Still haven't said "yes" to the dress of your dreams, but have your gown vision and budget nailed down? Then broaden your shopping horizons and consider a wedding dress sample sale, where designers and boutiques offer dresses up to 70% off regular price. Sample sales are especially beneficial for brides in a time crunch or with a short engagement since you're buying straight from the rack. Be warned, though—this adventurous endeavor is far from the standard dress shopping experience, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Because so many other brides want to pounce on these gown bargains, brace yourself for crowded showrooms, makeshift fitting rooms, limited sizes, and having to act fast if you find a gown you love.
While sample sales aren't as glamorous as shopping at a standard bridal salon (don't expect any champagne or one-on-one attention), you can still walk away with the perfect, ready-to-wear wedding dress and a little extra cash in your pocket. The frequency and inventory of sample sales depend on the bridal designer or boutique, with some hosting semi-annual discounts to clear out their inventory and make room for new gowns, so be on the lookout for upcoming sales near you. To get the most out of your dress hunting experience, we had industry experts weigh in on how to shop a sample sale and potentially snag the dress of your dreams. You'll be the most prepared bride-to-be in the whole sample showroom.
1. Do Your Research
Never go into a sample sale blind. "Have an idea of the styles you like beforehand," says bridal designer Alexandra Grecco. "A sample sale is not an opportunity to discover a designer. If you know you love a designer, go to the sale looking for those specific pieces." Also, investigate specific sample sales beforehand in case you need to sign up for an appointment to shop.
2. Go Dress Shopping Beforehand
"I do not advise a sample sale if it is your first time dress shopping," says Jennette Kruszka of Kleinfeld Bridal. "You should go to a sample sale when you have a better understanding of the styles you like because if you find the 'one,' you will need to say 'yes' and take it home that day." Grecco advises searching for regular-priced gowns at least once or twice before going bargain shopping. Plus, this gives you the opportunity to revel in the full wedding dress shopping experience.
3. Be Ready to Buy
Most discounted gowns are typically final sale, so be 100% sure before you splurge. You'll also have to act fast, since there's typically only one sample of each style, and, according to Carine Kraweic, owner of Carine's Bridal in D.C., some sample sales even limit your shopping time. Most importantly, only buy a dress if it can be altered realistically to your size. Kraweic says to ask an associate if the wedding dress can handle alterations, or take plenty of up-close photos from various angles to show to a tailor. "Tailors look for those details so they know what fabric they’re working with," says Kraweic. "Have a tailor on the ready if you know you’re going to a sample sale." Store samples are typically a size 8, so plan accordingly.
4. Choose Your Companion(s) Carefully
Because sample sales tend to get overcrowded, don't bring an entire posse with you. Grecco recommends asking one trustworthy friend or family member to tag along (or be available via FaceTime) as you shop. Also, since the sample sale dresses might run a little bit larger, Kraweic encourages enlisting a friend's help to hold the gown in any loose areas.
5. Know Your Budget, and Stick to It
"Ask yourself what you want to spend because the gowns typically go pretty fast so, if you find something, you won’t have time to think about whether you can afford it," says Grecco. Kruszka also advises budgeting for dry cleaning the gown, in case the hem or train is dirty. Keep in mind, too, that the longer a dress has been in a sample sale, the lower the cost will go.
6. Inspect the Gown
Because you're buying at least nine to 12-month-old inventory that's already been tried on by previous brides (as opposed to ordering a brand new custom gown), some dresses might have a bit of wear and tear. Before you commit, look over the dress for any damages. "They should be in good condition, but they are used, so look over and see if they have any spots," Grecco recommends. Kraweic concurs, suggesting to look underneath the armpit, the train, the hem, the side seams, and the zipper. "If netting gets torn and we’ve had to remove it, the dress might not look like the original," says Kraweic of any damaged gowns. "So, our lower-priced dresses are put on sale for that reason."
7. Shop on a Weekday
If you're able to take time off work to hit a sample sale during the week, then by all means, do it. Kraweic warns that weekend sample sales are much more crowded.
8. Ask About Hold Policies
Not all sample sales will allow you to put a gown on hold, and some might even require a deposit on the dress if that's the case, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Carine's Bridal, for example, offers a nonrefundable hold policy if brides make a 15 percent deposit on the wedding dress. "It is first come, first serve for the gowns," says Kraweic. "What's here today is gone tomorrow."
9. Wear the Right Undergarments
Just like standard wedding dress shopping, this should be a given. Stick with nude, seamless underwear to get the gown's full effect. "If you have a chest above a C, wear a corset and Spanx and whatever you want to wear on the big day to get the correct feel," says Kraweic.
10. Find a Sample Studio
Recently, it seems more and more bridal designers and boutiques have opened separate stores dedicated to selling discounted designer sample dresses. Kleinfeld launched Kleinfeld Sample Studio last year, which carries over 500 dresses from bridal sizes 10-22 at 50-70 percent off full price. Carine's also opened Carine's Aisle, a sample store with 40 different designers and gowns up to 90 percent off.