Love designer wedding dresses on Instagram, but feel let down by the options available within your price range? You should not have to sacrifice style to stay within budget. Standard wedding dress shopping at well-known boutiques keeps many of these high-end dresses out of your reach. But if you go off the beaten path, you can find places that offer dresses for as much as 90% off their retail price.
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We've checked out a bunch of sites and shops to bring you some of the best places to score a great deal on your wedding dress. Plus, there's a magical feeling about being able to leave a store with your wedding dress in hand. Will you get a dedicated sales rep to bring champagne for you and your girls? Probably not, but if you are willing to forgo some of those perks, you're sure to find lots of gorgeous yet affordable dresses.
Tips for Nontraditional Wedding Dress Shopping
From local sample sales to off-the-rack shopping, there are many places to find a beautiful bridal look without a high price tag. Before you start shopping, you must know what to expect. Since this is not your typical wedding shopping experience, don't expect to be pampered. For this reason, we recommend starting at some full-price wedding boutiques first if you want to get the whole wedding dress experience, and then come back to this blog to move on to more practical options.
1. Narrow Down Your Vision
Before going the nontraditional route, get a good idea of what silhouettes work best for your body type. Also, research specific designers to see if their style matches what you envision for your Big Day. You should know where and when your wedding is taking place before looking for your dress. You don't want to be stuck in a heavy-weight fabric during the summer heat or with an elaborate ballgown for a small, backyard wedding.
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2. Come Prepared to "Say Yes to the Dress."
Unlike wedding dress shopping on TV, where you bring your whole bridal party, it's best to stick to one or two trusted family members or friends here. This is especially true at sample sales, where guests are capped, and space might be limited. If you work flex-time or can take a day off, book an appointment during the week when they're likely to be less crowded, and you can take more time browsing.
Expect to only find one or two of each style, so if you like it, grab it and head to the dressing room before someone else takes it home. Dressing rooms might be a simple curtained-off space, so be sure to wear appropriate undergarments; seamless nude shapewear works well. Grab shoes in a height similar to what you had in mind for your wedding day to get a better idea of how it'll all look together.
Come prepared with a budget in mind that takes alterations and maybe even dry cleaning into account. You might want to jot down a list of the designers and styles you like best. Many sample stores do not allow returns, so make sure the dress you select is the one you really want. And once you've nailed down your look, stop shopping and don't second guess your decision – you're going to look gorgeous!
3. Make Sure the Dress Fits
You're searching the aisles when you stumble upon your dream dress for a fantastic price. There's only one problem: it's not your size. Before you start plotting ways to make it fit, take a step back. Even the most gorgeous dress is not going to look good if it's a poor fit. Please don't fall for this common mistake.
It's great to score a deal on the dress you want, but it should be as close to your proper size as possible. While tailors can work their magic, you want to be maximum two sizes from your ideal fit. Keep in mind that it's usually easier to take in too big garments versus letting out a dress that is too small. The more that needs to be changed, the higher your tailoring bill will be, and you might even jeopardize the overall design of the dress, which is something you definitely do not want.
If possible, check with the store or sample sale to see what sizes they carry. When it comes to wedding dresses, size 8 is typically considered the sample size. Try to take your bust, waist, hip, and length measurements before you shop and compare them to the sizing charts of designers you are most interested in.
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4. Inspect for Any Damage
Followed all this advice and ready to buy your perfect dress? Amazing! But, before you head to the register, don't miss the vital step of inspecting your gown. Even if the dress is considered new, you'll still want to look it over carefully. Typically, discounted dresses have been tried on by other brides, and there might be marks or imperfections.
Take a close look at the hem, zippers, buttons, beading, appliques, neckline, underarms, seams, and any illusion mesh. Delicate fabrics like Chantilly lace or silk can pucker or tear more easily, so be on the lookout for loose thread, snags, or minor tears. If there's a flaw, speak with the shop representative or consult with a tailor to see if it's an easy repair or cleaning or if you should pass on the dress instead. And ask about return and exchange policies in case that stain you thought would come out doesn't.
