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Bargain Shopping for Your Wedding Gown and Accessories

by Kim McMullen, Something Spectacular Custom Floral Design

You’ve been dreaming of your wedding day for your whole life.  You imagine walking down the aisle in the perfect white gown with flowing veil, sophisticated tiara or hairpiece, and a romantic bouquet of flowers.  No holds barred, you visualize the perfect everything -- with money no object. 

Now your dream becomes reality.  You’ve gotten engaged and are planning the perfect wedding, except the reality is that funds are not endless and you have a budget to work within.  That budget must cover not only your bridal attire, but also fees for rental of your ceremony and reception site(s), decorations, catering/food, bar, flowers, music, photography, video, minister’s fee, marriage license, invitations, wedding rings, transportation, honeymoon, attendants’ gifts, guest wedding favors, and a myriad of other miscellaneous costs.

Like most of us, perhaps your budget does not allow you the luxury of spending $10,000 to $20,000 for a designer wedding gown.  Or even if it does, perhaps you’d prefer to spend less on a gown and accessories you’ll wear only one day and use a larger portion of your budget for more elaborate photography, an expanded wedding album, substantial keepsake favors for guests, custom-designed wedding rings, or an extended, exotic honeymoon.

Regardless of budget or financial means, everyone enjoys the feeling of accomplishment when locating and acquiring a bargain.  With a little research and creativity, anyone can reap the benefits of significant savings.  Listed below are a number of ways to easily locate the perfect bridal attire and accessories for discounted prices. 

If you are just starting out and do not know what styles you prefer, what fabric colors and gown silhouettes look most flattering on you, or what size you wear, you may want to begin by visiting a few full-service bridal shops.  Look through the racks and make note of the styles, features, and colors you like best.  Try on different gowns to see what is most flattering overall and what features you want to up-play or down-play. Sometimes you’ll find that a style you liked in a magazine photo is really not flattering for your height, figure, or skin and hair coloration. 

Bridal gowns are sized very different from normal, street clothing so don’t be depressed if you find you need a bridal gown that is 2 sizes larger than your normal dress size.  Keep in mind while most gowns average 2 sizes larger than your normal dress size, each designer has their own sizing charts.  Designers’ size charts vary greatly so you may find that you need a gown sized anywhere between your normal dress size up to 3 or 4 sizes larger.  With that variance in mind, begin compiling a list of what sizes fit you best for each gown designer and manufacturer and make note of any special dress styles you prefer.  If you’re at a bridal salon that removes the manufacturer labels and tags or re-labels the style number tags with their own internal reference number (many salons do this to avoid “competitive shopping” and price comparisons), sketch a picture of the gown and ask for the name of the manufacturer.  Salons won’t let you take photos of the gowns and generally won’t tell you the actual style number of the gowns, however, they should at least tell you the name of the designer or manufacturer of the gown.

Once you have an idea of the styles you like and the size you need, begin searching for your gown and accessories.  It’s best to purchase your dress before shopping for accessories as certain characteristics of the dress will help determine the best style, color, and length of veil, and the most flattering style of tiara or headpiece. When looking for a gown, keep in mind that it’s best to find a dress that either fits perfectly or that is a bit large in some areas.  Due to the delicate fabrics, lace, and elaborate beading on many gowns, it is much easier for a seamstress or tailor to “take in” a too-large gown than it is to “let out” or enlarge a dress that is too tight.  Many gown designers create gowns with a 1 inch or less seam allowance which makes expanding a gown difficult, if not impossible.  The more difficult a gown is to alter, the more expensive the alteration.  Remember that your bridal gown budget needs to incorporate funds for both the dress purchase and alteration costs.  

Bridal bargains can be found in a number of places.  Besides a traditional sales promotion, most full-service bridal salons have a small section of their stores dedicated to sample gowns (gowns that have been tried on in the store as samples), discontinued gowns (gowns no longer manufactured), and gowns that have been special ordered and cancelled or abandoned (cancelled weddings, abandoned deposits, etc).  Normally these types of gowns cannot be ordered and must be taken “as is” in the size and condition displayed.  To compensate for any dry cleaning, necessary repairs, and to clear the display racks of discontinued styles, salons offer the gowns at a discounted price.  Generally, alteration costs are separate and not included in the purchase price.

Consignment bridal boutiques have become extremely popular over the past few years and are another option for locating bridal attire and accessories at budget prices.  Generally consignment boutiques accept only new or previously worn gowns of current style in good condition, and previously-worn items must be dry-cleaned before they are accepted.  Items in the store are consigned (on loan) to the store for a set amount of time and a consignment or listing fee is paid to the store by the individual seller.  If the items sell, the consignment shop gets a percentage of the selling price.  If the items do not sell within a set period of time (generally 60 to 120 days), the seller picks up the bridal items.  Consignment shops can be a good, one-stop shopping solution for brides on a budget as they generally carry a large variety of sizes, styles, colors, and matching accessories.  Many of the larger bridal consignment boutiques have their own seamstresses so alterations and pressing can be done at the shop just like full-service bridal salons.

