No matter whether you’ve romanticized the idea of twirling around in a cloud of white tulle, the search for The One — the wedding gown, that is! — is among the most emotional and enjoyable purchases you will make as a bride-to-be. But don’t say yes to the dress before taking care of a few details first.

Launch the dress search only after finalizing the wedding venue and date, advises Ariana Stecker of event planning firm Save the Date. After all, what was originally planned as a daytime summer celebration can quickly morph into a winter black-tie affair, calling for an entirely different look. As for starting the shopping process, “six months (prior to the wedding) is really go-time,” Stecker says, to give room for two to three fittings and any custom work.

With inspiration coming everywhere from the runway to the red carpet, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of Pinterest boards and wedding blogs, but for sanity’s sake try to keep the search contained. Think classic over trendy, and consider your wedding style — whether it’s formal, casual, rustic, traditional, vintage or outdoor. Check out websites to view galleries of gowns organized by silhouette, neckline, fabric or designer, says wedding editor Anne Chertoff. Also, pay attention to any patterns in the silhouettes or embellishments that catch your eye.

It’s tempting to point and click your way to a $10,000 gown, but if you’re working with a firm budget, figure out your price limit before you shop — and decide whether that budget is just for the dress, or if it includes extras like undergarments and accessories. “If you find yourself attracted to a certain designer’s styles, make sure their gowns are within your budget range before proceeding,” says Jessica Bishop, editor of the wedding blog The Budget Savvy Bride. And select bridal boutiques accordingly: “If you know you can spend $1,000 to $2,000 on a wedding dress, don’t go to a store that sells more pricey gowns,” Chertoff says. Not sure what you can spend? It’s helpful to talk about budget openly with a bridal salon — they’ll help you understand how details you’re envisioning like embellishments, beading and lace affect the cost, which may impact your bottom line.

Most brides typically shop at one to three stores, so choose wisely — to maximize time, arrive armed with the details of your wedding date, venue, overall style and budget. A good consultant will take into account everything from a bride’s outfit and accessories (is she sassy or sophisticated?) to her personality and reception details (does she plan to dance all night or indulge in delicious desserts?) to help find the perfect fit.

Armed with the basics of what you do (and don’t) like, a bridal salon’s stylist will be your most helpful guide. The key to being a frock star is keeping an open mind, experts say. It’s easy to get stuck on the idea of a sweetheart neckline or a low back, but sometimes the look just doesn’t work on certain body types.

“Try on a variety of silhouettes, necklines and fabrics,” Chertoff says. “You may think you want a ball gown, but once you put one on you may not like the fit.” Adds Stecker: “Be willing to try on one dress that’s out of the box. Pay no mind to what it looks like on the hanger,” she says.

But don’t feel pressured to make the final decision until you’ve found the perfect match. “Remember, you don’t have to buy the first time,“ Stecker advises. “You can go back.”

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