1. Start your search for the perfect wedding dress at least six to nine months ahead. Special orders can take four to six months, plus time for alterations.
2. Keep your file of photographs of dresses you like from bridal magazines, advertisements and boutique promotions handy when you shop.
3. Choose a style appropriate for the ceremony. For a formal evening wedding, a floor-length dress in ivory, white, cream or champagne, often worn with gloves and a train, is an elegant choice. Semiformal dresses can be also be pastels, a floorbrushing (ballerina) length, with a short veil and no train. At a less-formal or second wedding, the bride may choose a long or short dress, or even a two-piece suit. A short veil may be very stylish paired with a classic pillbox hat.
4. Flatter your figure with a wedding dress that suits you. Take a trusted, honest sister or friend who has your best interests at heart for feedback. Try one of each basic shape--princess, ball gown, sheath and empire waist--to see which flatters you most. Check that you can walk, turn, sit and bend comfortably, as well as lift your arms and hug loved ones without splitting a seam. Comfort and confidence are vital on this day of days.
5. Shop at bridal boutiques or department stores for a wide array of styles. Try on a few designer gowns first so you recognize the quality, then choose a dress based on your budget.
6. Set a budget. Off-the-rack wedding dresses can be found for $250 and up. Jessica McClintock has a large selection of moderately priced gowns. A simple custom-made dress can be had for as little as $750, and can go as high as $10,000 for a Vera Wang, with many wedding dresses in the lower third of that range.
7. Ask when bridal stores are next having a sample sale. Be on the lookout for warehouse sales on discontinued styles, samples and overstocks.
8. Make the deposit with a credit card. Get an itemized receipt spelling out every detail (manufacturer's and design name, number, price, color and size) and stating that the deal is canceled if your wedding dress isn't ready by a specified date.
9. Budget for alterations, which can run $300 or more. Ask if pressing is included and if they'll store your wedding dress until the big day. Also ask for recommendations for cleaning and storing the dress.