You may have imagined your wedding dress your entire life. How it'll make you feel like a princess. The way it'll sparkle or flow. But now that you’re getting married, and it’s actually time to make that big purchase, you're at a loss. Specifically, just how much should you spend?
Sure, you've found your dream dress, the outfit you’ll be wearing on the most important day of your life. But like most people, you probably don’t have an unlimited budget. You’re also all too aware that you’ll only wear your dress once—in addition to crunching numbers for the other things you have to pay for like flowers and food. Should you shell out thousands of dollars for a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, or buy something you love enough even if it isn’t unique?
If you're confused, you're not alone. Our 2020 Brides American Wedding Study found that the average cost of a dress is $2,439. However, that doesn’t explain how real-life brides came to their spending decisions.
To help fill in the gaps, we talked to seven real-life brides about what factors they considered when buying a wedding dress. Hopefully, their thought process can trigger some inspiration or clarity for you. Here are their stories.
Negotiating the Perfect Price
Lisa Guy is a 27-year-old sexologist and psychologist in training. Her wedding was on February 5, 2022, overlooking the ocean in Tutukaka, New Zealand.
How much did you spend: $1,559.40
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? We set a wedding budget and decided on our top wedding priorities. My dress went into this category along with having a restorative yoga class the morning of the wedding and having an amazing wedding celebrant. Our parents contributed money, but we have had full say over how we wanted to allocate the money.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? I wanted a high-quality fabric so I was mindful of the feel of the silk and lace. You can tell so much about the quality of the dress by the feel of the fabric. My wedding dress has beautiful lace, comes in at the waist, and flows at the bottom. It's stunning and suits my hourglass figure and our picnic-style wedding.
How did you stick to your budget? I browsed shops before booking an appointment. I had a shop in mind. I selected [my] bridal shop as everything in the store was within my price range, so I could try on any dress without worrying about the price tag.
The store I selected had a closing down sale, and I was the first person to see the announcement and book an appointment! This meant that I had the pick of the bunch, and I fell head over heels with a beautiful dress. It was 40 percent off so I was able to purchase a $2,599 dress for $1,559.40. That's a saving of $1,039.60, and I would have happily paid full price as I absolutely love my dress!!
I also tried to be thrifty. For example, I purchased the veil second hand at a closing down sale and negotiated the price from $100 to $50.
A Timeless Dress "No One Else Would Have"
Shannon O’Shea is a 29-year-old registered nurse currently living in New York City. She was married in December 2021, in Palm Beach, Florida.
How much did you spend: $8,500
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? My parents and I had lengthy discussions about what we wanted to spend the most money on. We decided to spend the most on flowers and décor. My mom wanted a whimsical Christmas wedding at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, with amazing Christmas trees everywhere and fresh flowers. So, the budget was originally $5,000 for the dress.
What factors went into your budget? I’ve always loved timeless styles with a bit of trendiness. I never wanted to wear a wedding dress everyone else would have.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? The wedding is Christmas-themed in Palm Beach in December so I knew I wanted long sleeves. I have always been obsessed with Monique Lhuillier's wedding gowns. They are so timeless but unique! I had seen a photo of this wedding dress before I even got engaged and knew it was the one, even though I knew it probably wasn’t in the budget. We went to Chic Parisien, a bridal salon in Miami, knowing they had the dress in stock. My mom and grandma insisted I try it on (just to see...!). I went in not thinking in a million years I’d be able to actually get that dress, but once I tried it on, my mom cried and knew she could rearrange some things in other places for the wedding, to be able to pay for my dream dress. It also helped that my grandma cried and offered to help pay for the dress!
A Splurge-Worthy Lace Dress
Rebecca Magner is a 31-year-old senior video producer living in New York City.
How much did you spend: $6,600
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? I knew the type of designers I would want. In hindsight, I should have spent much less based on the overall cost of my wedding, but I wanted the dress.
How did you stick to your budget? My budget was $4,000 to $6,000. I clearly went over, and I haven’t even paid for alterations or bought my veil, etc.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? Style—I wanted lace!
A Once-in-a-Lifetime Dress on a Medium Budget
Megan Hall is a 28-year-old who works in advertising in Raleigh, North Carolina. She got married on October 2, 2020, at the Pavilion at Carriage Farm in Raleigh.
