Bridal experts dish on how to make finding your dream dress a successful-and stress-free-experience.

Bridal experts dish on how to make finding your dream dress a successful-and stress-free-experience.

There are many important components that go into a wedding: the heartfelt vows, the first dance, the perfect wedding favors. But if there is a single symbol that represents a wedding in most people's minds, it has to be the gown.

When guests turn to see the bride entering the room, and when the groom spots her for the very first time, something magical happens. This moment deserves a special dress. But with so many styles, designers, price points and other considerations, it can be difficult to narrow the field.

Wedding experts are happy to share their considerable experience and help brides make the dress-buying experience a happy one.

Who to take along

Ann Kinder, a stylist at David's Bridal Easton, recommends that brides not invite too many friends along on the gown-shopping expedition.

"Choose your entourage wisely," she says. "Too many opinions can confuse a bride. Bring only a few people that have your best interest at heart."

Kinder says some brides have no problem shopping all alone, while others worry they'll offend any friends they leave out. "If you fear offending someone by not inviting them, ask them to your fitting instead, or coordinate your bridal party appointment to coincide with the arrival of your gown and have a grand reveal."

Jamie Rapavy, wedding specialist for Columbus Bride & Groom, agrees.

"I think a dress is a pretty personal decision, and she should take a family member or close friend who can provide her with honest opinions," she says. It's not too common for a wedding planner to go along to choose dresses, she says, but a planner may be happy to be a surrogate friend for a bride who's on her own.

"When I have gone, it has been because they have no one in town to help them and they needed support," she says.

Know what you want, but be flexible

Upon meeting a new bride, Kinder tells her two things: "Let's find your dream dress, and let's have fun." Both parts of the equation happen more easily if the bride has some idea what she likes but is open to new ideas.

"It definitely helps your stylist if you come prepared to answer questions about silhouettes and fabrics you like, and the amount of detail or beadwork you prefer," Kinder says. "Think about your style and the look you want on your wedding day."

Visiting a few bridal websites will provide ideas about available styles, and get the bride thinking about comfort and practicality. A bride who plans to dance the night away may not want a gown that's restrictive all the way to the floor, while another bride who plans to circulate through the guest tables all evening may want to opt for a removable bustle. The stylist will be happy to pull gowns as the bride attempts to narrow the choices, Kinder says.

Those choices may end up looking different as the process goes along.

"When shopping for gowns, try on every style, even if you don't like it on the rack," Rapavy says. "Many brides see a dress they are unsure of and it ends up being the one.Trying on wedding dresses is like no other experience, so you never know what is going to best fit your style."

This is another place the stylist's expertise will be valuable. They have watched women try on thousands of dresses, while most brides are doing this for the first time. "Listen to the consultant at the dress store as to what type of dress might best fit your body type," Rapavy says.

Know your budget, and budget your time

The average American bride spends slightly more than $1,300 on her gown. The price range can vary widely, from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. It is important to know what you can afford, to avoid falling in love with a $15,000 gown that cancels out any possibility of a reception or a honeymoon.

"Determine your budget before you go shopping, and have a plan for how you will pay for your gown once you find it," Kinder says. Also, brides should do some research so they come equipped with knowledge of what gowns actually cost.

"One common mistake is unrealistic expectations when it comes to the cost of wedding gowns," Kinder says. "Don't show your stylist a custom gown on Pinterest and say your budget is $200."

Speaking of realistic expectations, know that bridal salons are often very busy, with dozens of women planning their own version of the perfect day. Always make an appointment so that you have your stylist's undivided attention.

"A bridal salon is always going to take a bride with an appointment over a walk-in, and you can't try on dresses without the assistance of a stylist," Kinder says.

Rapavy seconds the need for an appointment. She also tells brides to take along a camera and to come prepared with beautiful hair and makeup in order to get the full effect of the gown.

Once the process has begun, brides should allow plenty of time to browse, sleep on their decision and browse again. The process should begin as early in the engagement as possible.

"Brides should begin shopping for their gown at least a year before the wedding," Kinder says. Ordering a custom gown can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, and alterations can add another four to six weeks, she says.

"If a bride is between sizes, alterations will be her new BFF, giving her dress a custom fit," Kinder says. She also recommends that brides bring to the fitting the gown, corset bra, slip, shapewear and the shoes that will be worn on the wedding day. The first fitting should take place two to three months prior to the wedding, she says.

Be ready to fall in love

Trying on wedding gowns makes every woman feel like a fairy princess, and the perfect, most magical gown is out there waiting for its future owner.

Rapavy tells her clients to be patient and wait for the moment to happen. "If you keep thinking of the dress and dream of it after you've tried it on, it's most likely the one," she says.

Kinder agrees that something special happens when a bride puts on just the right dress. "Eventually, you will put on a dress that you don't want to take off, that no other dress matches up to. It's then you know you have found the one," she says.