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How to Find a Great Deal on a Wedding Gown

Updated on September 11, 2011
Every bride hopes to find a killer deal on a Vera Wang wedding dress.
Every bride hopes to find a killer deal on a Vera Wang wedding dress.

Every Bride Wants to Find a Deal

Finding the right bridal ensemble is one of the top priorities for every bride. From the wedding gown to the bridal jewelry to the veil, it all has to be perfect. Yet all that perfection can come with a hefty price tag, which leaves some brides reeling with sticker shock. Every bride deserves to feel gorgeous on her wedding day without blowing her budget. These are the insider tips that can help find a great deal on a beautiful wedding gown.

Brides line up for hours outside the Kleinfeld Blow Out Sale.
Brides line up for hours outside the Kleinfeld Blow Out Sale.

Bridal Salon Clearance Sales: Huge Discounts on Designer Bridal Gowns

At the end of each season, bridal salons need to clear out old inventory to make room for the new arrivals. In most boutiques, this takes place bi-annually, usually in January and July. The savings can be substantial, as many bridal shops will reduce prices by 50% or more on the merchandise that they really want to move. That can result in a bride buying her wedding gown for the store's wholesale price, or sometimes even less. The type of clearance gowns available depends on the particular boutique. At bridal salons which specialize in designer gowns, many of the sale items will be floor samples. Most stores stock sizes 8 or 10, which translate roughly into sizes 6 or 8 in standard apparel. Certainly, it is often possible for a gown to be altered up or down in size; just be certain that it can be done before making a purchase, because returns or exchanges are rarely accepted on clearance wedding gowns. Shops which carry less expensive off-the-rack styles will be clearing unworn dresses from their stockroom. The advantage is that there may be more sizes available; the disadvantage is that the ready-made gowns will not be the same couture quality as the designer samples.

As with any kind of bargain hunting, there are pros and cons to shopping a clearance sale. Keep in mind that these are the dresses that customers try on before placing a special order, so they may need to be dry cleaned before they can be worn (the trains and hems of the gowns are particularly susceptible to growing dingy over time). Even with the cost of cleaning and alterations, the savings can still be significant. The number one tip for shopping a sample sale or clearance sale is to get there early. If the salon accepts appointments for their sales, try to get the first one on the first day for the best selection. Some stores, such as famed New York bridal emporium Kleinfeld which normally accept appointments, operate on a first come, first served basis for their “Blow Out Sample Sale”. If you have ever seen the television show Say Yes to the Dress, you know that brides begin camping out early to get the first spot in line. Another expert tip is to come prepared to make a snap decision; brides who walk away to think about a sale gown are likely to find that some other bride has purchased it by the time they return.

This bride was delighted with her $249 find from the Running of the Brides sale.
This bride was delighted with her $249 find from the Running of the Brides sale.

The "Running of the Brides" Is Not For the Timid!

The granddaddy of all wedding gown clearance sales is the Filene's Basement “Running of the Brides”, an annual tradition since 1947. The sale has become such a cultural institution that it is now featured on the news every time that it comes around, which is twice a year in Boston, and once a year in several other cities, including Chicago and Atlanta. Filene's never carried a bridal collection, but they were inspired to round up designer gowns to offer in a special one day sale, an idea which proved to be a huge sensation. The Filene's Basement staff handpicks the clearance wedding dresses from discontinued samples, unclaimed custom orders, and other stock from bridal manufacturers and salons. They never advertise which “famous labels” will be on hand for any particular “Running of the Brides” event, but lucky brides have found deep discounts on every designer from Vera Wang on down. On the day of the sale, brides can choose from up to 2500 wedding dresses, all marked to sell at $249, $499, or $699. Considering that the gowns on offer had original retail prices of up to $9000, these are truly serious markdowns!

Of course, the lure of a bargain-basement price on a fabulous designer gown draws a huge crowd of enthusiastic brides and their entourages. Without a doubt, the frenzy of the “Running of the Brides” events is not for everyone. Those who consider shopping to be a competitive team sport love the excitement and buzz of the Filene's Basement sale almost as much as the great deals to be found. For some brides, however, paying full retail is better than fighting to the death over a pile of tulle and taffeta. The thousands of eager brides, bridesmaids, and mothers who stake out spots on the pavement the night before the doors open to a “Running of the Brides” event prove that it can be worth enduring a bit of madness for the chance to score a dream gown at a deep discount.

Vintage bridal gowns are eco-friendly, unique, and can be less expensive than new wedding dresses.
Vintage bridal gowns are eco-friendly, unique, and can be less expensive than new wedding dresses.

