bride twirling in wedding dress

Photo: Riverland Studios

Back when I was a bride-to-be, I received two questions with alternating frequency: “How did you know Joe was The One?” (Easy: never called me crazy, was fastidious with laundry, put up with me even tho am, in fact, crazy.) And: “How did you find the perfect wedding dress?” The answer to this question didn’t come quite as easily. In fact, it never really came at all—I’ve been married for over a year now, and I’m still not sure my wedding dress was The One. Don’t get me wrong—I loved it, felt amazing in it all day, and can’t help but smile every time I see it billowing in the breeze in my wedding photos. But still—”The One?” How can I know that when there are millions of dresses out there—thousands I’ve never even seen, and hundreds of new ones being dreamt up every day?

Step one of figuring out whether you’ve found The One in a dress is to give up trying to find The One in a dress. There may never be a dress you think is 100 percent the very best one for you, compared to all others, without a doubt, literally so perfect that you never will feel a single hint of emotion while looking at a single other wedding gown ever again. So why’s it so (relatively) easy to feel this way about the person you’re marrying? Probably because they are… alive. And have, like, a personality. That makes the criteria a little more specific. A dress can’t do any of that—all it can do is look nice on you—which is something tons of dresses can do (because you’re a total babe). To circumvent all that pressure and those impossible standards, try shifting your approach from finding “The One Dress” to finding “A Perfect Dress” instead. You’ll feel just as amazing in your resulting dress, minus a metric ton of anxiety.

Here are some tips on how to find the perfect wedding dress, and how to know when you have:


1. Try a little bit of everything.

You may go into dress shopping with one silhouette—or even one specific dress—in mind that you’re pretty sure will look insert 100 emoji here] on you. And, you just might be right! But don’t cheat yourself out of the experience of seeing what the rest of Wedding Dress World has to offer. Try on at least one dress in every silhouette (your [stylist at the dress shop will be able to help you with that) and make sure to be a little adventurous and try on styles you’d normally not gravitate to. It’s important to do this because you’ll never find a perfect dress if you don’t get a sampling of all of what’s out there—your favorite one could be a lace mermaid, but you’d never know it if all you tried on were satin ballgowns.

getting ready

Photo: Lucas Rossi Photography

2. Get a feel for what you don’t like.

This tip goes hand in hand with Tip #1. You’ll never be able to find a dress you really love if you don’t know what you really don’t love. Sounds kind of negative, but it’s true! When I was trying on gowns, I knew I wanted straps but wasn’t sure what style I wanted, so I tried on tons of different types—thick straps, barely-there ones, halter-style, etc. I found that thick straps overwhelmed my frame and made me really dislike the dresses they were attached to, so I knew from then on that I’d only try on dresses with delicate straps, which helped me narrow down my search and figure out what I wanted my gown to highlight most (my shoulders!). Eliminating entire categories, styles, fabrics and embellishments of dresses will also help to prevent those “What if I got that dress instead?” moments many brides experience after buying a gown when they see a pretty dress and suddenly wonder if they made a huge mistake. That’s an easy trap to fall into, but if you’re armed with knowledge, it’s also an easy trap to avoid.

3. Shop like you mean it.

Don’t go into dress shopping halfheartedly, or you just might leave empty-handed. If you have a mindset of, “I am just looking today,” or “I feel bloated and hideous today!” all of these emotions will be counterintuitive to your goal to find the perfect wedding dress. The truth is, there is a gorgeous gown for you. In your budget. For your body. Out there in the world. If you believe it, you’ll find it. (And you should believe it, because it’s true. Ever seen a bride walk naked down the aisle before?) Part of shopping like you mean it means showing up at the boutique with everything you need—strapless bra if you want to wear one, or even nipple pasties if that’s your thing, shoes in the height and general style you’re thinking, even any accessories that you feel are non-negotiable, like heirloom earrings. Another part? Feeling confident and focused. This could mean getting your hair blown out the day you go shopping, doing your makeup a little more extra than you’d normally do on a Saturday afternoon, not going out too late the night before so you feel fresh and not-hungover, even going dress shopping alone if you feel certain friends or family members will distract or overwhelm you.

