For all its tulle and crystal-studded lace, wedding dress shopping can be a nightmare. There are often so many options and constraints that even just picking a basic silhouette — let alone a dress — can be agonizing.
I speak from experience. I got engaged last Thanksgiving, and began the process happy and naive as a baby clam who had never even heard of custom painted wooden sign boards. But after paging through two wedding magazines a few weeks later, I realized I was in over my head. I am a bad shopper to begin with, heavily swayed by the opinions of others. Even if I’m perfectly happy in one outfit, a lackluster response (a.k.a. anything short of gushing) from someone else will have me running to return it.
I eventually landed on two outfits (yes, two!). To help you get started, here’s what I learned from the process.
Don’t even walk into a store without doing some research. You’ll want to figure out what your style is and what suits you before you’re crammed into a sweaty dressing room with your mom hovering outside like a cute but persistent baby bird.
Save a few dresses you like on Pinterest, then pull them up for the salesperson. While you probably won’t find the exact version of your dream dress, you’ll likely find something similar, and you can narrow or eliminate from there. This is when you should figure out your maximum budget, and stick to it. When you’re faced with a gorgeous dress that’s $1000 too expensive, it’ll be easy to give if you don’t already have a firm number.
Decide two or three people you want to bring for trials and fittings, and don’t invite anyone else. The more people, the more opinions. I bought my wedding outfits in India, and had to shuttle from one hot sari store to another with my dad, mom, uncle, grandmother, aunt, and cousin’s wife in tow. The person who has the loudest thoughts is probably not the person you should be listening to. In my case, it was my uncle, who I hadn’t seen in seven years, but told me under no circumstances could I wear the ethereal, flowy cream dress that I loved. He was excited, bless his heart, but his opinion did not matter.
Pick the group carefully. You want someone who has good style but who can be honest. At the same time, they should also be effusive and generous with the compliments, because you’re going to want to feel like a queen. It’s a delicate balance.
I’d like to dispel the myth that there is one dress for everyone. The more you obsess over finding something that was made for you by personal wedding elf babies bequeathed to you at birth, the more disappointed you’ll be when that dress is a) too expensive b) nonexistent or c) makes you look like you’re being strangled slowly by satin.
Instead of focusing on finding “the dress,” try on a variety of options to figure out what matches your personal style and flatters your body type. Then, go to three or four stores, to find a few different options. Keep in mind that you’ll want a fabric that sits well on your body and is comfortable (you’ll be wearing this dress all damn day). For example, a silk ball gown with boning is classically beautiful, but probably not right for summer nuptials in a barn. If your wedding is casual, you’ll want something easy and laid-back (think a cocktail dress or a jumpsuit). On the other hand, if you’re throwing a wild party with a rock band and an extensive open bar, wear something edgy.
Let yourself be surprised. Just because you had your heart set on a mermaid silhouette, doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll end up with. And remember: even though your fiance’s cousin looked fresh-faced and pink-cheeked in a poofy-skirted, corset-topped number and made everyone cry golden tears, doesn’t mean that’s the right look for you.
The most agonizing moment of wedding dress shopping actually comes after you’ve bought your dress. After I schlepped backhome from India with two dresses safely packed in garment bags, I started poring over pictures of myself in said outfits. I would zoom in on my legs or stomach then frantically GChat my mom asking her if I had picked the right one. “You’re absolutely crazy,” she would type, but I would continue to scroll through the pictures and fret.
Don’t do this. If you have doubts about your dress, that’s fine — natural even! Maybe, in a fit of Prosecco-induced mania, you bought something that wasn’t perfect. March over to the store and try on more dresses. Do not take screenshots of your armpit wrinkles. This helps no one.
Even better, just find a dress that’s beautiful and cost-effective from the get-go. You can avoid all of this headache (and also yelling at your uncle in blistering Indian heat like I did) by shopping at David’s Bridal. They’re a one-stop-shop with tons of options, so you won’t have to compromise on finding a dress that’s right for you.
Nandita Raghuram is the Content Director at Studio@Gizmodo. She tweets here.