How to choose your pattern:
I cannot stress enough the importance of trying on. I know that you have decided to make your dress and I hail the brilliance of the venture. But, despite what looks amazing on model 1 in Brides and model 8 in Martha Stewart Weddings, you are neither of those girls and you must try on all shapes and sizes in as many bridal shops as possible. Do be subtle about your intent to save your and the assistants' face, and if you can't take pictures, at least take someone with a working knowledge of a sewing pattern so that they can note the salient points of the one you choose. A bit strappy with a poofy skirt won't be enough to find the pattern for you!
With images of you or someone very like you in a dress as close as possible to what you know you look fabulous in, march thee to the internet and go to any of the following.
Vogue Patterns: This is the deluxe pattern company. The patterns can range from perfectly straightforward to very difficult, but they are marked as such to give you an idea. They also have a very helpful shape reference to give you an idea of whether it will suit your body shape. They go in cohoots with designers and have been known to sell dress patterns cut by Vera Wang and Badgley Mischka. The cuts are always beautiful and it is very difficult to go wrong with even the most simple of shapes. They patterns can be more complicated to read and work with, though, so discuss the skill level of your dressmaker to make sure that she is up to it.
They also have a great range of reissued vintage patterns from 1920s- 1960s, sized to modern measurements.
Butterick Patterns: Same company as Vogue, more simple cut and instructions. Good vintage patterns, some pretty wedding dress patterns, but often more traditional and unexceptional shapes.
McCall Patterns: Same company as Vogue, but the BHS of the pattern world. The patterns are very easy to work with, but I feel they often look it made up. They often come up a bit big too, so be prepared for a few fittings. Good childrens' bridesmaids patterns though.
Simplicity Patterns: Good range of patterns, as basic as McCall but just prettier and more elegant. Also look under New Look section, which is a separate book and used to stock the more youth-focused designs but has recently lost its way. Again, good children's patterns and some pretty dress patterns.
Another helpful hint is to take the photograph on the front of the pattern witha pinch of salt. To the uninitiated it can be very difficult to see beyond some of the heinous fabrics chosen or work out how the skirt would fall if you weren't standing with your legs crossed. If in doubt, look for the black and white line drawing to give you a clearer idea of where the seams go, how the dress fits and whether the big pouffy rose can be easily removed (usually, yes!).
Of the above two dresses: Not completely convinced by dropped waist on either models - would have to try on such styles and see if they suit me or just make my long torso look even longer. I do love the bodice on the top one and the pleat front skirt (and bow back) of the lower one. The top half of the pink number is far too strappy and low for my ample bosom though!