Say Yes to the Different Dress

Every bride wants to look fabulous on the big day, but the price of a new, traditional dress can be decidedly unattractive.

According to The Knot, the national average cost for a wedding gown is around $2,000. For something you’ll probably wear only once, and in many cases for just a few hours, you may want to rethink the splurge. This is especially important when you’re on a tight budget.

Thankfully there are many cost-effective yet still amazing wedding outfits to consider. Here are nine alternatives worth exploring:

1. Made-for-Models Dresses

Want a spectacular designer gown but the typical retail price is outside your means? One that has been used as a store sample can be a great way to score a huge discount.

“As a designer, I’m always holding end-of-season sales on my samples, many of which are not just the traditional size four, but much larger,” says fashion designer Dalia MacPhee.

“These are new pieces worn once or twice by a fit model or famous actress, and otherwise in perfect condition for over half the price. I’ll also always have several one-of-a-kind pieces that never made it to the stores,” she adds.

MacPhee advises brides to visit the website of their favorite designers to find out what they’re offering. “And if you can’t find a sample sale coming up, it never hurts to call and ask if they have any wedding gown samples they are willing to part with. You might just be surprised with the answer,” she says.

[READ: This Is How Much the Average Wedding Costs]

2. Mimic Wedding Dresses

Sabrina Yoo, creative director of the fashion brand Amissima, headquartered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, says buying a gorgeous white gown that wasn’t created specifically for a wedding has multiple benefits.

“Wedding dresses can sometimes be restrictive in style, and a beautiful one can cost thousands,” Yoo says. “Many women are now looking for stunning white dresses that don’t take up a significant portion of their wedding budget.”

There are key differences between the two types of dresses, but a non-wedding gown can work in your favor.

Bridal dresses often feature specialized construction techniques and materials designed for a single-use event, such as intricate beading, multiple layers of delicate fabric and structural boning, Yoo says.

In contrast, white dresses that resemble wedding gowns tend to have simpler construction, fewer layers and less embellishment. That simplicity can result in a more comfortable, lightweight dress that works well for more casual weddings, destination ceremonies and for brides wanting a relaxed fit.

Another advantage is versatility.

“A white dress can be worn for various occasions, such as anniversaries, cocktail parties and nights out,” Yoo says. “Additionally, it can be turned into any DIY project without the guilt of spending a bundle.”

3. Rent a Dress

If your heart is set on something spectacular but buying it will bust your bank account, a one-day loaner can be your best bet.

“A gown rental is a fantastic avenue for a bride looking to have her dream wedding gown but at a fraction of the cost,” says Melody Willis Williams, president of Vegas Weddings in Las Vegas.

The cost of renting a dress depends on the type of gown, but many are in the $350 range. Those closer to $500 usually include a headpiece and veil, making it an overall more affordable package.

Saving on alterations is also a plus, since rental shops are often size inclusive. Many purchased wedding dresses are ordered well in advance of the ceremony, and if you lose or gain weight a tailor will have to make expensive adjustments for the right fit.

Ultimately, Williams says, you get the look you want without the sticker shock.

4. A Classic Ivory Suit

Want to stick with a traditional color but are open to a modern take? A high-quality tailored suit in a white or very pale hue can be stunning, Lee Evans Lee, founder and designer of Mrs Momma Bear Workwear, based in San Antonio, said in an email.

Take, for example, the company’s Meet Me At Noon suit. “It’s expertly crafted, from the double-lined pants to the removable bow on the top to the deep pockets on the perfectly oversized blazer,” Lee said.

While the price of such a tailored outfit can be high, you can wear each piece once the ceremony is over, giving you great value for your money.

[Related:How Much Money Should You Give for a Wedding Gift?]

5. Dresses that Change With You

If you’re like some brides, you’ll want to switch outfits during your event. Maybe you want a floor-length conservative number to walk down the aisle, a shorter one for dinner and cake-cutting and a mini for dancing.

Because buying a few dresses can be financially prohibitive, Tayo Ishola, a Miami-based fashion entrepreneur and founder of fashion brand I Am Eido, suggests a modular wedding dress. This is a dress that has parts the bride can add or shed during the event.

You can create multiple looks throughout your wedding day and evening, which will eliminate the need for — and the expense of — buying several separate outfits.

And many elements of a modular wedding dress can be repurposed and worn again for other occasions, so you get value beyond your wedding day.

6. Repurposed Dresses

Inheriting a dress from a friend or relative can be terrific because it’s free, but you may want to make it more your own with a little investment. Take it to a tailor or designer and discuss how you want it to look.

For example, if it has sleeves but you want to show your arms, ask how much it will be to create spaghetti straps. Tule can be removed to show a sleeker underskirt, and bling can be sewn in to catch the light.

“Repurposing is about retaining the gown’s sentimental value while adapting its function to fit different needs or aesthetic desires,” says Jeannie Jacobs, a fashion and lifestyle influencer based in Houston.

Just be sure to get a quote for alterations, then compare it to the cost of buying new. Repurposing can save you money, but unless you’re doing it yourself, the more changes a professional makes the more it will cost, Jacobs says.

7. Already-Loved Dress

Not every bride wants to keep her dress after the wedding. Many take it to a consignment store, sell it online or donate it to a thrift shop. Any of these scenarios give you the opportunity to buy something special for a steep discount.

Research what’s available in your area. For example, Blue Sky Bridal in San Francisco sells once-worn gowns for between 20% and 65% of the original retail price. They’re already cleaned and ready to wear.

Goodwill thrift shops are all over the country, so check out their wedding apparel section. You may be surprised by what you can find for around $100, though don’t forget to factor in the cost of dry cleaning.

Online second-hand wedding dress stores, like Nearly Newlywed, advertise deals of up to 90% off on designer dresses.

[READ: How to Budget for Friends’ Weddings]

8. Youth Dresses

Whether you’re young or just young at heart, it pays to consider gowns that are marketed to teenagers.

Craving princess-like drama? A quinceañera or sweet 16 dress can definitely fit the bill, but often without the royal price tag.

A visit to a department store’s junior section can be particularly compelling. Many dresses designed for prom and other formal events are less than $100 and have the affect of a grown-up wedding gown. Are they constructed as well? No, but if all you want is a night’s worth of glamour, you can save a massive amount of money.

9. Go Wild With Color

Bridal wear doesn’t have to be white. Your affordable wedding dress options expand even further when you open up the color palette and introduce patterns into the mix.

“The trend of more and more brides choosing to wear color for their big day has been growing in popularity, however this break from the traditional white is not new,” MacPhee says.

“Elizabeth Taylor chose a lemon gown for her 1964 marriage to Richard Burton, Victoria Beckham wore purple for her nuptials and our beloved Sarah Jessica Parker donned a dramatic black gown for her wedding,” she added.

For instance, gold can give the goddess look you’re hoping for, especially when it’s covered with sequins. MacPhee’s design, sold at TJMaxx, is only $129.99. And don’t neglect the possibility of patterns. MacPhee suggests an Alfred Sung floral corset satin gown for just $302 at Nordstrom.

What to Do With Your Dress Savings

In the end, the less you spend on your dress, the more cash you’ll have left for other things you and your betrothed want and need, whether for the wedding and honeymoon or for your lives together.

“You can put it toward a down payment on a home, creating a more stable and long-term investment for the future,” Jacobs says.

“Alternatively, couples might choose to enhance their honeymoon, turning it into an unforgettable experience rather than a standard vacation. Investing the savings into starting a small business or boosting personal savings are also prudent choices, particularly for couples looking to build financial security early in their marriage,” she adds.

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