10 Tips to Get a Princess-worthy Dress on a Budget

By: Echo Surina

A princess-quality dress doesn't have to come with a princesses-only price tag.
A princess-quality dress doesn't have to come with a princesses-only price tag.

Let's get real. There's just no need to sacrifice style (or your pocketbook) when buying a wedding dress -- especially when there are so many gorgeous ones available to the budget bride.

Now more than ever, it's possible to get the gown of your dreams at a fraction of its retail price. Keep in mind that it's likely you'll need to have alterations done on any discount purchase, so factor in this additional cost when making your selection. Also, buy your dress at least four months before your big day, if possible. Making your big purchase that far in advance should help you avoid the pressure that comes with last-minute shopping, and it will open up many more options in your price range.


Whether you're on the hunt for a designer label, vintage garment, custom-made dress or something cheap and chic, we've got 10 tips to help you find just the right thing without going over your spending limit.

10: Attend Bridal Shows

Convention centers in major cities across the United States often host annual or biannual bridal shows. At these shows, you'll find practically everything you need for your wedding under one roof -- including your dress. Some bridal shows specialize in discounted designer brands, while others focus on bringing highly affordable options to the masses.

Thousands of brides-to-be like you will be shopping for their dream gown, so consider bringing along a posse of girlfriends to help you weed through dresses efficiently and to help you decide on the right one.


To find a bridal expos in your area, contact large exhibition centers, or do a simple Internet search.

9: Duke It Out at Filene's Basement

Brides swarm the racks at Filene's Basement during Running of the Brides.
Brides swarm the racks at Filene's Basement during Running of the Brides.
Matt Moyer/Getty Images

Some deals are so good, we'll go to great lengths to get them. For the perfect gown at the perfect price, women camp outside a store to claim a good position in line, or they'll play wedding dress tug-of-war with another shopper. They might even dare to try on a dress on the store floor instead of waiting in line for a dressing room.

This is the case at Filene's Basement on the one-day Running of the Brides wedding dress sale. The East coast retailer sells designer clothing at a deep discount, but not even Black Friday can compare to the frenzied throng of customers on this day.


Thinking about joining the masses? Any Running of the Brides veteran will advise you to bring friends along to help you -- and you should don matching T-shirts or hats to make it easy to spot one another. One more tip? Wear undergarments like a sports bra and boy shorts so you can try on dresses anywhere in the store.

Thanks to Filene's, you don't have to go to fashion capitals like New York, Milan or Paris to get the designer wedding dress of your dreams -- and you don't have to take out a loan to pay for it, either.

8: Cruise Consignment Shops

Some brides aren't crazy about the idea of a pre-worn wedding gown, but we think buying secondhand is a smart way to get the gown you want at a price point you can afford.

High-end consignment shops, wedding gown resale hubs and specialty online stores are sweet sources for discerning shoppers. You'll find garments that are lightly used or even new, with the tags still intact. Most retailers that specialize in designer bridal gown resale require sellers to submit a proof of purchase, so you can be sure that the Vera Wang you're buying is the real thing.


E-boutiques like EncoreBridal.com, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com and WhiteXChange.com are all excellent examples of this approach. On these sites, you can narrow your search by price, brand, style and many other parameters, which helps you sift through a lot of options quickly. And, online wedding sites sometimes have brick-and-mortar locations that you can visit to try on dresses. (Be sure to schedule an appointment.)

7: Expand Your Online Search

Those specialty wedding Web retailers are great, but expand your search to some other online sources. J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and other department stores sell high-quality dresses at affordable prices online. Bookmark these sites, and check in frequently -- when the dresses go on sale, you'll really reap the savings! Plus, many clothing retailers throw in free shipping for purchases more than $100.

Have we inspired you to go cyber shopping? Here are some other sites we love:


  • Etsy.com - look for vintage-inspired gowns and accessories
  • Smartbrideboutique.com - search here for designer dress discounts
  • Overstock.com - get a wedding dress at $100 or less
  • Bridepower.com - find designer samples and overstocks at low price points

6: Attend Bridal Auctions or Swaps

An authentic Audrey Hepburn bridal gown might be out of range, but it never hurts to attend a variety of auctions.
An authentic Audrey Hepburn bridal gown might be out of range, but it never hurts to attend a variety of auctions.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Just because you're a budget bride doesn't mean you have to miss out on the high life! If you know what style of dress you're after, bridal auctions are a fun and swanky way to make your dress quest festive and productive.

When you attend one, expect an experience. Sip champagne, enjoy the show, and raise your paddle when you see the dress you want to bid on.


