Like anything with the word “wedding” attached, it can be tough to find a cheap wedding dress. The average wedding gown in the U.S. cost about $1,357 in 2014 according to The Knot, which surveyed more than 13,000 brides and grooms across the country.
That’s a pretty steep price for something you’ll typically wear just once. So we’ve scoured the Web to find some beautiful but cheap wedding dresses that are unique, get good reviews, and are sure to make you feel absolutely gorgeous on your special day. Before I get to our top picks, here are some general tips to help you find an affordable wedding dress.
Tips for Finding Cheap Wedding Dresses
You might find your dream dress in a department store, a vintage flea market, or in some other place that you least expect. Remember that as soon as something is called a “wedding dress,” the price immediately goes up.
When you’re out and about shopping, keep your eyes peeled for gorgeous evening gowns or cocktail dresses that would make beautiful wedding dresses without the increase in price.
Remember, it’s a one-time thing
Most of the time (though not always) you will only wear your wedding dress once. Spending a few thousand dollars on something you’ll only wear for a few hours, ever, isn’t exactly the ideal cost-to-wear ratio.
Sure, it’s important and your pictures will be around forever — but your debt burden and ability to afford it are also important for your future marriage. Try not to get caught up in the hype — I know it’s easier said than done — and go into dress shopping knowing your budget.
Bring cash to a store
Cash is and always will be king. Just because there’s a specific price on the tag doesn’t mean that is the price it has to be when you take the dress out of the store.
Most store owners put high mark-ups on dresses and have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to turning a profit. You can often ask them, “What’s your best rate if I paid in cash today?” You might be surprised at how much they can take off the price.
Buy off the rack
Wedding dresses can take quite some time to order, and then you often have to get things altered to fit you just right, so why not buy off the rack and have that dress altered to suit you?
Buying off the rack can be much less expensive – and the great news is that you can carry the dress right out of the store if you love it.
Our Favorite Affordable Wedding Dresses
All the cheap wedding dresses below either come from a trusted brand or receive phenomenal customer reviews. We’ve included a variety of styles, and all of these dresses cost 50% or less of what the average bride pays for a wedding dress in America.
Option 1: Nadia Gown (J.Crew)
This elegantly simple dress, called the Nadia Gown, is long, flowing, and graceful. J.Crew has had a line of wedding dresses for the past few years, and many brides love that their wedding gowns embody the preppy, upscale-casual style that J.Crew is known for.
At $650, this wedding dress won’t break the bank, and the best part is that it can be worn over and over again, especially if you cut it short after the big day.
Option 2: Velvet Rope Ready Dress (ModCloth)
This long, lacy dress in white from ModCloth gets rave reviews from customers who have used it as an affordable bridal gown. Ordering a wedding dress online may feel like a bit of a gamble, but ModCloth makes returns easy, and the site’s users tend to offer helpful and forthcoming feedback on how an item fit their body type (often including photos), so you can get a good sense of whether you’ll need to alter a garment or not. (This dress is on the long side, according to most reviewers.)
This is hardly the only beautiful (and cheap) bridal dress you can get from ModCloth; browse their entire collection here, from vintage-inspired gowns to plus-size wedding dresses.
Option 3: Upcycle a Family Heirloom (The Attic)
Cost: Free to $500
A vintage-inspired dress is one thing, but you can also go for the real deal. If your mother, grandmother, or someone else in your family kept their old wedding gown, consider taking it out of storage. With a few alterations, you may have found a cheap and truly vintage wedding dress that also honors your family’s history.
I got married in my mother’s wedding dress. Because she got married in the 1980s, there was a lot of illusion lace going on all over the top of it. Not only that, but the dress survived Hurricane Katrina.
We hired a seamstress to rework it, adding new lace and repairing it. It only cost a few hundred dollars to update and redesign, and I got a custom dress that was one of a kind and a family heirloom to boot.
Option 4: A Vintage 1950s Dress (Etsy)
Don’t have a family heirloom to pull out of the attic? No problem: Etsy is an amazing website to snag one-of-a-kind vintage finds. This genuine 1950s wedding dress is perfect for a bride who loves that classic style or is planning a wedding with a vintage vibe.
It’s the only one for sale, but it’s hardly the only attractive and affordable wedding dress on Etsy — check out this one, or this one. Just search the entire site for wedding dresses, whether vintage or handmade, and you’ll find plenty of options under $600.
Option 5: Beaded Lace Dress (David’s Bridal)
This dress comes with intricate beading intertwined with elegant, feminine lace. Sold by David’s Bridal, a well-known and affordable wedding dress brand, this dress has numerous five-star positive reviews and at the time of this writing is on sale for under $400.
