For many couples, the wedding dress is the single most important piece of the wedding planning puzzle. In fact, most brides have envisioned their dream gown for years—if not since childhood—so it makes sense to allow a fair amount of time to find the perfect dress. After all, it will have a starring role in nearly every photo from your wedding day.

However, it’s not as simple as stopping by a store and picking one off the rack. Wedding gowns are made-to-order, so it can take several months to get it — and that doesn’t include the time you need to allow for fittings. Thus, it’s best to start as early as possible.

When should you pick your wedding dress?

When to Start Shopping

Knowing the right time to start looking for a dress depends greatly on the length of your engagement. A longer wedding planning timeline provides more time for exploring your options and customizing your gown to become one-of-a-kind.

The rule of thumb is to start shopping at least ten months in advance of your wedding, but there’s no harm in starting early. The goal is to purchase your dress with eight months to spare, so whether you’re shopping for two months or four months prior is entirely up to you.

Getting a head start on shopping is a smart move, as your wedding dress will dictate many of the other decisions down the line — in particular, your hair and makeup styling, your shoes, and other important details to complete the look. An early start can also help you plan out the cost of your gown and budget your wedding funds accordingly.

Keeping the Secret

Part of a wedding gown’s allure is the traditional secrecy that shrouds the dress until the big day. Whether you’re planning for a first look or a show-stopping aisle entrance, the shock factor is maintained by keeping the dress under wraps in the months leading up to the wedding.

Although you’ll be ready to gush to your partner about your options, keep it to yourself. A second opinion is always valuable, so bring your maid of honor or your mother to shop with you. When you do find the right dress, make sure they will deliver it in an opaque bag so there’s no peeking when you bring it home.

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Scheduling Your Appointments

Wedding dress shops and salons typically take appointments to help you find the right dress and popular stores will book up pretty early. Schedule your appointment as soon as possible and show up ready with inspirational photos to guide them in the right direction.

If your heart is set on a certain designer, do some research to see if they have any trunk shows coming up in your area. If not, consider planning a girls-only trip to go dress shopping at the nearest show — better yet, turn it into a bachelorette party and book some other fun activities for the weekend.

Picking Your Accessories

If you’re getting a custom dress, it can take four to five months to design and create before it makes it back to you. While you wait, spend the time shopping for your veil, shoes, undergarments, jewelry, and other accessories. This is a great time to think about your “something blue” or how to incorporate your dear grandmother’s heirloom jewelry into your look du jour.

As you browse your options, remember that your wedding day will be long — you’ll be dressed up to the nines for most of the day, so prioritize your comfort over everything. Those five-inch heels may be stunning, but it might be worth grabbing a pair of flats to change into after the ceremony.

Likewise, your undergarments will make a big difference in how you feel in your dress. Make sure you are comfortable with your choices and that they complement your dress style.

wedding dress details

Navigating Your Fittings

Once your dress arrives (yay!), it’s time to take it to the tailor. Be sure to earmark your final three months before the wedding for getting your dress fitted and customized. Whether you want to add glittering straps, upgrade your train, or change up the neckline, your tailor should be able to accommodate your requests if given proper time. They will also ensure that every detail is in place, so be sure to let them know if there’s any bit of discomfort.

When you go to your fittings, be sure to bring the shoes, undergarments, and accessories as well. This will give you (and your tailor) a good idea of how everything comes together and will determine how much your dress needs to be hemmed or taken in.

After your final fitting, your gown will be aisle-ready and all you need to do is store it until the big day comes — perhaps with a few secret trials in the meantime!