If the average cost of a wedding dress makes you cringe a little ($1,469 in 2015!) allow us to offer a soothing balm: you can wear a dress that costs less than a fifth of that price and still look like an absolute goddess on your wedding day.
To find out how to make this fashion magic happen, we spoke to Renée Strauss, star of the one-time TLC reality show Brides of Beverly Hills, set in her eponymous couture bridal salon, who also recently launched Wedaways, a full-service hub for lavish destination weddings and honeymoons (this woman knows luxury).
To start, we chose four dresses priced near $250 (they range from $226 to $275) and asked Renée to give them a close look. Then, we asked her how to use hair, makeup, accessories, and other styling tricks to turn a cheap wedding dress into a wedding-day wonder.
BRIDES: What's the #1 Easiest Way to Make a Low-Cost Dress Look High-End?
Renée Strauss: Often a dress may be less expensive because of its inner construction, less finishing, and support, for example, such as un-trimmed seams, no interfacing to keep the garment from buckling, etc. In this case, a good remedy is to wear excellent and seamless undergarments; bridal salons and "corset" shops sell these. If the garment has good lines, but nothing fancy on the exterior, a beaded belt can make a difference.
What Kind of Accessories Would Amp up the Luxe Factor on a Low-Cost Dress?
RS: A beaded belt can add the luxe factor, and/or a beautiful veil. Any length longer than elbow can do the trick. If the gown has lace, lace on the veil will be complimentary. The same is true with beading.
How Do Shoes Factor Into a Bridal Look and Change the Effect of the Dress?
RS: Shoes are a fun accessory, but a little planning ahead is wise: if the shoes have ornaments on the toes, the hemline of the gown can easily get caught and a bride can either trip or rip the hemline. My advice is to have gorgeous shoes for the garter photos (when the bride lifts her gown and reveals the shoes). But for the actual walk up the aisle, I suggest simple. Color is fine, though!
Do Hair and Makeup Play a Role in Dressing a Bridal Look up or Down? If So, How?
RS: Hair and makeup play a huge role in dressing a gown up or down. A beautiful blow-dry or gelled hair and natural makeup will look fresh and pretty for a daytime or casual ceremony and reception. But for a formal or semi-formal event to which the bride will wear a headpiece and/or veil, she'll want to have more of a styled coif and more striking makeup. Those details can transform the look of her dress.
Are There Any Issues to Watch out for With Low-Cost Wedding Dresses?
RS: Low cost (if that's the regular price range and not on sale) can translate into cheaper materials, unfinished linings, glued beading (rather than sewn in) and shoddy workmanship. But not always. Look at the garment's exterior and interior seams—if they are crooked and/or pulling, it's a sign to back off. If the beading is falling off as you try it on, also not a good sign. Is the garment properly lined? Can you see through it? Does it itch? These are the things to look out for.
And bottom line, if you are willing to overlook any faults the dress may have and still long to buy it, get a price quote to alter it to fit. Because a well-fitting garment will always look better than an ill-fitting garment, even if the ill-fitting garment is five times the cost.
Are There Surefire Ways to Make Any Dress Look Cheap?
RS: Dresses that are ill-fitting (too tight, too loose) or poorly altered, have crooked seams, unfinished/crooked hemlines, falling threads, loose beads, or are un-accessorized will look cheap, even if they cost a fortune.
The most important takeaway from all of this? Your dress, no matter the price, should make you feel incredible. So if you find something that's $50 and fits you perfectly off the rack, enjoy. You'll look gorgeous and feel confident on your wedding day, and your bank account will thank you!