Finding a Wedding Dress to Fit Your Budget

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We are all pinching pennies these days. Maybe a wage earner has lost a job, or in the case of the younger generation, hasn’t been able to find a job yet. Increased costs for health care and gas and unexpected traumas can leave families strapped for cash, or worse.

What do you do when you find your soul mate and want to get married? If you wait until the economy gets better, you may be applying for Social Security and getting a marriage certificate at the same time.

One of the most costly parts of a wedding is the gown. Or is it? Having worked with hundreds of brides over the last 30 years, I have heard many stories about “the dress” ~ how it was found, how much it cost, and how much it means to the bride, her mother and her grandmother.

I’d like to share some of these experiences to help young brides consider some alternatives in order to save money.

Maybe you watch wedding shows on TV, where the brides have a budget of two or three THOUSAND dollars for their dress. Well, these “reality” shows aren‘t dealing with reality. The average cost of a wedding gown is closer to eight HUNDRED dollars, and in parts of the United States, the average is even lower. David’s Bridal, which is probably the largest bridal retailer in the country, carries lots of choices for hundreds and not thousands of dollars.

Almost every bridal shop carries stock that is marked down, even if their normal price points are usually more expensive. Check the clearance racks and the samples on display. Stores will sell last year’s samples at a reduced rate so they can buy new samples. Be wary, though, because a lot of these dresses are tried many times and can show signs of wear and tear. Go through the dress with a salesperson to make sure the dress can be repaired and/or cleaned. Some shops will have the dress cleaned and even have the repairs done, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Many brides have come to me over the years with a dress that is the wrong size, but they bought it because it was “such a good deal”. The alterations cost to re-size a dress can outweigh the markdown. There are two ways of looking at this. Some clients say “I only paid $X for the dress, so even with the alterations, I’m saving money” and some think alterations costs should not exceed the cost of the dress. This depends on whether you are a glass half-empty or a glass half-full kind of gal!

Another good source of dresses is relatives. I have known families who have invested in a dress and passed it along with pride to all the female relatives: mother to daughter to granddaughter, or even siblings and cousins sharing the same dress. The only cost would be alterations and cleaning while carrying on a wonderful tradition.

For ideas on what is possible, I have samples of dresses on my website and on Facebook that have been remade from the mother’s or grandmother’s dresses. If you are not sure what is possible, please make an appointment with your local dressmaker to discuss options.

Another very popular place to get dresses is thrift stores, especially if you are looking for a vintage dress. Again, keep in mind the cost of repairs and alterations. And if the dress is too small, make sure there is enough seam allowance to let it out. Most wedding gowns — but not all! — have generous seam allowances, and make sure the dress hasn’t already been let out. Turn the dress inside out and look at the side seams to see how much seam allowance is left. Most thrift shops will not allow returns, so make sure the dress is in decent condition before you buy it.

There are online sites where you can pick up good deals on dresses. Craigslist is one of them. Some of the dresses still have tags on them, and because Craigslist has local listings, you can actually go and try on the dress before you purchase it. There are other sites, such as and but they include dresses from all over the world. Not only would you not be able to check out the dress first-hand, but the shipping costs might be prohibitive.

As I have stated in previous columns, avoid “custom made” dresses from the internet, where you send them your measurements and they allegedly custom make a dress for you. First of all, there is no such thing as a custom made ANYTHING over the internet. Custom means it’s made to fit your body to your specifications and the only way to do that is in person. I have seen too many brides taken advantage of from these sites, either with fit or design issues. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

You might consider renting a gown to save money. Check out, for instance. They have about a dozen dresses to choose from in all sizes, along with bridesmaid dresses. Also, check local bridal shops to see if any of them rent.

Another good way to save money on the dress is to NOT get a wedding gown. Stay with me! I’m not saying show up in jeans, but there is no rule that says you have to have a full-on wedding gown. If you watch old movies like I do, there are numerous examples of women getting married at City Hall or in their parents’ living rooms with just a nice dress or suit. It doesn’t even have to be white. Just invest in a beautiful dress that you love and maybe it can be used again for a special occasion.

Last but not least, remember the bridesmaid dress that Pippa Middleton wore for her sister’s wedding to Prince William? How many women wanted that outfit for their wedding dress after seeing it on television? So look at bridesmaid dresses in white or ivory. The cost will be a lot less and you can still have a gorgeous gown.

Be creative, think outside the box, and you can still have a great dress for less than you might think.

Barbara Stone
Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or
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