Dream Wedding Dress Too Expensive? Here's What to Do!

Don't panic: We asked the experts to weigh in

Updated 02/27/19

Photo by Ross Harvey

Our April/May issue is dedicated to one of our very favorite topics: the wedding dress! In this issue, our editors cover everything from dress trends to budgets and the ins and out of dress shopping—a.k.a. the sometimes fun, sometimes stressful search to finding the One. In exploring this topic for "The Zero-Drama Guide to Your Dress"—The goal? Avoid the drama!—there was one subject that our editors couldn't not address, and that's what to do if you fall in love with a gown that's out of your budget. Because, well, it happens to the best of us—no matter if said budget is $800 or $8,000.

And we're not alone! Our friends, planners, and bridal salon owners see even the most savvy shoppers fall in love with dresses that are out of their price range. To prevent this dilemma from happening to engaged gals like you, we asked a salon owner (who is basically a pro at finding the One) and a wedding planner (who can tackle a budget spreadsheet like it's her job) how to handle the situation before it happens to you. At the risk of teasing all the secrets and insights below, we'll let you know that the answer isn't as obvious as you might think. (Yes, don't be a label snob. Shop early to avoid dress fees. Don't try on the intricate, hand-embroidered dress if you can't afford it.) But much like everything else with wedding planning, this item on your to-do list comes down to shopping smart, identifying priorities, and sticking to a number.

Keep reading for step-by-step instructions, and best of luck finding a dream wedding dress in your budget!

Set a number and stick to it

Avoid the problem entirely with an honest-to-God budget discussion that will dictate what you try on in the first place. You can approach this in one of two ways: including your dress as part of the overall wedding budget or all on its own. “We prefer our clients to set the attire budget separately from the wedding,” says Darci Greenwood of Greenwood Events in Whitefish, Montana. That way, you’re not frantically pulling from other areas if you do fall in love with a $10K dress on a $5K budget.

Itemize everything

Next, ensure the number is accurate. It’s easy to be starstruck by your showstopping dress and forget about supporting cast members—veil, shoes, jewelry. Not to mention alterations. The extras add up, so Greenwood recommends breaking down your total number by line item—considering accessories, alterations, shipping, and additional looks before you even walk into the salon. (FYI: Brides, on average, spend $303 on the veil and $288 on other accessories, while alterations can range greatly in price (up to $1,550) depending on the extent of the services. “Ask the bridal salon for an estimate at the time of purchase,” says Gabriella Risatti, owner of Gabriella New York Bridal Salon.

Shop around and shop smart

If the price tag is still too high, try one of Risatti’s workarounds: For one, inquire about upcoming trunk shows. Many times, salons offer “special freebies like a veil or customization with purchase” at such events. Then the least expensive way to get a designer dress is to buy the sample. “Even if a sample isn’t advertised as for sale in the store, it never hurts to ask,” she says, and avoid subjecting yourself to sample-sale mayhem. If you’re not sample size, the discount may still cover alterations. Finally, try cutting down on the rest of your look by wearing your sister’s veil or your mom’s earrings. “Something borrowed” is a tradition for a reason, right?

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Brides, on sale beginning February 26.

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