Finding the Wedding Gown of Your Dreams . . .
and all that goes with it!

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Is there a bride who doesn't look beautiful? Probably not, for love, and her special day give her a glow that makes her look lovely . . . almost no matter what. All of which doesn't mean that the delightful task of finding the dress of your dreams should not be approached in the same organized way with which you will address all the details of your wedding.

BEGIN THE PROCESS EARLY
Whatever you do, you don't want to make a decision under pressure. This is one of the most pleasant aspects of your wedding, so make and take the time to enjoy it. In most cases you will need to order your gown anywhere from four to six months before your wedding date. Most consultants suggest that you begin your shopping at least nine months in advance of your wedding date. It usually takes twelve to sixteen weeks for the gown to be made. Then it comes to the salon where two or three fittings will be required. Since fittings "happen" up until right before your wedding, give yourself as much leeway as possible. The only glitch in ordering so far in advance is any severe change in weight (up or down), but dressmakers do wonders within normal weight change ranges. Do not make the error of ordering a gown a size smaller based on your promise to yourself to loose weight. It's still generally less expensive, and safer, to take the gown on a bit rather than making it larger.

USE THIS CHECKLIST FOR SELECTING A BRIDAL SALON
1. Is the shop clean and well lit?
2. Is the shop well lit?
3. Who will be assisting you?

  • In some shops you'll be dealing directly with the owner (this may be a plus).
  • In some shops, you'll work with a salesperson. Find out if she works on commission?
  • Some salons have a trained bridal consultant to assist you at the salon.
    4. Are alterations done on the premises?
  • Is there a professional seamstress to do the fittings and alterations?
    5. Will the shop store your wedding gown (at no charge) until right before your wedding?
    6. How much of a deposit is required?
  • More than 50% is excessive and should be a warning sign.
    7. Will you receive a written contract? It should include:
  • the deposit you paid
  • when the balance is due
  • alteration agreements
  • manufacturer, size and style number of the gown
  • promised delivery date
  • any prearranged details, such as additional services and/or charges

    MAKE APPOINTMENTS TO TRY ON GOWNS
    So that you will have all the time you need, most bridal salons recommend that you allow an hour and a half for gown selection and that you make an appointment, in advance.

    USE THIS CHECKLIST FOR YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT
    1. Ask questions. You're paying not only for the gown itself but also for the expertise and advice of the shop.
    2. Don't be bashful and don't be embarrassed. Try on as many gowns as you like. Dresses on the hanger always look different on you!
    3. Set a budget maximum before you go shopping. Tell the consultant or shop owner what your budget is. With all the gowns there are to choose from, there is no reason why you can't find the perfect dress and still stay within your budget.
    4. On your first visit to the bridal shop, you'll do well to pare down the many choices you'll be given to just three. Have your choices recorded in the shop and then go home and think about your exciting day. When you return a second time, try the three gowns on again and try again to narrow your selection. If you start well enough in advance of your wedding date, you can even take three trips to make your decision. This is probably the most money you'll ever spend on a dress, so don't let anyone rush the experience for you.
    5. If you can, bring a friend or two, whose opinion you trust, along with you. More than two may actually make your choice more difficult and the process frustrating.
    6. When the gown you have ordered arrives at the shop, go to check it out immediately. Mistakes happen and so you'll want to make certain that the style and the size are correct. If there's an error, delaying may be critical.

    START YOUR SEARCH BY "WINDOW SHOPPING"
    Now is the time you get to buy all those fabulous bridal magazines, just waiting for you on the newsstands. What young woman has not eyed those and thought . . . one day I'll get to buy a bunch. For the more frugal prospective bride, the library is a less expensive, and perfectly acceptable alternative. It will be very helpful for you to thumb through the pages and see what gowns draw your eye and appeal to you. When doing your "window shopping" make note of the names of manufacturers, and page numbers. Making photo copies of gowns you like and writing notes on the copies is a good way to develop a portfolio. This, of course, is particularly helpful with borrowed magazines.

    CHOOSE A STYLE FOR YOUR GOWN You will need to decide what style is appropriate for your gown, because there are so many different kinds from which to choose. When you go through the delightful process of looking for your gown, bear in mind that hand-beading adds charm and a decorative flair. Bows are important style elements that add sophistication to the look of your dress. They may be small and appear on the shoulder or headpiece, or larger at the top of your train or in the back. Lace used throughout the design of a gown can provide a more ornate or classic look. Beware of cheap lace. Here are just some of the style issues, accompanying terms . . . and some tips to go along with them.

