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Say Yes to the Dress for Less

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Savings Experiment: Save on Your Wedding Dress
Bridal dressYou've been dreaming of this day for years: Your boyfriend finally popped the question, and you've set a wedding date.

Now starts the hunt for a bridal gown that will make you feel like the most beautiful girl in the world but won't have you crying down the aisle because you've spent a small fortune on something you'll (hopefully) only wear once. Don't fret: We've explored the costs of buying a dress at bridal salons, retail chains, sample sales and online resale resources -- and offered tips for landing a solid deal from each option. Bridal Salons

Nothing will beat the service and pampering you'll get at a bridal salon. And for many women, the experience of shopping at a store dedicated to their big day is a rite of passage -- but at what cost?

On average, brides spent about $1,100 for a wedding dress last year, and an overwhelming number of them --58% -- purchased their gown at a local bridal salon, according to The Real Weddings Study by The Knot, the wedding planning resource.

Dresses purchased at bridal salons will tend to be more expensive, Rachel Leonard, fashion director for BRIDES magazine, told WalletPop, "[because] they'll be made to order." It's where you'll end up with a dress that will fit you well with more exacting alterations because that's the store's specialty, she adds.

What's more, Leonard offers, "They'll make it more of a special experience, and you'll be waited on."

At a bridal salon, you'll have a plethora of dress choices from a variety of designers, Amy Eisinger, associate editor of WeddingChannel.com, told WalletPop. This means dresses will run the gamut from formal, traditional and ornate poofy frocks to classic and modern looks.

If you're looking for that pampered salon treatment but still want to land a deal, consider this:

Bridal salons range from the moderate to the upscale. To find a lower-priced dress, look for salons that include gowns in their collection that come from vendors that specialize in more affordable fare, such as Maggie Sottero, Allure and Watters & Watters, Leonard suggests. These suppliers, she says, "make good, classic wedding dresses ..and you'll get a lot of bang for your buck."

Dresses from these manufacturers will generally range in price from about $500 to $1,700, Leonard says, although there will be a wide selection at the lower end of that range at the moderately priced salons. You'll get an even better deal if you buy one that's on sale.

You'll also pay less for a dress with a simple silhouette without a lot of embellishments, internal structure, or yards and yards of taffeta or organza, Eisinger says.

Another big way to save? "Avoid custom alterations, or keep them to a minimum," Eisinger suggests. For instance, stay away from altering the neckline or changing a dress from short to long sleeves. Instead, try to find a dress that already incorporates these details.

If you must have alterations made, compare the cost of altering your dress at the bridal salon with the cost of using an outside tailor, who might be less expensive.

And then there's that old rule: "If you stick the word 'wedding' on anything, the price tends to go up," Eisinger says. If you do tap a regular tailor, get quotes from several different tailors before making your decision and make sure they have experience and are adept at altering bridal gowns.

National Bridal Chains

National bridal chains, such as David's Bridal and Alfred Angelo, offer a huge selection of dresses in all different sizes and styles at mostly affordable prices. In general, these bridal chains sell their own brand of dresses, save for some exclusive and licensed collections.

According to Leonard, the dresses these stores sell are typically made from a less expensive fabric than what you'll find at a bridal salon.

"But there's no question that buying off the rack will save you a lot," Eisinger says.

At Alfred Angelo, for instance, dresses range from $199 to $3,000, with most hovering in the $599 price range, says the chain's spokeswoman, Amanda Sheronas. "The gowns that we create fit every woman's price point and budget," Sheronas adds.

At David's Bridal, dresses are priced from about $299 to $1,400, but you can find sale dresses for as low as $100. If you've got your heart set on a dress from a big-name designer, the retailer now sells White, an exclusive line from none other than Vera Wang, with dresses priced from $600 to $1,400. The line was created to give more brides a chance to wear "the designer gown of their dreams at an attainable price point," according to a David's Bridal press statement.

Retail Stores Say "I Do" to Bridal

More and more non-bridal retailers, particularly specialty apparel chains, are getting into the wedding dress business -- and their collections are typically less expensive than what's sold at a bridal salon.

If you're willing to step outside the bridal box, check out the wedding dresses at Ann Taylor, White House Black Market, J. Crew and Urban Outfitters' new Anthropologie spin-off division, BHLDN (Beholden) to see if they strike your fancy.

Just know that you likely won't find the pomp-and-circumstance-type gown that's available in a bridal boutique. For the most part, these retailers are offering simpler silhouettes that generally won't be as formal, Eisinger says. If you're having a more casual affair, be sure to check out these retailers' stock of non-bridal white dresses that can double as a wedding dress, Eisinger says, which is another great way to save.

And it's the affordability factor that just might win you over. For example, wedding dresses at White House Black Market range from about $348 to $698. Dresses at Ann Taylor go for as low as $300 for a simple, tulle, strapless number to $896 for an all-over lace gown; many of Ann Taylor's dresses hover in the $395 to $499 range.

At J. Crew and Beholden, the dresses tend to be pricier. Still, you can find a $300 dress at J. Crew, but you'll also see ones that go for as much as $3,500.

There's one big compromise to consider when shopping at these lower-priced retailers: Dresses at these stores are mostly online exclusives, which means you can't try them on. (A few of these retailers carry bridal dresses in a handful of their stores.) So before you buy, be sure to check retailers' return policies.

One slightly unusual source you might to consider is Costco, which entered the bridal business this year with its Signature collection of dresses from designer Kirstie Kelly. And while you can land a deal, you won't necessarily land a steal: Costco's dresses, which are being sold in a handful of stores, range from about $600 to as high as $1,400.

Sample Sales

Bridal salons -- as well as off-price department store Filene's Basement, with its Running of the Brides event -- hold sample sales a few times a year, where brides-to-be can score dresses for discounts of as much as 80% off the original price.

These sales can be like frenzied sporting events, as shoppers compete to snatch up a limited supply of bargain dresses.

Just know this: "You should be prepared to pay in cash and buy the dress that day," Eisinger says. Also, the dress will likely be soiled and need to be washed, so plan on factoring in that cost, she says.

Second-Hand Dresses

If you really want to save big on your wedding dress and don't mind wearing something used, you have s a host of options.

For one, there are sites devoted to selling pre-owned wedding dresses, such as Encorebridal.com, OnceWed.com, and PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, which recently featured a new Oleg Cassini dress for $250, 72% off the original price.

While the assortment and sizes at second-hand resellers will be limited, Eisinger says, "this is where you can find dresses that are very inexpensive. In some cases, the brides have worn the dress only once, or maybe they never wore the dress." Just remember, you most likely won't have the option of returning the dress, so be prepared for the transaction to be a final sale.

You should also check out consignment stores and thrift shops for wedding dresses. Goodwill, for one, holds an annual bridal showcase, where used, designer wedding gowns can be snatched up for as little as $99. Check to see if the Goodwill in your area is planning such as an event.

And if you want to save on your dress but also want to give back, check out Brides Against Breast Cancer's Nationwide Tour of Gowns. Most gowns in the collecting range from $99 to $799, and the tour features both new and donated wedding dresses, including some high-end designer dresses. Sales benefit Making Memories, a foundation devoted to brightening the lives of women whose cancer is terminal.

Now that you can breathe easy about finding a gorgeous wedding dress for less, all you have to worry about is...everything else!

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