Finding the perfect gown Store owners offer stress-reducing tips for choosing a wedding dress

At a final fitting, Kameryn Kitts reminded boutique co-owner Krista Roach (right) that she and co-owner Terri Espy talked Kitts into choosing a veil. “It’s beautiful,” Kitts said.

The popular TLC reality TV show “Say Yes to the Dress” — part girl drama, part diva indulgence, part family therapy session — offers a behind-the-scenes look at the quest for the perfect wedding dress at a swanky Manhattan salon.

Which begs the question: Can perfection really be found in white silk and lace?

It would be nice considering brides spend an average of $1,121 on their gowns, according to the 2011 Real Weddings Survey, and most will see something like a trillion pictures of themselves in said taffeta.

Sadly, no girl’s gown is perfect. But don’t stress.

Terri Espy and her daughter, Krista Roach, insist that real life doesn’t have to reflect reality TV.

As co-owners of Gown Boutique of Charleston in the Belle Hall Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant, where special-order dresses span $800 to $6,000, this mother-daughter duo has seen it all (and not just on reality TV): pushy entourages, opinionated moms as well as utterly frazzled and overbearing brides.

Their message: Bridezillas, relax.

OK, so they didn’t use that precise name, but their message is the same. Searching for a wedding dress doesn’t have to exacerbate family tensions or inflame friend drama. It doesn’t have to bring out the Bridezilla in anyone.

In fact, selecting a wedding gown can be a highlight of life, with truly beautiful results.

“You’ve got to be realistic, or you’re not going to have fun,” Espy cautions. “This is a special time. Relax and enjoy it.”

Espy and Roach have helped hundreds of brides choose their dresses. So, they offer a few tips.

Espy and Roach each tell stories of brides who come to them after shopping at a half-dozen shops with a dozen friends in tow. They’re often the ones who end up in tears thanks to stress, exhaustion and an impossible desire to please too many people.

“Friends can overwhelm the bride,” Espy says. “She gets opinions from everyone, except herself.”

So bring one or two people whose opinion you value, maybe your best friend and your mom (especially if she’s paying the tab). Or shop alone and indulge your own preferences, just be sure not to look at dresses you can’t afford.

Are you sleek and elegant? Traditional and dainty? Dramatic and glittery?

Your dress should reflect your personality and the nature of your venue, not the majority rule of friends or family.

Consultants at reputable boutiques will offer objective suggestions if brides want them, without the potentially dicey dynamics of friendships and family.

For instance, Danielle Mulvey of West Ashley thought she wanted one style and picked out another after talking with a Gown Boutique consultant. After trying on her dress for the first time before alterations, Mulvey emerges from a dressing room with a very large grin.

“I’m very excited. She knew exactly what would fit me well,” Mulvey says. (Sorry, no hints. Fiance Joe Bronstein won’t see the dress until their Nov. 2 wedding.)

There’s a great moment when a bride who tried on a floor sample sees the actual dress on her actual body. For many, that’s when it all feels real.

“I’m really happy that it fit and wasn’t so overwhelmingly big that I couldn’t get an idea of what it will look like” after alterations, Mulvey says. “I’m very wishy-washy and love something one minute and not the next. But I love my dress.”

So there’s some more advice. Once you pick a dress, don’t look back.

And give yourself enough time. Brides who special order dresses need to leave a good nine months to a year because it takes that long to order and go through several rounds of alterations to achieve a great fit.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Roach cautions. “It’s an art form. Most people don’t understand the alterations process because most people don’t get clothes tailored anymore.”

Plus, brides can select customized changes: from straps to sashes, buttons to pearls.

“We create a one-of-a-kind look that also fits her body,” Espy says. “It’s not just selling dresses. We want to enhance everything she loves and wants to show off. We want her to feel like she’s rockin’ in that dress.”

Don’t treat your baby girl like a ... baby girl. Espy recalls numerous brides who have emerged from the dressing room beaming with joy after falling in love with a dress.

Let’s just say their moms did not echo the feeling.

“Moms often have strong opinions and vocalize them,” says Espy, a pretty strong-willed mom herself. She tries to gently note to mothers that they don’t pick out their adult daughters’ other clothes anymore. A wedding dress should not be terribly different.

Moms and friends alike should listen to a bride’s opinions about a dress before letting their own opinions loose.

Also, leave your Starbucks in the car before entering a bridal shop. Espy recalls a bridesmaid’s coffee once spilling onto a bride’s white dress in the fitting room. Another one splattered across the showroom floor.

Hit a few dresses with java in a place like this and more than a pretty penny will be coming from your wallet. (Let’s all thank Queen Victoria for popularizing pure white gowns at her 1840 wedding.)

Bring water instead. At Gown Boutique, after you walk past the “no food or drinks” sign, they serve clear Bellini cocktails.

Nowhere are rules of cleanliness more mightily enforced than in Gown’s Clean Room, a dressing room where no dirty shoes, no food, nothing that might cause a smudge or smear or stain may enter. In here, a bride officially meets her dress: not a showroom sample, but HER dress, the one she might keep the rest of her life.

That’s where Kameryn Kitts stands beaming like a girl awaiting her real-life Cinderella dress. Roach brings in Kitts’ gown, freshly pressed, holding it out on a long silver hook so that no dirty hands, let alone floors, touch the ivory silk.

“This is it,” Kitts says, clasping her hands in front of her. “I’m taking it with me today.”

Once the cascade of ivory settles onto her body, she turns away from the mirror to face Roach, her sunshine smile filling the room.

“I love it!”

Kitts picked out her dress nine months ago after visiting eight or nine shops and trying on more than 30 dresses.

“It was making me really sad not to have connected with a dress,” she recalls. Then, she tried on the one. It was elegant and timeless, in keeping with her plans for a secluded plantation-style wedding where she’d say her vows beneath a majestic oak tree.

This was Kitts’ third and final fitting before her wedding last week to fiance Kyle Massenburg. She couldn’t wait to marry him in it.

“This dress to me is romantic,” she says. “And I am romantic.”

She gently fluffs her veil, her grin growing bigger. “You guys talked me into the veil,” she reminds Roach.

“Do you love it?” Roach asks.

“I love it. It’s beautiful.”

In the end, Roach and Espy agree: That feeling is what matters in all of this.

So, lastly, for the brides, remember what’s important.

“There are only two times in life when you will have all of both your families and your friends in one room,” Espy says.

First is your wedding. Second is your funeral.

“You won’t be at the second one,” Espy adds. “So enjoy the first.”

Reach Jennifer Berry Hawes at 937-5563.