Many couples get engaged over the Christmas and New Year's period, so lots of future brides begin the hunt for their dream wedding dress in January.

The range of shapes, cuts and styles of bridal gowns means that shopping for your perfect dress can quickly become an overwhelming experience – but don’t worry because we’ve put in legwork for you. Georgina Heffernan checks out some of the best places to shop in London and Dublin.

I recently had the pleasure of accompanying a friend to London, in the hunt for her dream wedding dress. Here’s a list of some of the best stores we visited - plus some great options closer to home.

Jenny Packham has dressed some of the world's most beautiful women - Kate Winset, Halle Berry, Beyoncé, and Angelina Jolie are all fans of the label (Liz Hurley married in Packham). Her elegant designs have been featured at film premieres, the Oscars and in the Sex and the City movies. She is also one of Kate Middleton's favourite designers.

Jenny Packham Ruby Dress

THE LOOK: The bridal collection features many body con styles, based on a thirties silhouette. Silks, delicate chiffons and slinky shapes epitomise her style.

THE PRICE: Price points are around the €3500 mark.

THE EXPERIENCE: The assistant was extremely helpful and she worked hard to establish exactly the ‘vibe’ of the wedding, so that we could find the perfect dress to suit the occasion. The boutique was incredibly chic, with video screens playing the highlights from the latest catwalk collection, and ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. We were offered tea or coffee and the service was very professional, with every need catered to.

After a ten minute consultation, we were presented with a selection of stunning gowns, which were incredibly flattering on but because of their slim fit, they could be difficult to wear for girls with curvier figures. The dresses on offer were off the peg - not made to measure - and although we were referred to a recommended tailor, once it leaves the shop, it’s out of their hands.

TIP: if the Jenny Packham bridal range is beyond your budget, check out her fantastic eveningwear line for Debenhams.

Bride Boutique
75 Elizabeth Street
London SWI
Tel: 0207 730 2264

If you haven't found your dream wedding gown just yet, Phillipa Lepley Couture is worth a look. Since opening her first bridal shop in 1990, Phillipa has created bespoke dresses for thousands of celebrities and she was actually the bookies favourite to create Kate Middleton’s wedding gown. Phillipa Lepley’s gowns are couture meaning that your wedding dress will take around seven fittings and six to nine months to create.

The LOOK: Lepley has been designing dresses for more than 20 years, combining exquisite fit - thanks to the fantastic in built corsetry- with the best fabrics.

The PRICE: Of course the price reflects its couture process and quality of fabrics and prices start at around €7,500

THE EXPERIENCE: There were dresses that were strapless and backless, with low necklines and stunning embroidered trains. There were dresses with froufrou, decorated with bustles and crinoline and oceans of lace - there were more pearls, sequins and furs than Kate Middleton could wear in a lifetime.

We were offered Earl Grey tea and delicious shortcake biscuits and, of all the stores we visited, the service at Lepley was certainly the best; in fact, it was at a whole other level. All of the staff were very experienced, with a design background. The cut of the dresses shape and form the body, giving you the figure of your dreams.

TIP: If you're planning to lose or gain weight, don't forget to tell your dressmaker or supplier. This is because last minute alterations can usually be made if they're scheduled in.

Phillipa Lepley
48 Fulham Road, SW3
020 7590 9771

Sitting a few doors down from Phillipa Lepley on the Fulham Road, Sassi Holford offers a diverse selection of made-to-measure gowns centring around slinky, lace or princess. One of only a handful of bridal designers whose dresses are still made exclusively in the UK, Sassi Holford's gowns are produced to the highest standards in her studio by a team of experienced seamstresses and hand beaders.

THE LOOK: A fantastic selection of wedding dresses, with everything from elegant simple looks to dramatic princess styles. All of the dresses are custom made so if, for example, you like the sleeves from one dress with the skirt of another, you can combine styles to create the ultimate wedding dress.

THE PRICE: The price starts at around €5,000

THE EXPERIENCE: Service is good, but having spent €30 on the appointment I expect the offer of a drink (I know I keep banging on about this but it’s not a production line, you deserve this level of welcome). The assistant made a giant faux pas when she told us that she was hungover but she did manage to quickly find a dress, which looked just spectacular on. The only downside was that the sample dress did not fit very well and you’d need quite some imagination to envisage the finished article.

TIP: Try to choose your dress at least six months before the wedding so you have plenty of time for fittings and alterations.