Find a Discounted Showroom or Sample Sale Near You
Finding a wedding dress sample sale used to be a seasonal affair for those in the know, but that's no longer the case. Many designers and shops now hold regular sample sales open to the public, so you can get your hands on an amazing dress for less. Here are some of our favorite sample stores, but feel free to research more in your area and book appointments if necessary.
If you're looking for a resource to find out about pop-up sample sales in metro areas across the country, Chicmi is the site to check. They'll cover exclusive online sales to in-person pop-up events for everything from wedding dresses to accessories and gifts.
Want to score a great deal in major cities like New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco? Many brides turn to the Glamour Closet's sample showroom to find limited designer collections at discounted prices. Best of all, their dresses have never been worn before and are in excellent condition.
If toughing it out among other New Yorkers to score a discounted dress doesn't scare you, then the ever-popular Kleinfeld sample sale is a great place to score major deals. Sign up for their newsletter to find out when and where the next one will take place. Typically, they have dresses as low as $300 in a wide range of sizes, along with veils and headpieces. Be sure to book a sample sale appointment to secure your spot in line.
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Those near New York City will also want to check out the Sample Room NY. They carry many one-of-a-kind designer dresses that never made it to production or bridal overstock gowns in sizes 2 – 22 with discounts up to 75% off. You'll drool over their curated collection of sample dresses.
Vows Bridal, outside of Boston, offers both special order gowns along with an extensive selection of discounted off-the-rack samples or overstock dresses. Best of all, they are inclusive of all body shapes and sizes so all brides can be confident they'll look great on their Big Day.
Carine's Aisle is an excellent stop for brides in the Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia area. They stock over 40 featured wedding designers with off-the-rack savings up to 90% off. No, that's not a typo. It doesn't get much better than this.
Started by a bridal fashion industry veteran, this Potomac-based store offers discounted designer dresses for savvy brides. The shop carries over 450 dresses from popular designers in a wide range of sizes from 6-20.
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Near Miami? Check out this sample store, where you can find off-the-rack designer bridal gowns for 40% - 80% off their retail price and accessories up to 70% off. Not local? They will even ship dresses to your door if it's in their curated collection.
This Atlanta shop prides itself on offering "designer sample wedding dresses at non-designer prices." Their collection includes designers like Hayley Paige, Monique Lhullier, and more. They also have an online sample shop with many dresses available for purchase and an at-home try-on option.
Get on the List
Looking for a specific designer's sample sale, trunk show, or off-the-rack availability? Even high-end bridal brands like Berta and Pronovias offer discounted styles from time to time. The best way to find out about events or inventory is to sign up for their newsletters or follow them on social media.
Sample sales and off-the-rack are best for higher discounts, but if you're obsessed with an item from their latest collection, trunk shows are a good option. Typically, these happen in the Fall or Winter but check with local boutiques to see when your preferred designer will be hosting a trunk show of their latest collection. Brands usually offer exclusive customizations or a 10% discount if you purchase during the event.
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Browse Online Bridal Sample Sales
More and more bridal shops are adding online offerings for brides who know exactly what they want or prefer to try on dresses in the comfort of their own homes. Consider browsing these online shops to get a fantastic deal on the designer wedding dress of your dreams:
Shop Online Retailers or Department Stores
You might not think to search for your wedding attire in a shopping mall or at your favorite online clothing store, but a lot of mass retailers and department stores have entered the bridal business over the last decade. Many of the dresses are made by your favorite designers and typically at lower price points than most wedding boutiques. Try your luck at your local Nordstrom, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, or check online at sites like Shopbop or the Outnet.
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Save the Most with a Pre-owned Wedding Dress
If sustainability is important to you, or you don't mind wearing something second-hand, a pre-owned dress could be an excellent option. The market is flooded with them due to all the postponements and cancellations caused by the pandemic. This means you can negotiate with sellers and get that perfect wedding dress at a heavy discount.
If going this route, ask a lot of questions, check measurements, and look over photos carefully. See if there is an allowed try-on period and take note of the seller's return or exchange policies. StillWhite, Tradesy, Nearly Newlywed, OnceWed, and LuxeRedux Bridal are terrific resources if shopping pre-owned. When you finally have your dream dress in hand, it won't matter where you got it or where it's been, only that it feels right for you and how you envision your Big Day.