How much did you spend: $1,000
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? I did a lot of research online around what the average wedding dress costs, and then did quite a bit of online shopping in advance. That way, when I went shopping in the store, I had a rough idea of what costs might be. Luckily, I managed my own budget and was able to set aside what I needed without input from my fiancé or parents. That said, my amazing husband told me before I went shopping that if I fell in love with something that was over budget and absolutely had to have it, he would be happy to help.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? I "think" I spent a medium amount on a wedding dress. For me, I wanted something that felt so special, that no other dress I wear in my life could ever compare. I mean, when else will I get the opportunity to dress up like a princess? That said, I was adamant that I didn't want to spend a ton of money on the dress because, in truth, I am only going to wear it once. In the end, I felt confident that I could find a once-in-a-lifetime dress on a medium budget, and I was right.
How did you stick to your budget? My dress cost $1,000, which I thought was an amazing value because it's so beautiful and I loved it so much. The store also knew I needed to have quite a few alterations done at their sister store, so they capped alterations at around $750 total, which was a blessing because if I would have paid what the alterations cost it would have been the same price as the dress. All in all, I thought it was a wonderful deal and my mom offered to pay alterations as a gift. So, in the end, I spent $1,000 total on what I think is the dreamiest dress in the world!
A Budgetless Dress That Just Felt "Right"
Claire Nelson currently works in technology and lives in New York City. Her wedding was in March 2021.
How much did you spend: $9,000
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? I had no idea where to start. So, I went to try on dresses to get a feel prior to setting a budget. I casually looked online to see; the designer dresses I loved were around $6,000 to $12,000. Before getting engaged, I had no clue.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? The dress I chose was the second dress I tried on. It was not the style I thought I would go for, but it just felt right. I tried several other dresses but none that came close to this one. I love it and am so happy with my decision.
How did you stick to your budget? In the age of COVID, I did not set one. For me, I was mostly concerned with finding a dress that I loved [and] that worked for my timeline.
Splurging on a “Me” Dress
Elaina Demerau is a 23-year-old brand developer in Richmond, Virginia. She got married on her family ranch on October 10, 2020.
How much did you spend: $2,000
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? I watched a lot of "Say Yes to the Dress" growing up, and I've always saved dresses I liked into scrapbooks and screenshots. I looked at the brands I loved like Justin Alexander, Maggie Sottero, Stella York, and used their average price ranges as a basis for my own wedding budget. My fiancé and I built a wedding budget using CostofWedding.com and then presented it to our parents to ask how much they would like to contribute to our day. My dad purchased my dress, and it was so special to have a first look with him on the wedding day!
What factors went into your budget? I was one of those brides who had been planning their wedding since I was little, so I knew my dress was going to be a splurge item. When we first got engaged, we sat down and compared three of our splurge items, and my dress was my number one for me. I knew I wanted something classic and guessed that I'd want a ballgown, too.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? My mother-in-law and I went together to Richmond’s oldest dress store, Tiffany’s Bridal, and she pointed out "the" dress. When I put it on, it was the most "me" dress I've ever worn. It was a classic Justin Alexander sweetheart ball gown with lace appliques and a monarch train. Plus, it had pockets! I kept an impressive number of things in said pockets on the wedding day including my grandmother's prayer book, my vow book, my ring box, my handkerchief, and my lipstick kit.
A Wow Dress That Leaves Money to Spare
Karine Levesque is a 24-year-old public servant in Ottawa, Canada. She is getting married on August 18, 2022, at Le Belvedere, a cliffside wedding venue in Ottawa.
How much did you spend: $1,500
How did you set your budget for your wedding dress? When my fiancé and I got engaged, my parents offered to contribute to our wedding. After having chosen our venue and having a better idea of what payments are involved in a wedding, we established a budget together. I chose my wedding dress budget before starting shopping as I knew what the price points were beforehand; my best friend bought her wedding dress before me. My parents made it clear they wanted to buy my wedding dress and told me that I could take whatever amount I wanted from their contribution. Therefore, ultimately the budget for the dress was my decision.
What factors went into your budget? I decided on a medium budget (or so I think!). At the beginning of wedding planning, my fiancé and I looked at what our priorities were. We decided to allow ourselves to spend more on our priorities, which in our case were the venue and the photographer/videographer. Don’t get me wrong, the dress is super important! That being said, I would rather spend more on my dream venue and a good photographer and videographer.
How did you stick to your budget? There are still many gorgeous dresses at a lower price. I always check the stores’ websites before visiting them to make sure their dresses are within my budget. I won’t bother booking an appointment if it’s above my budget.
What was most important in choosing your wedding dress? I haven’t bought it yet, but I’m looking for a sexy A-line with lots of bling/sparkles, and a ruffled bottom with a scalloped veil because I still want that wow factor.