1. Set a Budget
I know this seems really basic, but shopping without a budget for your gown is like driving a car without a gas gauge. Plan to spend about 10% of your wedding budget on your dress - but consider this a starting point. If your dress is more important to you than the flowers then feel free to adjust your budget.
2. Start Early
Looking for a dress before you are even engaged is a bit much - but start as soon as you have that ring. It can take from 6-12 months from the time you order your dress until you bring it home. Unless you are lucky enough to find the perfect dress all ready for alterations, keep in mind that the designer needs time to make your gown and you should plan on about three dress fittings - roughly one month apart.
3. Do Your Research
Pull pages from magazines, browse the internet, online galleries and Pinterest boards for inspirations. Keep everything together in a folder - pictures, fabric samples, ribbons - all of the things that you love. Most dress shops will not have all of their dresses on display so the more things you can show to help a salesperson pull the designs - the more you are likely to love them.
4. Make Appointments
Once you have an idea of what you want, it is time to set up some appointments. Many salons and boutiques do not work on a walk-in basis so call about two weeks in advance to make an appointment. If you have a particular designer in mind - call around to see who carries that designer or price points.
5. Limit your Entourage
If you watch reality shows then you probably have seen the entire bridal party with the bride when she goes to find 'the dress.' It rarely works out well and there is almost always drama! The best advice is to bring one or two people whose opinion you value the most. If you really want to include your bridal party - then have them come in for your final fitting and do a grand reveal.
6. Primp Beforehand
If you go in to pick out a dress with wet hair and no makeup it is much harder to visualize how you will truly look on your big day. Not to mention that this makes it much harder for the consultant to get an idea of your style. If you already have your heels or a special memento that you are planning to wear then bring it to your appointment - this too will help.
7. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
A simple truth: some dresses look like a paper bag until you actually put it on - and then it looks fabulous! With that in mind, don't turn up your nose until you try something on. The consultant has a good idea of what will look good on you so trust them at least until you see it on. That said, don't let a pushy salesperson or a well-meaning Mom sweet talk you into something you really don't love!