Vintage Gowns Can Be Unique and Affordable

Something that bargain-hunting brides may overlook is that it can be possible to find vintage gowns for a far lower price than a new designer gown. This can be a marvelous way to save money and find a one-of-a-kind bridal gown. There are numerous sources for vintage wedding dresses, including antique stores, consignment sales, some bridal shops, and even a family attic. Finding an antique bridal gown in wearable condition is akin to a treasure hunt: not everyone will be successful, but when you are, the reward is tremendous. Of course, there can be some serious expenses incurred in making an old dress as good as new, including cleaning and restoration, re-sizing, and alterations. There are a select number of bridal shops across the country which carry a selection of vintage wedding dresses which have already been restored. It will bump up the initial purchase price, but it will also give you a more realistic picture of what the total cost will be to wear a vintage gown. In the end, the savings are likely to be quite good as compared to ordering a new designer gown, and “green brides” can take pride in wearing an eco-friendly recycled wedding dress, sentimentalists will love having a gown with history, and individualists can delight in wearing a one-of-a-kind original.

Fashion retailers like J Crew have jumped into wedding gowns.
Fashion retailers like J Crew have jumped into wedding gowns.

Wedding Gowns at J Crew, Nordstrom, and More

There has been a trend in recent years towards companies which traditionally sold daywear for women to create special occasion lines. One of the best known of these is J Crew, which now offers a complete collection of wedding gowns. Generally simpler than what one might find in a full service bridal salon, the J Crew collection starts at a mere $395, and has numerous choices for wedding dresses under $1000. Brides like the convenience of the J Crew wedding collection, as they can order styles online, and return a gown for a full refund should the style not work out. Ann Taylor is another well known fashion company which now has a special occasions collection. While not billed specifically as wedding gowns, several of their “bridesmaid dresses” are floor length white silk dresses which at under $500 could make a lovely choice for an inexpensive fashionable bridal gown. Thread is a company which got its start as a bridesmaid specialist and now creates a number of styles especially for brides. Their simple dresses can be ordered in a wide range of fabrics and styles, including a preppy full length white seersucker gown and even maternity gowns in a soft ivory. With prices starting at under $400 for many of the dresses, Thread is a popular option for a bride seeking a pretty wedding dress at an affordable price. Unlike companies like J Crew and Ann Taylor, however, Thread does not accept returns or exchanges. The cons of purchasing a gown through a fashion retailer versus a traditional bridal salon is the lack of service and alterations, as well as more limited options for style.

Nordstrom is another fine retailer which now has a dedicated online wedding shop. Their offerings tend to be a bit more detailed, with some of the wedding gowns featuring embellishments like beading, embroidery, or ruffles. As with the other online wedding collections, the silhouettes are less full than traditional bridal gowns, and the prices are very reasonable. One thing that brides particularly like about the Nordstom wedding service besides price is that they do offer alterations, pressing, menswear, and beauty treatments. In general, returns are easy at Nordstrom, and some of the gowns are available in their department stores as well as online. They also offer petite and plus sizing on some of the wedding dresses, which can be a great way to trim the alterations bill. These gowns can be a very good option for a bride who does not want the traditional ballgown for her wedding and who desires style without a high pricetag. Of course, a bride should always verify any company's current return policy before placing an order, just to be safe.

Secondhand Gowns Can Be a Great Deal

Brides who are open to wearing a previously owned wedding gown have the opportunity to find a hidden gem at a superb price by shopping with a reseller. There are numerous avenues to pursue when seeking a discount second hand bridal gown, and as with anything, each has its own unique sets of advantages and disadvantages. Consignment shops and resale shops can be a potential source of previously owned bridal gowns at prices far below retail. In many cases the gowns will be gently used, although in rare cases, a lucky bride might find one which is new with the tags still attached. The best part about shopping for a second hand wedding dress in a resale store is that you will have the opportunity to try on and thoroughly inspect all potential gowns before buying. The drawback is that your search may well be like the proverbial needle in a haystack; resale shops carry all sorts of merchandise, and there is no guarantee that they will have any wedding gowns at all, let alone one in the style which you prefer. If going this route interests you, your best bet is to start looking many, many months before your wedding date. It also helps to befriend the staff so they can alert you the moment something comes into the store that might work for you. A word of caution: remember that it is much easier to have a wedding gown taken in than let out. Many second hand shops do not accept returns, and nor do they have seamstresses on hand to assess the feasibility of altering a gown to fit before you have made a non-refundable deposit.

