How To Not Blow Your Wedding Budget On a Dress

Anthropologie launched a new bridal section this week, BHLDN (inspired by the dutch word for “to keep”), and I will readily admit that a large chunk of it is freaking gorgeous. The words ethereal, offbeat, and just plain pretty filled my mind. Then I looked at the price tags.

Goodness gracious, my Persephoneers, that shit is steep. However, in the grand scheme of the Wedding Industrial Complex, it isn’t even close to outrageous. If you have looked at the J. Crew wedding section, the prices are similar, and J. Crew is considered pretty reasonable if you troll the major wedding blog comments sections (I  don’t recommend doing this much if you are going for non-traditional; you will NOT fit in). There are two dresses that are $600, but the majority hover in the $1500 range and a few run up to $4000. Don’t get me wrong; I like nice things. I own a few pairs of shoes that cost more than my rent at the time, and when I had disposable income, I spent it on clothing. Lots and lots of clothing. However, I like to use the cost-to-wear ratio calculation: the amount of money something costs divided by the usefulness and wear-ability regularity. I have a pair of Jimmy Choo boots that were quite pricey, but I wear them so often, almost daily during the fall and winter, that their cost to wear ratio has them working out to being cheaper than some budget flats from Old Navy. When it comes to wedding dresses, my ratio sensibility made it impossible for me to fathom spending a grip of cash on a dress I would wear once. So where does one begin?

I tried the bridal boutiques, tried to get into the idea of a poofy princess dress. At one such shop, the pushy owner bullied me into trying on multiple dresses that I loathed. The fabrics were stiff and itchy, the colors cheap looking, and the price tags astronomical. My mind was boggled by the amount of money being charged for an article of clothing that showed none of the tell-tale signs of a well-made garment simple because it was white with a crinoline inside. The owner also informed me that “[I] wasn’t fat, [I] was just wide.” The fuck? What stranger says that to someone? I was going to have to get more creative in my search. It was off to the mall for me.

Department stores with a prom section are a great first step. While there is a ton of gaudy crap screaming to be purchased by teenagers struggling to be awkwardly sexy at a school dance, there are also gobs of really adorable full-length gowns and tea- or cocktail-length dresses. Think of how many strapless, full-skirted brides you see pictures of, whether it be in magazines or filling up your Facebook feed. While there are gorgeous dresses that fit this description, think of how striking it is when you see a bride in something different, something quirky. Branch out from white, move away from full-length, find a dress that fits your style instead of letting tradition, society, or even your friends and family push you into the cookie cutter mold. Department stores also have the bonus of having a larger run of sizes. A few I think are adorable.

Check out your local thrift stores, Salvation Army, and Goodwill stores. A large number of wedding dresses find their way to these stores in nearly new condition and you can find some excellent pieces. Don’t give up if one doesn’t fit off the rack or if it isn’t exactly the style you are looking for. If you get a cheap dress, you can take it to a good seamstress that can turn it into something fabulous, just like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink.

I ended up finding my dress at BCBG for just more than $250. They typically have at least six to ten different styles of white or ivory dresses in any season, and tons of gowns and dresses in  every color and style imaginable.

There is the subtly sexy, the interestingly detailed, or the retro cuteness.

If only the pocket gouging stopped at dresses. Nope, my Persephonauts (have we come to a consensus on a nickname yet? I’m just going to keep throwing them out there), they will get you wherever they can. Take a look at this really quickly,  $160 for a birdcage veil with absolutely no adornment. Now peek at this-

Birdcage veil with blue feather fascinator – total cost – $4.75, and that’s only because I bought a yard of tulle (at retail price, not Anthro’s bulk discount rate) so there would be extra to work worth. My best friend’s mom made it for me, and it was perfect, exactly what I wanted. How on earth can a company justify charging that much money for a tiny piece of fabric? Because it’s for your wedding and they know that people get carried away with having everything be absolutely perfect so they will empty their wallets to achieve the dream. Do. Not. Buy. It. There is nothing in the world that could justify that price unless the freaking thing could grant me three wishes as well. Before you spend a bunch of money, ask around your group of friends or family, even your co-workers, to see if anyone is handy with a needle and thread. I could not believe the outpouring of help we received in so many areas of the wedding, this one included. People love weddings, people love to help. My best piece of advice to you this week? Let them.

