Shopping for bugdet-friendly wedding dresses blog post by Charleston bridal designer Edith Elan
The Inside Scoop

Budget-Friendly Wedding Dresses

October 25, 2018
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Where to shop and reasons to reconsider places like David’s Bridal

Shopping for bugdet-friendly wedding dresses blog post by Charleston bridal designer Edith Elan
Photo courtesy of Charisse Kenion via Unsplash
This post was updated on April 26, 2022.

Shopping for a wedding dress on a budget can seem like a daunting task. But, if you’re prepared, it won’t be! In this blog post, you’ll find tips on where to shop for budget-friendly wedding dresses. As well as, reasons why you should reconsider big-box stores like David’s Bridal as your go-to.

Where to shop for budget-friendly wedding dresses
Photo courtesy of Charisse Kenion via Unsplash

Big Box Stores and Budget-Friendly Wedding Dresses

One of the most notorious big-box stores in bridal is David’s Bridal. And it’s no surprise. Since its inception, DB has made a name for itself as a “budget store.” After all, they made headlines in the ’90s with their $99 wedding dress sale. Even with their more recent licensing/partnership agreements with luxury designers like Vera Wang and Zac Posen, company execs made it clear that they weren’t forgetting about their target bride. So, while they do have $1500+ dresses in-store, their focus remains on being a budget store for brides looking to spend less than $600 on a dress.

However, when the David’s Bridal missed a $270 million interest payment, the news rocked the bridal industry. Many started wondering if it was the writing on the wall for them? Just a year before in 2017, their closest competitor, Alfred Angelo, abruptly shut its doors. Their sudden closing left thousands of its employees without a job and, more importantly, thousands of brides without dresses overnight. In talking with other bridal designers and boutique owners, we all agree that the end is coming for big-box retailers. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing

If David’s Bridal and other stores with similar business models close their doors, it means that the big-box store experience is dead. It means that the fluorescent-lit, warehouse-sized spaces jammed with hundreds of wedding dresses are a thing of the past. This is wonderful news because it means independent, small retail businesses are flourishing! Think of it much in the same way that department stores are giving way to smaller boutique stores.

The Bridal Boutique Experience vs. Big-Box Stores

So, how does the shopping experience at a boutique compare to shopping at a big-box store like David’s Bridal? Simply put:

“Essentially today’s consumers are looking for what a national chain has difficulty delivering: a personalized, enjoyable shopping experience with curated product lines supported by knowledgeable stylists.” – Vows Magazine

Translation: Big-box stores can’t deliver the same experience and expertise that comes from a bridal boutique.

(Now, don’t think that what follows is nonsense. It’s written with first-hand experience shopping at David’s Bridal coupled with years of experience as a boutique bridal stylist to back it up. And to clarify, a “boutique” doesn’t include stores structured like BHLDN.)

Bridal Boutiques

So, what’s it like to shop at a bridal boutique? First things first, when you schedule an appointment at a boutique it usually means you have entire store to yourself. If it’s a larger boutique, you might be sharing the time slot with one or two other brides. Even still, each bride will be working with their own bridal stylist. This is important because you’ll get to work one-on-one with a bridal stylist. Their knowledge of every dress in the store is invaluable! They’ve trained and have even tried on dress samples as they come in. They can tell you about how a style fits, what the fabrics are, any possible customizations, etc. On top of all of that, they will work with you to find the right dress. They want you to be happy! No, not just happy. They want you to be over the moon in love with your choice!!!

Another thing to consider with bridal boutiques is the quality of their merchandise. Boutique owners and buyers pride themselves on the quality of the designers and styles they bring in! If a style doesn’t meet their quality expectations, they won’t get it. They only want the best for their brides!

Big Box Stores

Meanwhile, at places like David’s Bridal, it’s rare to be the only bride in the store. Let alone, the only bride using one pedestal. (Don’t be surprised if you and other brides have to share one pedestal for a moment in the spotlight.) On top of that, employees often work with multiple brides at once, which means their attention is divided and they’re running around. You might find yourself having to make decisions without the help of an employee. If you are able to ask your consultant a question, do you think they are knowledgeable about each dress? With several hundred or maybe even thousands of dresses in the store… Fuhgeddaboudit. And the cherry on top is that most big-box stores only care about the sales numbers. So, employees can and will get pushy to try to convince you that it’s “the one” to make their numbers even when you know it might not be “the one.”

