1. Have the talk.
While the gown can be the piece of the puzzle that really provides some momentum for inspiration and planning, it is crucial to at least begin the discussion with your partner about the style for your celebration. The gown of your dreams for a surfside elopement may differ from what you would select for a black tie ballroom affair.
2. Shop your closet.
Do you inexplicably gravitate to flutter sleeve V-necks? Analyze your "comfort zone" items and why you love those. Then pull out the special dress that makes you feel like a vixen. Why is that? Does it show off a certain asset? Make some mental notes!
3. Edit your guest list.
I'm not even talking about the wedding yet. When the day comes to go gown shopping, the key is to give yourself the freedom to fall in love. I often recommend brides even go ALONE to their first appointment and bring in the posse only when you've become hopelessly torn between a few options. Grabby Aunt Kathy doesn't need to be pulling suggestions for you off the rack. That takes a special memory to a stressful place. Set yourself up for success. Bring only your ride-or-dies who can help if you hit indecision.
4. Don't shop before you're ready to buy.
Gowns get discontinued each season. New pretties come out. Gorgeous dresses will never stop existing. You can only stop looking at them. So if you want to avoid gown blur (when they all blend together in your mind), or WORSE - missing out on a gown you loved - don't shop until you're serious. They'll likely have some "first time visit" offer, so...
5. Don't feel pressured to buy that day.
Statistically, if a bride walks out of a store without buying, she won't be back. Stores know this. Therefore, there's a whole spectrum of tactics you may encounter. Hold your ground. You don't want to be a two or three dress bride. Shop with no regrets!
Bonus tip/warning: Your consultant isn't a seamstress.
If you're asking about customizations and pattern changes, you should have verificiation from someone with both patternmaking and sewing expertise. Many store consultants are known to overpromise with what can be done "after market", and then you're stuck settling. Get the name of the seamstress in writing along with the work that you are discussing as part of your terms of sale.
Remember, custom design is always an option. ;)