    NECKLINES: If you have a long neck and attractive shoulders, an off-the-shoulder gown may help to highlight these good features. The style of your neckline serves to frame your face, so it should draw attention there and not to itself. Interesting detailing at your neckline will also draw attention away from a heavy waistline and will create a more balanced look. It is essential that your neckline not only be flattering, but comfortable as well. Make certain it sits well no matter which way or how you move. Pay special attention to how the neckline fits when you bend over. Nothing is more unpleasant than having to hike up a drooping neckline or fit one that buckles. Now some neckline terminology:
    1. Bateau: slightly curved \below the collarbone from shoulder to shoulder
    2. Bertha: attached fabric or lace panel around the neckline
    3. Decolletage: cleavage revealing, plunging neckline
    4. Fichu: fabric of the neckline wrapped around the shoulders to look like an attached shawl
    5. Jewel: sits so as just to circle the base of the neck
    6. Portrait: rests just above the shoulder and gathers at a point in the center, just above the bustline (flattering to most women)
    7. Queen Anne: covers the nape of the neck, plunging in the front, high at the back and neck
    8. Sabrina: straight neckline that starts about two inches inside the shoulder (somewhat higher than bateau)
    9. Scoop: low and rounded
    10. Square: square shape at the neckline (particularly flattering for small busted women)
    11. Sweetheart: begins at the shoulder and dips into a heart shape at the bustline
    SLEEVES: The sleeve style you select for your gown need not follow the seasons as do street clothing. If your arms are attractive, sleeveless or cap-sleeve is flattering options for you. If your elbows will be visible, make certain to follow a beauty routine that will have them looking their loveliest at your wedding. If your arms tend to be on the heavy side, it makes sense to avoid form-fitting or body-hugging sleeve styles. Brides with wide shoulders should avoid puffy sleeve styles. Whatever style suits you and meets your personal taste, makes certain when trying on your gown that you move "every which way," raising and lowering your arms into a variety of positions. You will serve yourself best if you predetermine that movements are comfortable (enough room in the sleeves) and that moving around will not split your seams. Now for some sleeve terminology:
    1. Balloon sleeves are puffy from shoulder to elbow.
    2. Bishop sleeves are somewhat full from shoulder to cuff.
    3. Cap sleeves are short, fitted and cover just the shoulder.
    4. Dolman sleeves extend from a wide width under the arm pit to a fitted width at the cuff.
    5. Fitted point sleeves are long and fitted and extend to a point on top of the hand just below the wrist.
    6. Gauntlet sleeves are detachable. They cover the forearm line an elbow-length glove with no hand.
    7. Juliet sleeves puff somewhat at the top and are fitted toward the bottom of the arm.
    8. Leg-of-mutton sleeves are full and rounded at the top, fitted at the bottom of the arm, like the Juliet save for the fact that the sleeve is tapered from the full to the fitted part.
    9. Pouf sleeves are very short, full sleeves that may be worn off or on the shoulder.

    WAISTLINES: The design of your gown's waistline can serve to emphasize the positive and detract from the negative aspects of your figure. Brides who wish to look slimmer should, as a rule, look for gowns with vertical slants at the waistline. Now for some waistline terminology:
    1. Asymmetrical: begins at the natural waistline and angles to one side (best for curvaceous figures)
    2. Basque: dips to a point in the front center of the gown (helps to hide a stomach bulge)
    3. Blouson: fabric gathered at the waist to create a fullness above it (adds dimension to a straight waistline)
    4. Dropped: waistline falls several inches below the natural waistline (makes brides look longer and thinner and waistline slimmer)
    5. Empire: waistline begins just below the bustline

    SILHOUETTES: The general shape or overall look of your gown, or silhouette, should be one that is particularly flattering to you. Deciding what best suits you is a trial and error process that involves your trying on different style gowns and seeing what looks best on you. No matter what your build or figure you will ultimately find that several styles are most appropriate for you and bring out your best features. Now for some silhouette terminology.
    1. Ballgown refers to the classic wedding gown silhouette. There is a natural waistline, well defined across and full skirted. This style looks good on most brides.
    2. Basque is similar to the ballgown, but has a drop waist in a V shape.
    3. Empire has a high waist and a shirt that starts just below the cropped bodice.
    4. Mermaid is a narrow gown that fits tightly to the body, with a skirt that flares at the knee of somewhat below. This is probably one of the less comfortable of all the styles.
    5. Sheath is a body-fitting gown with no defined waistline, similar to mermaid it does not flare at the knee. This style is comfortable to wear. Because it creates a clean, horizontal line, it is particularly flattering to the short bride who wants to appear taller.

