A Guide to Off-the-Rack Wedding Dresses

Brunette woman looking at wedding dresses on the rack

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Whether you're working with a tight timeline, looking for a city-hall frock, or hoping to find something more budget-friendly, buying your wedding dress off the rack can be a smart option. Plus, there's nothing quite like the instant gratification of being able to take your dream gown home that very day! To help you navigate the shopping experience, we turned to Nicole Alexander, former sales director of Stone Fox Bride, and Cassandra Quinn, corporate manager of Lovely bridal shop, for their tips on how to find your instant dream dress.

Meet the Expert

  • Cassandra Quinn is the corporate manager of Lovely bridal shop, a bridal boutique located in major cities across the US.
  • Nicole Alexander is the former sales director of now closed Stone Fox Bride, a wedding brand with bohemian flair.
Tips for Buying an Off the Rack Gown
Jessica Olah/Brides 

Know Your Options

Stores like J.Crew and BHLDN are great standbys for off-the-rack dress shopping, but many bridal salons stock some designer off-the-rack gowns as well. "We buy our off-the-rack inventory seasonally just like we do our made-to-order dresses," explains Quinn. "But we try to anticipate what type of dress brides who are buying off the rack might want—for example, for a beach wedding or an elopement—so we have a limited variety in our off-the-rack options." To help facilitate the shopping process (and save time), Alexander recommends sending photos of dress styles you like to multiple salons before you book an appointment. This way you'll know if the boutique stocks what you want.

Work With a Bridal Consultant

Buying off the rack might mean a difference in selection, but not a difference in service. "Brides who want to buy off the rack still need to make an appointment and work with a dedicated consultant to help them pick the right gown," Quinn says. Alexander adds: "Off-the-rack girls are not fitted like our private clients, but we sit down with each bride. We discuss the types of changes that would make their dress fit better, and then recommend the right tailor to make those alterations." So remember: Your salon consultants are there to assist you, even if they're not the ones ultimately fitting you.

Create a Tailoring Schedule

You might be considering shopping off the rack because you don't have the six months it takes to complete a custom dress. But that doesn't mean you should wait until the last minute. "Brides still need to build in a fitting schedule," advises Quinn. "If you want to make adjustments to the design of your dress, such as adding a strap or lowering the back, you should start that process as early as possible. Tailoring that affects the fit, like taking in a waist or letting out a hem, can usually be done on a shorter timeline." Be sure to schedule a final fitting two to three weeks before the wedding.

Don't Buy a Dress That's Way Too Big

It can be tempting to buy a dress in the wrong size if you love the style (and price!). Resist the urge, warns Quinn. "If you're a size two and you're trying to tailor down a size 10, it can be very difficult to maintain the integrity of the design," she says. "You should buy something that is at most two sizes bigger than what you measure." Also, don't forget to ask the salon if your dream dress can be ordered in your size—sometimes it's a possibility.

Remember the Difference Between "Off-the-Rack" and "Sample"

Off-the-rack dresses are typically cheaper than their extravagant salon counterparts due to the lack of excess fabric and embellishments. But that doesn't always mean they're a bargain. Brides who are looking to score a deal should shop towards the end of the season when many sample dresses are put on the sales floor. These sample dresses are inventory that the salon is trying to move to make room for new styles. The important thing to keep in mind? "When buying a sample dress, make sure to check over the gown thoroughly. If there are any damages, it's up to the client to get them fixed," says Quinn.

Be Ready to Pay in Full

While shopping off the rack can effectively stretch your wedding dress budget, it does come with its own caveats. The benefit of made-to-order dresses is that payments can be spread out over time. That's a perk that you'll have to forfeit for the luxury of being able to take your dream dress home with you that same day. Purchasing an off-the-rack dress means you'll have to pay the full price upfront. Be sure to understand the store's return policy as well. Often, these dresses are final sale so there's no wiggle room for buyer's remorse.

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