There can be many pitfalls that brides fall into when shopping for that perfect dress for their special day. To help you make a more informed purchase, here are 12 tips to make your shopping experience smoother and more enjoyable.

1. Set a price limit on how much you’re willing to spend on a wedding gown.

Gowns range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. You need to have a good idea of what you’re willing to spend. Then when you visit bridal shops, fib and give them a figure 10% to 20% LESS than what you’ve decided on. This is because sales clerks will often try to upsell you by bringing out gowns that are slightly over your budget range, hoping you’ll fall in love with the gown and buy it anyway.

2. Know your figure shape.

When looking through magazines, please remember these are super thin models that make all the gowns look beautiful. In the real world, we all come in different sizes and shapes, so what looks good in a magazine may look horrendous on your figure. You need to focus on styles that will flatter your figure type. The Wedding Channel has an online program that you can use to find gowns that flatter your shape. It’s a good site to check out before you head out gown hunting.

3. Ask for bridal shop recommendations.

Talk with everyone you know who has recently been married to find out their experiences with various bridal shops. Remember, customer service is just as critical as the gown you choose.

4. Shop during the week.

Don’t shop on Saturdays. Weekends are when brides are out in full force shopping for their gowns and accessories. Instead, choose to go during the week when it’s quieter, and you can receive undivided attention. Many bridal shops stay open during the evening hours.

5. Fib about your wedding date.

You will be asked when your “big day” is…and it’s best to fib by “moving” your date up by about four weeks. This will help ensure that your gown actually arrives in time for your wedding and gives you some breathing room to get any alterations done. Too often, brides have been near tears because their wedding gown hasn’t arrived or has arrived so close to the wedding date that they’ve become anxious wrecks. You don’t want to be rushed or thrown into a panic just before your wedding day.

6. Bring a buddy with you.

Always bring a friend or family member with you when shopping. Obviously, it’s good to have an unbiased second opinion when trying on gowns. You’re excited and maybe be coerced by a sales clerk into buying something on the spur of the moment that you will later regret. Be sure you have someone with you who is cool-headed and practical to keep you grounded.

7. Take your time when choosing a wedding dress.

Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into purchasing anything. Your first shopping excursion should help you get an idea of what styles look good and find a bridal shop that you’re happy with. Take notes on various gowns you really like (make a quick sketch of the gown too). Narrow down your gown choices to 2 or 3 gowns…then go home! Take a few days to review your notes, perhaps compare gowns online, and generally get a clearer perspective on what you saw. Then go back and re-try the dresses you had decided on.

8. Ask the store lots of questions.

There are some hidden fees and policies that you may not be thinking of when shopping for a bridal gown.

Here are some of the most important points you should ask about shopping for a wedding dress:

  • Who’s the manufacturer of the gown?
  • Is the dress in inventory? If not, how long will it be to get it in?
  • What kind of payment policies are available?
  • How much of a deposit is required? Can you pay by credit card?
  • What is the store’s cancellation and refund policy? (get it in writing!)
  • What are the costs of alterations? (get a written estimate)
  • Are there any shipping fees? If yes, how much? Are there size fees for extra-large sizes or petites?
  • Are their rush fees? (if you must have to have your gown sooner).

9. Bring a vinyl tape-measure with you.

Be sure the shop doesn’t take your measurements cloth tape. Ask them to make the measurements with vinyl tape. The cloth tape measures can get stretched, and they might give inaccurate measurements. Inaccurate measurement will result in “required alterations” when the dress arrives. Carry your own vinyl tape with you, so that if the store doesn’t have one, you can save the day. Whatever it takes to get an accurate measurement. Double-check that they measure your bust, waist, hips, and from the hollow of your throat to hemline (for length).

10. Don’t base your choice on dress size.

You may be a size 8, but the manufacturer’s size 8 might be way off. A size 8 from one gown manufacturer may be a size 12 from another. Ask the store to see the listed manufacturer’s dress size chart when choosing a bridal gown, so you have a better idea of what size you’ll be needing, once your measurements are taken.

11. Don’t put your bridal gown on a layaway plan.

While you’re busy paying down your gown (that you don’t have yet), the manufacturer may discontinue the line or go out of business. Now you’re left with no gown (and often no refund policy either). End result? You’ll have to start all over and find a new gown to purchase from that bridal store.

12. Make your own headpiece.

Most bridal shops charge $150 to $300 (or more) for headpieces that cost less than $20 to make yourself. They aren’t difficult to make, and there are several good books and patterns available if you want to give it a try. If you aren’t the hands-on type, find someone who is that would make it for you for a small fee. Or you could rent a headpiece or buy one from a resale/consignment store.