What wedding dress shopping is really like

Many brides dream about the moment they find "the one," and we're not talking about the groom. We mean that other "one." The dress! Unfortunately, the reality of finding your dream wedding dress hardly ever matches the fantasy. Shopping for a dress can hold a few surprises that may have you pulling your hair out. There are parts of the process that every bride expects, but there are also elements that no one warns you about. Here are some tips that will help you set your expectations to avoid disappointment and have a great experience.

Remember to breathe

Picking out your dress is a big deal! But it doesn't have to stress you out. There's going to be a lot going on while you're trying on your dress. Some brides remember their wedding dress shopping experiences as hugely dramatic. You may hyperventilate about the price tag or fight with your family about the dress they love and you don't. No matter what happens, make sure you are zoning in on yourself and what you want and need. The day is about you. In order to avoid making an already confusing decision even worse, go into the shopping day with this in mind: take a deep breath, trust your gut, and walk out onto that bridal platform with confidence.

Trust the expert

Unless you're shopping a trunk show, most bridal shops will pair you with a bridal consultant who will pick the dresses out for you. Brides are often surprised by how little contact they have with the dresses in the shop. If you go in expecting to select dresses off the rack like a regular shopping spree, you're going to be disappointed. Without understanding how the process works beforehand, it can feel like the consultant holds all the control. This is not the case at all! A good bridal consultant will know all the right questions to ask you in order to find out what's important to you in terms of aesthetic. If you have a strong vision, bring photos of bridal gowns you love.

Be prepared to trust your sales associate. They've dressed hundreds of brides before, so they know what will look good on your body type. It doesn't mean you shouldn't voice your opinion, but it can't hurt to have an open mind. You might be surprised and fall in love with a dress you never even imagined. However, if this is not the kind of experience you want to have at the shop, make sure to research which places will let you be a little more hands-on. Give the shops a call in advance and ask about their process so you arrive without any surprises.

Select your entourage wisely

One idea that's been drilled into every Say Yes To The Dress lover's brain is that Randy does not approve of bringing a giant entourage when you're looking for a dress. However, friends and family will often ask if they can attend the dress hunt, and it can be hard to say no. You might need to put your foot down if the thought of going dress shopping with a group sounds overwhelming. Bringing a large party is likely to cause confusion – especially if your loved ones are opinionated. It becomes much less about the one opinion that counts: the bride's. Experts suggest bringing three people – your mom, your mother-in-law, and your best friend.

You might not be able to bring everyone you want

Even if you decide you want your entire bridal party by your side as you pick out your gown, it's not always possible. Some bigger stores like David's Bridal allow you to bring as many people as you want, but the smaller boutiques are likely to limit your entourage to a few people. The reasoning usually has to do with the size of the shops – they simply don't have room. Shop owners also don't want anyone bringing the bride down or making her decision harder than it already is. It's hard to trust yourself and your bridal consultant when you have ten other opinions being thrown at you.

Go with the flow

Most brides have an idea of what they want in a dress before they go shopping. Whether they've been dreaming about their perfect dress since they played dress-up as a kid, or only recently started browsing through magazines, you can rest assured that an opinion has been formed. Going into a bridal salon with a loose idea of what you want in a dress (and even having some pictures) is a great way to prepare. However, some brides take this idea too far. If the dress that the sales associate hands you is not one that you ever imagined wearing, it's okay to try it on anyway! There are many women who walk out of bridal boutiques with dresses they would have never picked for themselves.

Don't forget your budget

Consultants never want you to have to walk away from a dress you love. Nothing is more heartbreaking than falling in love with a dress that you can't afford, and budgets aren't something that most people can spontaneously change. Just like you need to make sure that a bridal boutique will accommodate your entourage and carry your size, you also need to make sure that they have dresses within your price range. Money-saving tip: Trunk shows and sample sales are a great way to save hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on a beautiful gown.

Listen to your gut

If the first dress you try on is the one, then it's the one. Don't second guess your decision – trust your instincts. One of the most common mistakes that consultants see brides making is trying on every dress under the sun. Just because you fell in love with the first, or one of the first, doesn't mean that trying on a multitude of other dresses will make your decision more or less sound. It makes sense to want to try on different styles and compare, but at a certain point you need to stop and make a decision. Shut out everyone else's opinion and listen to your inner voice.

Make a timeline

Planning a timeline so you know when to start trying on dresses is more important than you think. You might love the first dress you try, or you might have trouble deciding. It's impossible to know how long it will take you to find the one. So while you don't want to wait until the last minute, consultants advise not to try on dresses unless you are ready and able to buy one. Don't give yourself the opportunity to wonder about the dress that got away! However, there is a careful balance between trying on dresses too early and too late. You need to leave enough time for two things: ordering and alterations. Most people only consider alterations when buying a gown, but it also takes time for the store to even receive the dress before alterations can begin. Most experts recommend you start your shopping spree nine to 12 months before your wedding and urge that you should start no later than six months before the big day.

Realize you have to pay for more than just the dress

It's important to realize that your dress is probably not going to come off the rack and fit you perfectly. You need to make sure that you consider alteration costs when establishing your dress budget. Even the smallest alterations – a lift in the bust, a hem, or just taking the dress in slightly – can cost a lot of money. With the intricate beading, lace and frame of a wedding dress, it's no small feat.

Beyond alterations, there are other costs you may not consider when buying your dress. You have to factor in everything from shoes, jewelry, your veil, and whatever you're wearing underneath – and it quickly adds up. These additions either need to be taken out of your dress budget or they need to have their own budget altogether.

Don't doubt your body

Even more important than having confidence in your dress is having confidence in the body and person wearing it. Everyone has things that they're self conscious about, and those negative thoughts in your head can be amplified on your wedding day, when you know all eyes are on you, unless you change the way you respond to those thoughts.

Many women focus on their imperfections – things that no one notices but you. Don't order your dress three sizes too small with the hope that you'll lose weight. Don't stare in the mirror, study every detail, and you wish you could change. Look at the bigger picture. Try to see what everyone else sees. The only thing everyone will notice is how absolutely beautiful you look. Give yourself the best wedding gift: confidence and acceptance.