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As soon as New Year’s is over, brides-to-be start filling the bridal salons in search of the perfect wedding gown. Shopping for a wedding dress is a once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and ideally it will also be a very enjoyable one. These expert tips will help you get ready to make the most of your shopping and find your dream wedding dress.

Decisions, decisions… Image credit: Elizabeth Messina via Elizabeth Anne Designs.

Tip One: Book an Appointment. If you walk into a bridal salon on a Saturday in January, you are likely to be disappointed. Most salons request (or even require) appointments, and without one you run the risk of being unable to try on dresses that day. The reason is that most bridal salons assign consultants to assist brides with their wedding dress selection. Even those places that do not offer that type of personal service have limited dressing rooms. Be safe and book an appointment.

Modest and seamless undergarments are best for trying on gowns – remember that a consultant will be with you in the fitting room! Image credit: Bernd Zeugswetter.

Tip Two: Wear the Right Underwear. Speaking of those bridal consultants…getting into a wedding gown is not a one-person job. You will need help, and that means people seeing you in your undies. Your best bet is a simple pair of beige seamless panties (or Spanx if you think you will wear them on your wedding day). If you have a good fitting strapless bra, bring it; otherwise the store will probably have a strapless bra or bustier that you can borrow.

Take your bridesmaids for a spa day, but leave them home when you head for the bridal salon. Image via Zenith Vineyards.

Tip Three: Leave the Entourage At Home. Going wedding dress shopping is very exciting, and it is natural that you would want to share the moment with your friends and family. However, this is definitely a case of too many cooks spoiling the soup. The more opinions in the room, the harder it is to pick one favorite dress. The best advice is to bring your mother, your best friend, and at most one other person. And don’t make it your jealous sister! Remember that you can always bring all of your bridesmaids shopping later to help you choose the accessories and jewelry that will complete your bridal ensemble.

With so many pretty options, you can never predict which dress you will love until you start trying them on. Image credit: Elizabeth Messina via Style Unveiled.

Tip Four: Bring Ideas…And an Open Mind. Two of the biggest obstacles to choosing a wedding gown are having no ideas or having your heart set on one specific design. The best way to prepare for your appointment at the bridal salon is to find some pictures of dresses that appeal to you, which will help to give your consultant a general idea of your taste. But also keep your mind open to suggestions from the consultant, who knows her stock well, and has a good idea of what styles are flattering to different figures. While sometimes brides end up purchasing exactly what they envisioned, just as often they fall in love with a dress that is the opposite of what they had expected to like.

Find out what the price range is for the types of dresses you like and either adjust your budget or broaden your mind to other styles.

Tip Five: Set a Realistic Budget. A realistic budget doesn’t just mean deciding how much you can spend, it also means setting a budget that will actually be enough for the type of dress you want. Before you start shopping, it is a good idea to go online and get a sense of what wedding gowns actually cost. From there you can either adjust your budget to fit your expectations or your expectations to fit your budget. It is no fun to go into an appointment clutching pictures of your favorite dresses only to learn that they all cost thousands of dollars more than you could ever afford. As a general rule of thumb, remember that more embellishments cost more money. Hand beaded crystal jewelry encrusted bridal gowns can easily run into the high four or even five figures. And if you do have champagne taste on a beer budget? Consider stretching a limited budget by shopping at designer sample sales, especially if you are around a size 6 or 8.