Consumer IQ, Goals, How To

Say “Yes” For Less: Budget Wedding Gown Shopping

With the U.S. economic recovery still uncertain, one would think that brides across the country are now spending less on their wedding dresses than they have in recent years. Not so, according to BRIDES magazine’s 2011 American Wedding Study. In fact, the average wedding dress in the U.S. cost $1,289 this year, up 20% from 2009. When you factor in the additional $581 that brides are spending on wedding day accessories, you start to realize how much of your wedding day budget is actually going towards your wedding day look.

So, before you say yes to the dress, here are my top five tips on what every bride should consider before buying the most expensive piece of clothing you may ever own.

Stick to Your Budget

Whether it’s a couple of hundred dollars or several thousand, know how much you want to spend — and stick to it. According to the BRIDES survey, brides are spending almost five percent of their wedding budget on their dress this year, up from less than four percent two years ago. Still, you don’t have to be Kim Kardashian to look fantastic on your wedding day. (Kardashian’s bias-cut, v-neck strapless Vera Wang gown, one of three that she wore at her nuptials earlier this year to mark her short-lived marriage to Kris Humphries, reportedly cost $25,000.)Make sure you also factor in the cost of alterations. Almost every dress needs to be altered, the price of which is rarely, if ever, included with the dress.

Shop the Unexpected

Unique spots like The Bridal Garden in New York offer one-of-a-kind designer and couture dresses at up to 75% off retail prices. Located on the fringe of the city’s garment district, the salon features hundreds of dresses, most of which are donated by internationally recognized designers, such as Angel Sanchez and Ulla Maija. Proceeds of all sales are directed to the benefit of area school children.

“Off the Rack”

While half the brides surveyed are buying gowns at independent, local bridal salons, doing so doesn’t have to equate to high prices. If you fall in love with a dress you try on at the salon, ask if you can have that particular dress, as opposed to placing an order for a new gown from the designer. Yes, others will have tried on the dress before you, and in addition to alternations, you will have to pay for cleaning. Still, choosing to buy “off the rack” will save you at least 50 percent off retail prices.

Second Time Around

Sales of previously worn gowns have exploded on the Internet, and shopping online has never been easier. Consider this: 1 in 10 brides this year will sell their dress, give it to another bride, or remodel it into another style so that it can be worn again, according to the BRIDES survey. Sites like Recycled Bride, Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses, and Once Wed offer thousands of dresses from designers such as Carolina Herrera and Monique Lhuillier for as much as 90 percent of retail prices. The sites, all of which are free to buyers (Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses charges sellers a one-time $25 listing fee), are a place for buyers and sellers to connect. It’s a similar concept to ebay or craigslist, only it’s specific to bridal dresses. While prices vary, you can reasonably expect to pay 50 percent of today’s retail price for a dress in good condition that has been worn once in the past two-and-a-half years. Terms of the sale, such as shipping, insurance, and returns are set by the seller, but can be negotiated by the buyer.

When It’s All Over

The honeymoon is over- now what? Almost half the brides surveyed said they will pay a specialty cleaner such as Hallak Cleaners to preserve their dress in a museum-quality box. Depending on where you live, however, this service can cost $500 or more. My favorite idea?  Refashioning your wedding dress into beautiful outfits for your children yet to come.

Heather Bandur is a New York City-based weddings expert. A former financial journalist, she is the founder of Heather Bandur Events, an event planning and design company that specializes in helping busy brides create beautiful, well-orchestrated events – and stick to a budget. Connect with her by email.