Another excellent way to bargain shop for bridal gowns and accessories is online through the internet.  The internet is a very powerful tool and can connect you with thousands of sellers.  There are a number of websites dedicated to selling bridal attire and wedding items.   Sites such as www.nearlynewbridal.com and www.ebay.com offer thousands of items.  Sellers range from brides with new or used items, bridal stores from all over the world with samples or discontinued gowns, and manufacturers with overstocks.  Often, you can find brand new, never worn, never altered, gowns and accessories for sale at less than half the original price.  There are many bargains to be found, and all it takes is a little online research.

If you already know the brand and style of gown you desire, you can perform internet searches for online retailers and discounters who may have in stock (or can order) your gown for a discounted price.  Average online discount bridal shops can save you up to 25% off salon prices because many are strictly on-line businesses and do not have the overhead costs of running a store-front, bridal salon.  Many local full-service salons are losing business to internet bridal retailers because they have difficulty competing with the deep discounts, therefore, you may have noticed paid articles in bridal magazines discouraging brides from purchasing gowns online.  As long as your expectations are that ordering a gown from an online bridal retailer means that your dress will arrive packaged in a small box, will be wrinkled from the packing, need pressing before wear, and any alterations will need to be done by a local tailor or seamstress, you won’t be disappointed.

Another way to use internet research to locate bargain bridal bargains is to perform searches for any outlet stores that carry the brands of gowns and accessories you seek.  For example, the author of this article saw the wedding gown of her dreams in an online auction listing.  However, the gown was too small and the seller did not have a larger size.  Unfortunately the gown had been discontinued and all boutiques shipped their leftover merchandise to the manufacturer’s outlet store.  Success came with a call to the cross-country outlet.  The dress was available in the correct size, available in two colors, and the price of each dress was only $44!  Not a bad price considering the gown originally sold for $799 in the boutiques. Since the price was so low and the author was unsure of the best color, two gowns (one of each color) were ordered.  The ivory gown was chosen for the wedding and the white gown was quickly resold online to another bargain-seeking bride.

If you are looking for something in particular and are having difficulty locating it or need to find it in a hurry, some online sites such as www.nearlynewbridal.com also offer a feature where you can place free, online “Wanted” ads for the item(s).  Sellers with items that fit your description can then contact you by e-mail to send information and photos.  Local newspapers and trading publications also offer free or low cost “want ads” that you may want to consider.  Too, check out their “For Sale” listings.  You never know what you might find.  Several years ago, a friend found her $1000 dream dress for $200 in a “Trading Times” style publication. 

Other places to find bridal bargains include thrift stores, swap meets, and yard sales.  Often the bridal merchandise found in these outlets are older in style, however, if you’re looking for a vintage gown you could easily find the perfect gown and accessories for an amazing price.  Too, if you have chosen to make your gown or if you purchased a very basic gown in need of embellishments, you could recognize a significant savings by utilizing fabric, lace, beading, and buttons from low cost gowns found at thrift outlets and yard sales.  The fabric and embellishments can also be used to make a number of wedding accessories including ring pillows, flower girl dresses, wedding favors, etc.  Also check with friends and relatives to see if they have any wedding attire or accessories to give, loan, or sell.

One more option for locating bargain bridal items is checking with your bridal service vendors.  Often bridal consignment shops start out as other service vendors such as florists, photographers, and bridal consultants.  Over years of doing business, the vendors often expand their businesses to encompass consigning various bridal and wedding items.  Even if your vendors have not yet officially branched out, they may have items they are displaying for their clients and past clients.  It is not uncommon for clients to ask vendors to help them sell items or pass along sales referrals, particularly if a wedding is cancelled or if the event was very expensive and the bride and groom would like to recoup some of the costs. 

One thing to remember about bargain shopping is that to realize significant savings, you often cannot try on the gowns (particularly if shopping online, by phone, through a newspaper, or at a yard sale, swap meet, or thrift store).  Since sizes vary greatly by manufacturer, it is imperative to know your exact body measurements -- particularly, your bust, waist, and hip measurements as well as an accurate measurement of your height.  When measuring your height, keep in mind the heel height of the shoes you’ll be wearing.  Most new, unaltered gowns are made to fit brides up to 5’11” and 6”.  Utilize actual measurements as the most reliable way to determine fit.  If you are looking at a gown advertised online, ask the seller for both gown size and gown measurements.  If you’re looking at a gown at a yard sale or thrift store, carry a tape measure with you to measure the gown’s measurements.

Bargain shopping for your bridal attire and accessories can be both financially and emotionally rewarding. Throughout your search, you need to stay focused on the end result – a feeling of pride and accomplishment as well as a sense of satisfaction for finding the perfect gown and accessories for the best price.  Stay focused on the excitement of your search and let it drive you forward.  Your search should be fun, adventurous, energizing, and enjoyable.  Good luck and happy bargain hunting!

Kim McMullen
Something Spectacular,
Custom Floral Design located in Warren, Michigan.
586-778-4624
customerservice@somethingspectacular.com

 

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