It's that day that you've dreamed of since you were a little girl: the day you try on wedding dresses for your "I Do's"! With your Pinboard full of wedding dresses and your dress shopping team at your side, you're ready to conquer the wedding boutique and find that one dress. THE dress.
There's just one problem (as always)... your budget. First of all, let me say that if you're a bride who's lucky enough to have someone foot the bill for your wedding dress, that is awesome. However, if you're paying for a good portion of your wedding yourself, or if you've got a squeezed budget that is putting pressure on your wedding dress dreams, dress shopping can be a little bit anxiety-inducing. I know when I was dress shopping I was SO excited, but always had a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I was only going to wear the dress for a day, so it better not blow my budget!
Not to fear though -- you can (and will!) find the dress of your dreams. It's out there somewhere, and yes -- it's going to work with your budget. You just have to do your homework and think outside the box for ways to save money on your wedding dress. I've rounded up 13 different ways that any bride can use to find a gorgeous dress while still saying cost-conscious AND having an awesome time buying her wedding dress.
1. Research a wedding dress boutique before visiting!
The first thing that you'll learn about planning your wedding is that you have a LOT of research to do. Finding your wedding dress is no different -- you need to look for a style (or styles) you love, boutiques in your area, figure out what to bring to your fitting... the list goes on. Before you set foot in a bridal boutique, do your research. Make sure it has wedding dresses in the style AND price point that you have in mind. If you're not sure what their price ranges are, call ahead first and ask. It would be a sad day for you to be excited for your very first appointment, only to find they have two dresses in your target budget!
2. DON'T try on dresses over your budget. Just don't.
I know, it's tempting. You see a lovely wedding dress on display that has just the right amount of tulle and just the perfect lace detailing you were looking for...but it's about $500 out of your price range. And with all the other expenses you have, what's another $500, right? WRONG. This is the easiest (and most painful) way to blow your wedding dress budget.
Do NOT (I repeat) do NOT try on a wedding dress outside of your budget, no matter how tempting it is. If you end up hating the dress then it's fine...but if you love it (and chances are that you are trying it on because you love it), there are only two outcomes: you go over meticulously crafted budget, or you break your own heart by passing up THE gown for a more affordable option. Neither is the best case scenario, so why even open that door? Trust me. Just don't do it.
3. Order AT the bridal boutique (really!)
As a BHLDN bride myself, I found that it was actually more affordable to order my dress from the boutique than to order online, as the store took care of the shipping and other extra expenses. If you're in a situation where you could order your dress from a boutique or online, it's best to call a boutique first and see what their shipping policies are; there's a chance they might cover it for you and save you a few bucks along the way!
If the idea of being a bridal boutique gives you an instant panic attack, then there's nothing wrong with ordering online -- just make sure you are doing your homework! (Read our article on how to buy your wedding dress online before clicking the purchase button.)
4. Look in less-traditional places for your wedding dress
There's no reason to limit yourself to traditional bridal boutiques to look for your wedding dress, especially if you don't see yourself walking down the aisle in a typical gown. Especially during the summer, many retailers have gorgeous, long white dresses that could be perfect for a beachy or offbeat bride. And because these dresses are not traditional wedding dresses, you can probably score them for well less than $1000.
If you're a thrifting junkie, vintage shops and thrift stores are also wonderful places to find a one-of-a-kind, offbeat wedding dress. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a gorgeous wedding dress on a bride in a blog post, only to find out she got it at a vintage store.
5. Look for simpler styles
As a general rule of thumb, the more intricate the dress, the more it will cost. That beaded lace dress with the fit and flare silhoutte will cost a LOT more than a simple shift style. This is great to keep in mind as you are looking for wedding dresses; if you find yourself attracted to really detailed dresses with lots of complex workmanship, then know that your target budget might have to be a bit higher than the bride who is looking for a simpler style.
6. Scour daily deal or flash sale sites
Finding a Monique Lhullier wedding dress for 50% less than it's selling price might be a pipe dream... but it doesn't have to be! Every once in a while, flash sale sites like Gilt or Rue La La will feature designer dresses at a price that normal people can actually afford. Even Groupon or Living Social will have wedding dresses on their daily deals from time to time! If you've got champagne wedding dress tastes but a beer budget, signing up for these sites and keeping an eye on their sales might be the way to score big.
