6 Tips For Scoring A Cheap Wedding Dress

Marley Wedding Dress, BCBG

Marley Tiered Dress (BCBG), $938

With wedding season soon upon us, many a bride is looking for a way to create the most special day imaginable...without racking up the biggest debt imaginable.

The dress is no exception.

Wedding gowns can run into the thousands, which can eat into a good portion of any wedding budget. You want to look amazing, but you'd also like to give your guests something to eat, drink, and ideally sit on (even if Uncle Hal is more of the wander-around-inebriated type).

Wedding gowns are one area where you can significantly cut your costs. We don't believe in compromising on looking absolutely stunning on your wedding day, but we do believe in being smart about looking for the best deal possible.

Here are the best ways to score a cheap wedding dress:

1. Check Out Mass Retailers.

Wedding Dress from BHLDN Anthropologie

Ribboned Silk Gown (BHLDN), $1600

Mass retailers are getting into the wedding gown biz. It started with J. Crew, and the rest followed. We found these affordable numbers surprisingly attractive. Here, spend some of your savings on custom tailoring to make your dress uniquely yours--take off cap sleeves or add on embellishments. See our chart below for our favorite mass market lines.

2. Head Online.

Nothing replaces the romanticized experience of heading to a bridal salon and trying on dresses with your mom and a few glasses of champagne--but after a few tiring sessions, any bride can tell you it gets old fast. According to Heather Levine, fashion editor at The Knot, the majority of brides still buy their dresses in-store, but more and more are heading online, to overstock or consignment sellers.

3. Consider The Used Wedding Dress.

Almost 80% of LearnVest readers said they'd at least consider a used wedding dress on the big day. Yes, someone else wore it already. But only once. You can have it professionally cleaned, and may be able to afford a higher end designer this way. Many sites use a peer-to-peer model, so you contact the seller directly. You can ask all kinds of questions (see below) and arrange shipping and return logistics. Pro: Because you're dealing directly with the seller, you can negotiate the price. Con: You're dealing with an individual as opposed to a business, so build in the unpredictability factor.

RELATED: How I Did It: Held a 100-Person Wedding for Under $4,000

Here's a handy chart:

Wedding Lines At Retail Stores

BCBGA small but special selection (we love the Marley, pictured above), all under $1000.
The LimitedBasic styles, but all gowns are under $500. Adding some personal touches to these would be key.
Anthropologie (BHLDN)Dresses with a bohemian and vintage bent that one would expect from Anthro. Most dresses are under $2000.
J. CrewClassic all the way--and the largest collection. All gowns are under $3000 with plenty of options under $1000. They also have a bridal boutique on Madison Avenue in New York.
Ann TaylorSimple and flowy, almost all under $500.
Sample Sale Dresses
TheAisleNewYork.comThe Gilt Groupe of wedding dresses, just launched in January: An online flash sale that features a high-end dresses at a discount for a limited time only.
BridePower.comSample and consignment dresses at deep discounts, from Monique Lhuillier to Pronovias.
Used Dresses
PreOwnedWeddingDresses.comOne of the original sites to connect buyers and sellers of used dresses, with a broad selection.
OnceWed.comA tasteful site and blog with a lovely selection of used designer gowns.
RecycledBride.comOur pick for used bridesmaid dresses.
WoreItOnce.comThis website has a clunkier interface, but if you're looking at everything, has gowns worth checking out.
eBayGreat selection of wedding gowns on eBay. Just don't get caught up in the bidding, and make sure to check return policies.
CraigslistA bit sketch, but the advantage here is that it's local so you can go try on the dresses in person. Bring cash and be ready to negotiate if you like it (or run if it gets weird)

4. If The Dress Fits...

An excellent tailor is key for altering a used or sample dress. A tip on sizing from Mara Urshel, owner and president of bridal store Kleinfeld in New York City: When buying a used gown, choose according to your largest measurement (bust, waist, hip). For example, if your hip measurement is size 8 but your bust is size 6, order the size 8. It's always easier to take in.