    DRESS LENGTH: The length you select for your gown is determined primarily by the formality of your wedding . . . from floor-length which is most formal to street-length which is most informal. Make sure you try your gown on with the shoes you will be wearing. Nothing is more annoying that catching your heel in your hem. Now for some dress-length terminology:
    1. Ballet length falls just at or slightly above the ankle.
    2. Floor length falls about an inch above the floor.
    3. Intermission falls somewhat shorter on the from (about mid-calf) than at the back, which is floor-length.
    4. Street-length falls just above the knee.
    5. Tea length falls below the knee, yet above the ankle.

    TRAIN LENGTH: The length you select for your train is also determined primarily by the formality of your wedding. Keep in mind that a long train is inappropriate for an informal wedding, but a short train can be worn at any level of wedding formality. It is important when you select your train length that, if it is long, that it either is removable or has a bustle that can be lifted after the ceremony, so you will be comfortable dancing. Make sure you like the appearance of the gown when it is bustled, as well as when it is down. Keep in mind the option of having a two-for gown, with an overskirt that is removable after the ceremony. Now for some train length terminology.
    1. Chapel length . . . shorter train
    2. Cathedral length . . . long train
    3. Semi-cathedral . . . somewhere in between

    In addition to your personal likes and dislikes, you should take the following into consideration as well:
    1. The season of your wedding date. Some fabrics are more appropriate for certain times of the year.
    2. Religious restrictions. If you are holding your ceremony in a place of worship, an off-the shoulder or low-cut gown may not only be inappropriate, but restricted.
    3. Color Preferences. White may be the traditional dress color, but over the years pastels have become just as fashionable. Your complexion, or your figure may determine that another color will be more flattering.

    SETTING A BUDGET Once you have determined the style that appeals to you, you will need to establish a budget for yourself. Wedding gown prices can vary from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. It will be much easier and more pleasant if, when you are shopping, you can direct your salesperson to limit selection within a certain price range. When calculating your budget, make certain to add the extras such as headpiece, shoes, gloves, jewelry, undergarments, and accessories. Those little things can and do add up.

    GET RECOMMENDATIONS Before you actually begin your shopping it is advisable to ask some of your newly married friends where they purchased their gowns and for their recommendations. Finding a reputable place to get your gown will avoid what could be terrible consequences later. Bridal stores are notorious both for opening and closing in great numbers. Don't be embarrassed to ask questions like:
    1. Where did you buy?
    2. How far in advance did you order?
    3. Did you do any price comparison with other shops?
    4. Did the shop require an appointment for visits, and were they punctual?
    5. Were you treated courteously before, during, and after you made your purchase?
    6. Was the sales personnel helpful?
    7. How many fittings did you have and how much time were you given at each?
    8. Did you require alterations and, if so, what were you pleased with the results?
    Your friends will be glad to help you and make your task easier. If possible, try to schedule your appointments for weekdays. You will usually get better service and be less rushed.

    GOOD WEDDING RELATIONS
    It is at this point that wedding etiquette and good parent-relations come into play. You will probably want to ask your mom, sister and/or close friend to join you. This is also a good way and time to start building in-law relationships, by asking your future mother-in-law or sister-in-law to join you as well. Much as you will do well with input from people who love you, you will need to balance that with having so many people and so many opinions that you get confused. Follow your own good judgement, do what feels right, and you'll be okay.

    WHERE WILL YOU LOOK FOR YOUR GOWN?
    Decide in what kinds of shops you want to look. There are bridal salons, one-stop (often discount) bridal services, department stores, thrift, consignment/ resale shops, and rentals. There is also the option of wearing a family heirloom, a borrowed gown, one made-to order by a gown designer, or one that you make yourself. Some of these alternatives may require the services of a tailor/designer, dressmaker, or your own two hands.

