buying your wedding dress onlineCourtesy of Wendy Maclaurin Richardson

You can now plan an entire wedding from the comfort of your laptop, down to the wedding dress. With options like J.Crew, Net-A-Porter, PreOwnedWeddingDresses and The Aisle New York, buying a gown online is almost as easy as ordering a sweater. If your area lacks a good selection of brick-and-mortar bridal boutiques, or you've already exhausted the options in the offline world, your dream dress (or dream deal) might be waiting for you in cyberspace. Some sites offer exclusive styles not available in stores, while others are a virtual sample sale offering discounts you wouldn't find at the local salon. But before you make the big purchase, read these tips to help you find a great gown online.

Do some research. Look through magazines and Web sites to find dress styles and designers you like, and keep those concepts in mind as you browse. Research the prices of the dresses you have in mind to make sure you're getting a good deal online. Also, check out any Web site to make sure it is legit before you hand over your credit card info.

Determine a budget. It may be tempting to click on the most expensive dress (if the price is virtual it doesn't count, right?) but just as you'd want to stick to your budget during a visit to a bridal boutique, you'll want to keep that number in mind as you shop around cyberspace.
Start early. Buying a wedding dress online is faster than ordering one from scratch, but don't wait until the month or week before your wedding to start looking. Factor in time for delivery, alterations, and a Plan B in case you don't like the dress and need to start over.

Know your figure. Give your body a good, honest assessment as to what your assets are and what areas you'd rather keep under wraps. Shopping online means you won't have a bridal consultant on hand to help you choose the most flattering styles. Take a look at's body type calculator and glossary, and J.Crew's online fit guide to help you determine what fabrics and silhouettes might work best for you.

Take your measurements. Instead of relying on your tape measure at home, enlist a professional to get really accurate numbers. Ask your tailor or dry cleaner to take your measurements including your bust, waist, and high and low hip. Look at the size charts on the sites you visit, and compare their listings with your exact measurements.

Leave room for alterations. Most wedding gowns don't fit like a glove the first time you try them on, so chances are you will need some alterations. If you fall in between two sizes or aren't sure what to order, buy the larger size -- it is much easier to take in a dress than to try to make it bigger (and remember that many wedding gown designers run small). Keep an eye out for details like beading or embroidery that may make the dress difficult to alter in certain places.
Read the fine print. Check (and double-check) the site's return policy. Some sites will let you return a wedding gown for a full refund, while others are final sale. Before you commit to a dress, carefully read all the fine print regarding your options if you don't like the dress or it doesn't fit. If it's not returnable, make sure you're ready to take a bit of a risk. Also find out how your dress will be packaged, shipped, tracked and possibly insured, to make sure it will arrive to you safely.