Luckily, options are as diverse as brides themselves. Here, three brides discuss dresses that are anything but average.
The Designer Dress: Tara Trautsch Migdale
"The dress creates the mood of the wedding," says Tara Trautsch Migdale, who was married at Holman Ranch in August 2007. "Once you choose and buy one, the rest comes together."
Trautsch Migdale's choice was a modern classic gown by couture designer Peter Langner.
"I wasn't looking for a designer dress," she says. "I just wanted something I loved and felt beautiful in."
Her measurements were sent to Rome, where a gown in Trautsch Migdale's chosen style was tailor-made to fit her. She returned to San Francisco's Marina Morrison Bridal Salon twice for fittings and a third time to meet Langner, who advised her on fabric colors and veil options.
The finished dress was just what the bride envisioned.
"I loved the neckline and the v-shaped back. I loved the but-tons. I loved the trumpet shape, and I loved the way it moved when we danced," she says. "I plan to wear it again, when werenew our vows on an anniversary."
While she considers the gown the most expensive garment she'll ever wear, she approached the purchase rationally.
"As a financial advisor, it's hard to look at such a high cost. I wouldn't recommend going into debt on the wedding - especially on a dress you wear once," she says.
Still, her decision wasn't all business.
"I thought, 'This is the one day I get to be a queen, and I choose this dress.
A Family Heirloom: Bree Bacon
"I started thinking about dresses within three days of getting engaged," laughs Bree Bacon, who will be married at Carmel's Mission Ranch in May 2008.
Before she tried on a single bridal gown, however, a surprise option presented itself.
"I was talking to my aunt about her wedding pictures. Since childhood, I've always loved her dress and how she looked," Bacon says. "It turns out she had the dress at home in a trunk."
Eventually, Bacon tried on the gown just for fun. When shesaw herself in the mirror, her decision was made."I just said, 'Oh my gosh - that's it!'" she remembers.
The antique lace dress required a few alterations, including shortening the sleeves, trimming the neckline into a v-shape and adding lace on the skirt to accommodate Bacon's height.
She is also sewing her name and her aunt's name, as well as the date of each of their weddings, in blue thread on an inside hem.
"Making this into my own dress has been very easy," says the bride-to-be, who hopes she'll be able to pass the gown to another family member someday.
"As brides, we're all such independent women, financially independent, making our own choices in life...but when it comes to weddings, suddenly tradition becomes so important. I didn't realize, until I tried on that dress, how much it meant to me."
The Custom Gown: Erin Hunter
Erin Hunter began searching for her dream dress a year before her September 2007 wedding.
"I tried on about 20 dresses," she says, "and it just reaffirmed that nothing fit."
The 6-foot-tall Hunter found most gowns too short and far from the style she had in mind. A friend suggested she visit Ericka Engelman Couture in Carmel.
"She sketched something based on the pictures I brought in,and I was done," says Hunter, whose relatives helped pay for the dress as a wedding gift. "I didn't need to look anywhere else."
The first fitting, seven months before the wedding, was with a baggy, muslin version of the dress.
"I was a little scared that she didn't understand what I'd wanted, but then an assistant started buzzing around and pinning things," recalls Hunter. "It was wonderful to watch things take shape."
The finished goddess-style gown was done in silk crepe with a charmeuse underskirt. It featured hand-beaded seed pearls and Swarovski crystals.
"It fit perfectly, and I loved the beading and the fabric. It was exactly what I wanted," Hunter says. "Having the dress made was the easiest part of the wedding."
The most difficult?
"At the end of the night," she says, "I didn't want to take that gorgeous dress off."
Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.