Details: Dress Success

How to begin your quest for the perfect gown.

WHETHER THERE’S A VISION OF THE PERFECT creamy frock dancing in your head or you have absolutely no idea what you want to wear to wed, the prospect of shopping for a gown is daunting. The choices are seemingly endless: For every budget and style, there are thousands upon thousands of gowns from which to choose. Don’t panic. Stop, take a deep breath and read on. You will find a dress that makes you giddy, and you will be gorgeous on your Big Day.

First Things First

ALL THE PROS WE TALKED TO SUGGEST doing research before pounding the pavement. “Flip through magazines and look at websites,” says Yolanda Cellucci, owner of Yolanda bridal salon in Waltham. “Check out different gowns by different designers to learn about price points, and to find out what fabrics and necklines and details appeal to you.” If you find pictures of gowns you love, bring them with you when you shop.

As you’re looking at dresses, think about what would go with the setting, season and size of your event. “Where is the wedding going to be? How formal is it? How many guests will you have? Consider those things,” says Giselle Khoory, manager of Vera Wang Boston. “If it’s outside on the beach, you’ll want something with less weight. If it’s a formal evening wedding, you can do something with lace and beading.” When you start shopping for a dress, you can talk about these details with the staff helping you at bridal salons, and even if you’re not sure what’s appropriate, they can steer you in the right direction.

Finally, figure out a realistic budget range right away. “Let stores know your budget right off the bat,” says Kevin Holmes, general manager of La Reine Bridal in Waltham. “You don’t want to fall in love with a dress that’s way out of your price range.” Sticking to a budget doesn’t mean you won’t find something you love: “We have gowns for $800 and gowns for $9,000 and everything in between,” Holmes says. “If you see a dress you want that you can’t afford, bring a picture. We probably have something similar.”

Try, Try Again

WHILE IT’S GOOD TO START THE shopping process with an idea of what’s out there, don’t rule anything out too quickly. Our experts agree that brides should try on a variety of styles to get a sense for what works with their body and personality. “Try all kinds of dresses! There are so many cuts—mermaids, A-lines, sheaths—it can be overwhelming,” Khoory says. “Don’t be afraid to try something even if you think it won’t work. You might be surprised.”

“Very few girls put on only one dress and know it’s ‘the one.’ I like to have girls try everything on,” Cellucci says. “That way you can see what doesn’t work, and you can see what makes you look and feel your best. Try a lot on before you make a decision.” This brings up another important point: Give yourself time to shop so you don’t feel the need to rush into anything. “Nine months to a year in advance is when most brides should start dress shopping,” Cellucci advises. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should need to keep shopping if you’ve fallen in love with a gown. “Don’t buy a dress if you’re uncertain, but if you really feel it, just get it,” Cellucci says. “You could make yourself crazy if you keep shopping after that—there’s no need to.”

Dealing With Details

RIBBONS AND RUCHING AND BEADING, oh my! Beyond the basic cut of the dress—which is really the most important factor in how a dress looks on you—there are dozens of other elements to consider. Sweetheart or halter neckline? Long-sleeves or strapless? Velvet or lace? This is the fun part. While each design season certainly sees its wedding gown trends (“There’s been a return to sleeves lately,” Holmes says, “and a sash detail is very popular right now.”), don’t feel obligated to follow them.

“Wear what you like, what feels right to you,” Khoory says. “Wedding dresses should feel timeless. And a certain trend might not go with your wedding. What’s important are not trends, but the personality of the bride.” Cellucci agrees: “If a trend doesn’t work with your figure or lifestyle, don’t bother.”

When you’re not governed by what’s hot right now, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can do. As with cut, try a lot of different things to see what feels right to you—and remember that you can make changes. You can add straps to a strapless gown, for example, or add a touch of sparkle to a lace dress with beading. Trust your instincts, and for a second opinion, shop with your mother or a trusted best friend—someone you know will be honest and who wants you to look your best. “Don’t bring 10 people with you,” Cellucci says. “They’ll never all agree on one dress, and who knows what issues might affect what they tell you.” If your gal pals are dying to know about your dress, Cellucci advises simply telling them that you can’t wait for them to see it on the Big Day, and that it’s beautiful. Because if you love it, and if it fits your body and your spirit, your dress will be beautiful, indeed.