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6 Steps to Buying a New Dress

Don't let shopping for a special occasion dress intimidate you! With a little help and a plan, you can start early and find the perfect dress for your next occasion. Here's how
1. Decide on Formality
Usually the event invitation will clue you into the formality of the event, whether it's casual or black tie. But sometimes even that will cause confusion (short dress or long?)

In general, the later in the day the event (after 6 p.m.), the dressier. Long dresses are usually reserved only for formal (black tie) occasions.

While some fabrics are year-round -- silk, brocade, organza, jersey -- fabrics like velvet and gold spangles are best reserved for winter holidays.

2. Flatter Your Figure
The most important feature of your new dress -- more important than its trendiness, designer or color -- is how well it flatters you.

Not every dress silhouette will work for your body so you'll need to do some quick research on your specific needs.

Remember that darker colors and simple cuts (a sheath, an A-line) are the most flattering.

The best way to look special is to show off your best feature. If you have gorgeous eyes, then play them up with beautiful makeup, off-the-face hair and jeweled earrings in a complimentary shade. If your legs are spectacular, then show them off with a short, fitted dress and stilettos.

Dressing to flatter your figure is as much about playing up your best features as it is about hiding what's not perfect.

Not sure what your best asset is? Ask a friend or significant other. Or go to a store that sells special occasion dresses and enlist the salesperson's help.

3. Choose a Color
You could just wear black (classy, flattering and slenderizing), but why not explore some of the other dressy options?

Red, bold prints, even gold are dramatic enough for evening wear. Pastels, mid-range brights and soft prints look great for dressy day occasions.

Blue (from navy to royal), pink (from cotton candy to fuchsia) and white (from candlelight to cream) look great on almost everyone. Remember that the "Don't wear white to a wedding" wisdom is still considered a fashion don't by most women.

4. Pick a Style
Once you know what type of dress you need, it's time to coordinate that with what you want.

Catalogs, the internet and magazines are a great places to seek special occasion dress inspiration.

Instead of going with something trendy, try to find a dress that reflects classic, timeless elegance. Remember that you'll have to look at photos of you in the dress for years to come.

Enduring special occasion dresses are often deceptively simple, but they usually let the beauty of the wearer shine through. A few examples: the little black dress (a.k.a the cocktail dress), a goddess gown (draped and rouched), a ballgown, a slip dress.

5. Shop

With your research behind you, it's time to shop, either online or off.

You should definitely set a budget before shopping because it's easy to fall in love with a $1000 dress and then try to justify buying it.

Special occasion dresses usually cost more than $100, but if you comparison shop you can find one that works in your price range. Don't forget to use alternative methods like shopping secondhand stores and sales to save even more money on a dress. Vintage looks are all the rage in Hollywood and on the runway now.

If you shop in a store, dress for the day by bringing along heels, any special accessories you know you want to use and a strapless bra (just in case).

When shopping online, make sure you understand both the sizing (know your measurements and check against a size chart on the site) and the return policy.

There are some boutiques that don't allow you to return special occasion dresses, so make sure you're a smart shopper.

6. Accessorize

The trimmings will take their cue from the dress, but for special occasions your jewelery usually gets bigger and your bag and shoes get smaller (as in strappy sandals).

Although you may want to add tons of glitz, remember that you can kill a look with too much matchy-matchy accessorizing. Find earrings, necklace and bracelet that compliment each other without being a matching set.

Sparkly brooches, flowers and hair pins are all great ways to add special dazzle, too.

Your bag should be large enough to fit lipstick, tissue, phone and keys.

One confusing element for most women is whether or not to wear hose. Use common sense here: if your legs need camouflage and you don't like to wear leg makeup, then opt for super-sheer hose.