As a bride to be, goals number one, two and three are to avoid stress. Yes, stress will find you, but the more you plan ahead - the more you'll miss. There will be plenty of that doing the seating chart. When it comes to your gown - finalize your selection and order nine months ahead. It may seem like forever away but the typical time for the creation of a gown is six months - I recommend adding one extra month to be safe and another month because unpredictable, crazy things have been known to occur. These surprises include manufacturers running late, shipping woes or a dress arriving with flaws or something missing. You need to allow time to either send it back or have any problems addressed locally. Keep in mind, this isn't a common occurrence, but if it happens, you will hug the smiling bridal consultant that insisted on extra time.
When to add more long strands of exotic pearls to the veil
Figure out, respect and communicate your budget. Throughout the shopping process and the bridal salon appointment, everybody wins if the budget is respected. Most consultants want to help by staying within a price range so the dress won't be adding financial stress to the other wedding anxieties (remember the aforementioned goals one through three?). Trusting that the consultant is only bringing you dress choices within your price range is a big relief. One danger I occasionally see is a bride who insists on trying on a dress that's way out of reach and, naturally, she falls in love with it. This can sour her whole shopping experience with the longing for "that other dress." The only time I recommend blowing the dress budget is if the bride has found savings in other areas of the event that will cover the newly added expense. Simply, be honest about the budget and be careful about fixating on "that other dress."
Try on something unexpected
Be open to new ideas. Most brides have a pretty good sense of the style and shape of the dress of their dreams. Sometimes that focus can be too limiting and they miss the chance to explore something new or unexpected. A good rule: try on many things. Bridal gowns fit so much differently every other garment in your life. Often, my clients end up with something totally different than expected. When I hear a client sigh, "Well, this is not a dress I would typically wear ..." I gently remind them it is a wedding gown. It's not designed for hot yoga or the deli counter at the grocery store. The dress should be an extension of your personality and every bride should have fun while trying everything.
It's not a mud run - pace yourself and enjoy
Set a stress-free pace to your shopping days. Plan on visiting no more than two stores per day. Know that the average bride visits two to three stores before selecting her final gown. If it becomes a sprint to a handful of stores it can become an overwhelming blur (where was that taupe strapless?). This can lead to exhaustion and regrettable decisions - like that time in Cabo ... (never mind). But, if you find the dress at the first store you really, really love - then forget my advice and order it right away.
Leave the entourages to Kim and Kanye
Lastly, limit the people you bring. The old saying about "too many cooks" really applies to bridal dress shopping. If you feel comfortable on your own, it's a great way to go. If you are more comfortable asking someone to accompany you, ask your mom or a close friend. Large groups have large and varied opinions. Bridal gown shopping is already an emotional experience and too many different pushes and pulls and too much drama can ruin the wonderful experience. In my 30 years in this business - nine out of 10 times - a large group ensures that the bride will leave the store overwhelmed and without a decision.
Here's a trade secret: If you can't avoid bringing the whole neighborhood - do a little "pre-shopping." Go alone ahead of time and select a few dresses. Now you've given yourself complete control on the options and the group feels like they're part of the process. Nobody has to know - I'm not telling them.
Michele Martin is the owner of M bride in La Jolla and has been helping brides through the gown-shopping maze for nearly 30 years. For more information, visit mbridesalon.com.