7. Go to a boutique's sample sale or trunk show
You've seen Say Yes to the Dress, right? Then you know that a sample sale is not for the weak of heart, but it's a great place to score deals on gorgeous gowns! For brides who don't know, a sample sale is a yearly event where a bridal boutique will get rid of their inventory and showroom dresses by selling them for a discounted price. There are drawbacks: you have to buy as-is, everything is final sale, and you might have to battle it out with a bridezilla or two; but if you find the right dress then you're getting a screaming deal!
On a less crazy level, you can also do your homework on bridal boutiques in your area, and when they're having trunk shows. Unlike a sample sale, a trunk show isn't a free for all -- instead, it's a time when a boutique has more dresses by a particular designer for brides to try on. Oftentimes, the dresses by the featured designer will be slightly discounted by 10 or 15%. A trunk show is a great option if you're in love with one particular designer's wedding dresses, and know that one of their pretty frocks is your perfect dress.
8. Shop at the right time (summer and winter sales)
The wedding world isn't immune to the changing of the seasons, which means that at least once or twice a year, things are going to go on sale! Mid-summer and winter (right after Thanksgiving) are great times to keep your eyes open for big sales among bigger retailers like J.Crew or BHLDN, who have lovely wedding dresses that might sell for an equally lovely sale price!
9. Keep tailoring to a minimum
It's not over after you buy the dress... now you have to make it fit! When trying on and evaluating your potential wedding dresses, ask the bridal expert running the fitting about how the dress needs to be tailored. Different styles and different details on dresses can make tailoring either very easy, or very difficult. Knowing this before bringing your dress to the tailor will eliminate any unwanted surprises when you get your final invoice! This is also good to keep in mind if you are thinking of taking a dress and making a LOT of changes -- even if your dress is fairly affordable, alterations are NOT cheap and they add up quickly!
10. Wear your mother's (or another wedding relative's) wedding dress
You know that one female relative that has timeless style, and whose wedding dress you were totally envious of? It's possible that their dress could be the answer to your wedding dress search! Provided your relative is okay with the idea, wearing their wedding dress and making a few alterations totally cuts the cost of a new wedding dress out of the budget equation -- which is a great solution if you love their dress!
Again, alterations can add up (see above), so make sure you are just tweaking a few things to make it more "you" -- not changing the entire thing or trying to make a new dress.
11. Have a gown custom made for you
I didn't consider this an option for myself, but I've heard of an increasing number of brides who are opting to work with a tailor to have their wedding dress custom designed and made for them! In order for this to save you money though, you really do need to do your homework and make sure that you are not only finding a great tailor, but one who will make your gown at a more reasonable price than it will take to buy from a store. One huge benefit of going this route is that you get a part in helping to decide exactly how your dress will look like: everything from the lace that is used to the buttons will be chosen by you!
This type of project is where referrals come in -- use your network of friends, family, and even wedding vendors, and you could find someone great!
12. Rent your wedding dress
Let's face it, you're only going to wear your wedding dress once, and then it's going to be hanging in your closet for the rest of your life (unless you're a style dynamo like Keira Knightley and you can figure out a way to wear your wedding dress 10 different times). If your biggest goal is to look great and then never worry about your wedding dress (or it's cost!) again, then renting your dress might be the right option. Local bridal boutiques often do have dresses they rent out to brides, or you could find a pretty gown from an awesome rental style site like Rent the Runway.
13. Buy pre-owned.
If you're in love with a particular dress but don't love how much it costs, you could always see if another bride is selling that same dress! Oftentimes brides looking to recoup the cost of their wedding day will sell their dress on a site like Once Wed or Nearly Newlywed. Another common situation on preowned wedding dress sites is that a bride receives her dress, then decides to wear a different dress on the big day; this means you could potentially find a gown you love has never been worn and with a bit of a discount.
Again, when buying online be careful and do your homework on the website and the person selling the dress. If you haven't already, read our tips for buying your dress online.
No matter how you end up saving money on your wedding dress, it's an awesome feeling to know that you found the dress of your dreams while also keeping your wedding budget intact! I know when I found my own dress, I was equal parts excited and relieved. Not only did I find a dress I loved, I'm still able to afford things that I really, really wanted for the big day, like getting my hair and makeup done!
How are you planning to save money on your wedding dress? Let us know in the comments!