One area where I will not push skimping or settling is your shoes. You are going to be in them for many, many hours; don’t buy cheap ones that will make your feet sweat or expensive ones that pinch your toes. If you don’t wear heels, don’t buy 4-inch stilettos with the rationale that it is only one day and you can suffer through. You want to be comfortable, but this is also an opportunity to have some fun if you decide to stick with more traditional items elsewhere. I knew I wanted my shoes to be my “something blue.” I hit all the usual suspects, zappos.com, Nordstrom, Off 5th (the Saks outlet; it’s amazing), Macy’s, I even hit up Payless to check out the dyeable shoe situation – I do not recommend this. I tried thrift stores, consignment stores, and finally stopped by this little designer shoe boutique in a pricey pedestrian mall near my office. Earlier when I mentioned I spent a large portion of my money on shoes? No longer my reality, what with the mortgage and all, so I try to avoid these shops as the pretty, pretty shoes all want to come home with me. I walked in with my mom, sister, and nieces in tow, and there, high on a perfectly lit shelf, sat the most stunning blue peep toe slingbacks I had ever seen. I reached up and plucked them from their perch, gently stroking the soft and supple leather. I turned the shoe over, searching for the price of the footwear that had captured my heart. There was no price tag. This is one of those stores where if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford them, and I was teetering on the verge of heartbreak. I asked the clerk, sheepishly, I admit, the cost and availability of my size. She ventured to the stockroom, returning with the second to last pair, in my size, and 50% off. My heart, it soared, and my mom, seeing the joy they brought me, bought them for me, for she is the best mommy in the whole wide world.

And they were perfect.

Next week: A timeline/to-do list to help with all aspects of planning. If you have any special requests, comments or ideas, please leave them in the comments or send me a message.

23 thoughts on “How To Not Blow Your Wedding Budget On a Dress”

  1. I was looking online at vintage dresses; I found several vintage websites with pretty awesome selection and amazing prices, 150-250 give or take for most of their dresses. You have to figure you’ll need to do a little altering but that’s more than acceptable for that price to begin with, and they were all unique rather than David’s Bridal types which is something I really want. Right now I’m considering reworking my mom’s dress, since it would make her and my grandma, who made it, super happy. I have to see how the fabric is (it was the 1970s) and talk to a seamstress. And then I would splurg on shoes.

  2. There is also the internets…

    I was originally going to make my dress, but happened to be passing by a bridal botique and saw the PERFECT dress for me (yes, it was strapless and poofy, and I have never regreted it :)), but it was $1000 and I really couldn’t justify that. I took the brand and model number and did some internet searches and found it online for $750. This was still steep, but less so.

    Obiously, oredering off the internet is not for everyone, but it worked in my case.

    1. Crap, I totally didn’t want it to come off like I was knocking the strapless poofy, because there are some BEAUTIFUL gowns out there, so please accept my apology for the poorly worded snark! But you are a much braver woman than I am. I read so many horror stories about being unable to return or exchange things, or getting something that was nothing like it was described that it scared me off. However, doing the research like you did is a great way to get a better deal, and $750 is still pretty inexpensive in the whole wedding game.

      1. I didn’t actually take offense at all! I was more writing in response to a general consensus that that style is overdone (re: Say Yes to the Dress). Mine had pink embroidery on it, which was why I loved it so much.

        I bought off eBay of all places and did check out the return policy first, and I figured that as long as it was the correct dress and size it would be ok– but I’ll be the first to admit that I was very lucky.

  3. Oh I love the talk of wedding dresses! These are great ideas…I went the more traditional route, but had a budget and stuck to it. Even 10yrs ago, $600 was pretty cheap for a dress. LOVE your veil too – I did make my own from a headband I liked and plain tulle veil – I embellished to match the beads on my dress. Sigh. Such fun.

    My toenails were blue, and I just wore white satin slippers. They were comfy & cheap, and trashed at the end of the night! (you couldn’t see them anyway)

  4. I like this post! But I do not like BHLDN. I was confused that I disliked it; I received some early promos about it and was genuinely looking forward to it. It’s definitely true to the Anthropologie brand, but for me that brand is about fantasy and play, and I see bridal as a bit more elegant and serious (not to mention timeless…nothing about Anthro has ever read timeless to me, especially the seams!). Weird, though, I would expect them to succeed — they have the right demo in mind and they’ve certainly cultivated status as being clothing porn for the artsy, moneyed, 20-something. Alas…

  5. In addition to the cost/wear ratio, it’s also important to think about the cost/sanity ratio. I ended up spending more than I had hoped on a dress, but I was at peace with it because a) it made the process infinitely easier on me, and b) I absolutely adored it..

