Warmer weather signaling the much-awaited season of spring can only mean one thing: wedding season is right around the corner. If you’re a bride-to-be, it’s never too early to get ready for your big day. These personally tested tips will guide you while looking for what can quite possibly be the most important dress you’ll ever wear.

1. Do your research

Find what you like and rip pages out of magazines. Check out online bridal boutiques and browse Pinterest to compile a visual file of your favourite dresses. Then look for a connecting theme — are they all very embellished? Lacy? Voluminous? Have open backs? Find a couple cohesions of styles you like and bring your ideas to your first appointment with a consultant.

2. Be open

Keep an open mind to finding a dream dress that you didn’t know would be your dream dress. Bridal consultants will tell you that they constantly see women come in with a set idea of what they envisage for a gown, then try it on just to realise that they don’t actually love it. Instead, they fall for something completely different, something they’d never expected to have gone for.

3. Brace yourself

When it comes to bridal sizing, your gown’s number will often be one to two sizes higher than that of your regular clothes. You should also shop true to your actual size. Even if you plan on losing weight before the big day, shop for dresses in your current size rather than going smaller. It’s much easier to take a dress in than trying to work with one that’s way too snug.

4. Factor in your budget

This will save you from heartache later on. More importantly, plan non-obvious costs into the budget. Say you plan to cap your dress spending at €1,000 — you actually shouldn’t buy a €1,000 gown. Why? Because you need to factor in costs needed for tailoring, accessories (like your veil, jewellery, and shoes), plus cleaning and preserving the gown after the wedding if you want it to be a keepsake.

5. Start Inexpensive and work your way up

Make your first appointment with the least-expensive bridal shop, then keep scaling up if you don’t find anything. The same rule goes for trying on dresses during your appointments — try on the most affordable one first, and work your way up to the bank-breaker. Who knows, you may fall in love with one that’s the most reasonably-priced!

6. Don’t try on gowns above your budget

There’s not much point trying on a dress if you can’t afford it. You’re just torturing yourself and setting a standard that no dress you can actually have will live up to.

7. Choose your companions wisely

Narrow the group down to the two or three people whose opinions matter most to you. Yes, you love your mum, sister, sister-in-law, maid of honour, and your entire bridal party — but if you’ve ever tried to get a crowd to agree on where to go for dinner, you can only imagine how hard it will be to find consensus on a gown.

8. Bring the right undergarments

You can’t imagine exactly how a strapless dress looks when your lacy black bra straps are sticking out, or even how a curve-hugging gown would fit once your hips are smoothed. For your appointments, wear a nude thong and strapless bra, and bring hosiery.

9. Pick your silhouette

Your ideal gown’s shape is somewhat based on the style you like, the venue and mood of your wedding, and ultimately, what flatters your body most. A fit-n-flare is both contemporary and traditional, and works on many body types. On the other hand, a simple sheath is best on tall, willowy brides. A voluminous ball-gown adds drama, but can overwhelm a petite frame. Mermaid styles show off curves like your much-loved pencil skirt.

10. Don’t forget the fabric

Fabric makes a huge difference to how a gown will look on you. A heavier, more structured material will hold its shape and smooth your figure. Less flattering for those with curves are unstructured silk or filmy chiffon.

Granted, when shopping around for your bridal gown, you might feel that all the choices available – whether locally or online – can seem overwhelming. But no matter your budget, personal style or timeline, the most important thing is that you’ll have a dress you’ll be happy to wear on the big day.

For more tips to keep in mind when wedding dress shopping, wait for the second part of this article!