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The Hard Lessons I Learned While Wedding Dress Shopping

Don’t let anybody take over your shopping trip.

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Wedding dress shopping can be hard, so we asked you guys to tell us what you wish you knew before you started your search. Below, the advice you’d give to someone who’s about to start shopping for the big day.

Try wedding dress shopping on your own. Looking at dresses with several others might make the decision confusing, as opinions might vary. And if even if they all agree, it’s just much easier to go with your gut when you find the dress. You can narrow it down on your own, and then bring in family/friends to see the dress with you for the final decision. Or, just go ahead and buy it on your own and wow everyone when they see it for the first time when you walk down the aisle. —Ivonne

My best advice for a bride-to-be would be to stay true to your personality and your vision of your wedding.

I had a pretty cheap-and-chic wedding at City Hall in Manhattan last September. I knew I wanted a playful, unique, high-quality wedding dress that I could wear again instead of a traditional gown, and I shopped around online for a few months last summer. It was important to me to show my personality in my wedding dress, since I love fashion, but I also love a great deal. I get a little compulsive when it comes to hunting for deals for a big-ticket purchase!

I spotted a really cute, short Kate Spade fit-and-flare dress early on, but couldn't find it in my size, so I kept looking. I ended up getting two dresses — a champagne-colored Erin Fetherston knee-length shift dress with woven gold metallic accents from Amazon for an insane deal (around $60, marked down from around $300!), and a fit-and-flare, high-low hem Halston Heritage dress with a black applique at the waist on sale (I think less than $250, marked down from $500 or so) on Lord and Taylor’s website.

Neither of them fit off the rack, so I got them tailored by a local guy (G.O. Hussey in Brooklyn -- he was OUTSTANDING), which ended up costing more than I paid for the dresses, but having a perfect fit mattered to me. I chose the Halston Heritage dress for my wedding day, and I love it. It's definitely my favorite piece in my wardrobe, and I've already worn it again for a gala (and I wore the gold one for another event recently). I love that I can keep wearing these dresses, because too many of my friends shelled out thousands for gowns that they definitely will never wear again, and that just isn't my style. —Hannah

I went to several bridal shops. The experience was the same, all the wedding dresses looked alike. It was 1985, and everything was poufy, and I looked like some kind of inflated fluffy dessert. I went home and contacted a seamstress. There are women out there who love to sew, and would be thrilled to make you a custom wedding dress. Show them a picture of a gown you like.

Being an artist, I drew a beaded design. I wanted to embellish the ruched side of the white silk charmeuse gown, and the seamstress (her name was Stephanie) sewed the dress for me. It was gorgeous, and for that time period, looked more like an elegant evening gown than a wedding dress. It was flowy and sexy. I still have it. It cost me around $200. I bet this sort of service is still available to the bride who is looking for something unique. —Liz

Go with the one that you feel comfortable and the most yourself in! I kept waiting for that "Ah-ha!" moment and it never came. I really liked a lot of dresses — some tight, some ballgown, some pink, some classic lace. I went to over 10 stores and I ended up purchasing the one that I could enjoy my wedding (I'm a foodie!) and still feel like a glamour rock star in. —Jocelyn

I was ambivalent about buying a wedding dress because of the whole wedding-industrial complex, so I scoured Bergdorf's and Saks in an effort to find the right one (looking at designers known for evening wear). Maybe it was the timing (April), but nothing felt quite right. So I caved, and made an appointment at Lovely Bride — unless you have your heart set on a designer, or are really excited to trek around all the different show rooms and try on gowns, going somewhere with a variety of labels is a good place to start.

What I *thought* I wanted didn't suit me at all, and I felt fantastic in the dress I finally chose, although I'd never in a million years have picked it out myself. If I could do it again, I would have gone dress shopping earlier; I went six months ahead of time, and there were a bunch of designers I couldn't even try on because their lead times were longer. As it was, I got charged a rush fee. —Hannah

I got engaged in mid-May and plan to get married in January. I live in the Birmingham area, and the rest of my family lives in Atlanta. The week after I got engaged, I was already behind on the whole dress shopping thing, if you look at all of the popular wedding planning timelines. I also knew planning around my mom and sister's schedules would be a pain, and it would be difficult to get them to Birmingham for shopping. So I made plans for wedding planning to consume my entire Memorial Day weekend.

Mistake #1: I made four appointments for one weekend. While I knew I would be exhausted, I figured that was better than driving back and forth to Georgia every weekend for the foreseeable future. I was wrong. I was exhausted after the first store.

Mistake #2: I mistook what I could afford with what I would be willing to spend. I'm the girl who spent less than $50 for my junior and senior prom dresses. I'm a strict Old Navy, Target sales rack, Forever 21, H&M shopper — anywhere where clothes regularly cost less than $20. I don't get attached to clothes, and while I want to dress cute, I do that on a budget. So while I could afford a nearly $2,000 dress and told all the sales ladies that, I found myself unable to come to terms with even a $1,200 price tag.

Mistake #3: I couldn't articulate my reservations regarding money or style. If a girl brought out something completely outside my requested "no sparkles, minimal train, lace top, A-line" style, I'd still try it on. I'd look at how unflattering it was, enforcing my desire for an A-line, but couldn't say, "This is ugly. Don't bring me any more." And when I realized I really wasn't willing to spend more than $500 on anything no matter how gorgeous, I couldn't say that either.

Mistake #4: I expected to cry when I found the right dress.

I left day one of shopping — three stores down — without the "perfect dress," mad at my mom and sister and with a store owner holding onto a $1,200 dress for me to come back the next day. At which time I still would not want to buy that dress.

The experience sent me into a downward spiral of: Why are weddings so expensive? Why can't we just elope? Why should I spend this much money on a freaking dress? Weddings are stupid and we should just have a keg party. That led to a tearful call to my fiancé. So I ended up making a priority list, ranking what I wanted for the wedding, and found "the perfect dress" pretty far down the list.

After a restless night, I made it back to the third dress shop, put on my $1,200 dress and told her I couldn't bring myself to spend that much money. After reminding me a wedding is the one day I'll be able to look bridal and it's a night I'll always remember, I told her I wanted something less than $500.

She pulled down a champagne colored bridesmaid dress with the button back and lace I wanted. It fit perfectly, and I walked out of the store spending nearly $1,000 less than that first dress would have set me back. When I came home that night, my dad said I looked like a completely different person — far from the ball of anxiety I was the night before. I felt a whole lot better too.

In the end, I didn't cry and my mom didn't cry. But I got a dress that I felt gorgeous in, that won't need major alterations, that won't need a bustle and that allows me to splurge a little more on the drinks, DJ, and photographer. And the kicker? My bridesmaid dress turned bridal gown has pockets. —Erica

The absolute best thing I did when I began wedding dress shopping was take a day and go on my own. I went to two different chain stores and tried everything on so I could form my own opinions about what I wanted. I was open to anything and wanted to try on everything. When I took my mom to see the dresses, I had already narrowed the choices down to dresses I loved (though I did try on a few others she wanted to see — and why not? When else do you get to play dress up like that?)

I think a lot of people, especially women, lose sight that their wedding day is about them, and their opinion is really the only one that matters. —Ashley

Don't be afraid to tell the sales assistant your budget. Try on a range of different styles — you'll be surprised what you end up liking! Ask ahead about the sample sizes, as they are super tiny in some boutiques — I'm a 4 or 6 on average and barely fit into several of the samples. For me, there was no crying or "This is it!" type moment, but that doesn't mean I didn't find my dream dress! —Courtney