Yes, the ring is important and stays with you forever, but the dress—that's what really makes a bride feel amazing on her big day.
When so much meaning is ascribed to a piece of clothing, the prospect of looking for a wedding dress can seem daunting. So we called Hayley Paige, designer of Hayley Paige and Blush by Hayley Paige and Lori Allen, founder of Bridals by Lori and star of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, to get their expert advice on what you should know before going wedding dress shopping.
Each bride's journey to finding her dress is unique.You might assume that because your best friend bought the first dress she tried on that you will too. But you might end up needing to try on more dresses or going to more appointments, and that shouldn't dishearten you. "Brides often get tripped up by what other people tell them to expect," Hayley says. "You don't want to be so overwhelmed by what everybody else has said."
Do your homework in advance.Start by looking at dresses online and in bridal magazines to get a sense of the styles you're drawn to. Create a mood board, pull tear sheets—whatever helps you figure out what you like. Are there certain designers you keep going back to? Follow them on social media and you'll find out about more styles (and sales) that way.
Beware of pin-bingeing."Pinterest is the foam on a latte: It's fun and frothy," Hayley says. But relying too much on a Pinterest fantasy can backfire. "You want to be careful about not overdoing it," she adds. "If you start envisioning what you're going to look like in a dress based on these idealized images, you might end up disappointed when you go into that appointment."
Set a budget.This point causes the most drama and is probably the most important on this list. You really have to be honest with yourself, your family, and your fiancé(e) and determine how much you're able to spend on the dress—before you make your try-on appointment.
How do you figure out a budget? Once you've found a few dresses that you love, look up how much they cost. That's an easy way to start having the budget conversation. "I like this style, and it costs around P100,000—what do you think?"
It's OK to have a cushion of about P30,000 in case you find a dress you adore but it's over budget. And, keep in mind that a dress does not an outfit make: You'll need to pay for alterations, a veil, shoes, accessories, etc.
Allow yourself ample time to get your dress.You may need to schedule your appointment a month in advance, especially during busy season, though you'll have an easier time if you go on a weekday instead of the weekend. Then, you'll need at least six months before the wedding for the dress to get made, but eight to 10 months is the average. Give yourself a year for the whole process and you won't feel rushed.
Be willing to commit."I don't mean to put pressure on the situation, but go in with the hope that you're going to find something and have that special moment," Hayley says. If you go into an appointment already assuming you're walking out of there empty-handed, you're probably not opening yourself up to the possibility of finding a dress—and that's a waste of your time. "Make the most of your appointment so that it's a positive experience."
Lori agrees: "There are some brides that will try on gown after gown after gown," she says. "You're trying to get to this moment where the sun and the moon and the stars align. Just let it go." It's a combination of focus, positivity, and openness.
Don't go to your dress appointment with a big entourage.You'll feel outnumbered by all the voices. "You can become so overwhelmed when you have that many girls in a room," Hayley says. "It's important to only bring someone whose opinion you truly respect and want."
In the past, Lori says, women used to bring just their mother or their maid of honor, but now it's like the whole cheer squad comes. "They're bringing in 20 people sometimes," she says. "I'm like, 'Did y'all unload a bus?' It's unbelievable, the number of people coming in here. And do you really care what some of these people think?"
Don't assume you're going to make a huge change to your body between now and when the dress is done.The worst thing you can do is go in and try on a dress when you're a size 12, then lose weight and become a size 4 or 6," Hayley says. "The dress, the proportions—everything is going to look a lot different." Some brides insist on getting measured for a smaller size than they are when they try on the dress, but even with the best of intentions (and a really expensive price tag), they don't reach their goal. That can be heartbreaking and disastrous for your wedding plans, not to mention your budget.
You're going to fall in love with a dress, and that's when you'll know you've found it."Some brides do cry—some boohoo, some get all red—and we know when we're zipping them up," Lori says. "But others that are super analytical will know because they compare that dress to everything else."
"I don't know what it is. It's like your innermost thoughts and all your desires and everything you wish for on your wedding day. No matter who it is, no matter what they say, they have a fairytale idea of their wedding. Everything's going to be perfect and they're going to look magnificent. You'll zip that dress up and that will be her vision. It's the strangest thing."
You cannot force *that* connection."You need to have faith that you're going to find that dress, sort of like you have faith in finding the partner of your dreams," Hayley says. "If you find yourself worried about what's coming down the pipeline or worried that you're missing out or worried that you need to change the dress—it's similar to you being in a marriage or relationship where you're second-guessing your partner. When you find the right one, you're not going to want to change it because you love it so much when you look at it in the mirror."
Don't put too much importance on the pictures you take when you first try on the dress.The dress you try on hasn't been altered to fit you perfectly, so you might look at the pictures when you get home and start to pick apart your choice. Remember that your dress, which is still to come, will literally be made to fit your body.
Be open-minded."Have an idea of what you want but don't be locked in and dead set," Lori says. "You may not know that deep down, you want a ball gown, but you've been trying on all these mermaids. Your consultant may try something different on you because nothing is clicking"—and that's when you might find a dress you love.
Get comfortable with your body.What do you like on your body? Sheath? Bodycon? Pants? Hayley recommends going to the evening gown section of a department store and trying on different shapes there. "It's probably been a while since you tried on a prom dress," she says. "Your body might have changed—grown taller or thinner or more athletic. It's a nice research process."
Bring a pair of heels if you know what heel height you want.The salon will have shoes, but if you already know you're going to slay the aisle in six-inch stilettos, bring those to your appointment.
If you're really busty, bring support.The salon will most likely have strapless bras, but if you're hosting DDs on your chest, consider bringing along your own support undergarments, like a bra or corset.
You'll have to sign a contract.It can seem scary, but a wedding dress is a pretty major purchase for most people. And because so many wedding dresses are expensive, made-to-order pieces, both parties need to be protected.
You'll save money by going to a trunk show.Boutiques offer discounts and you'll be seeing more dresses from that designer than the boutique usually carries. "Trunk shows are the best," Hayley says. "You could even end up meeting the designer and that makes the experience all the more magical."
Don't cheap out by trying to buy a dress online.Many e-tailers (usually out of China) sell knockoff gowns, but that's a really risky choice. You might end up losing money in a scam, or just getting a dress that's not what you expected it to be. Remember that this is your wedding—it's supposed to be special.
More can be more.If you have the budget, it can be a lot of fun to wear more than one dress on your big day. Plus, it allows you to cover more ground with silhouettes—especially if you can't decide on one style. That way you can wear the ballgown and the sexy sheath, too.
There isn't any Champagne while you're trying on a dress."I let them have it in my lobby but I can't have it around my dresses," Lori says. "It leaves a brown spot that doesn't come out. I have had that nightmare all over an expensive dress and it is not fun."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.