Sassi Holford
74 Fulham Road, SW3
020 7584 1532

She is one of the UK’s leading fashion designers with high profile customers including the Duchess of Cambridge. The look is bohemian and whimsical, so if you are looking for princess style - Temperly is not for you. Choose Temperley bridal for a summer, foreign or country wedding.

THE LOOK: Temperley bridal collection includes a number of beautiful simple silk and lace wedding gowns, with jewelled embellishments for more than a hint of glamour. Accessories like bejeweled tiaras, bolero shrugs and veils are also available.

THE PRICE: From €3,500 to €9,000

THE EXPERIENCE: “Silk or lace, sleeves or off-the-shoulder, pearls or beading?” the assistant asked, holding up a selection of dresses. Of all the dresses we’d looked at, at first blush, Temperley seemed the most exquisite. However, because of the simple unstructured shape they tended to be quite unforgiving on the average woman– suiting the tall and angular. The service was fantastic and our assistant bent over backwards to help. The environment was plush and elegant, but relaxed, and we were treated to mince pies and mulled wine… a nice seasonal touch.

TIP: Do your research beforehand. Scour bridal magazine and designers' websites for dresses you want to have a look at and keep a file of pictures and details like designer and dress names.

2-10 Colville Mews
W11 2DA
020 7229 7957

Sitting on the corner of Brook and Davies Street the new Vera Wang bridal store attracts gasps and smiles from every female passer-by who stops to peek inside the window. It looks upscale and that’s because it is. Vera Wang has become perhaps the best known name in bridal fashion. Since the early 1990s, her dramatic, sexy, yet tasteful concoctions have been chosen by brides who want a dress with serious ‘Wow’ factor.

THE LOOK: Wang’s dresses just scream couture and they are unbelievably romantic. This season, there are a lot of full skirts and princess styles. Don’t be put off by the coloured styles on the website – that’s just for impact – at the store, they’re all ivory.

THE PRICE: Dresses like this don’t come cheap. You are looking at €7,000 and up for one of her gorgeous gowns.

THE EXPERIENCE: The assistant greeted us as if we were long lost relatives and presented us both with a sparkling glass of pink champagne, before we got to the serious business of trying on frocks. She selected stunning organza dress and ushered my pal into the changing room. Seconds later my friend emerged with a smile so wide, it looked almost painful.

She lowered her veil, sucked in her stomach, and admired herself in the mirror. “Oh!” she gasped, putting her hand to her mouth. “I love it. It's really, really pretty.” The assistant ran over and ‘foofed’ the dress, puffing the train out so it floated behind her.

It was the tulle that melted her and that skirt as voluminous as clouds in the summer sky. The way it floated when she walked. The way it practically lifted her out of this world “Da-Dum-de-DumDa-Dum-de-Dum” It looked as if she had found her dress...

Vera Wang
59 Brook Street,
020 7514 0090

In Dublin:

OXFAM BRIDAL: Located on South Great Georges Street, this is a treasure trove, for brides on a budget. Dresses are in fabulous condition and there is a range of stunning accessories.

MYRTLE IVORY: Each gown has been personally selected by Marina and Suzanne to offer Irish brides greater variety at home - the gown collections include sumptuous velvets, soft floating lace, stunning silk satins, delicate embellishments and soft blushes of colour. All of the designers are new to the Republic of Ireland and are exclusively stocked at Myrtle Ivory. 3 Anne's lane Dublin 2. Tel / fax: +353 1 675 3519

PROJECT 51: Project 51 is an Irish designer outique and collective located on South William Street, Dublin. Custom made wedding dresses by some of Ireland’s hottest young designers, such as Jennifer Rothwell and Claire O Connor.

KATHY DE STAFFORD: Kathy de Stafford is one of Irelands leading bridal designers. Kathy, who is an award-winning designer, has been established for many years and is based at her salon in Exchequer Street, Dublin 2. The success of Kathy's business led to her opening another bridal boutique in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary in 1999 and a third in Howth opened in 2006. Both salons have a relaxed contemporary environment, perfect for choosing your dream gown.

CLAIRE GARVEY: Claire has her own shop on Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, for the past ten years. She specialises in bespoke once - off dresses that are unusual and dramatic – perfect for a bride who want’s something that little bit different.

THE HIGHSTREET: Stores such as Coast, Simply Be, Phase Eight, Debenhams and Monsoon offer a fantastic range of stunning wedding gowns for brides on a budget – plus a fantastic collection of accessories.

Alberta Ferretti
Blackburn Bridal Couture

Georgina Heffernan