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REAL Wedding Gown and Bridesmaid Dress Shopping Secrets

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Shopping for your wedding gown -- and subsequent, often obligatory bridesmaid dresses -- can become a monstrosity rather than a simple task. Differing opinions and crazy salons create a bubble of tulle, chiffon and lace -- and often leave the bride confused as to what she exactly wants. But from my years in the biz, I'd like to impart some wisdom you probably won't find in any bridal magazine on the racks right now.

1. DO A PRE-SHOP

I am sure there are plenty of you who adore the idea of bringing your two BFFs, mom, sister, cousin and mother-in-law to the best bridal salon in your area, sipping champagne as you slip on gowns. Ladies, this is a romanticized experience. The gowns are uncomfortable, way too small, and clamped onto your figure. Sales girls will likely "ooooh" and "aaah," and you're bound to get a wide array of opinions from your vast crew.

However, you can get the romantic experience if you do the vital pre-shop, ok? Take your one friend (fashion bestie, trustworthy colleague, etc.) and just that one friend to a select salon. Do your research in advance; troll through dress galleries online and get an idea of what works for you. Not sure where to begin? Think about your favorite piece of clothing -- is it that deep v-neck dress that shows just enough skin on top? Boom. There's your neckline. (Seriously, brides, a straight strapless cut is generally unflattering.)

Now that you know what you want, go with said friend to the shop and get a feel for designers, fabrics and styles you like. It's quite possible that you may find the one that day. But the key is to keep the pre-shop a total secret. You don't want the rest of your crew to find out, do you?

2. WEAR THE RIGHT UNDERGARMENTS

I recently read the brilliant Linda Wells' January 2012 editor's letter in Allure, which she discussed the perils of shapewear garments like Spanx and medieval torture devices like stiletto heels. Then Wells moved on to say she herself decided to forgo all the discomfort of "shaping oneself" for a red carpet gala, was extremely happy and comfy, and life was good. But Linda Wells is GORGEOUS. If I looked like that, I would probably never wear Spanx or a minimizer ever. But, unfortunately, my mother blessed me with an ample bosom that requires a bra. And frankly, I do like the idea of shoving myself into some sort of antiquated corset-turned-waist reducer; it's almost romantic, too. Either way, having your shapewear (or not, if you're like Linda), is 100 percent critical to finding the right gown.

Spend time at department stores and lingerie stores to pin down what fits bests, what's most comfortable and most importantly what makes you feel good. Gown designers and bridal salons can often sew your pre-selected garments into your gown or tailor to fit however you need. Throwing on a pair of Spanx a week before your wedding to realize the back sticks out of your gown is not something anyone is interested in experiencing.

3. LET THE MAIDS PICK THEIR OWN DRESSES

Most of your probably have seen Friends, I gander, given it's re-run every five seconds. Rachel, our beloved (?) heroine, showed up to former BFF Mindy's wedding to be a bridesmaid to Rachel's ex, the dentist. Anyway, Mindy put Rachel in this over-the-top, cotton candy pink confection of a dress with matching Bo Peep hat and train. And this was probably filmed in the 90s. An army of identical women is just not cute. Bridesmaids' dresses, generally speaking, are not cute. You cannot just wear a dress again. And don't you want your BFFs to be comfortable as they flank you on your most important day?

I think it's high time to move beyond the army of similar, generic dresses -- even if you chose eggplant, navy or black. Right now, I'm into the super-chic idea of creating your own palette of maids that perhaps reflects shades elsewhere in your affair, like hues of blue from the ocean you're marrying on. Rather than sticking six girls in mass-produced, cobalt satin gowns that will undoubtedly leave at least two of them feeling wrong in their own skin all night, let them choose! And don't be such a stickler -- if blue is your color, anything from the palest sky to the darkest navy should suffice.

I once edited a story on a bit-part movie actress's wedding to a fancy surgeon and she did exactly what I mentioned above -- and the result was positively ethereal. And every single girl was happy. So instead of dragging your maids to whatever shop you had in mind, show 'em a few paint chips and send them off shopping.

I think it's fair if the bride wants to sneak a peek (I mean, no one wants bridesmaids clad in J-Woww Couture) at the maids' dresses beforehand. But don't make it so matchy matchy. I don't know, it feels so 1980s, don't you think?