4. Take pictures.

Duh! You’ll want snaps of all of your favorite try-ons. Pictures help us see ourselves differently than the way we see ourselves in a mirror—and they’ll give you plenty to ruminate over if you’re not ready to purchase but strongly leaning toward one or a few options. Also, seeing how a dress photographs is important because while your wedding day is the whole point of the dress, it’s only one day—it’s your wedding photos that live on for generations. Once you buy a dress, however, it’s time to delete every pic of every other dress you tried on—the worst thing you can do is obsess over the dresses you didn’t choose!

dress on hanger

Photo: Sarah Bradshaw Photography

5. Be picky.

Asking for no cilantro at a Mexican restaurant is annoying. Asking for no tulle in a bridal shop when you’re wedding dress shopping, however? That’s just getting what you want. There’s no way to be too picky when you’re dress shopping, as long as you’re being polite and realistic with your consultant. But if you hold back out of fear of being too bossy or too “bridezilla,” you just might miss out on your opportunity to find the perfect wedding dress—and wedding dress shopping isn’t exactly something you’ll get to do again! That said, be vocal, be persistent, and make the most of your time in the bridal shop—believe me, your dress consultant has seen it all, and it’s literally her job to give you exactly what you want. So, want to try on that one dress for a fifth time? Want something pinned a little bit differently? Want to try on that veil with that sash and that pair of earrings? Want to try that gown that totally goes against everything you said you wanted an hour before? You totally can, and should—just ask! (And don’t forget to say please and thank you.)

6. Know when it’s time to say “Yes!”

As I described at the beginning of this post, I’m not so sure there is such thing as “The One” when it comes to wedding gowns. For me, there was no major ah-ha moment, where time froze and a chorus of angels started crooning and I looked at myself in the mirror and suddenly felt like there was no other dress on earth for me. Instead, the whole experience was a lot more subtle—I’d tried on lots of dresses at several appointments over the course of a month or so, I was a bit overwhelmed and stressed and juggling a lot of “favorites” but none of them felt totally right. I’d had a lovely brunch with friends, along with a bit of champagne, and we were all in a giggly mood when we got to the dress shop. I tried on my flowy Leanne Marshall and loved the way it looked. I felt excited and pretty and ready to get married, finally, in a dress that felt like “me.” I tried on a few more after that, but I already knew my mind was made up—I purchased the dress that afternoon. Were there tears? A screaming declaration to the world? (“I’m saying YES to the DRESS!”) Nope—just a lot of smiling, some nervousness, and relief. When you try on the dress that will ultimately be yours, you might not feel that explosion of emotion they talk about on TV either—and that’s ok. What you should feel is beautiful, excited, and ready. You should feel ready to stop shopping, ready to make this commitment, and ready to make your big debut as a bride dressed in this gown. If all that feels right (bonus points if your mom is crying somewhere in the dressing room), then, congrats, you found a perfect dress! If not, keep looking—I promise you’ll get there. You just have to let yourself!

7. Love the one you’re with.

Much like your fiance(e), wedding dresses have horrible, basically nonexistent return policies. So once you’ve got yours, it’s yours. This can be at once an incredibly relieving feeling (“I’m done dress shopping forever!”) and depressing feeling (“I’m done dress shopping... forever?”). This phase is prime real estate for doubt, dress FOMO, and other overall terrible sensations to sneak in and rain on your parade—take it from someone who knows. Even though I continued to love my dress after I bought it, every time I saw new releases announced from my favorite dress shops, I’d get a panicky feeling in my chest—was there something better there that I’d love more and now could never have? The answer to this all-too-common problem is: Too bad. You just have to love the one you’re with, and take all steps necessary to freeze out doubt-inducing culprits. Stop reading wedding magazines and blogs, unfollow dress designers on social media, and like I mentioned above, delete pics of yourself in other try-ons from your phone. There is only one dress you should be obsessing over now, and it’s the one you’ve put a $1,000 deposit on that’s currently being sewn to your exact measurements in a tailor shop somewhere. Can’t seem to shake the feeling that you got the wrong one? Brain hack: Imagine your partner’s face when they see you in it for the first time. Suddenly it becomes the right one. (Works every time.)