After years of pinning styles and dreaming about your “I dos,” it’s finally time to pick your wedding dress! And while it’s thrilling to start the dress shopping experience, it can also be stressful, as bridal gowns tend to be a confusing choice for many. Why? Well, there are a plethora of options to choose from, at a vast range of price points.
In the bridal fashion world, prices are based on several contributing elements and generally range from $500 to $4,000 (though they can get much more expensive). "A variety of factors affect the overall cost of a dress such as the brand, craftsmanship, fabric choice, dress style, construction, embellishments, time, and individual customization. Wedding gowns take up a lot of man-hours with multiple sampling and back and forth all to create one dress that means so much to the bride," shares Dami Olukoya, founder of Imad Eduso, a womenswear and bridal line. Nonetheless, there is no "one size fits all" type of wedding ensemble, so shopping for a look is ultimately an individual and financial choice.
To ease your mind (and wallet) about these expenses, though, we called upon an expert to break down everything that goes into the cost of a wedding dress—plus, a few tips on how to save a bit of money. Read on to learn more and be sure to take notes!
Meet the Expert
Dami Olukoya is the founder and designer of the black-owned womenswear brand Imad Eduso. Recognized by its contemporary silhouettes and unique play with vibrant colors, the brand creates looks for women of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones.
According to Olukoya, while the cost of fabric can deviate based on various reasons (like sourcing, availability, and the production process), generally, "quality silk, satin, embroidered and beaded lace, charmeuse, and appliqués tend to be more expensive." That's because "some fabrics, such as lace, are custom-made based on the dress design, and a designer will have to order directly from fabric manufacturers or make it in-house if their atelier is capable and this is usually handcrafted," adds Olukoya. That said, there are materials that have a high-end feel but come at an affordable price, like polyester and rayon.
"The entire process of embellishments, which involves hand-stitching, can take hours, spanninng into weeks or months, depending on the complexity of the pattern," says Olukoya. Thus, given the intricacy and skill needed to embellish a gown, the more embellishments your dress has, the more expensive it will likely be.
"The addition of embellishments based on the density and intricacy can also drive up the cost. Whilst some fabrics are already embellished by the manufacturer and can be really difficult to work with because the tailoring would be around the intricacy of the fabric. Embellishments could also be pearls, Swarovski crystals, and more," the designer adds.
A tip if you’re after a glam look on a budget? Select a simple gown and have your seamstress add embellishments, or up the “wow” factor with accessories like dangling earrings or a shoulder necklace.
Simply put, choosing a designer dress will cost you money. "Most brides aren’t aware that the process of creating the designs itself takes time, as it goes beyond just drawing a beautiful gown. The design or sketch is created with the bride in mind, to suit her physique, preferences, and vision—and the more custom details the bride wants to be added to the dress, to make it so specific to her taste, the more the cost increases," notes Olukoya.
While designer looks are typically favored by most brides today, it's not a requirement to go this route if you're hoping to cut costs from your budget. Nowadays, online retailers such as Anthropologie Weddings, Lulus, Shopbop, Revolve, and Bridal by Eloquii offer stylish and on-trend dresses for a fraction of the price. Bonus? Some of these companies offer home try-on options, in order to give you the flexibility of trying on styles in your own time.
While you might think your wedding look is all about the dress, your accessories play a huge part in bringing your vision together. Make sure you budget for things like jewelry, shoes, lingerie, and a veil or headpiece, all of which can range from $250 to $400.
If you’re going with an elaborate gown, keep your accessories lowkey and let the dress be the star of the show. For brides opting for a simple ensemble, use the extra space in your budget to glam up your look with anything from belts to bold necklaces and eye-catching earrings.
If you're opting for a designer gown that was just released, expect to pay top dollar for the look. As with clothing in any market, gowns are typically more expensive when they're new and more in demand (the law of economics). However, if you're hoping to save a buck or two, shopping for styles from prior seasons, especially in the winter or summer, will help you snag a deal.
This is due to the fact that some retailers, boutiques, and designers have sales to clear out gowns from previous collections. Attending a sample sale or ordering your gown at a trunk show (which will usually save you around 20 percent) are also simple ways to save even more on your ideal dress.
Unless your gown is custom-made to perfection, there's a very slim chance that it will fit you flawlessly, so be sure to budget for alterations. Unfortunately, the price of alterations varies greatly (between $75-$900), and it's ultimately up to you to figure out what you need to pay once you've selected your exact dress.
"Every brand has its own policies. With Imad Eduso, size alteration cost is most times waived. However, in the case of design alterations, the extra fabric, time, intricacy of embellishments, and reconstruction of the dress will incur extra costs, and, thus, increase the overall cost of the alteration," notes Olukoya.
While it’s not technically part of your actual wedding day look, cleaning and preserving your dress is something to keep in mind. Whether you’re looking to donate, sell, or alter and wear again, you’ll want to get your gown professionally cleaned after you say "I do." Specifically, set aside $250 to $750 for dress preservation if you're looking to take this route.
Looking for other ways to save while searching for your wedding dress? Try shopping for ready-to-wear looks instead of actual bridal brands. Olukoya notes that ready-to-wear bridal pieces are much cheaper since the design patterns can be easily replicated for mass production. Additionally, with online boutiques, seasonal sample sales, and the option to rent designer gowns, there are many ways for brides on a budget to save. Whether you choose to buy simple and add the glam, shop non-bridal, or borrow, your perfect dress is never out of reach.