The auction block can give you precious access to dresses otherwise off-limits or unavailable elsewhere. Bridal auctions and swaps are two ideal venues for accessing all kinds of gowns, including ones that are lightly used, custom-made, luxury brand or created by up-and-coming hotshot designers.

Space is often limited at auctions, so register in advance if possible.

5: Seek the Gown While It Seeks You

Instead of looking high and low for something to wear on your big day, try letting the dress come to you. Whatever you call it -- karma, energy visualization or an answer to prayer -- there's great power in setting your intention and then being open to the answer the universe delivers.

However, before you can get the answer, you'll need to make your intention clear. Decide what kind of gown you want, and determine your price point. Next, put the word out. Tell friends and family you're in the market for a wedding dress. Who knows? Your friend's sister's yoga instructor may be open to selling her dress for a fraction of its original price.


Also, consider running a free ad on Craigslist or some other buying/selling forum that describes the dress you're looking for. Lots of former brides and divorcees don't want their dresses anymore, and they'd be happy to not only make some money but also to clear out their closets with what has become clutter.

4: Opt for a Bridesmaid Dress

A less formal bridesmaid dress works perfectly for beachy brides.
A less formal bridesmaid dress works perfectly for beachy brides.

Full, Cinderella-style gowns aren't for every bride, even if you consider yourself a princess. But you can still be the belle of the ball if your personal style is simple and sophisticated.

If you can rock a sheath or silky Grecian gown like nobody's business, you'd be smart to shop for bridesmaid dresses that are available in white, off-white or ivory. Wedding party dresses tend to be elegant and understated compared to bridal gowns, and they often don't have as much beading, lace or detailing.


As you can imagine, bridesmaid dresses aren't as popular in milky shades, so you may not have the opportunity to try on a particular cut in "pearl" like you want. Instead, slip into the boutique's fuchsia floor sample, use your imagination, and don't order the gown unless you're sure you'll love it just as much in white.

3: Tap a Budding Designer

The next Monique Lhuillier could be a student in your city's design school. Look into art and design schools in your area that have a fashion program. Sometimes, students are required to complete a senior project or portfolio to graduate. This body of work needs to showcase their creativity and technical skills -- designing and creating your wedding dress could be an opportunity for them to do just that.

You might be surprised how many eager students would jump at the chance. It's a win-win situation: You get a custom-made dress perfectly suited to you, and the aspiring designer gets real-world experience he can use to fulfill class or graduation requirements.


With the exception of paying for the cost of fabric and tools, you might be able to score an incredible gown that's otherwise free.

2: Travel to a Developing Country

At a market in Mexico, you might just find a sweet off-the-rack white dress.
At a market in Mexico, you might just find a sweet off-the-rack white dress.

Your money can go a lot further in developing or emerging countries like Mexico, India or Thailand -- especially on retail goods. You can find a stunning dress (or have one custom-made at a reasonable price) in these places.

If this idea appeals to you, board a plane and pack photos of dresses you like to show the local seamstress and help guide her design and work. It's safer to pay once you've received the finished product in-person, rather than having it shipped to you.


Sure, the cost of traveling the globe to save on a wedding dress may not offset the cost savings on the garment. But if you have other reasons to head abroad, picking up a unique couture gown for a fraction of the price you'd pay in the U.S. could be well worth it to discerning brides. Not to mention, a dress that's infused with another culture's style will make you a one-of-a-kind bride back home!

1: Scope Out Abandoned Gowns

You'll have this decision to make soon enough: Once you walk down the aisle and tie the knot, what do you do with your wedding dress?

If you're like most brides, you'll take yours to a dry cleaner to have it preserved -- and you might not come back for it.

It's crazy to think that a bride could just abandon her beloved wedding gown, but it happens more frequently than you know. Call dry cleaners around your hometown and inquire about any unclaimed dresses. If a dress has been sitting there long enough, a dry cleaner may be willing to sell it to you or even give it away. After all, store space comes at a premium, and a gown takes up precious rack room. Dry cleaners in some states can legally get rid of unclaimed merchandise after 90 days.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Dry Clean Boston: United States Unclaimed Garment Laws. (Jan. 26, 2011).http://www.drycleaningboston.com/united_states_unclaimed_garment_laws.htm
  • Encore Bridal. (Jan. 24, 2011.)http://www.encorebridal.com/
  • Filene's Basement. Running of the Brides. (Jan. 24, 2011).http://www.filenesbasement.com/running-of-the-brides/
  • PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com (Jan. 24, 2011).http://www.preownedweddingdresses.com/
  • White Chicago: WhiteXChange. (Jan. 24, 2011).http://www.whitechicago.com/