Happy Friday everyone!

I'm thrilled to welcome a new addition to Bridal Musing's team of contributors. Meet the lovely Sama, our resident wedding dress expert.

Sama is a bridal consultant at top London bridal boutique, Blackburn Bridal Couture, where she helps stylish brides, just like you, to choose their dream dress. She is also a bride to be herself and editor of The Utter Blog where she obsesses about all things weddings. (A girl after my own heart).

Lucky for us she will be stopping by regularly with her hints tips and advice on finding the perfect wedding dress – straight from the fitting room!

Well, hello there Bridal Muso’s, and thank you so much Elizabeth for inviting me on to your gorgeous blog! For those who don’t know me (erm… probably 99% of you), my name is Sama and I’m lucky enough to work at the utterly fabulous Blackburn Bridal Couture – one of London’s BEST bridal boutiques, if I say so myself.

I’ve been there a couple of years now, and it really is a wonderful job with a wonderful team, and despite my fears that it would put me off weddings for life, it absolutely hasn't. I genuinely love helping brides find their wedding dress, and I'm pleased to say I’ve come a long way since my very first day when, channeling my inner professional woman, I turned up in a little black number and 4″ heels.

(Note to self: do not wear stilettos in a job where you barely sit down.)

Blackburn Bridal Couture, London

The gorgeous Blackburn Bridal Couture, London 

Not only do I now work in the industry, but I’m a bride-to-be myself (just over 4 months to go – yikes!) so have experienced the highs and lows of dress shopping from both sides of the fitting room curtain, so to speak.

For me, the essence of my job comes down to building a relationship with the person standing semi-naked in front of me and listening to what they have to say; to finding out all about their wedding plans and becoming their confidante when Mum is screaming ‘you're too exposed!' or friends are thinking more about what they'd wear rather than the person they've come to support.

Wedding dress shopping is an emotional minefield; at times enjoyable but more often than not stressful and bloody confusing! Every bridal shop works differently and your experiences will vary greatly. You have been warned.

So to kick off this series on Bridal Musings, I thought I'd condense everything I’ve learnt in the last couple of years in to one Top-Tip style post.

It may seem brutal at points but I consider it essential reading for all brides-to-be out there about to make the biggest purchase of their life. I hope you find it helpful…

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views, please take lightly*

1. Wedding dresses are expensive – do your research.

Scrap that – wedding dresses are bloody expensive. Before working in bridal I'd always imagined I'd spend around £1000 on a dress but in reality the choice at that price point is really very limited. We meet a lot of brides who have started dress shopping with a figure in their heads and have quickly upped it when they've realised what they get for their money. There's a lot of fabric in a wedding dress, and good quality fabric comes at a cost. Do your research. When you see a wedding dress you like the look of in a blog or magazine, ring the shop and find out the price. Once you have an idea of how much you're going to spend, call the shops you have your eye on and make sure your price range fits with theirs. There's no point going to a shop that starts from £2k if your maximum budget is £1500.

2. Have a budget and stick to it.

At my boutique we always ask if there is a budget at the beginning of the consultation. This is not to judge you and laugh you out of the shop if you don't have a huge spend. This is to keep your shopping experience enjoyable and positive and, ultimately, to help you find a dress. Yes, you want to try on the most expensive dress in the shop – of course you do, it's beautiful – but what will you do if you like it more than any other dress you try? It's very unlikely that you're going to buy it. It's more likely you'll get depressed. Everyone has a budget, even if you don’t think you do. Try and establish what you’re seriously prepared to spend up to, and stick to it.

 Elizabeth Messina via Once Wed

3. Keep your guests to a minimum – and choose wisely!

Dress shopping is supposed to be fun. The temptation is to gather a group of your friends and family and to spend a lovely day ‘oohing' and ‘ahhing' and quaffing champagne together. But the reality is slightly different – a) very few shops actually offer champagne (sorry to disappoint you), and b) do you really want 5 different opinions? Are you sure you want to be zipped in to a dress that puts a big smile on your face, only to be told ‘No!' or ‘I don't like that one', as you step out of the changing room? We would always advise doing the initial round of shops either on your own or with one person who you trust implicitly (mum, sister, best friend etc). Once you have established what you want and made a short list (short list I said – that's 3, not 12) of your favourite dresses, then you can ask your wider circle for their valued opinions.

