This is one of the things that surprises everyone. You really need at least six to eight months to get your gown—and that's if you're really decisive. If you're a picky shopper or don't really know what you want, start looking eight to 10 months before your wedding. Give yourself plenty of time; if you put it off for too long, your selection of dresses could be limited or you might make a quick decision you may regret later. Once you've found your gown, give yourself at least eight weeks to make alterations, says Terry Hall, fashion director at Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City. Custom gowns take six to eight months to tailor on average, and heavily-embellished ones can take up to a year. Why so much time? A muslin version of a custom gown is created before the actual dress to guarantee a perfect fit.
Determine the Dress Code
You may need to consider religious restrictions when shopping for your gown. If your ceremony is in a house of worship, find out whether there are any attire guidelines you're required to follow, such as covering your shoulders.
Call in Advance
Just because a salon carries your favorite designer doesn't mean it'll have the exact dress you've been dying to try on. If you phone beforehand and request a specific style, chances are the salon will be able to call in a sample of that gown especially for you. While you may get lucky and snag a salesperson just by walking in, scheduling an appointment guarantees you'll get a full hour of undivided attention. Plus, many salons require you to book an appointment in order to try on gowns, so you'll want to call ahead.
Shop At the Right Time
Taking a half day off to shop on, say, a Tuesday morning is absolutely worth it. Saturday afternoons are the most popular times—which actually makes them the worst. Unless the store is by appointment only, try to target those slower times. Consultants are fresher earlier in the day and can give you more of their attention. A calm store means a more personalized shopping experience, Hall says. If you're shopping a sample sale, do yourself a favor and skip the first day. Call ahead to ask how many days the sale will run, then go a little later—there will still be plenty of inventory. Another shopping trick: Don't bring an entourage. It may be tempting to include all your friends in this experience, but any more than one or two adds up to too many clashing opinions.
Buy a Dress That Fits Now
Even if you're planning on dropping 15 pounds before your wedding, your body type isn't going to completely change. Besides, it's a lot easier (not to mention less expensive) to take a gown in than to try and make a too-small dress work.
Read the Fine Print
When you order your gown from a salon, it's important to triple-check the contract. Read it carefully, so you don't end up with the wrong size or color, and get the designer, style number, measurements, delivery date, the price of the gown and number of fittings, as well as the deposit amount, all in writing.
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