on different silhouettes. More often than not, brides will end up selecting a dress that is quite different than what they expected to like. For every gown you slip on, pick the details you like – or don’t – on it and say it out loud, as it will help your consultant narrow the selection. Oh and don’t judge a frock on a hanger… the real gems are often the ones that look super basic when dangling from a piece of plastic. Just put it on!

Choose your dress for you

It might be an unpopular opinion, but you should not give a hoot about what everybody has to say about the dress, or who’s bank account is getting harmed in the process. You will be the only person wearing that white gown on your special day, so YOU should be in love with it.  Even if your (small, please) entourage isn’t certain about the gown, if you’re happy and comfortable wearing it, that’s all that matters.

You really don’t have to cry

TV shows like Say Yes to The Dress have set, in my humble opinion, unrealistic standards for future brides. You won’t automatically burst into tears once you find The One. Each individual is different and, at the end of the day, it really is just a dress…that you will only wear once. Just because you haven’t cried or felt a spiritual connection doesn’t mean you haven’t found the right gown. Some people are just more rational and need some time to think about their choices. Make sure you take photographs of your favourite dresses (just your favourites, don’t take photos of the 15 others you hated) so you can refer to them during the decision-making process. Usually, after visiting a maximum of five boutiques, you should have tried enough gowns to know your contenders. It’s time to stop shopping and make a decision.

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