WHEN you get engaged the first thing people ask you, after ‘have you set the date’,  is ‘have you looked at any dresses’?

Of course the answer is usually yes, in fact in my case, when we came back down from the top of the Eiffel Tower, where he popped the question, I went immediately to a newsagents and bought a French bridal magazine. I couldn’t read any of the articles, but I devoured the pictures, even if the style was a little, well, European, for me.

His little face was a picture, I can tell you. He was still reeling from having actually asked me to marry him and there was I, shoving centrepieces in his face and chatting excitedly about bridesmaids. His eyes were opened that night!

There’s a difference though between looking at dresses and actually trying them on, particularly if you’re not a perfect size ten. Or, in my case, if you’re fat.

Earlier in the summer I wrote about my hunt for The Dress and about four weeks ago I went back to Ruben Bridal in County Kildare and put a deposit down on my favourite dress, the one I couldn’t stop thinking about. All soft ivory tafetta, draping seductively at the hip. I still can’t quite believe it’s mine!

“I call this me sexy dress,” the sales assistant grinned, hooshing the underskirt netting down around my hips and spinning me towards the mirror “the minute you came in, I thought it’d suit you.”

Great, I thought, she thinks I’m some kind of harlot! She was right though, it DID suit me. And ok, maybe I’m a little bit of a harlot. Just a bit.

I felt fantastic in the dress and didn’t even notice her hands burrowing between my boobs, adjusting the corset top. A far cry from when I started the big dress hunt, when I stayed up nights worrying that shops were going to turn me away for not being thin.

Bridal dresses run on average about two sizes smaller than normal clothes. So if you’re a 16, you may need to buy a size 20 dress. It’s hardly inspiring is it?

Most bridal shops also generally stock sizes only up to about a 16 or 18, so if you’re a larger lady it can be hard to find even a sample to try on. And trust me, holding a dress up against you ‘to get the idea’ isn’t the same as trying one on, at all!

Then there’s the thought of the sales assistants who generally tend to be slim and pretty and who COME INTO THE DRESSING ROOM WITH YOU, where there’s no-where to hide.

I was a nervous wreck starting out and even though, in the end, I had an absolute ball trying on dresses and found a stunner, a dress that truly makes me feel like a princess, I’m still upset that I had that worry at the start and that the excitement of dress shopping was marred a little for me.

So tonight I’m giving you my guide to wedding dress shopping, particularly if you’re a plus-size, something I wish I’d had at the start of the experience.  Please do leave your own tips in the comments!

1. Whatever size you are, do yourself up before you go shopping. Don’t rock up in your tracksuit and three-day-old hair. Shower, shave, exfoliate, moisturise. Do your hair nicely, paint your toe nails and finger nails, stick on a little make-up. If you feel good, you’ll look good and you’ll get an idea of how you’re going to look in the dress. Leave off the fake-tan though, most bridal shops prefer you not to wear it, so that the dresses can be kept in good condition for the next customer. Wear sucky-in pants and a decent bra, in a nude/beige tone. Think sensible librarian rather than sex kitten!

2. Pick out the dresses you want to try on, but also let the shop assistant help. In general they’ll have a good eye and what you might dismiss, they can see instantly will suit your figure. Try on all different shapes and styles, don’t rule anything out.

3. Accept the fact that the sales assistant is going to see you in said sucky-in pants and decent bra. She’s going to see your belly, your thighs, your bum, your flabby upper arms. There’s no avoiding it really. Don’t dwell on this though, they have literally seen it all, and worse, before. They’re discreet about it, they hand you dresses in through the curtain and then step in to help you into the gowns. They don’t leave you shivering in the nip! Nor do they stand pointing and laughing at you, or poke at your cellulite. In general they concentrate on the dress and look you in the eye, making sure not to let their gaze drift towards your Area of Shame.

4. Accept the fact that the sales assistant is going to tell you the truth about how you look in the dress, warts and all. She’ll tell you if you look fat in it (though she’ll be more diplomatic) and she’ll tell you when you look stunning. Don’t get offended, she’s doing you a favour.

5. Don’t accept bad service because of your size. If a shop tells you they don’t stock your size and are unwilling to allow you to try on any dresses, walk away. Never be embarrassed because of your size, never allow them to justify why they don’t stock larger sizes. Just walk away. They’ve lost out on a sale that could be anything from €1,500 to €4,000 so if that’s the way they want it, there are plenty of other shops who will take your money.

6. Remember, you’re the customer, you’re the one spending the thousands of euro. Let the assistant work for the sale, make 100 per cent sure you like the dress, don’t just accept it because it fits you.

7. Try on as many dresses as you can. Go back to shops to try on dresses again and again if you want to. You’re only going to get married once, so this is the only time you’ll go dress shopping. Ever. Don’t let anything spoil it for you.

8. Go out for lunch after you find The Dress and celebrate! It’s a big day and champagne should definitely be on the agenda.

9. The second you get home from shopping, hunt out pictures of your favourite dresses online and obsess over them again with your friends. It’ll help to keep them fresh in your mind as, after a while, one dress blends into the next.

10. Enjoy yourself! This is the most important thing. This is a happy time in your life, the size of your jeans shouldn’t come into it. Have an absolute ball!