Buying a secondhand gown will often save you big bucks. Try Once Wed or a consignment boutique that operates like a traditional salon. Our Story Bridal in New York, for example, sells once-worn dresses by top designers at up to 60 percent off retail. It even has a tailor who can help with basic alterations or special additions, like an illusion sleeve, says cofounder Ana Perez.
If you plan on wearing a veil, first consider the venue: “A long cathedral veil is beautiful for a traditional religious ceremony, but it could be distracting on a windy beach,” Risatti says. Depending on your preference and budget, you can buy off the rack, order from a bridal designer, or have one made by a veil specialist. (A high-end salon can give you names.) Wait until you’ve chosen the gown to start shopping so that you pick the right length and shade of white; get a swatch from your dress to match it exactly. Custom can take up to six months. In all other cases, just buy it in time for hair and makeup trials.