Private sales are another option for brides hoping to save money by purchasing a second hand gown. Individual ads in the newspaper and on websites like Craig's List offer a way for brides to connect with sellers. Occasionally, there will even be never-worn gowns for sale by the original owner, usually in the case of a canceled wedding or when the bride purchased a second gown. Approach these types of situations with a healthy skepticism, and never meet a seller alone. Since there will be no chance of making a return, it is important to be 100% certain of your decision before handing over the cash. A bride should also make sure that she is comfortable with the history of a second hand gown; not all brides like the idea of getting a deal because another woman suffered a broken engagement or a divorce. The story behind a bargain may matter not at all to some brides, but for others, the chance of bad karma being attached to a wedding gown is not worth saving a few dollars.

Saving money feels good when your purchase raises money for charity.
Saving money feels good when your purchase raises money for charity.

Save Money and Do Good With a Charitable Gown Sale

There is one very, very special type of wedding gown reseller, and that is the charitable foundation. Non-profit organizations such as Making Memories accept donations of new and used bridal gowns from previous brides, manufacturers, and retailers which they then resell at their Brides Against Breast Cancer events. Some of the wedding gowns may be gently used and some have never been worn; all will be current styles from recent years. The organization hosts traveling bridal gown sales with the donated dresses to raise money for the charity. With prices starting at $199 on gowns valued up to $8000, there are excellent bargains to be found. The proceeds go to grant wishes to women with metastatic breast cancer, as well as to raise breast cancer awareness. The unique efforts of Making Memories allow brides to purchase a wedding gown at an exceptional price while bringing joy to the life of a terminally ill cancer patient. There is no better way for a bride to spend her money than by buying a wedding gown that will help another woman.

Warehouse bridal stores offer low prices, but limited service and mediocre quality.
Warehouse bridal stores offer low prices, but limited service and mediocre quality.

Bridal Warehouses: Low Prices, Mediocre Quality

Over the last several decades, enormous bridal warehouses like the ubiquitous David's Bridal have sprung up all across the country. They certainly offer rock bottom prices on some of the wedding gowns (the famous $99 sale), although there can be a difference between low cost and a good value in some cases. Unlike, say, a deeply discounted designer bridal gown at the Filene's Basement “Running of the Brides”, when a bride buys a $99 dress from David's Bridal, she is getting a $99 quality dress – mass produced, artificial materials, beads which are glued on instead of handstitched, and gowns which are very difficult to alter well. In addition, bridal warehouses keep costs low by offering minimal personal assistance. Most customers serve themselves, rather than receiving personal attention as they would in a small bridal salon. For some brides on a budget, the lack of fine quality and service is not a problem if they can get a wedding gown for a low price, however, there is an important distinction to be made between getting a terrific bargain on a top quality wedding dress and paying an appropriate retail price for a mass produced gown.

Scams to Avoid: When Something Looks Too Good to Be True...

These days it is common to turn to the Internet when seeking the lowest price on a purchase. While there are many wedding elements which can be found from reputable online retailers, such as wedding favors, bridal jewelry, and invitations, a bride must be extremely cautious when it comes to discount bridal gowns. Numerous websites exist which claim to offer brand new designer wedding gowns at a deep discount, and too often they fall into the category of being too good to be true. Brides are advised to avoid these sites like the plague. In many cases, the so-called designer wedding dresses are in fact knock-offs. Rarely are the discount designer gown sites completely upfront with clients, and they are a very risky way to try to save money on a gown. It is one thing to walk into a sample sale at a reputable bridal salon and choose a sale gown which you can see and try on, it is something else entirely to order a wedding dress sight unseen from an unknown company online.

Some brides have also had excellent luck purchasing second hand gowns online through ebay or similar sites, however great caution is called for. A bride should never purchase a wedding gown online that she cannot return, which puts many of the great deals on ebay out of reach. Far too often, the dress will fall short of expectations when seen in person, so it is wise to only purchase from a seller with high ratings who offers full and unconditional refunds. The chance of being ripped off is simply too high to take with something as precious as your bridal gown.

When you find the perfect wedding gown, you know it!
When you find the perfect wedding gown, you know it!

Happy Bargain Hunting!

There is no question that every bride hopes to find her dream wedding gown at the best price possible. With so many varied options for finding a great deal, there is a very good chance to do exactly that. Persistence and creativity can definitely pay off for a bargain hunting bride, as will an open mind and an ability to make an instant decision. After all, when a woman finds the right wedding dress at the right price, she who hesitates just might miss out on the bridal steal of a lifetime.


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