Wedding dresses may seem obscenely expensive—not just because they require custom touches, but because they have terrible ROI; they’re one of the only garments that people expect (hope) to wear only once. The cost of a dress can easily start in the thousands, before you even factor in the price of alterations and accessories. But savvy wedding dress shoppers can save money by adhering to these buying tips. (The rest of this article is really for your fiancé, so share it with her before she gets too deep in the wedding dress odyssey.)
Don’t Buy a Wedding Dress Per Se
You can wear any special dress at your wedding. It can even be white. But it doesn’t have to be a “wedding dress.” Cocktail dresses, evening gowns, bridesmaids dresses, jumpsuits, skirt suits, formal separates—all have the potential to be showstoppers, and can cost significantly less than a bridal gown. “A lot of traditions have changed where you don’t have to wear a ball gown for your wedding,” says Tashina Hunter, owner of Miss Tashina, a custom bridal atelier in Los Angeles. “Some girls want to get married in a tulle ballgown with a leather biker jacket and boots.”
Visit Wedding Dress Sample Sales
Find your favorite designer of wedding dresses (or regular dresses, see above), and find out if and when they’re having sample sales. Since prices are dramatically slashed at sample sales and sizing is limited, finding a gem can be a contact sport. But it’s worth the spoils if you succeed. Caveat emptor: This isn’t for the commitment averse. “Sample sales are a great opportunity to get a gown for less, but generally require an immediate decision,” says Shareen Mitchell, owner of Shareen Bridal in New York City and Los Angeles. “You might want to have a friend with you and be ready to buy.” This is one dress you won’t be able to return.
Rethink the Wedding Dress Accessories
Do you really need a veil? Nixing one can shave hundreds off of your bridal budget. Or, plan ahead and mail order one on the cheap. Plenty of satisfied customers have purchased veils on sites like Etsy, where handmade headpieces made from premium fabrics can cost a fraction of what they’d retail for in a bridal boutique.
Buy a Pre-owned Wedding Dress
Second-hand bridal gowns can be quite the steal. Since most people wear their wedding dresses only once (that’s the goal at least), you may be get an almost new gown for a fraction of what it originally cost. “There are a lot of resale shops right now,” says Kelima, the owner of custom bridal atelier She Will Be Loved located in Hollywood Hills and New York City. “Second-hand wedding dresses means finding what maybe was a $5,000 gown that has been vastly reduced.” A used dress will usually cost less than half of the original price. If you’re talking Vera Wang, that could mean paying $4,000 for an $8,000 dress. If you’re shopping an unknown designer, you could end up paying less than $1,000. Online retailers such as Borrowing Magnolia are worth checking out, in addition to local brick-and-mortar consignment shops.
Rent a Wedding Dress
Who says men are the only ones who can rent formalwear? If you’re not sentimental about your daughter wearing your wedding dress down the aisle one day, you can save bundles by renting your gown. Rent the Runway has designer options that run the gamut of formality, with prices that rarely exceed $200.