Whether you are planning a wedding in Orange County or Los Angeles, or a Destination Wedding, finding a wedding dress is one of the most exciting parts of the planning process. It can also bring a lot of pressure and unnecessary stress, and we personally think that every bride deserves a stress-free and memorable experience! To get you started, we have put together a list of essentials for narrowing in on your PERFECT dress. Whether you have been dreaming about this moment since you were a little girl, or have just started thinking about it, finding a gown takes some planning and thought. So soak in the advice and let the wedding dress shopping commence!

Start Early. We recommend starting this process ideally 9-12 months prior to your wedding date. Made-to-order wedding gowns can take as few as 3 months or as many as 6 to make, depending on the designer production’s schedule. Getting started early will give you plenty of time for alterations and will keep you from stressing about your dress in the months prior to the big day. If you are short on time, don’t worry — you can still find the dress of your dreams. Many bridal salons can do rush orders at an additional fee (your choices will likely be limited, however) or they may offer samples you can buy off the rack.

Set a Budget. Establishing a budget prior to dress shopping will help determine which bridal salon to visit. Be sure to tell the salon consultant your budget before they start pulling dresses — you don’t want to fall in love with a dress only to find out it is outside of your price range. Make sure to also factor in the extras: Count on shipping fees, alterations (this can add on a few hundred dollars or more, depending on how involved they are), possibly professional pressing or steaming if needed, as well as all your accessories such as your shoes, undergarments, veil, and jewelry. Most bridal salons have gowns in sections under $1000, $1000-3000, and $3000+.

Do Your Research. Prior to making an appointment, research which bridal salons are within your price range and if they carry gowns from the dress designers you are eyeing.

Get Inspired. Start pulling pages from magazines or creating a Pinterest board of wedding dresses that you love. Bringing these ideas with you when shopping is very helpful so that your salon consultant can pull dresses that fit your vision. Keeping the venue and the season in mind will help you narrow down your search, as will giving some thought to which dress silhouettes you like.

Make an Appointment. If possible, make the appointment for a weekday (it is often quieter than weekends for bridal salons), and at a time when you won’t feel rushed. We recommend limiting yourself to two bridal salons in a day so you don’t feel overwhelmed and forget what you’ve seen.

Stay Open Minded. You may have your heart set on a certain silhouette and then be surprised by how good you feel in another. A dress may also look just ok on the hanger but then absolutely amazing on you! Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to buy a dress you try on at your first appointment, or even the first dress you try on. We do highly recommend that you be open to the suggestions given to you by your bridal salon consultant as well. They understand body types, and will most likely recommend styles that you may not have considered but that you fall IN LOVE with! A lot of brides may also feel this pressure to find “the one” (the dream dress) and even have buyer’s remorse after selecting a dress, wondering if they chose the right one. Our best advice? Trust your gut instincts and once you have made the decision on a dress, stop looking!

Keep it Intimate. We recommend you start going to a few salons either on your own, or with a few of your favorite gals. Then, you can decide to bring all of your besties, or a trusted few once you’ve narrowed it down to your top 3-5 favorite wedding dresses. Having too many opinions can get confusing and take the fun out of the process. Invite those whose opinion you trust and value most. Make an afternoon out of it and enjoy a ladies’ lunch.

Most of All, Enjoy the Experience. You are on your way to marrying your best friend. Enjoy the experience and envision that happy moment of when you say “I Do”!

Photography – Jim Kennedy Photographers | Contact: studio@jimkennedyphotographers.com // Lin & Jirsa | Contact: pye@linandjirsa.com // Hannahbeth Photography | Contact: hannahsiegrist@gmail.com