Option 6: A Designer Gown Full of Ruffles (Filene’s Basement)
Filene’s Basement is a legendary designer discount company. In past decades, they held an annual event in all their stores called “The Running of the Brides,” where brides-to-be would storm the store hunting for designer dresses at an extreme discount. Unfortunately, the company declared bankruptcy — but they are now back in online form.
While it doesn’t have nearly the same effect as trampling fellow brides-to-be to get the best dresses, they still provide some amazing deals online — like this beautiful Christina Wu gown on sale for half the usual retail price.
Option 7: Ivory Clara Dress (J.Crew)
This dress is perfect for a simple, classy outdoor wedding. The short style is elegant without being too casual, and the price is exceptional.
Although many reviewers loved this dress, some did comment that the color was slightly different from the photo. Still, I wanted to include it since many brides loved it and shorter wedding dresses are perfect for beach and outdoor weddings.
Option 8: Betsy & Adam Illusion Lace Belted Gown (Macy’s)
Macy’s has several affordable wedding dresses on sale and you can browse them online. This wedding dress is great for the modest bride who isn’t interested in showy or strapless dresses. It has beautiful illusion lace and comes in under $200.
My favorite part about this dress is the belt. I love wearing a belt even on my everyday dresses because it provides a great silhouette. This dress is no different.
Option 9: A Ruby Red Stunner (JJsHouse)
Hey, who says a wedding dress has to be white? This stunning red wedding dress has a slew of positive reviews, and it’s perfect for the non-traditional bride who loves red and who wants to add a bit of flair to her wedding.
And don’t worry — if a ruby red wedding gown is a bit too bold for you, this dress comes in a few other colors, including the old standbys of white and ivory.
Option 10: Affordable Lace Luxury (JJsHouse)
This dress from JJsHouse.com is gorgeous, long, and full of lace. The hourglass shape would look great on many brides, and you can check the website regularly for sales if the advertised price doesn’t match the one listed here.
The dress gets over 35 positive reviews, and, like on ModCloth, several users have uploaded photos of themselves in the dress to demonstrate how it looks in real life — making it easier for future brides to buy with confidence without trying it on first.
Other Ways to Save on Wedding Dresses
If you borrow shoes and handbags from your best friend, why not borrow their wedding dress, too? If you loved a friend’s dress and they wouldn’t mind, ask.
Some people pay a lot of money to get their dresses preserved, but many people don’t because it’s so expensive. If you’re really on a tight budget, it doesn’t hurt to ask someone who is close to you if they have a dress you can borrow. Just remember to have it dry-cleaned and return it in pristine condition.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use the exact dress you find. With many wedding dresses, the most expensive part is the lace or the tiny, detailed beading. Sometimes, older dresses have these features and simply need the basic cut to be updated to keep up with the times. You can take the fabric from a cheap thrift-store dress and have a skilled seamstress create something entirely new from it, or simply get it taken in for a more modern look.
Ask for your dress as a gift
Often your parents, sister, or grandmother will ask you what you want for your wedding. Many brides don’t know what to say, but if you’re on a really tight budget, remember you can always ask them to give you your wedding dress as a gift.
Agree to stick to a specific budget and invite the person giving you the gift to come with you to try on wedding dresses. They’ll get great joy from watching you try on your dream dress, and you’ll get a gift that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Don’t get caught up in the moment
When I catch an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” on TV, I notice that so many brides get swept away in the moment. Sometimes they go way farther over budget than they meant to because they found “the one.” Conversely, many brides burst into tears because they feel so pressured to find the perfect dress but don’t really feel anything when they try them on.
Remember, you don’t need to have a movie moment when you find the right dress. Sometimes, the right dress is just the one that fits you like a glove or the one that is the most casual for your backyard wedding.
You don’t have to have some kind of magical “moment” when you try on the right dress for you. You just have to like it and feel beautiful in it. Chances are, you’ll feel beautiful in several dresses, so make sure to pick the one that fits in best with your wallet and your personality.
A Final Note
I got married five years ago, and at the time, getting my wedding dress and my invitations just right were a priority for me. I picked the venue, the food, the chairs, and just about everything else under the sun. It was a stressful time, right around the holidays, and as many brides will tell you, it all went by so, so fast.
Five years later, the dress, the clothes, the cake, and the DJ are all a distant memory. Now, our season of life has changed dramatically to taking care of our children and paying back our student loans.
I say all that to let you know that this really is a special time for you and your fiance, and you really should enjoy it. That said, as much planning as it takes to create your ideal wedding, it’s just as quickly gone when it’s over and replaced with other responsibilities (and other fun moments, too!).
For these reasons, try not to overspend on things like your wedding dress. Find one that suits you and don’t torture yourself by trying on designer gowns you can’t afford. Stay open-minded and try many different stores, and I promise you will find the dress of your dreams, and it’ll be even better because it will be the right price, too!