    I hate, hate, hate clothes shopping, especially dress shopping, especially dress shopping for events where I know I will be photographed. I have awkward proportions and wear a larger size, and it’s always stressful, time consuming, and demoralizing. So instead of spending hours going from store to store, trying on sample sizes that I knew wouldn’t fit me, I googled a few search terms that I thought would dig up decent options online, almost immediately found this dress (which I had customized with a blue sash to match my blue Converse), and after a couple of days of realizing that I wasn’t going to find anything I liked more, clicked “order.” It was almost perfect, needing just a little bit of alteration in the chest area, and it felt like a twirly dream. In the end, the ease of it all made the extra money worth it. It helped that I had family and friends chipping in to do other stuff free or on the cheap so I could afford it,* but I was much happier and less stressed out about the whole situation in the end. This was important because our proposal-to-fancy-ceremony timeline was only around three months. I wasn’t going to waste my energy on an exercise that would upset me so much.

    *And it is so depressing to think that even the $600 range on a wedding dress is considered in the “reasonable/affordable” range!

      1. Awesome! I thought about getting blue tulle, but by the time I decided that’s what I wanted, it was a little too late. I hope that it is awesome for her! I enjoyed mine immensely. I’m planning to donate mine, which reminds me that I really ought to box it up and send it off. I had so much fun with it, it’d be a shame for it to just sit in the closet forever!

        Photo!

    1. That dress is freaking gorgeous, I love it! And I love the expanded size range, which I think is one of the shittiest things about trying to dress shop on the cheap because the options are so limited. I wish I could afford to launch a line for larger sizes that was awesome. Well, I would have to have design talent, too, so make that two wishes.

      I am in love with the fact that you wore blue Converse. That makes me so happy.

      1. I am definitely a jeans and sneakers kind of girl, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself at the wedding if all I was thinking about were my shoes. I’d always wanted All Stars and never had a pair before – we couldn’t afford them when I was a kid, and I couldn’t justify spending that much on sneakers that didn’t serve a purpose like gym sneakers did. SO I decided that this was my big excuse to buy a pair of royal blue Converse All Stars. After all, they’d look much cuter with my dress than a pair of regular running sneakers.

        I didn’t find out until after I bought them and my Maid of Honor mocked me mercilessly that it is apparently a Thing in the nontraditional bride community. But oh, well. I liked it, and they worked out great, so that’s what mattered!

  6. I love things to be a little off-beat, so when my BFF asked me to go dress shopping with her, I was happy, but a little scared (i was thinking 10 hours shopping for froo-froo merengues). We walked into one store, she tried on three dresses and one was perfect for her. Simple, yet interesting with black embroidered flowers across the bodice–a little bit of rock n roll really. It was 50% off so a total steal. And because she’s a cowgirl at heart, she spent her money on a gorgeous pair of white cowboy boots to wear with it. And because she’s not the overly sentimental type, she’s had the dress taken apart and had a kick-ass corset made of the bodice of the dress–and it still goes well with those boots.

    I still attest that I will have a dress made similar to the prom dress in Buffy (the movie) and during my dance(s) with my newly minted husband, at some point the bottom will be ripped off to show off the white combat boots I WILL be wearing with said dress.

      1. Oh and, I’ve mentioned this here before I think, the “first dance” will be a Queen medley of Little Thing Called Love, Best Friend, Somebody to Love and will end with the ripping of the dress during Fat Bottom girls (I have a genetically defined German/Irish ass–big and round)!

    1. I totally dig it when people do something with their dress afterwards. I am going to have my little sister, who is an amazing photographer, do a “wreck the dress” photo shoot where I roll around in mud or let people attack me with super soakers filled with dyed water or something. So fun!

      And so glad to know there are kindred Buffy dorks here!

  7. I’ve been loving reading your posts about the wedding.

    I’d also suggest, re: getting the dress, checking to see if there’s a specific bridal consignment store nearby. They’ve been becoming popular the last couple of years. I work in a ritzy suburb of Philly and there’s a bridal consignment shop up the street — they have a Vera Wang in the window that is priced so shockingly, I’ve been wondering if I can buy it and wear it around just to say I own it.

    Also, having a dress made might end up being a (relatively) affordable option for some. I ultimately designed and had my dress custom made for me for about 600 dollars (including labor and fabric), which is worth it as I 1) had a theme wedding and 2) didn’t want a white dress. I picked my seamstress from a business card off a board at JoAnne fabrics.

    1. Okay, I am totally geeking out right now that the eminently quotable and awesome Slay Belle from prior LB likes my posts. You just made my day, possibly week. Yeah!!

      Bridal consignment is an awesome idea, I never even thought of that. There are a few places online (oncewed.com) but I was always worried that alterations would have made the size descriptions useless. A physical location would be awesome.

Leave a Reply