5. Questions To Ask About Used Or Sample Dresses.

  • Can you Skype? We’ve seen sellers who will Skype with long-distance buyers to show them the dress.
  • What are the measurements? Nearly every wedding dress is altered, and a previously-altered dress won’t match the size label. If it's a sample size, they tend to run smaller than street sizes.
  • Was the dress cleaned after use? How? Did the original wearer get anything on it?
  • It's a bit impolite to ask if it's a "divorce" dress. If you're going down the path of used gowns, you should just accept that your chances are 50/50.

6. Other Ways To Save And Do Good.

Check out local sample sales and trunk shows at your bridal salons and department stores. Levine also suggests the charity angle--Brides Against Breast Cancer hosts trunk shows across the country featuring donated new and used gowns, and proceeds fulfill wishes for terminal breast cancer patients. Encorebridal.com, which has a mix of both new and used dresses, donates to cervical cancer for each gown sold.

The Bottom Line.

Most people don't keep up with wedding gown fashion, so no one will ever recognize your dress or where you got it from--all the more incentive to go for the deal. Everyone that day will just be focused on how amazing you look. And you can use the extra money saved for those vintage earrings, renting the cotton candy machine, or your honeymoon--by then, your dress will just be a little heap that's yesterday's news.

  • Melissa

    As a bridal retailer, I would never suggest for a bride to purchase a gown online, regardless of what a great deal it is. I see so many brides that purchase their “dream gown” for just a couple hundred dollars, but when the dress comes in it does not live up to their expectations. The fabric may be a cheap alternative, bringing down the cost. The worst case scenario is that the online gown will not be able to be altered to fit, and you will have to select a new dress. Now that cheap internet gown was $300 down the drain and you’re back at square one. You can always find a gown in your budget, without resorting to buying online.

    • Polly

      I used to work as a bridal gown retailer too. Buying a discount dress online is a huge risk… I can’t tell you how many brides came to see us after their discount dress they had bought online arrived to buy a second dress. We even bought one bride’s discount dress from her so that we could show other brides the actual designer gown, and the one this bride received that was made of cotton, not taffeta, beads were glued on instead of sewn, and it was so short her ankles were showing. There was no way to alter it longer, just like you said, Melissa. And buying used online is better, but also trickier – dresses get altered, and you don’t want it to arrive and find out that the size 10 you ordered had been altered by the original wearer, and now fits like an 8. Don’t risk it. To get a deal, shop consignment stores and sample sales – that way you see what you’re getting BEFORE you hand over the movey.

      • blindcavefish

        I bought my dress online, from http://www.dollycouture.com/. I was nervous about it, but I read a TON of reviews, and tried on similar styles in stores. When it came, it surpassed my expectations, which were already really high. I think buying online is a viable option if you do your homework.

  • HilaryHRC

    Don’t forget to check out sites like ideeli, RueLaLa, Gilt Groupe, etc. They don’t have wedding sales often, but when they do the discounts are amazing. Just as I was going to purchase a simple but chic wedding dress, I found my first choice dress that I loved but couldn’t afford (originally $2600) on sale for $600. And it was brand new, all I had to do was pay for alterations and $10 for shipping. I highly recommend you try dresses on in stores first though, because what looks good on the model doesn’t always look good on you.

  • http://twitter.com/crazyingeorgia Becky McDaniel

    If you’re open to something less traditional, considering dresses in colors other than white and with shorter hemlines can really help cut costs. If you’re at a bridal store, check out bridesmaids’ dresses; if you’re at more of a mass-market retailer, just don’t limit yourself to looking at the traditionally styled gowns. I wore a tea-length lavender dress when I got married last fall. It was under $200 and I loved it – wouldn’t change a thing.

  • guest

    As a recent bride I can strongly suggest that independent-minded brides look at formal wear designers for their dress as well. (This works especially well if you don’t envison yourself as a breathing replica of a cartoon.) I was able to purchase a Faviana dress (with alterations) for less than $450 and used the money I saved on a honeymoon and investments. The other plus? None of the other brides I ran into on my wedding day had the same dress!nnOne of my friends (who got married 3 mo before me) ordered her dress online ($200 designer knock-off on EBay) and it turned out fantastic, so its not all negative. She used the money she saved towards their house buying fund and has no regrets. I think it boils down to what your priorities are and how much your’e willing to spend of a piece of clohing you’ll wear once for a couple of hours.

