Watch your wallet.
Know your budget and stick to it. "The worst thing a bride can do is try on a dress that's way out of her budget, and then fall in love with it," says Mallory Thorburn of The White Magnolia in Atlanta. After that, it'll be hard to find a dress you love just as much in your budget. One way to safeguard your experience: Tell the bridal shop your budget when you make your appointment. If the shop doesn't stock dresses in your price range, they'll let you know.
Clear your calendar.
Set aside a special day just for dress shopping. "You want to be fresh and relaxed, as finding your gown is such a special time," says mother-daughter team Connie Lucks and Kristin Shelton of Fleur De Lis Bridal Boutique in Missouri. They recommend visiting two to three boutiques so that you see enough dresses to find what you love but not so many that the confusion sets in.
Save the #squadgoals for the bridal party.
While it can be fun to have a parent, friend, or future in-law with you, bringing along the whole crew can be less than helpful. Too many voices in the room can make the first appointment feel overwhelming, and brides often leave without a sense of what they like and don't like, says Alix Childs of Ceremony Boston. Limit the guest list to two or three people whose opinions you respect the most.
You'll be all dolled up on your wedding day, so why not do the same when you're trying on dresses? "Fix your hair and makeup so you feel your absolute prettiest the day you're trying on gowns," recommends Lucks and Shelton.
Break out the lingerie.
While we don't expect you to bring your entire lingerie drawer (save it for the honeymoon!), it's a good idea to bring a seamless pair of undies, shapewear, and a few good bras (including a backless one for low-cut or sheer dresses), says Childs. With the right undergarments, you'll have a better idea of how a dress will look and how comfortable you'll be in it.
Start a wedding dress board on Pinterest and pin away. Pull in everything you like, and share it with your stylist. Now let her do her magic. It's great to have a few pictures of dresses you like, but keep your options open. "Gowns look more beautiful on the bride than they do on the hanger," says Lucks and Shelton. Try on a variety of styles and fabrics so you can see how they look on you.
Be ready to buy.
If you find a dress you love, buy it. Many boutiques sell samples off the rack, and designers may discontinue a dress while you're mulling over your decision. "If you don't buy a dress you love, there's a chance you may not be able to get it once you're ready to buy," says Thorburn.
Know the lingo.
Made to order and custom made are two very different things, advises Childs. Your made-to-order dress is what you'll try on in the store. If you find the dress you love, they'll order you the size closest to your measurements, but it will still need alterations to make it fit you just right. A custom-made dress is completely made from scratch for you and your body.
Save the date.
While every boutique and designer is different, it typically takes four to six months to deliver a dress, plus add two to three months for alterations. Childs recommends starting your dress shopping about a year before the wedding. Lucks and Shelton agree on the timeline and caution against starting any earlier. If you try to get really ahead of the game by shopping more than a year in advance, styles will change and you may miss out on something you'd like better.
It's OK not to shed a tear.
Your dress experience is about you. It doesn't have to be a certain way, and not every bride is going to have a "this is it" moment complete with tears, says Thorburn. It's all about your personality. The most important thing is to find a dress that makes you feel beautiful.