6 Realistic Ways to Save Money on a Designer Wedding Dress

Here's how to shop smart to get your dream gown.
Samantha Iacia - The Knot wedding style expert
Samantha Iacia
  • Samantha writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in wedding decor, trends, and fashion
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Samantha was a features and weddings contributor for The Baltimore Sun
  • She is based in Washington, D.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism
Updated Aug 29, 2022

Call us biased, but once you're engaged, there are few things more exciting than the anticipation of wedding dress shopping. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go all in with your look and wear something that's entirely you—whether that means lacing up a corset-style ball gown or opting for an understated slip dress that's tailored to perfection. But if you're wondering how to save money on a wedding dress, you're not alone.

According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, which surveyed more than 15,000 couples who were married in 2021, the average cost of a wedding dress last year was $1,800. Spending money on a made-to-order wedding dress is justified by the fact that you're getting a brand-new design handmade especially for you. It's not unusual to be left feeling a little dazed by the sticker shock of designer gowns, and if you're working with a limited budget, you might be feeling stuck for options. The good news: There are workarounds you can use to score a discount on a wedding dress and still find a style that you truly love. Start planning now and follow these expert-approved shopping tips when the time comes.

Begin shopping for your wedding dress early.

When you first get engaged, it might seem like you have plenty of time to find a wedding dress, but it's better to start shopping as soon as possible, especially since it might take a few appointments to find your dream gown. Don't wait until the last minute—you should plan to purchase your dress at least nine months before your wedding day, if not longer, to give yourself the most options.

"Different designers offer different lead times, and this is a comfortable range to make sure you have the choice of any gown you would want without having to risk paying any rush fees associated with getting the dress in, or rush fees associated with alterations once your gown arrives," says Mallory Thorburn, co-owner of The White Magnolia, a bridal boutique with locations in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. Starting early also means that you won't feel as pressured to make a purchase right away (potentially resulting in an impulse purchase and buyer's remorse after the fact), and you can keep tabs on discounts and special offers at local bridal salons as they come up.

"Many bridal shops offer first-time appointment incentives or have different sales throughout the year," adds Thorburn. "Do your research on a bridal shop before you start the process so that you go into your appointment prepared to purchase if you fall in love with a dress and take advantage of any of those discounts during your appointment."

Choose a more simplistic wedding dress.

One foolproof way to save money on your wedding dress is to choose a more simplistic style, not only when it comes to the wedding dress embellishments, like beading or lace, but also the silhouette and the amount of fabric required. All of these elements factor into the total price tag of the design and the time required to make it. The more time and materials required, the more you can expect to pay.

"Most wedding gowns are made by hand, so the more detail that is present, the more expensive the gown will become," says Christine Greenberg, co-owner of Urban Set Bride in Richmond, Virginia. "If you love beading, hand-placed European laces, fine fabrics and unique embellishments, be ready to invest."

If you've had your heart set on an ornately detailed gown, don't give up just yet. With the help of your bridal stylist and an open mind, you can get the same effect by following a few budget-friendly tricks. "There are different variations to all types of gowns, so you can achieve your bridal vision at almost any price point," says Thorburn. "For example, if you love the look of a head-to-toe sparkle gown, look for one that has a layer of sparkle tulle versus hand-sewn Swarovski crystals throughout." Accessories are also your friend: A sequined wedding dress belt adds shimmer in place of a fully beaded gown, while a dramatic cathedral-length veil gives volume to a fitted silhouette.

Plan ahead for wedding dress customizations.

The baseline cost of the dress isn't the only expense you need to budget for. "Almost every wedding gown is going to need to be altered in some form or fashion in order to perfectly fit your body," says Thorburn. "Keep in mind that alterations are typically not included in the cost of a dress."

When you're considering making a purchase, Thorburn advises asking your bridal stylist to estimate the cost of wedding dress alterations before you fully commit, knowing that the final price will change depending on your seamstress. During your appointment, you can also ask about any customizations you already have in mind, such as lining the bodice or adding straps, in case it's easier for the designer to do while they're making your dress.

"As you are being measured for your gown, be open with your stylist about what look you hope to achieve with the final product, and they'll be able to guide you on changes that can be made directly with the designer that may save you time and money once you are ready for alterations," says Greenberg. "Most seamstresses charge by the hour or by the amount of adjustments needed."

Shop sample wedding gowns and off-the-rack styles.

Whether you're in a time crunch or looking to snag a couture gown for a discount, sample sales and off-the-rack wedding dresses are two money-saving alternatives to consider. "From short engagements, unexpected pregnancies, military deployment and more, there are so many reasons why you may need a gown that can go home with you that day," says Greenburg.

With a sample dress, you save money by purchasing the actual dress that's used in the store for try-ons, versus a new, made-to-order version of that dress. Sample dresses may need some extra TLC or additional tailoring (due to limited sizes and minor damages), but you can potentially find a designer gown that would otherwise be a stretch for your budget.

"Almost any bridal shop is going to have a sample sale or two per year where they will sell their sample gowns off-the-rack at a fraction of the price," says Thorburn. "Find a shop that carries designers you love, give them a call to ask when their next sample sale will be and mark your calendar."

If you want a brand-new dress, browse the designer's ready-to-wear collection if they have one. This expands your options to include potentially lower-priced styles that you can purchase off-the-rack (meaning it's yours when you walk out the door!) instead of paying more to have a bridal gown custom made to your measurements.

Attend wedding dress designer trunk shows.

Do you already have a wedding dress designer you're obsessed with? If so, be on the lookout for trunk shows in your area—they're one of the biggest ways to save money on a wedding dress.

"Waiting for a trunk show is a great way to save a little money off the MSRP and a nice way to see the full collection of gowns that may not be present in the shop full-time," says Greenburg. If the trunk show isn't happening anytime soon, she recommends being open about your budget and asking if there are any other discounts available, especially if you're a service member, teacher, nurse or first responder. "Your occupation could save you the same amount of money as a trunk show discount without the stress of waiting for one to arrive at your local boutique."

If you do attend a designer's trunk show, it's smart to have your ideal dress and budget in mind ahead of time. "Trunk shows usually only last a weekend or two, so if you are looking for a specific gown during a trunk show, make sure you are ready to purchase," says Thorburn. "There is typically a discount associated with the trunk show, allowing you to get a great deal on your dress."

Rent your prewedding outfits.

It's no secret that your gown isn't the only special look you'll need while wedding planning. There are multiple occasions throughout your engagement when you'll want to dress your best—the wedding shower, bach party and rehearsal dinner are just a few that come to mind. And if you love the idea of changing into a second look for your wedding reception or after-party, that's another outfit to factor into your overall budget.

The cost of buying a new white dress for every party adds up quickly, but thanks to retailers like Rent the Runway and Nearly Newlywed, it's no longer taboo to shop for designer dresses at a fraction of the price. The online rental and resale market is becoming increasingly popular, especially for luxury brands, which means it's easier than ever to find discounted and secondhand pieces with the click of a button. If you're able to save money on your prewedding looks, consider using those funds to splurge on a dream dress for your big day.

Ultimately, remember that any gown you choose will be a special one—and the dress is only one part of your wedding day. "Don't take things so seriously," says Greenberg. "If you invest more in the gown that makes you feel the best, there is plenty of time to adjust your overall wedding budget to accommodate."

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