10 Things No One Tells You About Gown Shopping

I finally found Her: The perfect dress for my wedding on September 1! I'd like to give a special shout-out to my consultant Andrea from Bridal Reflections in Carle Place, Long Island, for her unwavering patience, arms of steel, and contagious smile. 25+ dresses later, here's what I learned. (Catch up on part 1 of my dress shopping experience, here.)

gown shopping

1. Undergarments can drastically change the look of a dress.
You already know that wearing a strapless bra or a regular one with clear straps is non-negotiable. Even so, I’d recommend getting your measurements taken before you start this process, especially if you've lost weight recently, like I did. When I tried on the winning dress for the very first time, my bust looked...off. The culprit: Undergarments one cup size too small and three inches too big around the waist. Armed with my correct size, I slipped on the dress again—it's amazing what a difference a few inches can make.

2. Wear just enough makeup to feel pretty—don't go overboard.
Being surrounded by a billowing sea of white fabric makes you hyper-aware of your appearance. Under-eye circles that were barely noticeable before look stark. Pale pink lipstick is drowned out by fluorescent lighting. You don't have to get dolled up for your consultant; apply just enough so that you feel presentable. But whatever you do, DON'T apply self-tanner in the days leading up to your appointment, in order to avoid damaging any of the dresses. Also wear your hair the way you've planned it for the wedding.

3. Consultants can't stand when you "yes" them to death.
They can't assist you properly if you don't tell them how you really feel. "It's beautiful," I murmured, after stepping into each dress or pulling it over my head. Unaware that I was saying this for Each And Every Gown, Andrea eventually called me out on it: "I'm not the designer; you won't hurt my feelings, you know." Ten "nos" (including the Lazaro style pictured above) helped me get to my final "yes." Also consultants rarely outright told me to take something off, so when they did, I knew they were being truthful. If they use the words "we can do better," you'll know.

4. Do "the aisle test" to make sure the gown looks good from every angle.
Before making my final decision, Andrea helped me into the top contender one last time, veil and all, and had me walk around the periphery of the store to meet my dad at the front entrance. Walking towards him and seeing his stunned reaction solidified how much I loved the dress. Go ahead, sit, shimmy, and even twirl in the gowns while trying them on—if it's the right one, you should feel as if you never want to take it off.

5. Trying on wedding gowns is physically (and emotionally) draining.
Wedding gowns are so heavy that getting in and out of them is a workout in itself; I'd find myself ravenous (and in need of a good nap) afterwards! Up until that point, I had made major planning decisions (venue, photographer, DJ), but when I saw how I looked in my dress, it was as if all that was just a fuzzy dream that suddenly became crystal-clear when I woke up. Not the weepy type, I was mortified when tears streamed down my cheeks. On the other hand, a bride-to-be friend of mine who sniffles at commercials was mystified by how detached she was to the gown she bought. That's the beauty of wedding planning—no two brides will ever have the same exact experience.

6. Make Mom love you forever by trying on a dress she recommends, even if you hate it.
If Mom has been looking forward to this moment ever since you played dress-up as a little girl, oblige her just this one time and try on one of her recommendations. It's a win-win: Either she'll see that you were right about lace looking all kinds of wrong on you, or you may shock yourself by purchasing one of her picks, like I did.

7. Ask if there are any discounts they can offer you.
Some salons offer discounts if you purchase bridesmaid or mother of the bride/groom dresses there as well. At trunk shows, which feature an entire collection from a specific designer, brides can get a percentage off (usually 10-15), for buying a gown that same day. If you're serious about a dress and can't make the show, try it on beforehand and see if they'll grant it to you at the lower price anyway.

8. You’ll have to sign on the dotted line for even the smallest details.
In order to buy a dress, you'll have to commit to a certain size ahead of time, and they're teeny-tiny compared to regular clothing sizes (a bridal size 6 is equivalent to a size 2 in "normal" clothes). I expected that, but I was surprised to learn I'd have to sign off on the length of the heels I'm wearing on the day of the wedding (this would affect my alterations). If you're planning on customizing your gown by adding sleeves, embellishments, or dropping/raising the waist, be prepared to answer very specific questions about that as well.

9. Repeat after me: You are not a failure if you have to try on more than 10 gowns before finding The Gown.
Shopping can be a scene out of a romantic comedy: The excitement in the bridal salon is palpable, you're swilling champagne, everyone coos over how stunning you are, and you wish you could bottle how giddy you feel. What movies don't show you is how despondent it can feel if it takes four, or five, or six visits before you find anything that even remotely feels like you. Everyone from my doctor to my neighbors got a kick when "the bridal editor couldn't even find a dress."

10. Do it once, do it fabulous.
Andrea repeated this mantra to me throughout my appointment, and it's stuck in my head ever since. You're (hopefully) only going to shop for a wedding gown once in your life—drown out everyone else's opinion and you'll hear a silent little voice tell you which one you should choose. Then, when you pick it, lie to everyone except a handful of people you can trust not to spill the secret. For any of my guests who are reading this, I'll be wearing a lace, A-line Jim Hjelm dress.

Leave a comment and tell us what suggestions you'd add to my list!

—Stefania Sainato