  • Carmelstowers

    Oh my, you forgot one of the best, ETSY.com

  • corynne

    I bought my wedding dress on J.Crew online. It was originally $600 but I got it for $150 because the color (ivory) was on sale and I got an additional 50% off! It is very simple but I love it — and am proud of how little I spent on it! Going to splurge with some nice jewelry.

  • OCLawyer

    I got married this past September and had the luxury of buying a new designer gown. After the wedding, my gorgeous dress was not something I wanted to keep so I sold it on Oncewed.come for a fraction of the price. It was a win-win. The buyer got a $4000 dress for $1200 and I got a little cash for our next mortgage payment plus the good feeling of knowing that someone else was going to enjoy the dress as much as I did. We also happened to work in the same industry, so we have since become email pen pals!

  • preppybride

    I bought mine in NYC from a store called the Bridal Garden. People and Designers donate overstock or pre-owned designer dresses and the dresses are 50-80% off of retail and all the proceeds go to fund schooling for underprivileged children to go to a private school in Brooklyn

  • marriedtodani

    I bought mine from http://www.weddingdressanew.com. Its a great site to buy or sell pre-owned, new or sample wedding dresses. I love their site structure because it is easy to use and sellers are very responsive.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article. You should keep in mind this site I found that sells REAL designer wedding dresses (and yes they are brand new, never been worn or anything like that) and the gowns are marked DOWN about 80-90% off the original price. I bought a stunning Monique Lhuillier Gown for only $1,500!!! Here’s the site if you wanna see for yourself : http://www.yourdreamdress.com

  • BeataB74

    Business idea: RentTheRunway type of website but just for wedding dresses. Someone — MAKE IT HAPPEN.

  • kcschick812

    I found the dress I loved at David’s Bridal ($2000), wrote down the designer and style, and started looking online. I found the exact dress on eBay for $300 but it was two sizes too big. I bought it anyway, had it altered for $200 and ended up with my dream dress for only $500!

  • tf

    I made my own & know many brides who did the same. Why is this not an option?

    • Guest

      Admittedly, I think it’s likely because the number of brides who are capable of making their own dresses are in a minority. I mean, personally, I can’t imagine why one would even consider buying a dress if the possibility of making one oneself was an option!

  • Sdbarasch

    I have been divorced twice but I was very lucky at finding inexpensive wedding dresses that loked great. My first time (1985) I bought a brand new 1920′s style drop waist Ivory dress (just below the knees) at a department store for $48.00. I bought a wonderful hat that I found for $50.00 and spent the savings on stockings, gloves and shoes.I did my own flowers and had a reception at my parents’ house. nnNumber 2 – found a Jessica McClintock floor length gown or $112.00 (as it was a sample). I bought it in a size 16 and it altered down to fit me for $100.00.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • MelanieJohnson

    Keeping in mind, although the day is totally special and probably the biggest party you’ll ever have, it’s still just 1 day. Thinking that thought helps keep in perspective what you spend on the dress. Or the cake. Or the favors. Etc. We found a lot of good tips, as well as wedding related Freebies on http://bit.ly/WeddingSaver They even have free bridal magazines to pick up more good frugal ideas from.

  • Kaitlin

    Bravobride.com is another great website to find used wedding gowns. Many have never even been worn. Plus, they have a huge selection of other used wedding items to keep you within your budget.

  • Noni

    Hiya,
    I’v been using http://www.bridetude.com/, what I live about this site is that you can COMPARE WEDDING DRESSES! Pretty neat.
    noni

    • Noni

      *like
      Ooops sorry ;) )))

  • Belle Thomson

    Fantastic article. And for those who have gone a step further you can buy pre owned engagement rings online using http://haveyouseenthering.com

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