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How to Save on Wedding Dresses

Being a beautiful bride can be expensive, with the bulk of the cost related to the wedding dress itself. The purchase price is only the start. You might also end up paying sales tax, shipping, cleaning and preservation. And of course, most dresses need alterations, which can add hundreds of dollars to the bride’s bill. There are many ways to pay less for the dress, although each one will demand some extra effort or willingness to compromise on your part. Consider your options below.

Buying a Used Wedding Dress

We share our cars through Zipcar and our homes through Airbnb, why not share a bridal gown with one or more other brides? By doing so, you might be able to get the dress of your dreams for not much more than the cost of the alterations.  

The table below shows how much you’re likely to pay, on average, for a preowned dress by a particular designer. You can see how much you would save over buying it new.

DesignerAverage Resale PriceAverage Original PriceYour Savings
David's Bridal $251 $624 60%
J. Crew $334 $736 55%
Demetrios $462 $1,608 71%
Oleg Cassini $472 $1,048 55%
Alfred Angelo $473 $1,062 55%
Mori Lee $508 $1,012 50%
Casablanca Bridal $511 $1,340 62%
Priscilla of Boston $574 $3,039 81%
BHLDN $576 $1,161 50%
Melissa Sweet $586 $1,509 61%
Pronovias $635 $2,134 70%
Watters $646 $1,616 60%
Nicole Miller $659 $1,331 51%
Maggie Sottero $726 $1,486 51%
Allure Bridals $732 $1,534 52%
Vera Wang $1,052 $2,296 54%
Reem Acra $1,545 $5,694 73%

The resale amount in the table above is also what you’re likely to be able to sell the dress for, once you’re done with it. After all, just like with cars, the biggest price drop for a bridal gown happens when it goes from being new to used. Once it’s been worn, it shouldn’t matter if one or six brides have walked down the aisle in it. (Of course, dirt and damage will lower the resale value, so be good to your gown).

By employing this strategy—buying a used dress, and reselling it after your wedding, you might end up paying very little for your gown. You could even end up earning money on it, depending on the state of the resale market when you buy and sell. 

You’ll probably still have to pay for alterations so the dress fits perfectly. And also for a cleaning, possibly before and after you wear it. So expect to shell out at least a few hundred dollars for your attire, but that is still likely to be far, far less than if you bought an expensive dress new and owned it for the rest of your life. 

An even cheaper approach to sharing, albeit with far more limited options, are websites that rent wedding dresses. There’s Rent the Runway, where you can borrow bridal gowns for as little as $75 for a 4-day rental; or $120 for 8 days. Rent the Runway gowns come in limited sizes and styles, and you can’t alter them, but they could work for some brides in a pinch, and save them a huge sum of money. For more choices, and a bit more flexibility in terms of timing and alterations, you can look at a site like Borrowing Magnolia, which maintains an array of designer bridal dresses in different sizes. For a small fee of about $35 each, you can try dresses on at home. If you like one, you can wear it on your big day (and even make simple, reversible alterations.) However, you’ll pay for this convenience—about 20% of what you would have spent if you bought the used dress outright.

Shop Where Prices Are Low

While the average cost of a wedding dress is $1,357, you can get one for between about $30 and $30,000 or more. If you want to try to spend no more than a certain dollar amount, it would make sense to limit your shopping to places that sell gowns within your budget. 

The table below gives you an idea how much you’ll spend at different types of retailers.

Seller TypeExampleLow PriceHigh Price
Online sellers lightinthebox.com $40 $1,300
Mass Retail Ann Taylor $155 $350
National Bridal Chain David's Bridal $60 $1,998
Department Store Macy's $72 $279
Independent Bridal Salon Kleinfeld $750 $32,000
Designer Salon Reem Acra $1,199 $11,250

If you want the experience of trying on dresses at a no-holds-barred salon, make an appointment and go, as long as you have the willpower to walk away. You don’t want to end up falling in love with a $10,000 dress that would eat up a full third of the average budget for an entire wedding. Buying it would have a harmful impact on every other budget line item.

Don’t Be a Label Snob

Sure, you’ll get lifelong bragging rights if you’re wed in Vera Wang; but is that really worth $8,000 to you? It might be wiser in the long run to use that money for a house down payment or your future child’s first semester of college. 

Even if you believe that Maggie Sottero, or Mori Lee, or Priscilla of Boston, is the designer for you, allow yourself to consider—and try on—options from other, potentially less expensive, dressmakers. Many under-the-radar designers would love to win your business. Who knows, you might one day be able to tell your grandchildren that you were among the first to wear a gown designed by the next generation’s Reem Acra.

You may ultimately end up with a name-brand gown—there are good reasons they’re so popular after all. They’re usually beautiful and well-made. These companies know what brides want and what looks good. We’re just saying: consider all your options. 

What ultimately matters is that you are smitten with your dress, and it looks amazing on you. No one but you and your alterations provider will ever see the name on the label. 

Comparison Shop

Say you do find the dress of your dreams on a bridal salon outing. Chances are, it’s being sold at many other places, at different price points. And no seller really wants you to comparison shop. That’s why so many stores don’t allow brides to take photos of the gowns. They know you could show that photo around town and compare it to images online and possibly find a lower price for the exact same dress.

Here’s an example of how the price of one dress, Maggie Sottero’s “Emma”, might vary depending on where you buy it, according to online listings and reports from real brides. 

As you can see, depending on the deal you get, you could pay $1,130 for this dress, or 50% more at $1,700.

To get the best deal on your dress, don’t order it immediately once you’ve tried it on and decided it’s the one for you. Instead, write down as much information as you can about it (so as not to upset salon staff, it’s probably best to do this in the privacy of the dressing room, just don’t get ink on the gown! You could also just type the details into your phone.) Alternatively, ask one of your entourage to surreptitiously collect the information from the tag. Information to help you comparison shop: designer, style name or number, color, any other unique identifying details (Like the material it’s made of, the number of buttons down the back, the neckline, or the length of the train.) You’ll also need to know what size to order—it’s almost always a number that’s higher than your usual size (sometimes called your street size.)

Next, call around to other stores and search online to find out what they would charge for the same dress. Two websites that include a lot of options and have competitive prices are bestbridalprices.com and weddingshoppeinc.com. Once you’ve found the best possible deal for your dress, you can decide where you want to buy it. You don’t have to purchase from the place that has the lowest price. You can often take that information to a store you’d like to buy from—perhaps where you first tried it on and fell in love with it—and see if they’ll match it. You might be able to get the best possible price for the dress, and still avail yourself of their services, such as local pick-up and alterations. 

If the price you find is still too high, ask a bridal salon if you can buy their sample—that’s the dress that you and every other bride has tried on. They might be willing to part with it, as is, for about 50% of the new price. 

Once you’ve purchased your dress, and are ready to get it fitted, make sure you also comparison shop for the person who will do the alterations for you. While your bridal store or salon might suggest someone (they may have a staffer who can do the fittings),  you can also ask around locally. Independent seamstresses are likely to offer the best deal.

If you buy a dress new, and don’t want to keep it after the wedding, you can sell it on a site like preownedweddingdresses.com, oncewed.com, tradesy.com, Craigslist or eBay. Depending on a number of factors, you should be able to recoup some of the money you spent on it, on average 40%.

As you can see on the table below, dress values actually hold up better for gowns that were priced lower from the start.

Original PriceAmount Recouped
Under $500 50%
$500 to $1000 46%
$1000 to $3000 45%
Above $3000 32%

As with most major purchases in life, you really don’t need to pay the first price you’re offered. Think about what’s most important to you when it comes to your wedding dress, and get the best deal that meets your needs.

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