1) Get some of the really important decisions out of the way first.
Once you are engaged, it can be easy to want to start on all of the exciting parts of planning your wedding (I mean, when else do you get to try on insanely gorgeous gowns and go cake tasting?!?). But shopping before deciding on when you are getting married, or before setting a budget for the big day can be a dangerous game. Most wedding dresses take 4-6 months to order and need an additional 2-3 months for alterations, so if you're planning a short engagement, some dresses may not be available for you to special order, or may come with some hefty rush fees. On the other hand, shopping too early can become overwhelming very quickly. New dresses will pop up on your pinterest and instagram feeds constantly, and if you decide to go shopping before you're ready to commit, your dream dress could be discontinued or sampled. Bridal shops typically recommend shopping 7-9 months before your wedding, but ultimately the right timeline for finding your gown is whatever feels right to you. Whether it's 2 years or 2 months before your wedding, make sure you have a clear idea of what is actually feasible before you start shopping.
2) Set your budget.
Going dress shopping before you have a clear idea of your budget will ultimately lead to you falling in love with a gown that is out of reach. You should love every part of your dress, including what you spend on it. Once that happens, nothing else will compare, and you will ultimately leave feeling frustrated and disappointed. Giving your stylist clear guidelines about your style and price point goals will allow them to give you the best experience by hand selecting gowns that will perfectly fit your style without breaking the bank. And once you're in the shop, stick to that budget. It can be so tempting to want to try on the dress that you saw in the window that's over budget, but falling in love with a dress outside of your budget will always either break your budget or break your heart. A great tip to finding a gorgeous designer bridal gown on a budget is to shop a&bé wedding dress trunk show events. We have bridal designer trunk shows often, so be sure to check out events list!
3) Research where you want to shop.
Each bridal shop carries a completely unique set of dresses, and styles and prices can range greatly between boutiques. If you're unfamiliar with shops in your area, google is always a great place to start, but be sure to visit each shops' website and social media pages. This will give you a great indication of whether their style and price range aligns with your vision for your wedding day. Shopping at boutiques who don't carry a large selection of gowns in the style or price range you are hoping for can lead to a frustrating experience. Also, going to 5 or 6 appointments in a row is extremely exhausting for you and your entourage. Not to mention, seeing hundreds of dresses only makes the process more confusing. Instead of booking as many appointments as possible in hopes of finding the perfect gown, selecting the 2-3 shops that really excite your inner fashionista will increase the odds of you having a successful shopping day. (Plus it will leave time and energy to finish the day with happy hour!)
4) Pick your entourage - carefully.
Wanting to share the experience of finding your wedding dress with all of your closest family and friends, but inviting the wrong people can quickly turn your dream appointment into a nightmare. It's hard for the people who love you most to not share their opinions with you, and with multiple ideas and perspectives, can cause you to lose sight of your vision. Limit your guests to only the most important decision makers. Ask yourself: does this person need to be with me in order for me to make a decision? And if the answer is no, wait to share the dress excitement with them on the wedding day. If the answer is yes, wait to set up your appointments until they are available to join you. Bringing more than 2-3 people can often turn your appointment into a party and take away from the intimacy and sentimentality of saying yes to the one.
5) Be prepared to find your dress.
Most brides have been waiting months, if not years to shop for their wedding dress, which can make it hard to finally say yes to the dress. Some brides feel they need to 'pre-shop' or visit multiple boutiques before they decide on the one. Setting rules and limitations on your shopping experience can be more destructive than helpful in your quest for the perfect dress. If there is a specific person that needs to be in attendance for you to make your decision, wait to shop until they are available. Shopping before they are with you can take away from the experience when they finally are able to join you. Or shopping before you've decided on other important aspects of your wedding like your budget or venue can affect what you end up looking for in a dress. If you choose to shop before these decisions have been made, you may have to start from scratch or have difficulty reconciling what you want in a dress, and what will actually work for the logistics of your wedding.