Courtesy of Wendy Maclaurin Richardson
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 PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com'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.
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.