I have to be honest- I am almost disappointed with myself how important the dress is to me. I’m a girl who lives in workout clothes and pajamas. I only wear make up maybe two days a week. When it comes to getting dressed up I honestly feel kind of lost (although part of that comes from unruly curly hair). My clothes don’t always fit my odd shaped body well and I prefer them kind of baggy for comfort anyway.
While I haven’t been one of those girls who fantasized about my wedding too much there are two things I have known all along that I wanted right. One was the guy who was perfect for me- that took what feels like forever to find. And the second was I wanted to feel pretty. A day when I can pay people who do hair and make up to do their thing. I can wear clothing tailored to my body and feel confident I look good. So the dress being well made, having structure and being flattering is really important to me.
From a general google search online the typical wedding dress cost seems to be about $1800. But anyone who has spent any time watching those shows where women come in and buy dresses you can see the prices vary wildly. When I set my budget for the dress it seemed like a ridiculous amount of money. When I started looking around online at dresses it seemed like almost no money at all. I needed a deal. These are the avenues I pursued and what I finally chose!
How To Stay Below Typical Wedding Dress Cost
Renting The Dress: The first option I considered was renting a dress. I mean this seemed ideal. You only wear the dress for a few hours and then you struggle for years with what to do with it. So maybe grab it from somewhere and then send it back. We didn’t have any local boutiques that do rentals (check your area if you are considering) which meant I would have to do it online. This was quickly eliminated in my case because most places won’t let you do anything except minor alterations. Depending on your body type this may work but it’s not going to for me! If we had a boutique that had easily offered it this is likely the road I would have gone down depending on inventory.
Buy Used: This was my plan before I discovered the shop where I bought my dress (story below). We have several shops in the area that consign dresses and I was just going to become their most loyal window shopper. There are many reputable websites that sell used dresses online. I will say from when I was looking these tended to be dresses out of my price range. So while they won’t help you stay below the typical wedding dress cost in my experience they can get you a great deal on a designer dress. They do have limits in sizes so you have to be flexible!
Buy From a Reputable Store With No Shop (To Keep Overhead Down): During the pandemic people were still planning weddings but no bridal shops were open. A few enterprising companies quickly pivoted to an online format. The one that I looked at in depth has a large selection of “try at home wedding dresses.” To be honest this seemed really appealing to me. I was pretty sure nothing in a bridal shop would fit me and if I could try things on in the privacy of my home that seemed nice. But I discovered from reading online I was likely to have the same issues through the mail service with my size. Since I am outside of typical sizing they may not have the dresses I want to try on in a size close to mine. But especially if you live very far away from an actual store or just want to try some things on alone this is a great option. I found most of these shops their dress prices tended to be on par or a little lower than everyone else.
Use a Bridesmaid or Other Formal Dress: The first thing you learn about planning a wedding is that everything becomes more expensive when you put the word “wedding” on it. When I booked my venue it was clear in their materials that if I was having a family reunion at the same property it would be cheaper. If you can find a beautiful dress you love that is just labeled as “formal” or even “bridesmaid” you can likely save a ton. If wearing white is important to you many I looked at were available in that color. With more and more brides choosing colors instead of white these dresses are also great options.
Looking to save on the ring? Check out Why I Chose A Lab Created Sapphire vs Diamond Engagement Ring!
Visit Bridal Showcases: My area has a ton of bridal showcases and most are free if you are willing to cough up your e-mail address and/or phone number. There can be some excellent opportunities to save by attending these as long as you can lure yourself away from the companies who want to add additional things to your wedding you never even considered. Many companies will give out coupons and often there is a drawing for a free wedding dress!
Shop The Sales: Most bridal boutiques follow a fairly predictable schedule with their sales. Certain times of year they mark down their leftover dresses or models that are no longer available. My sister got her dress for under $200 that way and it was beautiful. So if you have a designer you love or a boutique you want to use check out their schedule. You will again have limited sizing options so you may want to have an idea of what you wear before the actual sale.
So What Did I Do For My Wedding Dress?
I really wanted to have the small, dress boutique experience but didn’t have that kind of money in the budget for a dress. And honestly I didn’t WANT to spend that kind of money on a dress. We had budgeted $1,000 for my dress before alterations and that was even more than I wanted to spend. I went to one of the big box wedding stores. They said their dresses started at $500 and the most expensive was about $1500. I figured I could find something in between so I set up an appointment for the first Saturday everyone I wanted to be there could attend.
But as you know once you start searching for something online the social media algorithms will make sure you see every ad possible. Buried in the ads for all those big chains was the small dress shop around the corner from my house. I had driven past it a million times and wondered why in the world someone would bury a dress shop near me in the middle of the suburbs next to a pizza joint and a vet.
I checked out their social media and saw they had a sample sale coming up in a few weekends- while I was going to be out of town, of course. I figured it wasn’t meant to be but followed them on social media. I googled and couldn’t find a price range for dresses in the shop. The designers looked expensive but prices can vary by where you are in the country. I figured my appointment at the big box store would be fine.
Then my trip got cancelled. The boutique’s social media kept reminding me of the sale. I wasn’t sure even with that they would have dresses my size or in my budget and I had my other appointment set up. A few days later I had to run an errand to the store next door so I looked in the window at the dresses. There was a big sign on the door that everything was by appointment only but I was RIGHT there. So I got in my car and called.
The owner/operator ended up being a delight and had strategic reasons for the location I had never considered (I love a female small business owner). I told her how overwhelming the big box store had been. I asked about sizes and pricing and while their normal prices were out of my price range the sample sale would fit. Then she asked if I wanted to find a time to come up to the store and check out the sale stuff BEFORE the sample sale. Music to my ears.
I told her I was in my car in her parking lot (not creepy at all) so she opened the door. I looked at everything in the sample sale that would be close to my size and tried on a few. This was ideal for me because with too many options I get easily overwhelmed. There were about 7 dresses I could pick from. Perfect.
That Friday, the day before the sale was supposed to start, a few close friends and family met me at the store and we had a full “Say Yes To The Dress” moment at 50% off the regular price of the dress. It’s going to need some alterations since it’s the “floor model” but even then we will come in well under the asking price.
And I got the beautiful dress I wanted.
Laura Oliver is the author and owner of AFrugalChick.com. In 2023 at the age of 44 she is getting married for the first time and as a naturally frugal person the cost of the wedding is more than she could have imagined! She hopes these tips can help people have a great engagement and wedding without breaking the bank!