​Now, let’s talk quality at big-box stores. TBH, don’t expect much. For example, David’s Bridal with its reputation as a budget store is commonly referred to as the “Walmart of bridal.” Why? Because their products are cheap. As in, cheaply made and made of low-quality materials.

Brides walk into big-box stores believing they are getting a deal for a $600, or a $900, or a $1500 dress. However, those same brides could have spent the same amount of money at a boutique! Not only for a better quality dress and a better shopping experience but also in support of a small business!

What all of this boils down to is that you don’t have to sacrifice the quality when it comes to shopping for budget-friendly wedding dresses.

Where to Shop for Budget-Friendly Wedding Dresses?

First of all, when it comes to wedding dress shopping (on a budget or not) it’s important to do research. Research bridal boutiques around you. It’ll help you know what styles and designers they carry and their price points. You’ll also need to ask yourself what you are okay with buying. Are you okay with a second-hand purchase? Or, would you rather have a sample that has not been altered and worn for a wedding, but has been tried on many times? (Although, every once in a while a boutique might let go of a brand-new sample.)

Shopping Second-Hand Wedding Dresses

If you are okay with a second-hand purchase, your best bet is to look for a consignment boutique. These boutiques are often reselling dresses from previous brides at greatly discounted prices. Don’t freak out though! The dresses they bring in are still in good shape. They won’t just accept any dress. Consignment boutiques have an inspection process to determine if the dress will make it to the sales floor.

The first thing to remember about consignment shops is that they usually have one size in a style, which means that they can’t order you a new dress if what they have is too small. The second thing to remember is that the dresses have likely been altered to fit the previous owner. This means that if the dress has been taken in or hemmed for someone who was smaller in size and shorter than you, those alterations can’t be undone. In some instances, a dress can be let out. However, only an experienced seamstress would be able to tell you if an altered garment has that ability. And unless you’re taking a seamstress shopping with you, don’t put yourself through the added stress of buying a dress that’s too small only to find out it can’t be let out.

Even if there is not a consignment shop near you, the internet is a great way to shop if you know the exact designer/style you want! (And the size you need.)

Buying a Bridal Sample from a Boutique

If you’re a bride that prefers an unaltered style that’s in good to like-new condition, bridal samples are your best bet. There are generally two ways to buy them from a bridal boutique: during a sample sale or from an off-the-rack selection. While both are in essence the same thing (you’re buying a sample) they have different meanings.

Sample Sales: Sample sales are limited-time sales events where boutiques choose older inventory to sell to make room for new. Discounts vary from store to store, but it’s not uncommon to see prices that are 70% off the original. Appointment requirements will also vary from store to store. During sample sale days, brides can only see and try on the sale styles. Brides are also usually limited to the number of samples to try on at once in order to prevent monopolizing a fitting room. An important piece of advice for shopping a sample sale is that if you find a dress you love, buy it! There’s a good chance that if you put it back on the rack because you want to think it over, it may not be there when you get back.

Off-the-Rack Samples: OTR samples are styles within a boutique marked to be sold as same-day purchases. These are usually found year-round. You can usually find discounted prices on these styles, but they may not be as steep as you’d find during a sample sale. There’s also a good chance that the selection of OTR samples is small.

Buying Designer Bridal Samples at a Discount

Discounted designer samples are a third way to shop for budget-friendly wedding dresses. In this case, a designer has discontinued a style for one reason or another. Sometimes materials aren’t available anymore; therefore, the style can’t be reproduced. Other times, the style did not sell and the designer (like a boutique) needs to make room for new styles.

Nonetheless, discontinued designer samples come directly from the indie bridal designer’s sample collection. These samples were once used during trunk shows and at markets to introduce brides and buyers to the newest styles. They’re usually the very first version of a style. Depending on the popularity of a style, the samples can vary in condition from good to like new. Also depending on the popularity of a style, discontinued designer samples can be one-of-a-kind designs.

Shop Discontinued Edith Élan Samples

So, there you have it! Several options for wedding dress shopping on a budget that supports a small business. And if the option for a one-of-a-kind bridal style has piqued your interest, you can head to the Edith Élan sample sale page by clicking the button below.


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