Photo Credit: Charisse Kenion/Unsplash
It seems there’s no end to “The One” when it comes to getting married. The one person. Ring. Venue. And then, the dress — the gorgeous gown that will transform you from a woman to a queen, a mortal to an ethereal creature. But unfortunately, that kind of magic can come with a pretty hefty sticker price.
If you’ve watched any episode of Say Yes to the Dress or have browsed any designer wedding gown website for 10 minutes, the excitement quickly subsides and becomes panic as your search becomes less about finding the perfect dress as it does paying for it. Price points start at $2,000 and can climb upward of $10,000 on that show, and the average sale is $4,500. Once more, reality TV strikes again as being unrealistic.
The better — but not good — news is that according to Brides.com, as of July 2021, the national average cost of a wedding gown is actually $1,631 with alterations. That’s significantly less than what you see on TV. However, that means even if your event is on the longer end — say, three hours getting ready, an hour for the ceremony, and six hours for the reception — you’re still spending roughly $160 per hour to wear that dress, once and that night only. Forget about the waste and cost of single-use plastics compared to yards of single-use silk and taffeta!
But now for the actual good news: There’s an eco-friendlier solution out there that’s also economically friendly. Thanks to the internet, you can shave hundreds, even thousands of dollars on your dream dress simply by buying one that’s been pre-worn. Typically professionally cleaned and archive-quality boxed, a gown for which your wedding won’t be its very first rodeo can look just as good as new, and for a fraction of the cost. You’ll have to budget for custom alterations, but that’s typically an added cost you have to shoulder no matter where you buy. And if you’re lucky, you might be able to find your dress already tailored to a woman whose proportions and body type may be similar to yours.
What all of this means is that there’s no need to give up your bridal gown hopes and dreams because you think the budget is too tight. That designer dress you thought was way out of reach might just be right within your grasp. Here are our best tips on how to save a whole lot of green on your gown.
Get Familiar With Sizing and Designers
Even if you’ve already decided to buy your wedding dress online, it doesn’t mean you have to skip the fun of a try-on. To make sure you make the right purchase, visit a local bridal shop to get familiar with different designers and their sizing conventions. Wedding gowns are typically a size up from your normal clothing, so that’s important to know as you peruse your pre-owned selections. Of course, how much they vary depends brand by brand, both with your regular clothes and these couture pieces.
Also, certain aesthetics are done exceptionally well by certain designers, and some may have signature details that you fall absolutely in love with. For example, Maggie Sottero is known for its stunning bodices; Grace Loves Lace for — you guessed it! — lots of lace in modern lines. If you find several pieces enchanting by the same designer, you can begin your search with that parameter in mind.
If you fall in love with a specific dress and experience the sticker shock you’re reading this article to avoid, don’t despair. Take note of the design’s name or number and start searching the resources we’ll get into in a minute. If the one you try on is from a previous season, you may be able to have your cake and eat it, too. by scouring the boards often. And if it’s current, don’t fret, either. Sometimes, new lines are updates of existing ones, so if you’re lucky, similar designs will show up in your search with barely noticeable differences.
Wedding Gown Marketplaces
There are a variety of websites that specialize exclusively in private resales of wedding gowns, where communication is confidential and exclusive to the company. Depending on the site, the sellers may hail from all around the world, increasing your odds of finding the right one, and can ship right to you.
The interface and selection on the biggest name, PreOwnedWeddingDresses, ranks at the top for me. I love that the designer names, label size, street size, and often the bride’s height is listed right off the bat, along with the price. Even more important are advanced filters, which lets you narrow your gown down by designer, shape, sleeves or lack thereof, neckline, back, and other features so that you can easily distill the tens of thousands of choices down into something more manageable for browsing.
Borrowing Magnolia also has a good filter system, with details like train, fabric, neckline, and silhouette to help you cull your choices. Fewer dresses display on each page and that there’s no quick page navigation bumps it down for usability, but at least you won’t lose your place as with infinite scroll pages.
Still White is another great marketplace with multiple-choice filtering, and a great rabbit hole for those with time on their hands to fall into one. Unlike another infinite scroll site, Shark Tank-featured Nearly Newlywed, this platform shakes the dress you were just looking at when you hit the back button to continue browsing, and you can view thumbnails of all submitted photos just by hovering.
Another area in which Nearly Newlywed also falls short is that you can only choose one drop-down criteria from each category, which means you can’t look at mermaid and fit-to-flare silhouettes in one search. However, a tremendous benefit to this site is that you have five calendar days from delivery to try on the dress, while independently sold gowns like on PreOwnedWeddingDresses are subject to seller preferences.
Don’t feel you’re restricted to websites that sell only wedding gowns. Sites like Queenly has a whole wedding dresses category, too, buried under Shop by Event! And high-end luxury site Tradesy, too, where only the most posh make it to the listings.
Want a bonus hack to save even more money? Shop other formalwear categories as well, inputting white, ivory, champagne, or whatever color your fantasy gown may be. Any dress you love can be your wedding one; it doesn’t need an official label to be worn as such.
Who hasn’t heard of Rent the Runway by now? It’s a favorite for wedding guests, but it can hit the top of the list for the star of the event, too. Selections are typically more limited for rental sites like Poshare, or, like Lending Luxury, feature fewer couture brands than the buying sites … but who says a label is what makes the dress The Dress?
However, if high-end and wedding-official is what you have your heart set on, don’t be shy about reaching out to nearby bridal boutiques to see if they offer rentals. For example, in my home city of Atlanta, Laine London features only upscale gowns for rent or sale, and even offers a Bridal BuyBack program. In Chicago, Janet Mandell’s boutique offers a rotating selection.
A word of caution, though: Renting a gown not only means a more limited selection, but also that it must be perfect off the rack. You can’t tailor a dress you don’t own, after all.
Get It Local
Many bridal boutiques advertise “sample sales” regularly, which means they’re swapping out the inventory of wedding gowns that folks come in to try on. These are perhaps a bit more used than if you were to buy it from a bride who is the only person to have worn it, but they’re unaltered and typically don’t have any flaws that a skilled seamstress and a good dry cleaner can’t fix. Just note that these are different from trunk sales, which is when a specific designer’s sales representative(s) come to a salon with this season’s freshest gowns and offer discounts on that days’ purchase.
For the more adventurous or those looking for something vintage or unique, thrift and consignment stores can be a treasure chest. Some major cities even have high-end consignment shops that specialize in bridal, which means rare finds and one-of-a-kind designs at steep discounts, in a setting that allows you to try before you buy.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of your local Facebook Marketplace. Just as quickly as word gets around on that social network, so do local sales and swaps. Checking it for keywords like “wedding gown,” “wedding dress,” or “bridal gown” can yield lucky results, and you can work out with the seller if they’ll allow you to try it on before committing to buying.