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.
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.
Here's a handy chart:
Wedding Lines At Retail Stores
|BCBG||A small but special selection (we love the Marley, pictured above), all under $1000.|
|The Limited||Basic 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. Crew||Classic 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 Taylor||Simple and flowy, almost all under $500.|
|Sample Sale Dresses|
|TheAisleNewYork.com||The 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.com||Sample and consignment dresses at deep discounts, from Monique Lhuillier to Pronovias.|
|PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com||One of the original sites to connect buyers and sellers of used dresses, with a broad selection.|
|OnceWed.com||A tasteful site and blog with a lovely selection of used designer gowns.|
|RecycledBride.com||Our pick for used bridesmaid dresses.|
|WoreItOnce.com||This website has a clunkier interface, but if you're looking at everything, has gowns worth checking out.|
|eBay||Great selection of wedding gowns on eBay. Just don't get caught up in the bidding, and make sure to check return policies.|
|Craigslist||A 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.