4. To sample sale or not to sample sale…

I'm going to be blunt here: if you have more than 6 months to go 'til your wedding and a healthy spend, don't bother with a sample sale. Sample sales are fantastic for brides who are short of time or have a very limited budget. But if you have a specific idea of what you're after (“vintage lace with a v-neck, and possibly 3/4 length sleeves”), then you're very unlikely to find it at a sale. Dresses being sold as samples are generally those that have been discontinued by the designer or have proved unpopular in the shop. That gorgeous Jenny Packham gown that you’re seeing all over the magazines? It’s not gonna be in the sample sale (sorry). But most importantly, don’t go to a sample sale if you're at the start of your dress shopping journey as it's very unlikely you'll be ready to buy a dress that day, and you will be pressured to do so.

5. Trust your sales consultant – she is very wise.

Or she should be, if she's any good at her job! No-one knows the dresses better than the person helping you. She's not a Jedi Knight – she won't necessarily pull out the dress of your dreams the moment you walk in. But when you're approaching the end of your consultation and you've ‘quite liked' some but haven't gone crazy over any, and your friends are running round plucking more off the rails that they like but have no idea what they look like on, turn to the lady helping you and ask ‘what would you recommend?’. If she knows her stuff she should, at that point, be able to suggest something that ticks most or all of the boxes, but that you didn't necessarily pick out at the beginning of the consultation.

Elizabeth Messina via Style Unveiled

6. ‘It's how you feel, not how you look.'

This has actually become my mantra at work but it's true. There is a reason that many bridal shops do not allow you to take photos: 1- There is a copyright issue. 2- Photos taken on a camera phone in a beige room under dodgy, artificial lighting when you have no make-up on and your sister is too close/far away/rubbish at taking photos are not going to be a true representation of how you actually look in the dress. You do not need to remember every single dress you try on; you will naturally remember (maybe not in detail, but you will remember) the dresses that felt the best. And they are the ones that you put on your short list and visit again. I have seen too many confused brides who have image after image on their phones and who are dismissing dresses because ‘my arm looks fat' or ‘the third flower from the left is too big'. If it doesn't feel right, it probably doesn't look right. If it does feel right, and by this I mean if it makes you feel sexy or elegant or demure or relaxed or however you want to feel on your wedding day, well then, you're on your way to finding your dress.

7. Don't sweat the small stuff.

I'm not diminishing the importance of The Wedding Dress here. It is, after all, the most amount of money you will ever spend on an item of clothing, ever. But when you have narrowed it down to your final three and you're stressing out because you love them all and you don't know how you're ever going to choose… Stop. Take a step back and say to yourself: ‘It's just a dress. It's just a lovely dress that makes me feel happy and special and that I'm going to wear the day I marry Bob/Jamie/Tarquin.' Because that's why you're having a wedding after all; to marry the love of your life. And he's just going to be happy that you've turned up.

Thanks so much Sama, those are some super helpful insider tips right there!

Now for those of you who prefer your wedding planning in bite sized chunks, here's a pinnable / cut out and keep version of Sama's essential dress shopping tips:

Please do let us know if you have any wedding dress related questions or you'd like advice on a particular aspect of wedding dress shopping or style.

Sama and I are all ears and we'd love to hear from you. So don't be shy, leave us a question or comment below!

ps. I highly recommend hopping over to The Utter Blog for even more of Sama's lovely, bubbly musings on her upcoming wedding and exciting new ventures.

pps. There's a whole host of other talented wedding industry experts I'm also looking forward to welcoming, who will be sharing their exclusive insider tips with all you lovely Bridal Musings readers. More info to come very soon but for now let's just say I'm excited!

~ More Wedding Planning Posts on Bridal Musings ~

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