Shopping for that white dress has never been easy for any bride. Put it down to her desire for the best, the prettiest – in short, the “perfect-est” dress ever.

We can’t help you make the process shorter (nor would you want us to, we suspect), but our tips can help you make smarter choices, so you have more time to take care of other things.

Wedding advice: Choosing the perfect white dress

The savvy bride’s way of choosing the perfect white dress. Image: Corbis

 1. BEFORE YOU START SHOPPING 

Research: Brides do read, and are quick on the uptake. From magazines to the Net, they’re savvy and more than happy to share their experiences with other BTB (brides-to-be), so doing your research should be a cinch. A quick read through bridal forums and resources lets you know what’s happening in bridal-land, how things are being done, and what you need to do.

Work your budget and be firm about it: That way, when you walk into a shop, the consultant can show dresses and accessories within your price range.

Know what you want: This includes knowing your dress style, the tone of the wedding you want and your venue. It makes your shopping easier because you’re clear about what you need and want, and it also helps the designer to create a suitable gown. For instance, a gown with a long grand train may not be practical if you’ve set your heart on a ball with a full band and dancing. Unless of course, you’ve got a dress that you plan to change into … which is another story altogether.


 2. ONCE YOU START SHOPPING 

Begin early: Some brides do it a year ahead, if not earlier. Generally, eight months before is about right. Salons need about four to six months’ notice, so an eight-month plan gives you enough time to window shop before you need to decide. Start a folder, collating ideas and tears from magazines, and photos from the Internet that you like, and begin building your wedding mood board.

Attend shows: Bridal shows are great for assessing how a gown actually looks and falls; and if a particular designer’s designs evoke the mood and feel you want for your wedding. Our show, Her World Brides’ Fabulous Weddings, for instance, lets you see the work of some top local designers, which allows you to shortlist those you like and want to check out later.

Form and function: Think beautiful but wearable gowns. When designs get too complicated (like too-long
trains) or too flashy, you may not feel as comfortable and you’re going to show it. And, really, it’s tiresome to keep adjusting that dress.

TERMS AND TERMINOLOGY
There are many terms to describe the different types of packages, and sometimes, these terms are used too interchangeably when actually, they mean different things.

  • Bespoke means a gown that’s completely tailored (or customised) for you. You’d pay a great deal more but you get to keep the gown. Few local salons offer this package but it’s possible to discuss it with your designer.
  • Made-to-measure refers to a package where the gown is made for you but it’s on rental; the salon takes back the gown.
  • Off-the-rack refers to existing or second-hand gowns that the salon has. The cost of an off-the-rack gown depends on the amount of alteration needed.

TRIED AND TRUE BRIDAL SALONS
Every bride-to-be has heard horror stories about fly-by-night designers or salons by the time they’re ready to start “physical” shopping. To spare yourself the grief, choose a well-known
salon or one recommended by a friend.

What makes a good salon? It stocks a variety of designs, fabrics and embellishments, all of which are as beautiful as they are comfortable. This shows that the designer cares about how his designs look and how his clients feel.

  • Be savvy: If a discount sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So make sure your contract is worded accurately on what you’re paying for, and that the salon isn’t going to cut corners.
  • Be sceptical: Especially if a salesperson keeps saying that everything you put on looks good. A good consultant will steer you towards designs that work, and if you’re not keen about a recommendation, be firm in saying no.
  • Make smart choices: It’s all right to buy your dresses from different salons, if (A) you have the budget, and (B) you don’t mind the extra legwork in the shopping. A package deal only works if you want to make things simpler for yourself, and also if you happen to like all the dresses in one shop.
  • Bargaining power: Generally, most salons give a better price if you order a whole package from them. This includes bridesmaids’ dresses (or sometimes a dress for the bride’s mum) on top of your gown. Discounts will vary from salon to salon, so it’s best to ask for details.
  • Count to a hundred, and then some more: Never decide on a package on the spot or after a long day of shopping – you won’t be in the right frame of mind. Mull over your choices for a day or two before deciding.


 3. WHEN YOU’VE DECIDED ON THE SALON 

The deposit: It’s standard to put down a 50 per cent deposit. Generally, all deposits tend to be non-refundable. Some salons, however, are prepared to prolong the validity period if there is a good reason.

Take leave: Meet your designer on a weekday when the salon is likely to be less crowded. It’d be less hectic for you as well, and you’d get the designer’s undivided attention, which only means a clearer, more detailed discussion.

Notes and stuff: By now, you probably have a folder full of visual ideas that you can use for your meeting with your designer. Show him pictures of the gown styles, accessories (shoes for example), jewellery, and even bouquets that you’re planning for yourself. This will give him a better idea of your preferences, which will help him in designing.

Pay attention to details: When discussing dress design, do note the types of details that the designer recommends and where they will be placed. This can be one area where oversight may prove to be expensive as it’s laborious to undo, or you may be charged for extra alterations. Generally, the alterations for at least two fittings are included in a gown price unless the changes are too drastic. Again, it’s always best to check with the respective salons on the specific details of your package.

Ask questions: If there’s anything that you don’t understand – ask. For instance, find out when you can pick up the gown – at least three or four days before the wedding rather than on the eve. Or, ask if the gown will be delivered in a proper gown bag, pressed and ready, so that all you need to do is take it out and hang it up.

Fit and fittings: There are usually two – one after the basic cut-and-sew, and another about two weeks before the big day. Let the designer know if anything doesn’t fit, fall or drape right at the first fitting as there’s still time to alter. The second fitting is to check that everything about the dress is in order, and it’s ready to be worn. Minor alterations can be done if you’ve lost weight in the meantime.

This article was originally published in Her World Brides March-May 2011.