When I got engaged last October, my fiancé and I were beyond excited to begin a new chapter together. Then, almost immediately, people started telling us how we should be feeling about our engagement — and how we were already waaayyy behind with the wedding plans. (Apparently, we needed to have booked a photographer back in ninth grade?!) Of course, there is one particular department in which emotions run so high you could get a nosebleed, and that is picking the dress. Unsolicited opinions are shared, tears are shed, and these eureka moments that you see on reality TV shows like Say Yes to the Dress do not always happen, especially if you’re not prone to eureka moments. Choosing a dress is kind of stressful, and a 30-minute episode could never begin to cover it. So if you’re looking for the perfect dress — well, of course you are, because who isn’t? I’m here to help. Please, benefit from what I learned.
Give yourself permission to change your mind about your dream dress.
The dress that I bought looks nothing like what I originally imagined. Initially, I was going for a glamorous, Art Deco beaded number, but when I started trying on dresses, that style just did not work for me. Be prepared to try on silhouettes and hues that you wouldn’t usually go for. You may find that an hourglass shape in a fit-and-flare cut really flatters you, or you may fall for an A-line gown. Heck, you might decide you want pockets.
Be flexible about your vision for the big day.
You may picture yourself in a short dress carrying a bouquet of thistles at your barn wedding, but then you might find something in tulle that makes you feel like a prima ballerina in Swan Lake and wonder: Can you still get married in a barn? Is a tulle skirt appropriate for the beach? Is a pantsuit appropriate for a country club? Hey, it’s your wedding. If the dress inspires a new theme, that’s fine. You may not always have time to change the venue, but picking the dress is a fun way for the wedding to evolve, and it probably won’t be the last time things deviate from the plan. It’s OK if you decide that the dress doesn’t need to match the setting. If you want to wear a ball gown to city hall, go for it.
You might not cry or have an “aha!” moment.
When it came to buying my dress, it wasn’t love at first sight. I didn’t try on one dress and feel like this was my fate, the dress I was born to wear, the only dress for me. I tried on a whole bunch of dresses, and I liked a fair number of them. Eventually, I realized that there was one dress to which I was comparing all the others. After a very un-cinematic process of elimination, this dress became “The One.” I didn’t shed a tear, and in fact I’m certain there are other dresses out there I might have fallen for, but at some point you just have to stop trying them on. I love the dress I chose, and I’m happy with my decision.
Don’t let other people pressure you.
Friends and relatives may make faces or pick a favorite before you do. Don’t let their opinions sway you. What’s more dangerous: Some bridal salons might try and push you to have a certain experience. I tried on dresses at one place that dimmed the lights and clapped if you said, “Yes.” It made me really uncomfortable because it felt so forced. Many salons push deals or call you a bunch of times after you’ve been in the store, trying to make a sale. Don’t feel pressured. Wedding dresses can be a big purchase and you may need to take a breath before making a decision. Most shops allow you to take pictures, which can help you review your options in privacy (some don’t, which is kind of shitty, but what can you do?) Sometimes you might just want to go alone one day and ask the salespeople for some alone time, so you can see for yourself. You probably can’t take them home and drink beer in them, though.
Wear what makes you feel like your most awesome self—tradition be damned.
This is a big one. If you feel beautiful in blue, wear blue. Just look at Jessica Biel: She rocked on her big day. If you want to wear pants, wear pants! And, if Solange’s AMAZING get-up taught us anything, it’s that capes are officially on the table. There is no wrong ensemble if you feel good in it.
Actually have fun. No, really.
You Gilmore Girls fans may remember when Sookie told Lorelai that her engagement ring was the golden ticket, and she was right. When else are people going to encourage you to try on dozens of gorgeous dresses? Bridal shopping can be really fun. It’s an excuse to hang out with the people you love and try on outfits that you usually don’t get to wear. So don’t take it too seriously and make sure to have a good time. Oh, and just so you know? The cake-tasting is pretty awesome, too.