10 Steps to Find Your Budget-Friendly, Dream Wedding Dress

by Aleisha

Finding a wedding dress is an exciting life moment, but also a stressful time for many. The vision of what this day is “supposed to look like” is sometimes soured by the stress, drama, and cost of the process.

The wedding industry works overtime on selling us what a “perfect” wedding looks like. As a Bridechilla, you know that there is no such thing. This pressure for perfection compounded by the unsolicited feedback from friends and family.

Chasing the approval of others and the elusive “perfect” wedding causes couples planning their wedding to spend much more than they intended chasing this elusive goal.

This issue is certainly highlighted in the search of the “perfect” dress.

When watching some of the reality shows about brides on the hunt for their dream wedding gown, it is common to see families spend double or triple their intended budget because they found “the dress”.

In reality, they certainly could find a similar dress which looks equally gorgeous within their budget. Enchanted by the magic of it all and the skill of a trained sales associate, a credit card is used and the purchase is made.

Today, I’d like to share a strategic plan for wedding dress shopping on a budget. By setting a realistic expectation of what your wedding dress shopping process will look like, you can stay on budget, enjoy the process and pull together a gorgeous wedding day look!

Photo by Charisse Kenion 

1) Include the right people in your wedding dress search

Finding a wedding dress that makes you look and feel fantastic is a very special and intimate moment in your wedding planning journey; it is lovely to share this process with those you are close with, but do not feel obligated to include any particular person who might bring the energy down.

When it comes to wedding dress shopping, involve those who are going to bring positive vibes, honest feedback, and respect for your wedding vision. Also, consider the dynamic of the group and any tension that might make the experience un-enjoyable for you.

It is better to keep your crew small and find other ways to involve people rather than inviting 20 women to give opinions on wedding gowns.

If there is a friend or relative that you do not want to involve, be diplomatic. If you leave someone out of the process, then do not share the experience on Instagram on Snapchat. Keep the moment intimate and enjoy it with those who are included. This is not meant to “sneak around”, but rather to avoid unnecessary drama over something that is not worth the energy.

If you want to go browsing dresses with just your best friend or mother, that is ok. You are not required to make a big event out of each step of planning your wedding day. You will have many opportunities to include all the important people in your life in the wedding planning process.

Photo by rawpixel

2 ) Do some research in person, but have a cooling off period before making a purchase

You may have a wedding gown in mind that has been pinned on your wedding vision board for years or you may have no idea what sort of wedding dress will suit your style. Either way, I recommend going into at least one bridal shop to “test drive” some different styles.

Be sure you don’t rush this decision. You are going into a shop that will want to sell you something and there may be some sales pressure at points. Because of this, I recommend that you do not even bring a credit card with you. Seriously, leave your wallet at home and have a friend drive.

This first visit should be an experimental phase. This will be a fun day to involve friends and family who want to be a part of this process. Be clear that your aim is NOT to make a purchase, but just to test out some different styles, so you can get clear on what you want.

Try on a variety of gowns based on what the shop staff recommends for your body type. If you have a style in mind, aim to try on some dresses of that variety, just to make sure the style suits your share and is comfortable.

Keep the tone light. Try on some silly dresses, as well as some style contenders, just for a giggle. Find the fun in this process and enjoy having these special people together to help prepare for this big celebration.

I recommend trying on dresses within your budget only. On the off chance that it is love at first sight, you do not want to fall for something that you can not afford. There are gorgeous dresses at all price points, so blowing your budget on this expense category is completely unnecessary.

If there is a dress you absolutely cannot resist, give yourself 24 hours to reflect before purchasing it. Bridal shops are known for their unforgiving return policies. Once you make the purchase, you have limited options if you change your mind. Take your time and avoid the pain of buyer’s remorse.

Most stores will offer a courtesy hold for 24-hour or 48-hour without a charge (and if your wallet isn’t in your hand, that’ll have to work). Take a breath, reflect on the expense and check out step #3 before whipping out a credit card.

3) If you think you found “the dress”...

Now, it is time to tap the web for all it is worth and find yourself a cherry of a deal.

While you will not always be able to find the exact dress for a deep discount, waiting the 24-hours to scour online like a CIA agent is a smart step. You can give yourself a minute to reflect before making such a big purchase and be certain you are getting that dress for the best price available.

Open up google and search the brand name and style number to locate the professional photos of the dress on the brand’s website.

Save that image and drop that professional image into google image search.

The image search will pull up a long list of sites to explore, but first, browse the “visually similar images.”

Each image will be linked to a bridal shop or online dress retailer.

Grab a notepad and make notes of pricing listed on various sites. This will likely require calling some stores to check their current pricing. Depending on the dress, you may find that same dress you love for a deep discount with another shop’s current sales.

If you are open to a pre-owned gown, which I would recommend considering, add “used” into the search. Step 4 notes some of the major pre-owned gown retailers.

If considering a pre-owned dress, be sure to consider the original size of the dress and any alterations that might impact the way the gown fits. Alterations are expensive, so if you need to reshape the pre-owned dress to make it fit, the new gown in the correct size may end up being more affordable.

By using this simple online search and waiting for 24 hours, it is often possible to score the exact dress you have on hold for hundreds less.

As a test, while writing this article, I picked a completely random dress from Maggie Sottero and within a minute found this dress (pre-loved) online for 40% below retail price. The deals are out there is you spend the time searching for them.

4) If you didn’t find “the dress” yet... 

