"Bring photos of dresses you like, but keep an open mind and try on lots of styles," says Joan Pillow, owner of Impressions, a bridal salon in Atlanta. It may take several trips to find the one -- or you may spot it right away. "When you see a dress you really love, don't second-guess yourself; buy it," says Mara Urshel, owner of Kleinfeld in New York City.
It can take six months to be completed, with alterations. At the first fitting, about eight weeks before the wedding, bring your shoes and undergarments. The dress is normally ready at the last fitting, two weeks prior to the wedding. When you finally get to take it home, you'll know it's perfect.
Above: The fantasy begins at the shop window. On display, an Alencon lace and silk organza Cinderella-style gown by Richard Glasgow (left). Ruching defines a tea-length silk taffeta dress with tulle underskirt by Melissa Sweet (right)
Ivory Silk Purse
An ivory silk purse by Franchi has tuxedo-like details.
Leather gloves by LaCrasia; pearls by Mikimoto; fragrance is Miss Dior by Christian Dior
Billowy White Gown
What little girl hasn't imagined herself wearing a billowy white gown? This embroidered silk St.Pucchi gown has velvet floral appliques and a low back anchored by bow closures.
Girl's dress by Pears and Bears; shoes by Flora and Henri.
Matte Crepe Gown
A crystal-trimmed collar with a satin bow is the focal point for this matte crepe gown by Reem Acra.
Lace encircles the waist of an organza dress by Edgardo Bonilla; folds lift the skirt to reveal layers of lace, taffeta, and organza ruffles.
A satin gown by Liancarlo features pearl beading at the bustline of the ribbed bodice; it's echoed in the ribbon embroidery on the train.
Browse for accessories as you shop for your dress. You may just find the perfect accent.
Top row: python purse by Kate Spade; silk bag with sequins, lace, and a metal flower by Moo Roo; vintage Lucite bag from Deco Jewels; silk champagne bag by Franchi.
Bottom row: Brocade clutch by Moo Roo; cultured pearl necklace by Mikimoto; brocade bag with sparkling swirl by Moo Roo; bag with jeweled butterflies and a crystal-and-pearl handle by Larisa Barrera; vintage Lucite hat-box purse from Deco Jewels.
Background: Satin and tulle gown by Edgardo Bonilla.
Ivory Taffeta Gown
Dark-ivory taffeta gown with gathers by Vera Wang
There's a look for every bride. Taupe satin bows tie around the waist and decorate the two-tier bustle on a satin gown by Priscilla of Boston. Rhinestone buttons dress up a double-breasted silk-and-wool coat by Shannon McLean Bridal that can be worn as a dress or over a sheath gown.
Beaded Silk-Satin Gown
The moment you slip into that first dress, you'll truly feel like a bride.
The beaded bustline, Empire style, and grand sash make this silk-satin Amsale gown fit for royalty.
Pleated satin d'Orsay pumps by Richard Tyler; suede peep-toe pumps by Loffler Randall; handbag by Darby Scott
Chiffon Slip Dress
You may have an idea of the silhouette you want, but try on many styles; one may surprise you.
Petal-shaped paillettes drift down a chiffon slip dress by Suzanne Ermann; nude satin pumps by Christian Louboutin
A pink pin-striped taffeta gown by Carolina Herrera is influenced by classic men's tailoring. It also features a box-pleated bustle and bracelet sleeves.
Sandals with Swarovski crystals by Christian Louboutin; pumps by Christian Louboutin; tulle veil by Edgardo Bonilla
Left: The bustline of this silk-satin gown by Angel Sanchez is shaped like a bow; the mermaid-style flounce has asymmetrical folds.
Right: A pleated insert fans across the top of a silk-satin dress by Romona Keveza
Swaths of satin form the wrapped bodice of a gown by Atelier Aimee; silk roses accent the shoulder sash and hip, and a tulle petticoat peeks out from under the skirt.
(On model: Jacket by Old Navy; skirt by Ann Taylor.)