When it comes to clothing purchases, the wedding gown is in a class of its own. No other garment is as "it has to be perfect" as this one, and it's probably the finest and most expensive item of clothing you'll ever buy. Exciting? Yes. Scary? Not if you use these tips.
1. Start Early
Ideally, you should begin shopping nine months before your wedding date. This will allow for a stress-free pace and is very important if you're buying a custom-made gown (as opposed to an off-the-rack one), which may take several months to produce and require at least three fittings. Only have a few months? Most bridal salons can fulfill rush orders, usually for a fee.
2. Establish a Budget
Try to spend no more than 5 percent of your total wedding budget on a gown and accessories (veil, shoes, jewelry, and so on). Wedding dresses can go for as little as $500; most brides spend about $900 to $1,200. Couture wedding gowns are likely to fetch $5,000 and more. And don't forget to factor in the cost of alterations like shortening the hem or adjusting the bodice and sleeves. Prices vary, depending on the complexity of what you need done. Be sure to get an estimate up front.
3. Make an Appointment
It's worth it to schedule an appointment at a bridal salon or at a department store with an in-house bridal boutique, like Macy's or Saks Fifth Avenue. Doing so will get you one-on-one attention from a sales consultant who will be able to pull the right styles for your body type, help get you into the gowns and give you her undivided attention.
4. Plan Salon Visits Wisely
Most appointments last about an hour. You can avoid feeling rushed by limiting yourself to trying on just five gowns per salon trip. Try to avoid Saturday afternoon (when the salon is likely to be mobbed) and your lunch hour (you may end up feeling pressured by the pull of the office).
5. Love the Fit and Feel
Comfort is important — make sure you can breathe easily and move around in your gown. Raise your arms up above your head, sit down, boogie a little. Do you feel constricted? Is that tulle skirt starting to prickle? Another way to decide if this is the dress: Designers and brides swear you'll have an immediate, in-your-gut feeling when you see yourself in the mirror.
6. Read the Fine Print
You've probably heard the horror stories (the bridal salon that mysteriously goes out of business, the dress that doesn't arrive on time), and that's why you need to ensure that you have all the details of the sale outlined in the contract. You should make sure it includes: a dress discription (style number, manufacturer, color, and size); deposit and balance amounts; special requests (such as removing the train); alterations information and estimated cost; the store's cancellation policy, and the anticipated delivery date.
7. Pay Up
A 50-percent deposit is standard practice. Be sure to pay with a credit card — then if you are wrongfully charged, your card company will go after the store and (as long as everything about the transaction checks out) you won't be held responsible.
8. Bring it Home
Pick up your gown no sooner than one week before your wedding date. Once you have it at home, suspend it from a rod while its still in its bag and unzip the bag slightly to prevent mustiness. Now you can start to get really excited about the big day — after all, you're going to look amazing!