Hopefully, you now have a much better idea of style and sizing from your visit to the bridal shop. With this info in hand, you can start using filters on some top online resale and sample sale websites to find better deals on dresses suited to your style. Without the overhead of a full store, online bridal shops can offer deeply discounted pricing.

Sites selling new dresses at surprisingly reasonable prices are sometimes too good to be true; always seek out unbiased reviews for online retailers and be sure to read the fine print regarding returns to avoid a bad situation. There are some great companies and others that are less impressive, so be sure to do your homework.

Here is a list of amazing sites that I recommend searching for pre-loved dresses:


Still White


Nearly Newlywed

Brides for a Cure

Brides Against Breast Cancer

Adorned in Grace

Fairytale Brides

There are pre-owned bridal stores in most towns, too. Take a quick second to check for one in your area and you might find the opportunity to browse some gently loved gowns in person.

Listen to this helpful episode of Bridechilla

5) Once you locate the dress you love at the right price, it is time to place your order

Spending an extra few minutes looks for a promo code or coupon online can save a little extra or at least cover shipping costs. To maximize your purchase, use a credit card with rewards so you can earn something back on your purchase.

6) While you wait for the dress to arrive, research affordable seamstresses in your area 

Rather than contacting the seamstress recommended by the local bridal shop, take time to yelp to see what seamstress options are in your area.

As with all wedding projects, if you find a company specializing in weddings, they will likely be more expensive. Look for a highly recommended and reviewed alterations shop or seamstress that works with all sorts of projects.

Call to get a quote for altering a “gown” (do not say the “w” word), they will likely give a ballpark cost rather than an exact cost since they do need to see the project to provide a true estimate.

When you bring the dress into the shop, mention the quote that you were provided over the phone and that will help keep the cost most reasonable.

Photo by Julie Johnson

7) Hold an “unveiling” with your bride tribe when the dress arrives 

If you order online, you will likely be very eager to rip open the box and try that gown on as soon as the UPS man leaves your porch.

Be strong! Wait to open that box … this can be a fun way to involve your friends and family. Get a bottle of champagne (or whatever you all prefer) and invite the crew over for the exciting moment.

They can help give feedback on any alterations needed. This is also a great time to chat about accessories and shoes (see the next steps).

8) Purchase shoes that can be worn over and over again

Many brides over prioritize their wedding day shoes. The truth is your shoes are not the star of the show on your wedding day. With the current wedding culture viewed via the lens of Pinterest and Instagram, it may seem like your shoes will get a lot more attention than they will in reality.

There are a ton of cute “getting ready” photos highlighting some gorgeous shoes, but unless you have opted for a tea length dress, your gown will cover up your shoes for at least 98% of the day.

I am not saying you should wear your old, ratty converse just because they will not be visible. It is your special day, so you want to wear shoes you love, but just consider buying shoes that you will use again. If you are going to spend big on special wedding day shoes, they should be shoes you will get a lot of use out of!

Personally, I can not wear heels, so I opted for some goddess style sandals on my wedding day. After my wedding day, I literally wore those sandals until the soles fell off. Every time I wore them I remembered our amazing day and it brought a smile to my face.

Select a type of shoe that works with the venue and, more importantly, works for your lifestyle. I’ve seen brides wear all different shoe styles for their wedding - boots to sandals to sneakers. Select something that will make your day special, but also will get used again rather than stored in the back of your closet.

Photo by Tom Quandt

9) Rein in the accessories and consider “something old” or “something borrowed”

If you purchased your dress from a bridal shop, when you go back to the shop to try on the dress again, be prepared for the upsells. They will grab a veil, a belt, a necklace, and shoes and try to sell you the full look. 

There is nothing wrong with this. Of course, you want inspiration for how you might fill in your look, just do not feel pressure to make that purchase immediately.

Much like a used car salesman, the staff member may suddenly remember there is a special sale on all accessories today only. Take a breath - you can find suitable accessories easily and there is no need to break your budget.

And, honestly, that sale is probably available all of the time. False scarcity is a commonly used sales tactic used to scare you into making an unnecessarily quick decision.

Before you invest some of your wedding budget on accessories for your wedding day...

Does your mother, grandmother, aunt or future mother-in-law have a special necklace that would go perfectly with your dress?

Or perhaps, your great-aunt has an old brooch that can jazz up the waistline instead of a belt?

Can you borrow your best friend’s pearl earrings?

From my experience, honoring the special people in your life by including their item as a part of your wedding day look is not only budget-friendly but also a significant complement to the person.

Before getting out your credit card and dropping some cash for some new accessories you’ll wear once, chat with those closest to you and see if they have some pieces of jewelry or a veil or maybe even shoes that fit your vision.

Photo by Scott Webb

10) Once you’ve had your dress altered, be mindful of not needing last minute alterations

Once you have paid a pretty penny for the dress to be hemmed and tailored to perfection, you do not want to gain or lose any significant weight.

If you have a significant weight change due to wedding nerves, you will be spending some extra money on the second set of alterations. Do your best to take care of yourself as your wedding day approaches. And if you know that nerves cause major weight swings for you, consider a dress that is more forgiving (perhaps a corset back).

If you are considering a crash diet for the months leading up to your wedding day, let that go. You are engaged and in love with someone who wants you just as you are. Stop stressing and enjoy this special time!

This article was written by Heather Loree Fier, author of The Wedding Hacker: A Budget-Minded Planning Playbook. 

Blog header image photo by Jessica Rockowitz

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