tips, topics, info and insight to help you save money and make our world a little greener

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thrifty Thursday - Wedding Dresses

When I spoke recently with a friend whose daughter is finding it difficult to select a wedding dress, I was struck by the enormity of the whole process - the choices, the cost, the fittings, the angst. I've never planned a wedding - having gratefully left most of the details of my own to my mother.  But I have several friends who have organized their daughters' weddings, and after hearing about their experiences, and the experiences of some of my daughters' friends, I've come to the conclusion that the whole thing is just out of control! The entire wedding industry has highjacked common sense, proportion, appropriateness and in, some cases, reality.

Today, we'll just look at what goes on with wedding gowns.

The average price of a wedding dress in the United States is somewhere around $600, but this number can be widely different based on region and locale. For example, according to a nifty zip code based calculator at, the price paid for a bridal gown by a bride in Plainfield, NJ ranges from $662 to $$1156, while just an hour away in tony Rumson, NJ the range jumps to $2,832 -$4,720.  Brides in Waco, TX might shell out $662 - $1104, while in the New Hope, PA area where I live, it's more like $2,613 - $3,606. In Topeka, KS, a more modest $549 - $915 is the norm, and in Bloomington, MN the numbers skew higher to $990 - $1650.

A visit to Vera Wang's website yielded an invitation to join the RSVP club if I wanted to do more than look at the photos of the wedding fashions. I know these gowns, though truly beautiful, are uber-expensive. Then I hopped over to Priscilla of Boston where prices are in the several thousands of dollars - $3500 and $4500 being typical prices, with many gowns priced at "over $5000," though how much "over" isn't shared with the casual visitor. Next, I looked at the website for David's Bridal, one of the largest bridal gown retailers in the country, where the most expensive dress I found (though I didn't see every item) was $949. David's Bridal, however, has many very reasonably priced gowns including some sale dresses priced as low as $69.99.

But remember, the average dress price is $600. Does it really make sense to buy a dress that costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, takes weeks, and often months to receive, at which time it may need several fittings that may or may not be included in the price of the gown? Add to that, the cost of pricey undergarments, special shoes, possibly gloves, and of course the headpiece that can be as expensive as at the gown. And this is for an outfit to be worn once, for six, maybe eight hours.

I just don't see it. Where's the value? What's the point? Am I the only person who thinks today's brides and their loving parents are being taken for a ride? And what do I suggest as an alternative?

What I would like to see is a scaling back of proportion. It's the marriage that's paramount. Not what one is wearing. You are not any less committed to your husband if you wear a hand-me-down gown than if you've been tricked out in couture. So what if all your friends are going to be wearing $10,000 Vera Wang dresses when they walk down the aisle? Do you really need to follow suit when there are plenty of very pretty dresses for far less. Does anyone really need to try on 30 or 50 or 150 gowns before they find "the perfect one?" If you make $10 an hour, does it make sense to spend $1000 on a dress? If you've got outstanding student loans, where is the wisdom in putting an expensive gown on your credit card? If you are saving to buy a home, or your parents are getting near retirement, what is the thought process that results in spending unrealistic amounts of money on a dress?

There are options for the budget-minded, thrifty, frugal, individualistic and non-consumerist brides:
  •  Follow the old, and very sweet tradition, of wearing your mother's, grandmother's or sister's gown. It may need minor or even major alterations, but there's something quite lovely about wearing an heirloom.
  • Search out a used gown. Remember, these dresses have been worn once! And some have never been worn - they are close-outs, last year's styles or ordered-but-never-paid-for dresses. Today their are dozens of websites offering used - excuse me - pre-owned wedding gowns, including,, and
  • Check out thrift and resale shops in your area. Do a Craig's List search.
  • Visit the back room of bridal shops where there are often a few racks of dresses that didn't sell for one reason or another.
  • Drop down a notch or two or three on the price point and just say no to more than you can afford.
  • Think about breaking away from the pack and selecting a pretty (non-bridal) dress you can buy off the rack.
I expect I will have stepped on some toes with my opinions here, but I welcome your comments. Please share.


  1. The Wedding Report records the average price of a wedding dress at $1317. And I completely agree that buying a preowned dress definitely makes sense. Selling your wedding dress after the big day is also a great way to recoup some costs after the fact. has over 4600 gowns for sale (1873 of which have never been down the aisle). So you could save hundreds or even thousands - while helping your wallet (and the planet) at the same time.

  2. Antique wedding veils are beautiful and can make any dress look unique.

  3. You make good points here. In my opinion, I think it's completely understandable to want to wear a special dress to celebrate one's marriage. But, I think we've confused "special" with "expensive."

  4. Josie, the $600 figure I got is obviously out of date - so people are paying even higher prices for their gowns. I am so delighted that the pre-owned wedding gown movement is growing. It makes so much sense!
    Anonymous - I agree, an antique or heirloom veil can make even an ordinary dress fabulous.
    Cpcable, I like your point. I wouldn't want to take away the specialness of anone's wedding day. But you are absolutely right...special now seems to require expensive. I'm hoping that tide will turn.

  5. If looking for a pre-owned gown in phoenix try Almond tree. Their selection is great and the prices will surprise you.