You know how in movies, when the bride-to-be goes shopping for a wedding dress, the bridal party is seated in expensive-looking furniture and treated to slices of wedding cake and glasses of champagne while the bride models designer dresses? Yeah … that’s not how it worked when I went dress shopping.

But so what? This was my first ever wedding dress shopping trip, and it was more than a year before my wedding date. There was no pressure and no hurry. I showed up at David’s Bridal in Mercer Mall last Sunday afternoon because during my first wedding-planning excursion — a trip to the Bridal Showcase at Chauncey Conference Center (U.S. 1, May 30, 2012) — I was given a $50 gift card conditional on keeping my July 8 appointment.

So there I was, in an over air-conditioned store on a 95-degree day, with my mother — so excited that she had forgotten about the appointment until I reminded her 45 minutes before — and two bridesmaids-to-be in a jump-up-and-down, wouldn’t-miss-it-for-the-world state of excitement.

We checked in, then looked through catalogs of wedding and bridal party dresses while we waited for our saleswoman. We were surrounded by dresses, from racks of tiny flower girl dresses and shoes, to bridesmaids dresses in every color, length, and style, and finally to racks and racks stuffed with wedding dresses, sizes 2 to 22, wrapped in plastic bags. Prices ranged from around $200 to well over $1,000. There was no cake, no champagne, and no luxurious seating area, but there were hundreds of dresses to choose from and a row of fitting rooms covered in mirrors, and that was all we needed.

Our saleswoman was there soon. “Do you know what you’re looking for?” Of course, the one dress I had specifically ear-marked from the catalog wasn’t available in my size, but sure I do. Something white? That fits? Probably strapless without too much lace, fluff, or rhinestones going on?

That was evidently enough to get started, and off we went, flipping through endless racks and picking out possibilities. As we searched, the criteria for dresses quickly changed based on what we saw. Maybe one strap could work, or a slightly off-white color. The more we looked, the more we had no idea exactly what we were looking for. It didn’t matter, though. If it was there, I could try it on.

Try I did. As my mom helped me with endless layers of tulle, lace, and impossible-to-reach zippers, my bridesmaids waited outside, cameras ready and tissues close at hand.

Throughout the afternoon, I was the subject of a series of candid shots ranging from fairly humiliating to mildly flattering. The good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous-looking was captured on camera every time the dressing room door opened.

There were some definite failures. I was all but swimming in the first dress I tried — a strapless white number with a skirt so many layers thick you could have hidden a small family in its folds. A one-strapped dress with some silver sparkle on the shoulder made me look well-prepared for a toga party, but ill-fit to walk down any aisles.

And there were some near-winners that just weren’t quite right: the dress with a shiny built-in belt that fell around my upper thighs rather than my waist — one in a litany of dresses I was just too short for — and the otherwise attractive one-strap number with a fabric flower on the shoulder that was bigger than my face.

I came close to settling on a simple, strapless white dress with a straight-cut neckline, a small beaded section, and a skirt with a slit on one side revealing some of the underlying tulle. A line of decorative buttons covered the zipper in the back. It was a beautiful dress, but it had some downsides. It was heavy, which does not bode well for an August wedding in an un-air conditioned space, and the buttons made it uncomfortable to sit down and lean back. It was under consideration, but we kept looking.

As it turns out, choosing a wedding dress is similar to finding a husband: you know when it’s “the one.” For me, two hours later, it was one my bridesmaids had plucked off the rack, away from my judging eyes, while I was fully occupied disentangling myself from the latest attempt at a dress.

I can’t say much about the dress on the off chance that my husband-to-be actually reads this column and gleans more information than he should about a dress he isn’t supposed to see for more than a year. But I will say this: it’s strapless, matte ivory-colored, with a short train, and it made my friends — who were not shy about shaking their heads in disgust about dresses that just didn’t work — smile and do their own little happy dance.

The dress is a keeper. It needs to be shortened and hemmed, and as a tailor quickly demonstrated with a handful of pins, I have to pick from the dozens of ways the train can be bustled for the reception. The jury is still out on whether the dress will look better with a satiny, beaded sash tied around the middle. I have to decide what shoes to wear and how high the heels should be. And I need to borrow or purchase a necklace that adds the appropriate amount of sparkle to the neck line.

But those are all things to worry about on another day. I bought the dress. Time to pop the bubbly!

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