    BRING ACCESSORIES WITH YOU
    Wherever you decide to do your gown tryouts, remember to bring accessories with you. Shoes similar to ones you will wear with your gown, a strapless or backless bra (whichever is appropriate), and a full slip will make visualizing the whole look easier. If there is any special jewelry that you will want to wear, bring it too.

    Sales personnel in bridal shops are usually both knowledgeable and helpful. They can make your selection easier, especially if you furnish them with guidelines to follow. A bridal consultant can be enlisted to give you some direction.

    FIND OUT THE STORE'S POLICIES
    It is important that you find out the store policies about charges and payments are before you buy. In a full-service bridal shop a 50% deposit is customary when placing your order. This deposit, as a rule cannot be canceled or refunded because orders are processed quickly to expedite delivery. So remember, once you order it, the gown is yours! It's wise to have the date of delivery for your gown, size, gown manufacturer, and gown details written directly on your sale's receipt. If the shop will allow it, pay using your credit card. In that way you can take advantage of the consumer protection laws that cover such purchases. Pictures can be misleading, so do not commit to a special order without, at the very least, seeing a swatch of fabric in the color you have chosen.

    KEEP ALTERATIONS IN MIND
    Keep in mind that alterations may require an additional fee, and it is best to determine that at the onset. On the average, expect them to run $75 to $85, with higher fees for style changes in sleeve linings, etc. You may find that many stores will only accept cash for your final payment. What is most important is that you keep your purchase agreement with all the financial details outlined on it. In the event that there are problems, a refund or adjustment will be easier to get if you keep all the documentation.

    DISCOUNT BRIDAL HOUSES MAY HAVE SPECIAL RULES
    If you decide to purchase your gown at a discount bridal house, there will be additional special fees that may apply. Most discount gowns come without a guarantee and are final sales. Your recourse for a gown that is the wrong style, damaged, or arrives late, is limited. So, make certain you know the terms before you buy.

    THE HEADPIECE-Your Crowning Glory
    Your wedding veil is the most important accessory for your wedding gown. It is essential that your veil be coordinated appropriately with your gown, with neither outshining the other and one complimenting the other. So, choose your headpiece after you have picked your gown. Many gowns come with matching headpieces.

    However, you do have numerous options, and should not feel pressured to buy anything you aren't completely happy with. Lace mantillas, short or long are beautiful. Pale pink illusion with just a touch of pearls and, perhaps, French-cut sequins are a delightful accompaniment to a pastel pink gown.

    Long veils, with or without lace accents are the heirloom, formal look. Short veils, perhaps edged with pearls (especially if your gown is embroidered with pearls) are enhancing. Bows, tiaras, and lace that match your gown give a coordinated look. Your veil can create height by using lots of fabric and embellishments, or it can be simply a bow and a veil.

    HEADPIECE & VEIL GUIDELINES
    Be creative if you would like to. There are no really hard and fast rules, only general guidelines.

    These suggest that your veil length coordinate with the length of your gown; the shorter the dress, the shorter the veil. A chapel or cathedral length veil goes best with a train, while a ballet or fingertip veil goes best with an ankle-length dress, and a "blusher" with a short dress. There are large picture hats, velvet hoods, floral wreaths and lots more to work with of you are in a designing mood. Take into consideration the shape of your face (and your body).

    KEEP YOUR FACE IN MIND
    If your face is long and narrow, consider a wide-brimmed hat. If your face is round and full, try adding height with a tiara, pill box, or poof added to the back of your headpiece.

    KEEP YOUR HAIRSTYLE IN MIND
    Also, keep your hairstyle in mind. Both the length and style of your hair will impact on what headpiece is becoming. Experiment with several "looks" to see which you like best. Be careful not to go overboard so your look becomes unbalanced.

    Keep in mind that your veil, whichever you select, should sit comfortably and securely. Make certain to give it several trial runs in the store before you buy it. When you bring it home try it on and secure it as you will on your wedding day. Your hairdresser, if you are using one, will also be able to show you how to secure it firmly for the big day.

    Make the selection and purchase of a gown the wonderful, emotional, experience and can and should be. Give yourself time. Give yourself good company and advice. Give yourself the right to be who you are and pick what makes you comfortable, happy, and feeling lovely.

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